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When I first heard about Alexandros: the Lifelong Love Story of Alexander the Great and Hephastian, son of Amyntor (iUniverse), I wasn’t sure what to think. Written as a musical libretto, I was wary whether Stanley Barber could pull it off without seeming corny or silly. But the first few pages cleared away any doubt.
Barber, writer and director of many stage productions, breathes new life into Alexander’s well-known story by focusing on his relationship with Hephastian.
Since history has obscured many of the details of their relationship (indeed, the back cover states that many scholars and writers have relegated it to “a historical footnote”), Barber portrays it as a life-long love affair.
Their love was so strong it gave Alexander’s mother Olympias reason to pause, as she feared that her son, by exclusively focusing on this young man, would fail to produce an heir to the Macedonian throne; she even begged Hephastian to move away from the royal residence.
Alexander overrode his mother’s wishes upon becoming king, but the scene shows how powerful the love between these two men was, and how obvious it was to everyone around them.
Alexander was one of history’s greatest, most successful military commanders. He never lost a battle, and his tactics are still studied in military academies today. After gaining the Macedonian throne, he challenged the Persian Empire, the largest, most powerful kingdom of the time, conquering its vast territory after a series of battles and the death of the emperor, Darius III.
By the time he died at the age of 32, he had seized an immense amount of land stretching from Greece and the Balkans to parts of India and Afghanistan, as well as Egypt.
Alexandros follows Alexander and Hephastian from their first meeting as 13-year-olds, where they fall in love at first sight, throughout the course of Alexander’s military victories, to their deaths six months apart. Death is not the end for these lovers, though, for they are reunited in the underworld, and although they are saddened to learn that Alexander’s empire would collapse soon after their deaths, they revel in the knowledge that “love survives.”
Alexandros is incredibly well-researched; in the Epilogue, Barber explains the few historical liberties he took that diverge from the known facts.
As a stage production, it seems incredibly ambitious, with armies marching, princes taming horses, and even gods casting love spells on mortals. Nudity and sexuality are also extensive, including one brief love scene with Alexander and Hephastian as teenagers, which, as Barber remarks in his introductory material, “will be controversial, I suppose,” yet “must be handled naturally and unapologetically.”
But on the page, the story comes to vivid life, capturing Alexander’s larger-than-life passion and charisma, a force so powerful his troops willingly followed him across unknown territory and fought against incredible odds. Only when the Indian campaign had been underway for several years did they, exhausted and homesick, finally beg Alexander to return home, which he gracefully allowed.
Alexandros rescues one of the greatest stories of same-sex love from the margins of history. It is a story told proudly and brilliantly. The fact that it is presented as a stage play gives it a unique twist, further distinguishing it from other fictional accounts of Alexander, like Annabel Lyon’s recent novel The Golden Mean.
The Lifelong Love Story of Alexander the Great and Hephastian, son of Amyntor
by Stanley Barber
Paperback, 9781440194641, 334 pp