“I have come,” Hephaestion says, “to hate war.”
Returning to the storyteller’s precept that each character, including supporting characters, must represent an aspect of the theme … here is Alexander’s dear friend and second-in-command Hephaestion, representing that aspect of the warrior/
conqueror who feels empathy for the enemy and has compassion for those who have been overrun and subjugated.
“What we do is a crime, Alexander. In the end it is but butchery. For all the poets’ anthems, war’s object is nothing nobler than the imposition of one nation’s will upon another by means of force or the threat of force. The soldier’s job is to kill men. We may call them ‘enemy,’ but they are men like us. They love their wives and children no less than we; they are no less brave, or virtuous, nor do they serve their country with any less devotion. As for the men and others I have killed, or who have been slain at my command. I would bring hem all back to life. Yes, if I could, I would reanimate every one of them, no matter what the cost to me or to the expedition.”
Let me remark here that this Hephaestion is my fictional Hephaestion. I cannot say what the true historical Hephaestion thought. This Hephaestion is my version of a character stating a specific point of view, one that is an aspect of the theme of conquest—the voice of one who has, over his years of war, come to hate it in every aspect. Hephaestion continues:
“Till Persepolis [meaning the sacking of the enemy’s capital] I stood with you, Alexander. Wrongs done to Greece must be avenged. But we have slain Persia’s king. We have burned her capital. We have made ourselves masters over all her lands. Now what?” Hephaestion gestures east across this river of India. “Shall we conquer these honest yeomen next? Why? How have they harmed us? By what right do we bring war against them? Pursuit of glory? This army stopped being glorious a long time ago. Or shall we cite Achilles and claim that we emulate the ‘virtues of war?’ Rubbish! Any virtue carried to its extreme becomes a vice. Conquest? No man can rule another. The most devoted subject will trade in an instant his wealth, earned beneath your rule, for poverty he can call his own. We had a cause once. We have none now.”
We noted in an earlier episode that the clash between Alexander and the Indian king Porus was a clash between archetypes–the Warrior Archetype and the King Archetype.
This confrontation between Hephaestion and Alexander is a clash between different aspects of the same archetype. To the true historical Alexander’s credit, he did endeavor mightily to embrace the “good” side, the knightly side of the Warrior/Conqueror … and it cost him dearly.
He struggled throughout the latter half of his career to integrate and to honor the peoples he had conquered. He showed so much deference to the nobles of Persia, making numbers of them “King’s Companions,” that he alienated the home-born Macedonians who had fought at his side from the start of the campaign.
Alexander, unlike my fictional Hephaestion, never came to hate war. He never could let go of his passion for glory. In other words, he never truly, in my view, moved beyond the Warrior Archetype.
Let’s examine that next, with a dip into one of my favorite books, King Warrior Magician Lover, by Thomas Moore and Douglas Gillette.
Hephaestion’s may have been a fictional quote, but his point about the moral difference in sacking Persepolis as opposed to an unnecessary invasion of India is well made – and how noteworthy that altho Alexander would not back down, he then tried to temper his invasions by integrating the conquered into his empire.
It brings to mind a quote from the Civil War’s Gen Sherman: “It is only those who have not heard a shot, nor heard the shrills & groans of the wounded & lacerated (friend or foe) that cry aloud for more blood & more vengeance, more desolation & so help me God as a man & soldier I will not strike a foe who stands unarmed & submissive before me but will say ‘Go sin no more.”
A discussion on the need for war between Sherman and Hephaestion would be most interesting.
Well said Andrew.
I just finished “Virtues of War” last week. This passage resonated with me as well.
Frequently on this site, there is an authentic push-back from some of the readers about the ‘virtues’ of the Warrior Archetype, and of course the relentless pursuit of war.
To bring Hephaesteion’s quote to the present, he might would likely have encouraged the Bush/Cheney Administration to stop the War on Terror after the Taliban fell. What good came out of the war in Iraq?
To be clear, I was one of those who believed we needed to put a footprint in Iraq. I lived in Germany from 1992-1995, and concluded that the presence of US Soldiers in Europe had kept the peace for 50 years. I suspect that 1946-2020 has been the longest stretch of peace Europe has witnessed since the fall of the Roman Empire. I felt we could do the same thing in the Middle East.
How many German, Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, British, French have become US citizens by marrying GIs? Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands over the past 70 years. This is healthy and good for all countries.
While deployed to AF in 2006, the topic of ‘Democracy and Islam” was a frequent conversation. “Sharia Law is incongruent with Democracy…” was a common plank of argument. I thought that Islam was much closer to the West than the belief that the Emperor of Japan was God incarnate…and I doubt the Japanese would want to return to 1940s.
Maybe Hephaesteion’s quote should be looked at from the perspective of the individual and the ‘war’ we wage domestically within our families, with our neighbors, with ‘those jackasses’ who voted for Trump or the ‘Libtards’ who voted for Biden.
My guess is that one of the main points Steven is going to get to with with series is that the true war is within. How do we incorporate and embrace the Warrior Archetype to slay our own demons?
Utopians believe we can fix the human condition with human engineering, laws, taxes, leveling of the conditions…
I’m no Utopian. If we are to ever find Heaven on Earth, it will be because a plurality of 9 billion people have gone to war with themselves in order to tame the beast. In Pressfield parlance, Turn Pro.
And I prefer the Monday/Wednesday/Friday battle rhythm…just sayin…
“Sharia Law is incongruent with Democracy…
“Sharia Law is incongruent with Democracy…” or with peace.
Appreciate your comments, Brian and Andrew.
Another thought: for writers who write well about hating war, I’d count Tim O’Brien and Vonnegut.
Did you-all see they’re making a film of “The Things They Carried”?
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It reminds us of a quote from General Sherman in the Civil War: “Only those who have not heard the sound of a bullet, nor the cries and groans of the wounded and torn (friend or foe) who cry out loudly for more blood and more vengeance, more ruin, so God help me as a man and a soldier I will not strike an enemy who stands defenseless and submissive before me, but I will say, “Forgive no more.”
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An excellent example of both sides of the warrior archetype. I understand what you mean about each character’s contribution to the narrative.
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