could you point me in the direction of the evidence that alexander the great was a bottom? I absolutely don't doubt it's true but I've never seen anyone say otherwise so I figure there's some proof of some sort I'm missing, but couldn't find anything myself
you didn’t find anything because there is no proof, and in fact, the sources tell us the precise opposite. so why did i say he bottomed in my joke post? let’s get into it.
A (SIMPLIFIED) PRIMER: in ancient old mediterranean times it didn’t matter if you were a man who boned men or women – you should probs do both – but what mattered VERY much was whether you topped or bottomed. are you old enough to have a beard? now you’re too old to bottom. pederasty was the name of the game in the south (think athens) especially. if macedon followed these same sexual mores, we can’t be sure, tho they were likely similar.
now that you know this, take note that hephaestion was actually older than alexander, taller, and more masculine and impressive-looking. according to the above – that’s called the dover model – it should be a given that hephaestion topped, right? or that they didn’t have a relationship at all, considering they were so close in age, and the dover model mandates a big age difference. then why do i have in my pocket two handy examples of hephaestion being identified not only as the bottom but as younger than alexander? observe:
• justin refers to hephaestion as “puer” (”boy” but with connotations in this context of “young pretty bottom boy”)
• arrian refers to hephaestion as alexander’s “ἐρώμενος” (i.e. alexander’s beardless younger bottom)
weird, right? we could take this at face value, discounting all that we factually know about hephaestion, or we could take a look at how romans of the late republic/early principate – when these biographies were penned – viewed sexuality in their own society, and how that may have influenced the way they interpreted alexander and hephaestion.
late republic/early principate sexual mores were a bit different from classical greek mores in that, simplified version, the socially superior partner had to top, and the supremely socially inferior – like a slave or a woman – was to bottom. hephaestion was second man in the empire with a massive presence in court; importantly, he was free-born. if alexander and hephaestion had a sexual relationship, which the roman biographers were fairly certain they did, that meant to the romans that hephaestion was either sleeping his way to the top (a common late republic sentiment – cicero used it against antony, like, hourly) which is very not befitting for, you know, the top general in the empire, or – worse – that alexander was a tyrant who was raping his second in command, and hephaestion wasn’t man enough to fight back against it. yikes. even worse option than that to the romans? alexander, king of kings, was taking the d from someone below his status. no matter what the evidence said – like hephaestion’s age and physicality and what we know about alexander’s personality, which i’ll get to in a minute – that was literally unthinkable.
so the principate biographers lied. yep. in order to better mould hephaestion to their worldview, some bent the history so that hephaestion was younger and prettier (justin), or just plain unimportant enough that being alexander’s ἐρώμενος was socially acceptable (arrian). some laid into the nepotism angle even if they didn’t explicitly state fucking as the cause of it (plutarch).
take-home message? history is malleable: like a memory, it never remains whole and accurate. the more often we pull it from the shelf, the more often it gets rewritten.
idk, oprah. proof isn’t a thing that really exists for this period. but now that we know the roman histories are sometimes fake news, here’s some stuff supporting alexander bottoming:
good evidence: historiography & the dover model
• what the romans had to say about hephaestion and alexander’s relationship is lowkey lies, so even tho we can’t definitively say hephaestion topped, we know that pretty much all evidence that hephaestion bottomed is not legitimate. that means the opposite could be true.
• alexander was younger than hephaestion, infamously remained beardless, and was physically smaller, which means that if macedonians followed southern sexual mores, and if alexander and hephaestion in particular even cared about bringing social politics into the bedroom (see how many variables?) then alexander would’ve bottomed
pretty okay evidence: character extrapolation
• i’ve had a prof bring up in class the fact that alexander was too soft for his parents, who worried he was effeminate, which we can safely interpret as “worried he was a bottom” – playing the lyre, not wanting to get it on with anyone in a way befitting a red-blooded macedonian guy, sleeping with the iliad under his pillow, other assorted twink activities. from his annoying high-pitched voice to the fact that he started dressing persian – seen as effeminate to macedonians – it’s pretty much accepted that he was an effeminate dude in his day. not conclusive, definitely problematic as being indicative of sexual position preference, but it is an argument i have seen.
not-really evidence but a component relevant to our discussion of the insidious crawl of unintentional historiography:
• mary renault ran amok with the bottom/top thing in her books and made alexander finally topping and becoming a “man” into a whole arc in the persian boy, and it’s a fairly pervasive narrative in historical fiction that he’s a somewhat effeminate bottom. this isn’t historical evidence, but it shows how the narrative shifts – this interpretation, so widely distributed in fiction, is now undeniably present in our shared consciousness. (my joke post, which was geared toward an audience of like literally one person, was more about this.)
a final note is that people are just people, and we tend to forget that when we get so caught up in how fun it is to study ancient cultures. but at the end of the day, no matter the mores of their location and period, people are gonna fuck how they want, where they want, who they want, and when they want. like any other pair of young guys getting it on, i’d bet you ten bucks, realistically, that they switched.