Who Was This Guy ... And How the Heck Do You Pronounce His Name?
Detailed discussions of Hephaistion in Alexander biographies are often relegated to his death and its effect on the conqueror. That trend may owe to discomfort with Greek homoeroticism among earlier (largely male) historians. But it may also owe to a subtle bias in the ancient sources, too, as Hephaistion was not the combat commander that Krateros, Koenos, Philotas, or even Perdikkas were. Donald Engels has discussed ancient dismissal of/disinterest in logistics in his Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (1976, U. Cal Press). Certainly, modern pop culture representations of him in fiction or film (with a few notable exceptions) tend to cast him as Alexander's accessory more than as his officer, and assessments of his competence among modern Macedonian scholars differ, sometimes sharply.
Yet Alexander was not in the habit of advancing commanders based wholly on affection, and in fact, our sources note several instances when he demoted appointees, even friends, who'd proved to be ineffective or incapable. By contrast, Hephaistion's position in the army rose steadily over time. Perhaps, then, we should review Hephaistion and his career in his own right. His relationship to Alexander was important, to be sure, but not the sum of who Hephaistion was.
WAS HE ALEXANDER'S LOVER?
Hephaistion's name gives everybody fits. There are actually three different ways to say it.
1) The most common pronunciation comes from the Latinized spelling Hephaestion: he-FEES-ti-anBut if you went back in time, walked up to him and called him either of those, he'd stare at you in confusion.
3) The Greek pronunciation he used was he-pais-TI-on (Aspirate the initial /h/ and also the /p/, as in pot.)Myself, I use a pronunciation he'd recognize -- seems the polite thing to do -- but it does result in some confusion for those used to one of the two more familiar pronunciations.
Did he have a nickname? I get this question a lot, curiously. Modern Greek names are often simplified, so Alexandros = Aleko, Ioannis = Yannis, Anastasios = Sakis, etc. Apparently Krateros was simplified to Krato(n), but any nickname for Hephaistion wasn't recorded, so it's all speculation. That said, "Phai" is unlikely, as it's a woman's name. "Phaito(n)" or "Phaisto(n)" are possible, but again, we just don't know. Furthermore, any nickname may not have been a shortening of his given name at all, e.g., Kleitos Melas (the Black) or Antigonos Monόphthalmos (One-Eyed)--or the philosopher Plato, for that matter (probably born Aristokles).