The Sacred Antinous - Erotically-charged, Explicitly Illustrated, Queer-Themed Historical Fiction about Antinous and Hadrian
Sacred Texts
  ~000 Introduction
  ~001 Arrival at Caelian Hill
  ~002 Life at the Paedagogium
  ~003 Monsters and Heroes
  ~004 The Private Baths
  ~005 The Soaps of Cyprias
  ~006 The Treachery of Gryllus
  ~007 Assurances and Endurances
  ~008 The Demise of Trenus
  ~009 The Surprise Inspection
  ~010 Little Donkey
  ~011 Whispering Hope
  ~012 Epigrams for Antinous
  ~013 Books from Maltinus
  ~014 Little Signals
  ~015 Promotion
  ~016 Juvenalis IX
  ~017 A Frothy Idea
  ~018 Evening on the Riverbank
  ~019 Across the Leagues
  ~020 Unprecedented Access
  ~021 Winged Mercury
  ~022 Dinner Guest
  ~023 Causes of Nausea
  ~024 New Pupil
  ~025 Wax, Soap, and Wool
  ~026 Four Daughters
  ~027 Vitalis Atones
  ~028 Futures and Histories...
  ~029 The Triumph of Desire
  ~030 An Image of Antinous
  ~031 The Ride From Rome
  ~032 The Villa at Tibur
  ~033 The Ride To Rome
  ~034 Praeconina
  ~035 Foolish Carisius
  ~036 The Christian Texts
  ~037 Married Pleasures
  ~038 In Tibur, Alone
  ~039 The End of Corinthus
  ~040 Turning Tables
  ~041 A History & Fantasy...
  ~042 A Sad Collection
  ~043 Rafts in a Raging Sea
  ~044 Rome, Home and History
  ~045 A Caravan of Monologue
  ~046 On Favorinus
  ~047 The Flesh of a Metaphor
  ~048 Disquieting Thoughts
  ~049 Purple Reign
  ~050 The Heart of Numidia
  ~051 Stables of the Palatine
  ~052 Hadrian's Deprivation
  ~053 Transcripts and Categories
  ~054 In the Wake of a Paradox
  ~055 Father of the Country
  ~056 The First Night with Hadrian
  ~057 A Place in the World
  ~058 Hard Resolution
  ~059 Announcements...
  ~060 Keeping Company
  ~061 The Stallions' Ride
  ~062 The Tour Begins
  ~063 On the Isthmus
  ~064 On Grief
  ~065 The Eleusian Mysteries
  ~066 A Playful Wager
  ~067 The Delights of Athens
  ~068 On Receiving
  ~069 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~070 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~071 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~072 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~073 Epistle Coming Soon
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Phallic Amulets

The Surprise Inspection


Mystery and Wonder. Such be the names of the nymphs who took up residence in my brain shortly before I took up residence in the palace. Yes, the palace of the Emperor, the seat of his throne upon the Palatine Hill. In the week since last I wrote to tell you of the sad news concerning Trenus, not only have I escaped from the Paedagogium, but it was Hadrian himself who saved me. There is much to tell:

I sat with three others in the company of Maltinus, discussing The Elements of Euclid. Suddenly there was a breathless messenger at our threshold: “Inspection!” Maltinus was confused, for there had been nothing communicated through the official channels. But the boy’s response was astonishing: “It is the Emperor himself! Hadrian upon the Caelian Hill! He has surprised us, and Vestinus greets him as we speak! Quickly all – to the field!” The ruckus was instant and in a flurry the lesson was abandoned.

Except for me. For I chose to sit quietly and contemplate the news. I knew that the surprise had prevented Gryllus and Vestinus from pre-arranging my absence. In this respect I was finally granted an opportunity to appear before the Imperial Household and demonstrate myself before it. Yet at the same time, I felt powerless to care. For the reality was that I had absolutely no enthusiasm for the court, the school that supplied it, or the systems of discipline and justice in which it was governed. The death of Trenus was shocking enough; that none in their office had expended the effort to discover and punish its perpetrator was a cause for me of utter disgust and despondency. Thus I thought nothing but ill for the school, its elders, and the Emperor whom it served. I sat quietly, and made no move.

Maltinus, however, forbade my willful delay. He commanded me to go, and implored me to carry myself cheerfully before the onlookers. As I walked past the fountain at which Trenus had met his end, I wondered how (or even why) I should pretend to be happy. The prospect felt to me as like a horrid betrayal of my friends – the one dead and the one lost. And so I very willfully ignored the plea of Maltinus, and stepped upon the field determined to keep my own counsel as to how I should think and feel. With regard to the entourage that had just emerged from the school to watch us, I ignored it as well.

As I trudged silently amid the desperate flurry of all the others, it occurred to me that even had I wished to engage with them in a demonstration of enthusiastic play, I would not have been admitted into their games: Carisius had long ago seen to my perpetual ostracism. The only partner with whom I could have performed in pretense was Trenus – and he was no longer upon the earth. Hence the grief reasserted itself even further upon my heart, the loneliness hung massive and menacing above my brow, and the Emperor, although so near, seemed very distant indeed. I confess that I cared for him little, and was bitter with the course of my life and the direction in which the Fates had chosen to spin it.

Suddenly, Vestinus arrived hurriedly at my side. He appeared worried and stricken, anxious and angry all at the same time. “The Emperor desires to speak with you,” he said curtly. This news was utterly alien to me, and so very unexpected. I required several moments with which to process it. “Me?” I finally asked. He sneered down at me, “Yes. And we are every one of us just as surprised.” He clasped my shoulder, turned, and with a painted smile upon his face guided me toward the Imperial entourage, rushing to insert his final instructions before we reached Hadrian: “Stand for him tall and speak only when you are addressed. Be courteous and deferent. Be for your classmates an exemplar, for your school an ambassador, for your tutors a source of pride, and for Gryllus who found you a living expression of the utmost gratitude.”

You can imagine, Lysicles, how such words affected me. It occurred to me that I was all of the sudden dangerously empowered to demonstrate to Hadrian just how corrupted and diseased was the very Paedagogium he trusted – for if its ambassador was disagreeable, how could a nation be perceived otherwise? I resolved at that instant I would not speak well of anything, and would instead speak to Hadrian of the world as I knew it – replete with hypocrisy and pain and injustice. I resolved to be unafraid for his crown: his Principate was a fact – not of Nature – but of perception. Nothing he wore nor commanded could absolve him of his mortal moorings – the human being with an anchor of flesh between his legs, arriving at this harbour of youth in search of an agreeable place to drop it. This was how I decided to address him, for I knew that my voice would no doubt echo loudly and painfully upon the ears of Vestinus. In the final moments before our conversation was set to begin, it occurred to me that I was standing upon a precipice, poised to jump and end forever my career. Yet what did I care? I fantasized instead about my ejection from Rome, and the freedom it would afford me to find my way back to Bithynia and the warmth of your loving company. My final thought, before he opened his mouth to greet me, was of Lysicles.

“Do you know me, boy?” These were the first words of Hadrian unto Antinous. And my response to him was yes – for he must be either a man, or the emperor. I could see Vestinus stiffen considerably, and estimated my response to be worth fifty strokes of his iron. Yet Hadrian was not offended. Rather, he appeared intrigued. Delighted, even. There followed from this a conversation concerning the portrait of an Emperor, and how it is distinguished not in the physical appearance of the man, but rather by the manner in which others address him. He desired a demonstration, and so I addressed him cordially, as Vestinus should have expected me to do at the outset. I made it clear to Hadrian that I thought this mode of speech to be utterly absurd; a betrayal of my person and my soul. That he stopped me instantly, and demanded then that I refrain from speaking to him as an Emperor, confirmed for me that I had his permission to speak to him as a man. I had, therefore, penetrated the veil of his officialdom and was admitted into a much more human conversation. It gratified me immensely, and raised my esteem of him, and intrigued my curiosity to see how profoundly our conversation could delve.

Thus I spoke to him of my memories of seeing him; first upon my father’s shoulders just after he had claimed the throne and was returning from Syria, and second when he arrived at Claudiopolis to survey the devastation of the earthquake. You were there with me on that second occasion, Lysicles, and must surely remember how he was affected. I told him of my parents and of their deaths, and it appeared to me that he was genuinely moved by my orphanhood. I confess to have allowed my words to be tinged by the bitterness of Trenus, although never once did I mention the episode. I spoke of the recklessness of the gods; of their refusal to care for us; of their seeming mindlessness toward any sacrifices men might make to appease them or pray to them or buy their favour. And yet still I took care to speak with reverence, for they are after all the gods!

From there I alluded to the meeting of town elders and to the story that Gryllus had told me concerning Hadrian’s quarrel with Trajan. The Emperor laughed, and seemed then ready to seek out Gryllus and thank him. I was grateful that he did not inquire after the name of my abductor, and instead expressed a desire to learn more of me. And that was when he moved me, for he seemed to perceive in an instant all that I had endured here at the school. He called it my “suffering internship.” And he told me that it brightened him to brighten the soul of a boy in isolation. This, Lysicles, is what turned me. Here at last was a man of considerable – if not ultimate – power, who nonetheless understood, and, more importantly, appeared to care for me beyond what pleasures my flesh could provide him. My fondness for him grew, and with it, my resolve to leave the school not shamed but triumphant.

My aspect changed, and I became calculating. I resolved to test for his passions; to verify for myself the knowledge that he was indeed a man of culture and refinement, devoted to all that was ancient and Greek and proud. I bade him speak of Athens, and lo, he did not disappoint. In fact, so enamoured did I become of him that I relapsed into the language of deference, for he was suddenly quite kingly in mine eyes. Yet it was he – Hadrian! – who then warned me away from looking on him as anything but a mortal, as though the experience of being held in my sight as the vision of a common man was itself a cold and refreshing rain upon his overheated ceremony. He even endeavoured to test me again, and sought to inspire my fear by a long and impressive list of titles. In response, I made clear to him that I was unmoved by them, and demonstrated once more my knowingness with regard to the world’s hypocrisies. He was convinced. He was won.

He asked me my name, and I spoke it to him. He held it upon his tongue and took pains to commit it unto his memory. And then he was decided, and offered me my place upon the Palatine Hill. I accepted, and at once could feel the world shift its mighty weight around me. Suddenly I belonged to the entourage; the pitiful school was something distant and utterly foreign.

I had expected Hadrian to continue his interviews, but was astonished when he signaled his intention to depart. It took me a moment to realize the significance of what was occurring; the understanding that all the other boys would need now to wait for the next General Inspection in order to be culled by it as a group of graduates. Antinous, in contrast, had been hand-selected, and now accompanied Hadrian down the hill as the sole and uncontested champion of his Imperial visit. I was amazed. Was this the justice I had dreamed of; the recompense for two years of hardship and the bitter end of Trenus? Was this the presence of a few, dignified gods standing invisibly beside me and sneering contemptuously at Vestinus as he gaped after my departing back, at Carisius who envied, at Falconius who suddenly doubted himself, and at the name of Gryllus – that newly defeated tactician not even present in person to behold his loss, destined to hear second-hand that Antinous was flown? It was – and remains even now – a reckless and dangerous thought; evidence of the spectacular hubris which I could happily embrace were I so inclined. But I have consciously willed myself not to think it. My deliverance at the hand of Hadrian was not the work of the gods: it was a hiccup of mere coincidence. On a day in which the man was feeling a modicum of despondency, he climbed the Caelian Hill in search of distraction and found agreement with a despondent boy. And yet, can it not be argued that this in itself is the work of a higher order? I am unable to explain it, and Mystery and Wonder, heedless of my hunger for reason, frolic on.

That is the news, my friend. It is happy and it is just, and it has compelled me to think on you and write in celebration. Yet suddenly I have a letter in hand, but no Maltinus to whom it may be entrusted. That I know these words shall never reach you does not in the least deter me: there is a comfort and a tradition in this liturgical rite and I desire that it continue forever. Thus I no longer write to Lysicles my distant friend; I write to Lysicles, the God of Cherished Memory, and as the Fates spool out the thread of my destiny, so shall I re-spool it for him upon an endless stream of parchment. He shall know me in his dreams! And yet, it hath occurred that I am placed now in such a position to actually find the very functionary of whom Maltinus spoke and deliver this to him directly. Perhaps these letters may still one day reach you?

Tell me, Lysicles: What is a greater shame upon my head – the absurd and undying hope my words shall find you, or the absurd refusal to finally let you go? I am at a loss, and the pair of buxom pixies idle uselessly in my head, proving themselves with every unanticipated hour to be of no assistance at all. A.

The Sacred Antinous is an ongoing work of Historical Fiction, for contemplative and educational purposes.
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