The Sacred Antinous - Erotically-charged, Explicitly Illustrated, Queer-Themed Historical Fiction about Antinous and Hadrian
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LEGEND TO ILLUSTRATIONS
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COMMENTARY
  ~000 Introduction
I - THE YOUNG SCHOOLBOY
  ~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
II - THE COURT PAGE
  ~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
III - THE IMPERIAL FAVOURITE
  ~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
  ~074 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~075 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~076 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~077 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~078 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~079 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~080 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~081 Epistle Coming Soon
IV - THE SEARCHING SOUL
  ~082 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~083 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~084 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~085 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~086 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~087 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~088 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~089 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~090 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~091 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~092 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~093 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~094 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~095 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~096 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~097 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~098 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~099 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~100 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~101 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~102 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~103 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~104 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~105 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~106 Epistle Coming Soon
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  ~110 Epistle Coming Soon
Phallic Amulets

Dinner Guest

Lysicles

Hadrian was announced by an advance rider to be very much on schedule for his return to Rome and so I, in response, returned to my duties at the stables. Anaxamenos joked with me about my absence, and revealed quite honestly that he had missed me. I was touched by his admission and told him so. Together we set to work preparing for the Emperor’s arrival.

When he finally appeared, he jumped from Epeius and handed me the reins, pausing to gaze at my face. Phlegon was beside him, and watched me as well. At last Hadrian spoke: “What say you, Antinous?” I smiled at him: “I say, Sir, quite simply, thank you.” He smiled back at me, and we shared a private moment of understanding. “I look forward to perusing the list of your recent reads,” he said. I nodded respectfully, and replied, “I look forward to your response.” And with that, he signaled to his train, and they left.

In the aftermath of Hadrian’s departure, the business of the stables became considerably more relaxed. I attended to Epeius and ensured that he was fed, groomed and rested. I washed his mane with the rosemary soap and brushed it straight and shiny. His stall had been cleaned and prepared for him quite lavishly, and it was apparent to me that this proud and beautiful horse was happy to be home – among both equine and human friends.

As the day ended, Anaxamenos and I walked back to the Gelotiana together, and he reported to me on what he had observed: “While you with the Emperor were speaking, I was watching Corinthus. It was painfully obvious to me how jealous he was of the subtlety and nuance of your exchange.” I was confused by this, for it seemed absurdly unnecessary. “Why should Corinthus be jealous? He is already the favourite!”

“Yes,” said Anaxamenos, “but only by virtue of his beauty and his skill with the hunt. Yet from what I recall of Corinthus, he is far inferior to you in his ability to apprehend the complexities of thought. Thus, although adequate in his intellect, he is coming to realize that what is adequate in the eyes of many is often woefully deficient in the eyes of Hadrian. Quiet and self-assured Antinous, in contrast, possesses in the eyes of many not only a beautiful physicality, but a superior intellect as well. This, in the eyes of Hadrian, is very likely the description of a particular kind fellow who may far more adequately meet the Emperor’s needs.”

I did not think too much of this analysis (for indeed, how could Anaxamenos truly know all that?) until a certain event had played itself out in such a way that I was able to confirm with my own eyes the extent of Corinthus’ jealousy. And as I prepare to describe that particular evening on which it occurred, I am suddenly struck by the magnitude of what is happening in my life; the powerful circles into which I am very deliberately being admitted.

It was about a week after the above-mentioned exchange with Hadrian that I received, once again, a personal visit from his secretary, Phlegon. He came to me while I was at work in the stables, and announced that I had been summoned to dine that evening with the Emperor. I was permitted to bring with me a guest whose name I was asked to provide immediately, owing to the fact that proper arrangements needed to be made. I required no deliberation to arrive at my choice of Anaxamenos, who happened to be standing beside me, and Phlegon nodded at him respectfully. When he departed, Anaxamenos yelped with glee and embraced me, for he was tickled at the prospect of eating a royal meal. (Can you see, Lysicles, why I love him so much? He is so completely lacking in guile that the prospect of dining with the Emperor inspires not a single thought for his career or its ambitions, but rather for the anticipated gastronomical delights in his belly!)

We prepared excitedly, and of course Anaxamenos announced to the boys at the dormitory where we were destined to eat that evening. I noted that Carisius was absent to hear the news, and wondered where he might be.

My answer came soon enough. As we entered the dining hall, I instantly discovered that Anaxamenos and I were not alone among the invited guests. With us was Salonius the librarian, Phlegon, Petasius the pedagogiarch of the Gelotiana (who had always treated me respectfully), Lucius Commodus… and Carisius. He eyed me levelly, as if to say: “Do you see? I too am here.” There was also present a certain man whom Anaxamenos recognized for his fame: Marcus Turbo – the Prefect of the Guard! We were shown to our seats to await the Emperor. I noticed there were still four empty places that had yet to be filled.

Within minutes, however, the bodies destined to occupy them had entered. There came into the room Sabina, and a woman who was introduced as Julia Balbilla – her friend. Corinthus then accompanied Hadrian to his seat, and the introductions were made as the flow of foods began. Much of the initial talk was dominated by Commodus, who spoke loftily and entertainingly about the foods we were eating, and, more specifically, the proclivities of the farmers’ wives who’d produced them. Commodus did not seem to notice, however, that the vast amount of laughter at the table was not quite as hearty as his own: much of it was politely tolerant. He introduced Carisius as his most recent “acquisition” – “My delightful little Hermes who flits for me about the palace, delivering words and wonders.” I glanced at Hadrian then, who eyed Carisius without expression before turning to the paedagogiarch.

“Tell us the news, Petasius.” Hadrian was quite diplomatic in his ability to steer the conversation. “What shall we hear of our school for aspiring courtiers?” Petasius nodded graciously as the attention shifted to him. “There is no news, my liege, save what is old: The school is exceedingly successful; our boys are well behaved and brimming with the promise and excitement of serving in a Roman world.” Hadrian smiled, for he relished in the practice of patiently circling that particular subject he wished to discuss (which was, I soon realized, myself). “Yet surely, friend, there are boys among you who stand out; who prove themselves to be considerably more worthy of attention than the others.” Petasius nodded again, and replied, “Indeed, my lord, there are. In fact, we are very lucky to have at our table this evening one such fellow of note. He is named Antionous, and I believe that you are already with him well acquainted.”

Hadrian turned in the direction that Petasius had indicated, and allowed his eyes to fall upon me. He pretended at surprised delight to find me sitting at the table, although it was perfectly clear who had summoned me to attend. “Antinous,” he said. There was a certain pride in his voice, a very detectable admiration. I nodded at him, and said, “Good evening, Sir.” Hadrian looked at Anaxamenos and smiled at him: “I do recognize your guest, Antinous, by that very red hair I often see when I come unto the stables. What is your name, friend?” Anaxamenos positively beamed as he stated his name. “You are welcome, Anaxamenos, and for that you have been chosen by Antinous to be here, I must easily trust that you are a fellow of impeccable character.” Anaxamenos smiled widely and responded “I thank you, my liege.”

I watched Carisius bristle. And then I glanced at Corinthus, and witnessed from him the exact same response. I felt a sudden surge of fear, as if an army of barbarian boys were plotting against me while I slept comfortably upon a down pillow.

“Salonius!” Hadrian’s booming voice called me back into the present. “Have you a list for me?” Salonius produced a small sheet of parchment. “Indeed, my lord, I have it.” Hadrian turned to look at me as he spoke to the librarian: “Shall you select for us a few of the more remarkable titles upon it?” Salonius nodded, “Indeed, my lord, I shall.”

He cleared his throat and began: “The page Antinous has been very deliberate in his selection of texts from His Majesty’s personal library. In total, he has completed in their entirety ten titles whose subjects range from poetry to art, theatre, philosophy and science.” Julia Balbilla clapped her hands enthusiastically and smiled warmly in my direction. Salonius continued: “He began his readings, on my own suggestion, with the poems of Catullus, who is not readily known to the common student.” Balbilla gasped in delight, and I could see that Hadrian was in the habit of indulging her.

Philo“Continue,” commanded Hadrian. “Not long after,” said Salonius, “Antinous requested to see a text by the Jewish philosopher Philo, which I was very surprised to hear asked for.” Hadrian raised an eyebrow: “Indeed. A very unusual request. Shall you explain it, Antinous?” It occurred to me that Hadrian had already perused the entire list, and had pre-selected those particular titles that he wished to have me speak on. I suddenly came to understand that this evening was also very likely a test for me. I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts: “It is well known, Sir, that you wish to invite into the hallowed space of your astonishing new Pantheon the gods of every nation and every people. Yet the god of the Jews is forever aloof; always jealous of his brooding isolation. I was curious to read how Philo – a man who was Jewish of blood, yet educated in the philosophies of the Hellenes – had attempted to reconcile these two vastly different worlds. It was my hope that I should begin to understand in detail the conflict between them, and, perhaps, discover a path to their reconciliation.”

There was a small silence as Hadrian contemplated my answer. At last he spoke: “And? Have you discovered it?” I considered my words carefully. “I regret that I found much of his treatise to be beyond my comprehension.” Hadrian smiled then, and replied: “That is not a cause for you to fault your own intellect, Antinous. I too have struggled to understand his myriad of rules and convoluted instructions on how a man may successfully unite the Greek and Jewish wisdoms into one. I long ago concluded that his methodology is far too obscure; far too opaque; far too labyrinthine to enjoy a ready application in the day-to-day governance of our Roman world. Do not, therefore, find fault in your own capacity: that you have failed to grasp his theory is not that you are unable to close your fingers around it. Rather, it is that he has so oiled it up with unctuous and incomprehensible ideas that it must inevitably slip from the hand of even the most astute of our modern sages. You ought to be commended, my friend, for such a valiant attempt toward the service of my administration’s ideals.”

There was a general murmur of agreement about the table, and I looked around at the serious faces. I suddenly had a distinct impression that not a single person around it – save for Hadrian, Salonius, and I – had even heard of Philo, much less read from him. I felt the presence of a great hypocrisy surrounding me. As I returned my gaze to Hadrian, I sensed that he was thinking the very same thing. He smiled knowingly at me. “What else, Salonius, has our young scholar investigated?”

Salonius replied, “Antinous has recently completed reading from the works of Seutonius.” There was suddenly a very palpable tension around the table. Julia Balbilla turned to look at Sabina, as did Commodus, Turbo, and Hadrian himself. I could tell that Hadrian was subtly amused. “Oh?” he asked. “And was Antinous warned about the admittance of such a name into our polite company?”

I suddenly felt my chest constrict, for I sensed that I had somehow trespassed upon a history about which I knew little. Commodus laughed luxuriously: “What was it? Five years ago? The boy was but eleven! How can he have known it?” Hadrian turned to assess me for a time before speaking: “Seutonius was my former secretary. I dismissed him for certain remarks of impropriety toward my wife.” I considered that for a time, while Sabina sat silently and the table awaited my response. At last I said to him, “If I have offended, then I am truly sorry. And yet, I feel it necessary to defend myself by stating, that if the act of reading an author is deemed an offense – one that is born from the reader’s ignorance of his author’s life beyond the pages – such offense is surely mitigated by the just intention of seeking to annihilate a higher ignorance that must persist if the book remains forever unread.”

Balbilla suddenly chirped up; her syrupy and sycophantic tone a most annoying sing-song in my ears: “And yet to read it, Antinous, is to expose to your young and impressionable mind certain ideas that are not wholly servile to your own life beyond that book’s pages, which is why such an author has been censured in the first place. Twelve CaesarsFor it is in his history of The Twelve Caesars, that Seutonius most always takes the side of the senate in opposition to the Imperium. How shall such a man be trusted to convey to his readers the full majesty of an Emperor’s genius if that he is always so conveniently prejudiced against it? Hey? Perhaps then, this is a case in which you should not so quickly assume that the content of a book is automatically nobler than the context in which it was created. And, with respect, perhaps Salonius ought to have warned you of the dangers inherent in reading from Seutonius, prior to his book being opened.”

My theory about Hadrian having read the entire list before-hand was strengthened when I observed a sly smile upon his lips, for he must have known that my impending answer would automatically compel me to contradict Balbilla’s assumptions, thus embarrassing her before all eyes. And yet, if it was suddenly my duty to deliver her embarrassment, I was determined to do so gently. “With respect, madam,” I said, “it was not The Twelve Caesars I read of Seutonius, but another, lesser-known work entitled, The Physical Defects of Mankind.”

And with that she was silenced, and smiled politely to the eyes upon her. I could sense that Hadrian was very pleased with me; that he was enjoying our discourse immensely. It felt as though the two of us were engaging in a very private conversation together, and, despite their occasional injections, the others were present merely as spectators upon our exclusive exchange. “Wherefore should a boy of your astonishing beauty be reading such a depressing tract?” asked Hadrian.

I gazed at him steadily before answering: “I shall not always be beauteous, Sir. Time shall, without a doubt, ravage me as he will any mortal – subject me to any number of tools and devices from his vast array of tortures. And one day soon, when Death seeks me out, he shall discover me, in good proportion to the days I have spent upon Time’s rack, that much more willing to be found. To read such a book as The Physical Defects of Mankind is to remind me of my ultimate insignificance; my powerlessness; my destiny as flesh. And it is good and healthy for me to be reminded of such, especially as I am continuously threatened with frequent and drunken delusions of grandeur by virtue of the illustrious company into which I am increasingly admitted.”

“Beauty is a gift from the gods,” plunked Corinthus, “and to disdain it is an offense to them.” I nodded: “I agree, Corinthus. Yet the habit of remaining wary of my mortality is never to be equated with any disdain for that gift of mortal beauty which I have very gratefully accepted. I am not so foolish as to scoff at what the gods have granted me; I am not so falsely modest as to pretend to remain by it unaffected or even unprivileged. Yet neither am I become vain for it; nor content to rely upon it solely for my fleeting progress through the world of men. And I am much resolved that when Time eventually begins to work his peculiar artistry upon me, that I shall have amassed much by way of alternate virtues with which to remain vital and respected among my fellow seekers.”

Anaxamenos later commented that I had addressed Corinthus too harshly; that I had, by the eloquence of my rhetoric in contrast to his own, placed him far beneath me before all eyes. But it had never been my intention to trounce him: I wished only to express my honest self. Regardless, Hadrian seemed genuinely pleased: “Are there any books, Antinous, that still beckon you? What else do you desire to read?”

Such a question! How many thousands could I have listed for him? And yet I sensed that he wished me to answer provocatively; to choose from my long dreams a single title that should provoke the thought and curiosity – perhaps even the horror and the fear – of his very polite assembly. He wanted me to be the voice of his disdain for all that was dishonest and obsequious. And who was I to deny him that? “I would very much like to read the Septuagint of the Jews.” SeptuagintThe table tensed yet again – everyone except for Hadrian. He smiled at me calmly and asked, “Why?” I had expected this, and replied: “I wish to pursue my investigations further. For I feel that I know a great deal of Hellene culture, and I confess that the work – or, at the very least, the attempt – of Philo has intrigued me. Therefore I should like to push onward, and come to the original source of his inquiry. It seems to me that in order to do this, I would do well to investigate the holy texts of the Hebrews as they have been translated for us by the seventy scholars.”

Sabina snorted in disdain: “Such work is absurdly ambitious for a boy of sixteen. Let him be content with his Ovidius, and let him cease to talk, that we all at last may find some much-needed reprieve from this abrasive conversation.” Hadrian mulled on her words for a small moment before responding, “Would that all of our boys of but sixteen should be so curious, methinks that Rome would soon enough rule the skies as well. You have my blessing, Antinous, to read wide, deep, and dangerously.”

With that, Commodus resumed his shepherding of the discussion, much to the relief of Balbilla and several of the others. I noted that Sabina gazed for a moment at Corinthus, and he smiled a tiny smile at her, as though in thanks. Carisius was also considerably more relaxed after that; happy to be able to lavish his attentions upon the vociferous Commodus. Anaxamenos reached down and squeezed my leg beneath the table – a gesture of support. When I looked to him he winked at me: “The Emperor holds many mighty thoughts in regard to your person, Antinous.” I smiled at him and continued to eat, glancing up every now and then to meet the silent disdain of Corinthus, the mocking sneer of Carisius, or the steady, level gaze of Hadrian.

I could tell you what we ate that night, but that, I think, would be superfluous at the end of such a substantial letter – one which has been several days in its lengthy composition and is eager to be off in your direction. If, as Anaxamenos predicts, I am bound for the Emperor’s bed, there will no doubt be ample opportunity to tell you of the many corporeal benefits that surround it. In the meantime, Lysicles, know that I am feeling good. My footing before Hadrian is solid, and I believe myself to be as ready as possible for the role into which I may soon enough be summoned. A.

 
Optimythic
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