An Image of Antinous
I have just returned from the shop of Cyprias, where I exchanged
for a bar of soap the small endurance of his manhood within me.
It has been a whirlwind morning, for I decided that I would give
Mordanticus a gift of the lather to thank him for his support of
me with this endless stream of parchment. Though I did not tell
Cyprias, I was, in fact, in quite a rush to return home, for I have
little time left.
Another visit from Phlegon at the stables this morning brought
with it the news that Hadrian has requested my company on his next
outing to Tibur. I was told I have but a single day to prepare –
we leave tomorrow at sunrise – and there is no indication
how long I will be gone from Rome. Naturally, I am excited, and
yet not without trepidation. What shall be expected of me? Am I
about to find myself in the Emperor’s bed? It goes without
saying that Anaxamenos believes the answer to be a resounding Yes.
Yet Hadrian has proven time and again to possess a considerable
amount of patience with regard to my flesh, and I am of the opinion
that such behaviour will continue. I sense that this is but another
test for me, and ‘tis the sensation that makes me nervous.
Owing to the uncertainty of how my time will be filled in Tibur,
I am hastily writing this now in order to set to paper my description
of the time I shared with Vitalis. I fear that my arrival at the
Emperor’s villa will so overwhelm me with spectacle that I
shall abandon as a priority the need to record that beauteous imagery
which currently holds (yet no doubt shall soon relinquish) the pride
of place in my mind.
After I had set down my reed last night, I rolled up the letter
and sealed it. And then I smiled at Vitalis and asked him what he
was writing. But he shook his head at me and said, “Nothing.”
“How can it be nothing?” I asked him. “You have
been writing for almost as long as I.” But he looked down
at the paper and replied, “It is not writing I have been busy
with, Antinous. It is drawing.” He held aloft to me his parchment,
which I reached over to take from him. And there before me was an
image of myself: my head bent low, my skin illuminated by the soft
glow of the lamp beside me, my ancient and undying love for Lysicles
tumbling down in word upon word upon the page. The breath did momentarily
leave my lungs, for I was mesmerized by the simple beauty of his
lines. In but a few strokes, the boy had managed to capture me in
my fullest concentration. I saw upon my face a visible testimony
to the affection I feel for you when I write your name. I was astounded.
Illustration by Shawn Postoff
“You have a gift,” I told him. “So do you,”
he said, and indicated the drawing in my hand. I was touched by
his generosity, and I thanked him for it. “Do you wish to
push our beds together?” I asked him. He smiled and nodded.
And so we fell upon our doubled bed, removed our clothing, and,
facing each other on our sides, embraced silently in the darkness.
His flesh was warm and firm beneath my fingers; the scent of him
was musky and damp. After a small time he turned from me and invited
me to insert myself between his thighs. I did so, wrapping my arms
around his body. My thrusting was slow and silent, for I wished
not to disturb the slumber of those around us, or, if any were still
awake, not to draw to ourselves undue attention. I eventually came
to a climax within his legs, and the release of it compelled me
to lie quietly for a long time, marveling at the sensation of his
peaceful body before me. As my breathing subsided, Vitalis lay still
and patiently, and I wondered if he had fallen asleep while the
stickiness of my slime dripped down across the front of his bottom
thigh. But he was not asleep. After several minutes had passed he
reached for the covers and used them to wipe my cooling liquid from
off his legs. And then he turned around to face me. I could feel
his youthful manhood, still very much hard, against my stomach.
“May I do you?” he asked. And how could I refuse him?
Illustration by Shawn Postoff
I started to turn around but he stopped me. “I wish to face
you,” he said. And so I opened my legs and allowed him passage
between them. He wrapped an arm around me and buried his face into
my neck. I too embraced him, and held my fingers against his back
while he slowly thrusted back and forth before me. The sensation
of our chests together was glorious; I rejoiced each time his belly
touched my own. When at last he released himself, his breathing
was intense and hot upon my ear. He slowed and stopped, and I was
happy to hold him between my legs. At first I felt nothing, for
the temperature of his liquid was as warm as our flesh. But soon
I felt it creeping down around the back of my leg: it had cooled
and loosened – I was tickled by the sensation of its slow
fall to the bed sheet.
When at last we separated, we both were sweaty and spent; sticky
and yet fully sated. I stood up and wiped myself off with the corner
of my sheet. We returned our beds to their proper place, kissed,
and bade each other goodnight.
Vitalis fell asleep almost instantly. And I, although feeling
happy and warm, was left awake to wonder at my sudden surge of desire
for him. Was it that Anaxamenos had become engaged? I was certainly
not blind to the fact that Palmetta was laying a claim on him whom
I had always believed (although not without insight as to the utter
foolishness of such a belief) to be mine alone. Perhaps that is
one explanation. And yet there are certainly others. There was the
need, as always, for release; a union of bodies and the blossom
of pleasure it brings. There was a desire for company and intimacy
in a setting where the power was, for once, my own; where I through
my seniority could command the events of the exchange to my liking.
And yet there was also a genuine affection for the lovely Vitalis,
a smooth and wide-eyed fellow that positively doted upon me; who
shared with me my love of wisdom; who had quite evidently been kissed
Although our friendship has not been a long one, I feel myself
quite capable of a very decisive love for him. And while I know
it is a love that cannot last beyond our youth, I nevertheless wish
it would. This in turn has led me to the strange realization that,
had you and I never been separated, Lysicles, we would very likely
be contemplating the approaching end of that time in which we could
easily share our flesh with one another. For manhood is fast approaching,
and with it the end of these casual affairs with my contemporaries.
For thinking such a thought, I have suddenly experienced a very
profound sense of my present fortune; of the joys and happiness
I am able to know now, as I near my XVIth birthday. The touch of
Vitalis is joyful; the freedom to pleasure Anaxamenos on a regular
and uncomplicated basis is refreshing. In contrast, my time with
Cyprias is unremarkable, for I feel little by way of attraction
for him. My time with Gryllus was exceptionally unpleasant. My time
with Hadrian may prove to be more a cumbersome and stressful duty
than a genuine experience of love. It is now, in my youth, when
society cares little for how I use or provide my flesh, that I am
truly free. When I am a man, there shall no longer be the freedom
to have close to me in my bed a contemporary or a friend. I shall
be relegated to those younger, or those purchased, and neither shall
afford me the stimulation I suspect I’ll want. How shall I
respond to that? How does anyone?
I am frightened. I wish never to stop touching the people who
are close to me – both in heart and in years – even
when arrived beyond my youth. I know not how the future shall find
me. What better reason, then, to embrace the present? To stare at
this picture of myself who writes; to write of the staring; to think
of the recipient who shall read it. I sing of Vitalis, of Anaxamenos,
of myself, of our delightful freshness. I ignore the spectre of
A bar of soap and two letters, thus, to Mordanticus I shall now
deliver, including the drawing made by Vitalis, which I send along
as a gift to you.* And then back here to the Gelotiana I’ll
dash to prepare myself as best I can for the journey before me.
Wherever you are, my friend, I have little doubt that you shall
sleep far more soundly this night than I! A.
* Note: The drawings of Vitalis will soon also
be presented as a collection of works in the Gospel of Vitalis.