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
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Phallic Amulets

The Ride From Rome


I write this in my bedroom, one of many among the guest quarters at Hadrian’s Villa. It is a lavish and beautifully appointed space – and it is mine alone. I am astounded by the richness of it; of everything that surrounds me. This inaugural day in Tibur has been a full one: the ride this afternoon, a luxurious dinner, some entertainment, and now to our beds.

Our departure from Rome was delayed until after lunch for some unspecified (although most likely perfectly mundane) reason. Anaxamenos and I busied ourselves at the stables, waiting patiently for Hadrian’s arrival. Suddenly we heard his booming voice: “Florentius!” He had bellowed jovially, long before entering our midst, and poor Florentius nearly jumped out of his skin. But he quickly recovered and offered Hadrian a deep and respectful bow, “Good day, my liege.” Hadrian gave him a friendly slap upon the back and asked, “Is all in order?” Florentius nodded gravely, “Everything, my liege.” Hadrian turned to look at me. He smiled slyly. And then he nodded at Anaxamenos, taking pains even to speak his name in acknowledgment that it had not been forgotten.

Back to Florentius he turned: “And what is the name of that lucky horse who gets to carry this Antinous?” Florentius gestured to the one he had selected – a choice that he had made with the fullest calculation of its potential to please Hadrian. It was a fine stallion named Aethon – a reliable fellow most often used for quick dispatches to the outskirts of the city. Hadrian ran his hand down the beast’s neck in order to assess him. And then he smiled. “Excellent.”

He gestured for me to climb up and I did so. And then Anaxamenos tied my saddle bag for me, all the while bursting with joy and pride as I smiled down to him. He winked happily – as if to say “I told you so!” – and then stepped back to await Hadrian’s next move. The Emperor gazed at me upon my horse for a small time before turning to the rest of his train. “Away with us,” he said, and the others quickly found their steeds.

Within moments, Anaxamenos and Florentius were watching proudly as I rode with the royal train out of the stables and toward the countryside. Time collapsed; the clouds raced from one side of the sky to the other. And before I could fully digest what had happened, the city of Rome was behind us, the verdant land lay all around, and a small group of riders trotted merrily east. I counted seven in the party – not including the twelve Praetorians who rode with us. There was Hadrian, Phlegon, three other men I did not know (although one of them looked vaguely familiar to me), Corinthus and myself. I was informed that the journey would take about three hours at a leisurely pace, and thus settled in for a comfortable ride.

Aethon was a delight. Responsive and respectful, he was quick to obey my commands, especially when it became clear to him that I was hardly a novice at the reins. Hadrian looked back every once in a while to note for himself how easily I rode. “Were you a rider as a boy in Bithynia?” he called to me at one point. I nodded at him and smiled, “Indeed I was.”

Corinthus then slowed his horse to come parallel with mine. Although only four years older than I, he beheld me with an air of haughty disdain. “Do not be so stupid, Antinous. A one such as you, of your lowly rank, should address the Emperor far more formally.” I considered my words carefully before responding: “I thank you, Corinthus, for your concern, yet believe the Emperor wishes me always to address him more casually than is normally expected of a page.” And with that was our conversation ended, for Corinthus pulled ahead of me and made it clear that he thought very little of my company. It was certainly not hard to figure out why: the boy was IXX – and I was nearing XVI. It would not be long before his time in the Emperor’s bed was over, and it was becoming quite evident who his replacement would likely be. But why should he begrudge me? Was that not the way of things? Would he not progress toward a sparkling career, assisted every step of the way by his fame and the perpetual assistance of a grateful king? To be sure, his predecessor, Marianus, was already happily stationed in Hispania – the Emperor’s home province – and was steadily making a name for himself there as a keen and capable administrator. I wondered if perhaps Corinthus was worried for his future, and, if so, why?

The next to fall back and ride with me was one of those men I had recognized, but whose face I could not place. And yet he very quickly reminded me: “You have grown, Antinous, into a remarkable youth.” I smiled at him respectfully, and said, “Forgive me, Sir, if that I do not know your name, although I confess your visage to be familiar.” He laughed. “I was with the Emperor when he decided, at a whim, that he wished to inspect the boys upon the Caelian. I was present, Antinous, when he selected you.”

And instantly his face appeared in my memory – placed exactly where I had seen it on that fateful day. “Of course,” I said, “I remember now.” He smiled at me, and replied, “I am Caesernius Statianus. Over there is my brother, Macedo.” He pointed to one of the other men. “Who is that one?” I asked him of the third. “That,” he replied, “is Pulcher. The Emperor’s slave. He’s a good man. In fact, we all are. Except for one.”

It wasn’t hard to deduce the one to whom he was referring. Corinthus consistently revealed himself to possess a less than adequate intellect, and yet for some strange reason had found his place in Hadrian’s bed. If I was being monitored for my intellect, and if it was generally agreed that an intelligent and agile mind was valued by the Emperor, why should Corinthus have been selected in the first place? It was baffling to me. “It is truly baffling to us,” said Statianus immediately after I’d thought it. “Certainly, the boy’s attractive. Yet shall that alone warrant his continued place at Hadrian’s side?”

I laughed, for I was amazed at the confluence of our thoughts. In response, the man shrugged. He accompanied it with a good-natured smile. Then he gazed at me, leaned in, and lowered his voice even more: “We all are eager to have you join us on a regular basis, Antinous. Your intelligence and your audacity was shocking when first I beheld it. I thought that surely, if you persisted in addressing the Emperor as you did upon the Caelian, you were doomed. And yet we all have witnessed, or heard tell, or heard gasped, at how easily you manage to engage him. We all have seen how happy the man becomes in the aftermath of any exchange with you. How his eye sparkles, as though there is suddenly within him the spirit of a lion. You please him, Antinous, to such an astonishing degree that the rest of us have little recourse but to be just as pleased. You are an enigma. And yet, a glorious one – filling the Emperor with joy and energy.”

How breathless I was at the conclusion of that conversation! I watched him pull ahead and join his brother. After a brief and silent exchange between the two, Macedo turned and looked at me. I nodded at him. He nodded back. It was the only thing that transpired between us over the course of entire journey. And yet, it was everything I needed in order to understand that I possessed in the Caesernii brothers a pair of devoted allies.

As we continued our ride, I reflected on the fact that I had now heard from several sources – all of them close to Hadrian – that my presence at the periphery of the court represented something quite novel. On the one hand, I was universally acknowledged as having the ability to engage the Emperor at a level that was previously unheard of for one of my rank. On the other, I was still being kept at a distance; consistently refused admittance into the Emperor’s most intimate company. Few seemed to know what to make of that. Yet it seemed to me to be perfectly clear: I was being tested – over and over again – for my quality. Lucius Commodus had been the man’s first Favourite: despite his family name and his political competence, his behaviour was sometimes less than edifying. That he was tolerated seemed to have more to do with Hadrian’s fondness for his value as an entertainer than as a truly substantial being. Of Marianus I knew little, and yet over the past couple of years have deduced that he was bright, ambitious, capable, loyal, deferent, attractive – and for all these reasons perfectly ordinary within the sphere that was Hadrian’s. Corinthus is close to godlike in his physical beauty, and of a disposition that makes him highly pliable in Hadrian’s hands. While this may once have proven attractive to the Emperor, its value seems everyday to be diminishing. And from Corithus, the line appears to be steadily extending toward Antinous. Perhaps the man has learned his lesson: he has taken to testing the possible candidates in order to ensure their suitability. He wishes to know me from every angle before he commits.

What does this say of his character? If nothing else, it reveals a considerable humanity, for he seems inherently to recognize that souls in the service of the Imperium ought not be so disposable as previous emperors have made them. Thus, although he may be growing increasingly disenchanted with Corinthus (for that is the sense I’m getting), he continues to honour his pledge to the youth and will shortly release him into a well-tailored career within the civil service. By the gods, if my future lies in this man’s bed, I am a fool to deny that I could certainly do much, much worse!

Hadrian soon signaled his wish for me to join him at the front of the train, and so I quickly spurred Aethon up beside him. “Privacy,” he said, and it was instantly understood. Phlegon and Corinthus fell back several paces. The guards spread out a little more distantly. Within moments, it was but he and I, ambling our languid horses through the brown and rustling grasses of Italia.

For a long time, he said nothing. At first I wondered if I should make something of that, and then decided it was pointless. You must learn to accept from him without anxiety his every detail as though it were but a happy and contented smile, I told myself. That is the only way you shall persist in being for him what he wishes. “Does my silence make you uncomfortable?” he asked. “No,” I replied. “Does mine?”

He laughed. It was a joyous guffaw, filled with surprise and delight. Then, with eyes still directed straight ahead, he said very simply, “Antinous.” And that was all. It felt as though he merely enjoyed holding the word upon his tongue, relishing the shape of its syllables.

We rode together in a very contented silence the rest of the way, and arrived at the villa with about an hour of daylight remaining. I was eager to explore the grounds, but was taken instead directly to my quarters in the Hospitalia. There are baths here, and I was told that I had some time to relax before dinner. And so I did as was suggested, and spent a luxurious few moments alone in the steam. And then I dressed, and joined the assembly for dinner.

I discovered that there were many more people present at the villa than had traveled with us, and was forced to re-assess my initial assumption as to the scale of this place, which I still have not seen in its entirety. I had imagined that this would be a fairly modest estate; that Hadrian still considered the Palatine to be his seat of government. But with each passing minute in this otherworldly complex, I am beginning to understand that it is, in fact, Rome that is the secondary seat, and that the Empire is actually ruled from here.

Courtiers from across Italia, as well as some foreign dignitaries, were seated around several immense stone tables in a very large dining hall. I was not placed near to Hadrian, and passed the meal in rather uninspired conversation with a man whose name I did not catch and who spent the majority of our time together talking about the food before him. The Caesernii Brothers, however, were seated not too far away, and despite their exceedingly muted and private conversation, I could tell that they were listening keenly to my series of polite responses. I am being tested, I continually reminded myself.

Afterward, we were all invited into a courtyard for some simple entertainment; a troupe of musicians sang to us a very pleasant collection of songs. I looked around and spied Hadrian. He was flanked on either side by Phlegon and Corinthus, who, when he caught me looking at him, turned promptly away with a smirk. It was as though he reveled less by his place beside the Emperor than he did at my distance from it. I could not help but dislike him for that.

When the evening was over it was Statianus who came up to me and offered to walk with me to my quarters. “Ensure that you sleep, Antinous,” he said. “You have some very full days ahead.” I thanked him for his advice and entered my room.

I do not know whether it was placed here specifically for me, or whether it is the custom to give to every guest, but I discovered upon my entry this evening a small stack of parchment and a reed with ink. There were several lamps already burning when I stepped inside the room. Indeed, my friend, it is as though someone here knows well of my need to write to you. Or perhaps this is merely ordinary treatment for the guests of Hadrian. How am I to tell? In any case, I am now quite exhausted at having set to paper my first few hours in Tibur, which does not, alas, bode well for future letters. For I have a sense that this is a massive place, one that shall at an accelerated pace be experienced completely. Such a sense, Lysicles, is both exciting and dreadful, for how shall I abundantly experience it while at the same time struggling to relate its every detail faithfully unto you? Pray for, or despise me, as you will. A.

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