In Tibur, Alone
These past few weeks I have spent at the Villa in the occasional
company of Hadrian. The majority of our time together is far from
private: we hunt, we bathe, we dine – all within the eyesight
of courtiers and slaves, advisors and sophists. When not in the
orbit of the Emperor, I am usually left alone, and divide much of
my time between the twin libraries.
My exchanges with Hadrian are uniformly agreeable. We share an easy
familiarity now – one that has been amply remarked upon by
more than a few observers. It is well understood that, for some
unfathomable reason, I alone enjoy the privilege – the expectation
even – of a casual address toward him. Despite this reality,
I always strive, when in public, to maintain a certain minimum standard
For the most part, our conversations are of a very civic nature.
Hadrian delights in engaging and including me among the discourses
he holds with his philosophers and his poets. He often looks to
me as one who may contribute substantially to the fray, and I am
finding myself increasingly at ease with my burgeoning ability to
do so. In addition, I am discovering that my long history of literary
consumption is beginning to serve me very well, for I will occasionally
unearth from myself the instant and gleaming knowledge of a particular
fact, or the sudden remembrance of a highly quotable morsel of wisdom,
and it will have surfaced in my mind at just the right moment in
which to be tossed strategically into the discussion. It is a wonderful
and empowering sensation, for it makes me feel very much like a
Also contributing to this sensation of attaining my manhood is the
fact that I am greatly enjoying learning the lessons of the hunt.
Indeed, I steadily feel myself becoming a skilled practitioner.
To be fair, the game has been consistently docile: usually a deer,
but on one occasion it was a boar. Naturally, I relegated myself
to the status of an observer during that particular chase, for I
wanted to see how such a creature behaved when confronted by a hunting
party, and so archive it in my mind for the future. (As a side note,
I’m sure you can deduce from the frequency with which we hunt
that the entire court is eating exceptionally well.)
Yet despite these happy factors, there are other forces in play
that serve only to isolate me and make me feel as though my manhood
shall forever elude. Hadrian refuses to take me into his bed, yet
will often have an assortment of other random boys therein, not
to mention the consistent and reliable company of Corinthus. The
fact that he has loftily explained his avoidance of me is of little
comfort, especially in those times when my flesh craves its pleasure.
Thus, on the loss of Lysicles, in the absence of Vitalis, by the
departure of Anaxamenos, with the unavailability of Cyprias, and
from the refusal of Hadrian, I have found myself here in Tibur bereft
of any familiar persons with whom to become sensual.
To be sure, I have caught an occasional older fellow looking in
my direction, and have even returned to him an acknowledging smile.
From that has sprouted some cursory and friendly exchange –
but beyond such talk nothing has ever happened. It is as though
they suddenly recoil from the thought of taking something that is
known to belong to Hadrian. Which, naturally, is frustrating to
me, because Hadrian has yet to declare me his favourite. Thus I
am in limbo: Not yet invited to be with the Emperor, but generally
acknowledged to be reserved by him and therefore untouchable by
With regard to other youths who share with me my age and rank, and
with whom I would be happy to exchange some pleasures, I maintain
with them all nothing more than a very cordial exchange. And while
I would very much like for it to be more than merely cordial, they
all seem to be intentionally keeping their distance from me. Mordanticus
has called this their “reverence” of me, but I’m
not so sure that’s what it ought to be named. How is it that
in the Gelotiana, I am known and loved by many boys, yet here in
Tibur, I am considered unapproachable? It occurs to me that a very
probable reason is that I have been given a private room here, and
thus the other boys treat me as one who is to be kept apart from
them. How oddly I straddle these twin worlds of Rome and Tibur:
in one I am a page without duties, in the other I am a guest without
the easy comfort of friends.
To be honest, Lysicles, I am lonely here. The one hope I held for
a possible friendship with a fellow of my own age was Fuscus, but
he has proven to be downright prudish toward my gestures of invite
and so I recently abandoned the quest to become his friend. Already
at his age he carries with him a considerable status and thus no
doubt looks down on me, who is but a page. Yet unto his elders and
his tutors, to the ambassadors and the generals, he is genial and
charming. Am I the only one who sees it? I cannot tell whether Hadrian
– who is often very good at perceiving the true worth of a
man – is aware of this discrepancy within the character of
Fuscus. Perhaps he is blinded by the fact of familial relation,
and willfully overlooks the boy’s (obvious?) inconsistencies.
And so you have my dilemma: I am gazed up to, or down upon, or beheld
from a distance with lusty yet reticent eyes. No one in Tibur seems
prepared to befriend me as an equal among unremarkable mortals.
None seek from me the simple exchange of pleasures for the sake
of an uncomplicated joy. Already is this flesh and its cherished
want becoming darkened and deceived by the false idols of status
and power. Is this what I have to look forward to?
Enough. It has occurred to me that many of the letters I write for
you speak of happy things; agreeable things; exciting things –
yet I am consistently despondent in my recording of them. The gods
smile upon me, yet I sneer with each report of their smiles. I do
not want be ungrateful, but I often wonder if I want less to have
the life that is mine. How much more vital might I be today had
I never been brought to Rome? Had I grown up simply: Antinous of
Claudiopolis, friend of Lysicles, husband of some contented and
capable woman, and father of many leaping children?
Yet why do I even think such things? I am indeed a fool. A.