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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

The End of Corinthus

O my Lysicles!

Something momentous has happened, and I, along with much of the court, am struggling to digest it. Corinthus has been dismissed as Hadrian’s favourite. The story is all the more disturbing because it involves me directly: I was alternately a party to or a witness of it.

It began at Tibur, in the baths, where I found myself seated among the Emperor and his retinue. (Indeed, I think it safe to say I am considered a part of that retinue, despite my lack of an official role). Corinthus sat nearby to him, as per usual. It was just after a hunt, and we were all relaxing amid the steam.

Suddenly Hadrian spoke to the assembled men, “Antinous has read from a Christian text.” You can imagine how the room grew quiet, and how all eyes turned to look at me. But Hadrian was smiling softly to himself: it was hardly an accusation – merely an invitation to play. And indeed, he followed up with, “What think we of that?”

“What he has read,” spoke Statianus, “is not so important as what he shall make of it. For is it not possible to read something and feel for it only contempt? To acquaint oneself with its contents for no other reason than to declare them worthless of acquaintance?”

Hadrian nodded, and said, “Well put, my friend.” He turned to me and asked, “Was that your intention?”

“It was not my intention to dismiss the text prior to its being read. It was my desire to understand it. Only after I’d passed my eyes upon it did I decide it was contemptible.”

“Who else,” spoke Hadrian to the room, “believes the Christian texts contemptible?” Predictably, every man present made known his contempt. “And who of you, like Antinous, has read their words directly?” Also predictably, no other man had. Hadrian nodded slowly. “How very remarkable. For as a group we have very clearly illustrated my dilemma.”

“How so, my liege?” asked a man named Rullus. Hadrian considered, and replied: “I wonder. Who among you all is most capable of resisting the Siren call of their doctrine – the one who has read it for himself and come to his own critical conclusions, or the many who have universally borrowed as their own the familiar, fashionable, and unconsidered thoughts of their neighbour? Hey? There is no question that the Christian teachings are foolish. Antinous knows that as well as you all, who have not directly imbibed their words. Yet here is my question: Does he know it better than you? Does he know it more solidly? More passionately? More resolutely for having engaged with their philosophy at so personal a level? Hey? Answer me.”

And there was silence. Finally Hadrian answered himself: “I believe he does.” He gazed at me fondly for a small time before continuing, “Yet Antinous is a rare specimen. He can be trusted with such a text – to read it, consider it, and reject it as is proper. Can the same be said for you all? Can the same be said for Rome? For Italia? For the Empire?”

“My lord,” spoke Statianus, “you give too much credit to these Christians. They are but a lopsided mystery cult; freakish in their deformities – struggling to stuff into Hebrew doctrine some Eleusian bastardization of the soul’s resurrection. Every man of intelligence surely comprehends this, and hardly needs to read their texts in order to arrive at such a conclusion.”

Hadrian laughed. “And what is the ratio, my friend, in this vast and unspeakable world, of men with intelligence versus those without?” Many chuckled at that, and Rullus once again piped in: “But if we are overwhelmed by the stupid and the illiterate, there is hardly a need to worry about them reading the texts!” Again there was laughter, and Hadrian awaited for it patiently to subside before speaking: “Yet those texts, Rullus, are not written for the common and illiterate man. They are written for the evangels. They are speaking notes for those that would speak to and thus woo the illiterates.”

“That’s why we crucify them,” said Corinthus. There were murmurs of assent, and he seemed happy to have contributed something to the discussion. But Hadrian, as usual, had been fishing for just such a remark. He knew exactly where this discourse was bound, and it was time now to get there: “To silence a man for speaking his truth – however deranged it may seem to us – is to accord his truth the status of something inherently threatening to the silencer. Indeed, if his truth is so offensive to our gods, why do the Olympians not dispose of him themselves? Why do they leave the dirty deed to us? Hey? And again, if that I seek to prohibit the writing and the reading of their texts – to halt, in effect, their dissemination – do I not automatically bestow upon those very texts the mystique of something awesome and powerful; something worthy of an Emperor’s fear; worthy of the curiosity of weak men? Yet what is my alternative? If I ignore it, and let the papyri and their speakers multiply uninhibited, how far can I trust the men of the world to think as does Antinous?”

Again there was a long and profound silence. Hadrian gazed at me quietly, until finally speaking: “That is my dilemma, my friends. That is why you do not see me so ardently as Trajan sending to the lions these heretics. For each time a Christian dies, he does so before a hundred thousand eyes – and does so in such an insidious way as to appear braver than the bravest Roman soldier who, without the benefit of a cheering crowd, gives his life to defend the ramparts of that Christian’s unholy madness. It sickens me. And I defy any philosopher to find for me a suitable solution.”

From the ensuing thoughtfulness, Corinthus was the first to offer up some words: “You should kill them all in a single stroke of military action. Every legion across the empire, directed as one, to root out their evil and dispose of it.” His words were met with a wall of silence, for all understood just how useless was the suggestion, especially in the wake of Hadrian’s very thorough explanation. Hadrian turned and faced Corinthus directly. He spoke softly, yet with a great and acrimonious disgust: “My challenge was directed at the philosophers, Corinthus – not the pleasure-boys.” And with those few words, Hadrian made publicly known his truest thoughts concerning Corinthus: that he was a dullard; a youth whose sole and unprofitable purpose was merely to open his body’s holes at the whim of a superior mind. Given the company, it was a brutal and humiliating insult, and I watched with a constricting chest as Corinthus struggled with his silent and impotent fury.

His pain was no doubt intensified when Hadrian’s next move was to turn in my direction and ask, “Have you any suggestions, Antinous, on how I ought to proceed?”

In that instant, everyone understood that the era of Corinthus was ended. And yet, it was not quite so clear whether the era of Antinous had begun. For Hadrian had just addressed me, not as a “pleasure-boy,” but as a “philosopher.” I had been asked to comment on policy, on governance, on administration. There was never any indication that I was expected to become available for him in bed. All of this, of course, was comprehended within a flash – yet I hadn’t the luxury of contemplating it. For I had been called upon to speak, and, what’s more, to speak on something of great and ungainly complexity.

I breathed deeply, and I began. “In the Christian text of which I read, the arrival and reception of their Anointed One is considered by them to be very good news. This, in turn, is what the evangels are directed to emphasize to their followers: the good news of their god’s arrival. This should cause one to ask after a definition of news. “News” is any report that is worthy of telling by virtue of its newness. In other words, the Christian god is worthy of celebration because he is new. Not for the dream of resurrection which he supposedly brings, which, as Statianus has already pointed out, is but a pale reflection of the true Eleusian mysteries. Rather, the Christian god itself is fresh and novel, and this novelty of form becomes the rallying point around which potential converts are encouraged to abandon the Olympians. For whereas we, who are devout, look upon the Olympians with awe, and afford them supreme authority by virtue of their very ancientness, the Christians direct their followers to see that agedness as a fundamental weakness. For that they are old, the gods of our pantheon are seen as brittle, unresponsive, faded, and oblivious to the needs and wants of modern men. It is this, I believe, which allows the Christians to make their sect so attractive to those who are feeling by the Olympian gods abandoned.”

Hadrian shook his head in disagreement: “Yet I have just completed a brand new temple, Antinous, devoted not to one god in exclusivity, but to all of them at once. How then can you claim that the pantheon is faded, when indeed it has very recently been given a most remarkable and monumental offering?”

“But why did you offer it?” I instantly retorted. And I suddenly amazed at my own sense of freedom, as though the words that flowed from my brain to my mouth and out into the surrounding steam were not mine, but those of the gods themselves, speaking through me as a medium unto Hadrian himself. “You must have intuited, when the project was commissioned, this very argument I have just made. For indeed, if the pantheon was already seen as lustrous and vital, there would surely be no need for a brand new temple to emphasize such a fact. That you decided to build it must suggest that, at a very deep level, you long ago perceived the pantheon was in need of renewal.”

Hadrian considered my words for a long time, and finally smiled at me. “How very artful you are, Antinous, to make the suggestion that it was I, years ago, who discovered this truth, and not you, just now, in the witness of all these illustrious men.”

“Such was not my intent,” I firmly replied, and knew without a doubt that he believed me.

“But you have not yet answered my original question,” he said. “What would you have me do?”

I considered that for a small time before launching in again: “I would seek to invigorate the pantheon in a way that goes considerably beyond your established projects of reconstruction and revitalization. I would fight the fire of the Christian evangels with evangels of our own. I would give to the Hellenes and Latins alike the good news and great report of a very youthful god. Not, however, youthful in character, but youthful in his very existence. Novel and fresh; a god that has recently arrived, like a traveler from distant lands, to take up residence in Hadrian’s brand new pantheon.”

“Blasphemy!” exclaimed Rullus. “Leave it to a sixteen year-old to think such a thing!”

“Indeed,” mused Hadrian. “Leave it to a sixteen year-old to think so audaciously; so beyond the pale of what is orthodox and conservative; so dangerously and yet so brilliantly.”

“With respect, my liege,” spoke Statianus, “the pantheon receives a new god with the passing of each successive emperor. The Imperial Cult is the mechanism – already existing and vital – by which citizens of the empire affirm their piety in respect of the Olympian gods. By making offerings in the name of a recently departed ruler, priests and supplicants alike proclaim their fidelity to and ensure the continuing relevance of our pantheon.”

Hadrian nodded and turned to me: “What say you to that, Antinous?”

“The Imperial Cult,” I replied, “is not a new institution. And by the time it receives its latest god, that god has already become familiar to the people by virtue of his circulation upon the coinage of commerce and the statuary that inhabits the forum of any major city. Moreover, his face and individual likeness is but the latest mask upon a very constant and unchanging god: the God of Imperial Rule. He is a god that manifests with each successive emperor under a different guise, but nonetheless speaks with a single, unbroken voice to administer a great and enduring civilization. And while this is good and noble and necessary, I must believe that to the common man who forges his anonymous life in Gaul or Britannia, Aegyptus or Bithynia, the particular features upon the face of the latest incarnation of Imperial Rule is of very little consequence. For while he surely does his duty and makes his offerings unto each newly elevated emperor, unlike we in this room, such a man has never met or conversed with the ruler to whom he pays tribute. He looks upon the seat of Roman power as from a great and unfathomable distance, and is never able, as are we, to develop with that Imperial figurehead a truly personal relationship. Therefore, Statianus, with respect, I must refute your claim. For I do not believe the Imperial Cult is a sufficiently agile or dexterous institution to effect the revitalization of our pantheon.”

“This is a considerable task you have prescribed for me, Antinous,” said Hadrian. “Herculean, in fact.” We all chuckled at that – all but Corinthus, that is, who was still desperately mired in his personal and imploding silence. But Hadrian ignored him. Instead he continued to gaze solidly into my eyes: “I shall consider it.”

That evening at dinner I was joined by the Caesernii brothers, both of whom complemented me on my exchange with the Emperor. “He was astonished at what you proposed,” reported Statianus. “He did not say so outright, but it was evident in the subsequent hours, as he struggled to process a great pile of correspondence.” Macedo, with a tiny smile, agreed: “He was continually distracted; continually delighting, over and again, at your words.” I was humbled and amazed by their report. And yet, at the same time, also disquieted. “What of Corinthus?” I asked.

Statianus shrugged: “He has been chastised. Yet it is hardly the first, nor will it be the last time such a thing occurs. Hadrian has requested some random and inconsequential company for this evening, thus Corinthus is free to do as he wishes. He shall no doubt be licking his wounds and fortifying for the return – most probably tomorrow – unto his regular place. Do not concern yourself with it.”

And yet, how could I not? Would that not soon be me, licking my wounds in the aftermath of a random insult from Hadrian? Macedo, to his immense credit, answered my thought almost before I could think it: “Surely, Antinous, you must know that Hadrian looks on you with a substantially different set of eyes than the eyes with which he beholds other youths. I should be very surprised if he ever does to you what he did this afternoon to Corinthus. Cease, therefore, your fretting, and prepare yourself. It will not be long now.”

I thanked them both and our conversation turned to the hunt, for which we shared, along with the Emperor, a considerable passion.

And, as they had rightly predicted, the following night Corinthus was restored. The incident seemed therefore to be over and passed without further ado into my recent memory.

Until, a few days later, Hadrian announced our spontaneous return to Rome. Within an hour we were saddled and set, and out into the countryside we rode at an easy pace. The weather was sunny and fresh; a delightful and perfect spring day. But soon after our departure, we heard a distant voice – the voice of a woman, rushing after our train, crying wild and desperately: “My lord! My lord Hadrian!”

At last she caught up to the caravan, despite being kept at a safe distance by the soldiers. With her was a girl of perhaps twelve and a slightly older youth, whom I assumed were siblings and her children. “My lord, will you hear me?”

Hadrian seemed mildly annoyed. He barely turned to her and called, “I haven’t the time.”

She stopped then, breathless from the chase, and we ambled on. Until at last she summoned the remnants of her voice (and courage!) and called out to the winds: “Cease, then, being the Emperor!”

My chest constricted, as I’m sure did everyone else’s. Hadrian continued riding a few more paces before finally pulling up his reigns. He sat quietly for a long time, facing forward, saying nothing. And then he slowly turned his head around and looked at her. She was on her knees; her face was wretched and broken.

Hadrian got off his horse, prompting several of the soldiers to do so as well. They quickly rushed to his side and flanked him as he approached her – a tactical move that seemed absurdly unnecessary given her state. Statianus and Macedo joined him, as did Phlegon. I stayed upon my horse, for I felt it was not my place to be such an intimate spectator. Yet still I was within earshot, and listened and watched intently.

“Speak,” commanded Hadrian. The woman swallowed, suddenly aware of the majestic force she had summoned to gaze down upon her. She looked at the girl and said, “This is my daughter. She was to be married next month. But no more. Her betrothed has broken the engagement.”

Hadrian sighed. “It is not my place to command the marriage, much less the happiness, of every young couple in Italia.”

“But surely,” she replied, “you do command your court, and expect of them their propriety?”

Hadrian considered her intently before responding, “Explain yourself.” She looked around at the men surrounding her. And then gazed up at Corinthus, still seated upon his horse. She pointed an accusatory finger at him. “He has had her. He has ripped from my daughter her maidenhood, and ended forever her chances for a respectable husband!”

Hadrian turned with expressionless eyes to look up at Corinthus, who but looked away and said nothing. It was enough to let all of us know that the woman was not lying. Hadrian considered for a long time before finally turning toward Phlegon: “Issue for the girl a supplement to her dowry of sufficient quantity to appease her betrothed and assure him of my blessings upon their union. If, however, he still refuses, as is indeed his right, I do authorize for her a moderate pension to begin upon the date she was to be married.” Phlegon nodded as Hadrian returned his gaze to the woman, and said, “Shall that suffice?”

The woman was speechless. She fell to his boots, weeping in gratitude. Hadrian nodded curtly to the girl and turned to depart, leaving Phlegon with the daunting task of collecting from the hysterical woman the information he’d require to effect the Emperor’s edict.

Within moments, Hadrian was restored upon his horse and the train was once again in motion. Yet he rode alone, and in silence, for the rest of the journey.

When at last we arrived at the Palatine stables, he dismounted and approached Corinthus. The youth could not look at him; Hadrian’s gaze was cold and terrifying. At last, the Emperor spoke: “I understand perfectly why you did what you did. But that does not excuse it. You are dismissed from court. You will return to your father in Sicily, and take up with him his trade. Your family shall not want, but neither, I’m afraid, shall your name advance. Be gone from me now and forever.”

And with that, Hadrian turned and left. Corinthus stood quietly and motionless for a long time, struggling to comprehend how violently his future had suddenly crumbled to dust. I wanted desperately to say something, yet what could I possibly offer? Anaxamenos and Vitalis had witnessed everything: they too gazed helplessly at the pitiful youth.

At last, Corinthus swallowed and looked up at me. His eyes were empty and lifeless, as though the last few drops of his soul had finally been sucked from him, swallowed by a great and mythical creature that made its home in the swirling shadows of Hadrian’s innermost sanctum.

I waited for him to speak, but nothing came. Over the course of several minutes, Corinthus slowly found his bearings in the midst of his horrible present. He trudged painfully away.

How shall I sleep tonight? How shall I be calmed? The whole of the Gelotiana is whispering my name, and all upon the Palatine are ready for it.

Yet all I can do is write and write and furiously write and churn myself to a desperate sickness in the useless longing for Lysicles. A.

 
Optimythic
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