The Sacred Antinous - Erotically-charged, Explicitly Illustrated, Queer-Themed Historical Fiction about Antinous and Hadrian
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LEGEND TO ILLUSTRATIONS
  CONTAINS X-RATED IMAGES
  CONTAINS R-RATED IMAGES
  CONTAINS G-RATED IMAGES
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
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  ~099 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~100 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~101 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~102 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~103 Epistle Coming Soon
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Phallic Amulets

Purple Reign

Lysicles

Never from Macedo had I heard such a joyous laughter as that which emerged from him on the day we sailed for Carthage. To see him laughing at all is a rarity; imagine, therefore, my exhilaration to witness such a fulsome display. He stood upon the prow of the ship, gazing southward into the horizon beyond which lay our destination.

“What is it?” called his brother, who seemed just as surprised as I. Macedo merely pointed off toward the southeastern skies, where together we noticed the high plumage of clouds still far too distantly aloof. “So?” demanded Statianus. “What of them?”

Macedo merely smiled at us. And then he nodded. ‘Twas as if he already knew; had already been with those clouds in lengthy and diplomatic discussions long before we were due to land ashore.

To say that the rains began the instant we set foot on solid ground would be to exaggerate. In actual fact, I felt those first few drops upon my face while still aboard the vessel – although by that time the harbour to which we were destined was squarely in our sights. I stood in awe, flanked by Hadrian on one side and Statianus on the other, as the three of us gazed upward into the darkening heavens.

As we neared the docks, we were greeted by a great multitude of cheering people, all of whom had no doubt tied our propitious arrival directly to the opening up of their once miserly skies. The rains began to fall in earnest by the time we were upon our horses, trotting our way up to the consular estate. Hadrian, as always, refused to ride in a litter: he was far happier to rejoice with his rapturous subjects as they shouted with gleeful abandon in the rains.

Tunisian MosaicsWe were shuttled instantly into an extravagant dining hall for supper – a place in which almost every exposed surface was adorned with some of the most resplendent and elaborate mosaics I have ever seen. As we set to eating, there was paraded before us an exhausting procession of dignitaries, all of whom thanked Hadrian profusely for his visit, and the beneficence of Jupiter that his arrival obviously brought with it. Among the gifts that were deposited at his feet were three togas dyed completely in the purple. I shuddered to the think of the number of shellfish that were crushed for the creation of that small pile of woolen cloth. Meanwhile, Hadrian accepted them graciously, not having the heart (or perhaps too disinterested) to explain to the hapless gift-givers that he thought very little of any ceremony that called for the donning of their nation’s signature export.

It was no doubt for this very reason that a certain fellow stood out from all the rest. His name was Lollius Urbicus, a handsome man of about XXXV who presented himself as one of the many magistrates of Carthage. What set him apart, and indeed drew Hadrian’s attention to him, was the fact that, despite his respectable ranking, he was not adorned with even a thread of purple. And although his toga was, by the evening’s standards, embarrassingly plain, he nevertheless carried himself with the utmost dignity. When he had introduced himself and taken his bow, Hadrian held up his hand, indicating that the man should stay until Hadrian was finished his chewing. The pause seemed (to me, at least) to take forever – and I can only imagine what it must have felt like for Urbicus. At last Hadrian spoke: “Surely, sir, a modest stripe of purple – one that befits your status in this fine city – is not beyond your means?” Knowing well how the mind of Hadrian works, I was quite aware that what appeared on the surface as a mocking challenge was, in actual fact, a subtle compliment. But it was evident that many of the other magistrates did not understand this, and snickered in the private satisfaction of believing that Hadrian was actually attacking the man.

I suddenly caught a terrifying glimpse of a faceless creature: a great beast of political intrigue that I was powerless to identify, much less understand. It occurred to me how little I knew of Carthage or its machinery; that I was so obviously naïve to all manner of Imperium. And yet, I was instantly aware that Hadrian was somehow perfectly attuned to it; that he had a sixth sense with regard to who was worthy, and who was dismissible; who was a benefit to converse with, and who was a waste of time. He had obviously targeted this Urbicus as someone worth knowing – and, in classic Hadrianic fashion – was using the opportunity of acquaintance to simultaneously embarrass all the others. I grasped all of this in an instant, and immediately felt my admiration for him swelling yet again, struck dumb by just how astute and vital a ruler he was.

Urbicus bowed low. When he raised his head to speak, there was a playful glint in his eye, and he responded thusly: “Who, my lord, should I hope to impress by the display of such a stripe?” Hadrian smiled, and I knew in that instant he had made of Urbicus a trusted confidante, for the man’s remark was an efficient and effective slap in the face to all the status-hungry magistrates; they that bent over backward to wear a useless band of purple in the company of a ruler who thought so little of it.

Urbicus moved on, and the procession of dignitaries resumed. When at long last the line was completed, the dining hall turned to talking, and the conversations around me blossomed casual and light-hearted. I was seated but a few plates away from Hadrian and was privy to most of his discourse. In turn, he was not unaware of the several occasions in which I received from an elder a compliment regarding my beauty and my poise. I graciously acknowledged such attentions, knowing it to be my duty, yet all the while wished I could be treated by the Carthaginians as I was so respectfully treated by Hadrian’s circle: as a fellow with a capable brain. And yet, even as I thought it, I was confronted by a stab of doubt. Could I truthfully claim to possess such a thing when I had that very same evening fretted (and by this very same letter admitted) that I knew nothing of politics? Perhaps I was indeed little more than a pretty face to please the emperor. Perhaps I was in actuality far from what I had long believed myself to be.

In the aftermath of the next compliment, I looked to Macedo for reassurance. I received it instantly in the form of a wink; a silent signal across the table that he knew my thoughts exactly. “What are you worried for now, Antinous?” spoke his perfect quietude. “How quickly you do forget your very special place in the Emperor’s private library; your license to speak with him easily; your power to make him smile. Desist, you damn fool, and bask in the fact that you are blessed beyond your intelligence with a beauty to make hapless men’s knees quake as well.” And then he returned to his food.

I smiled to myself, thinking warmly how much I loved him. How fortunate I was to be seated here – in Carthage! – amid the most powerful and pure of Rome. What have I done, Lysicles, to deserve such a blessing? And why do I constantly fight it? I must train myself to stand squarely and with tranquility in the glow of Hadrian’s good will. I must accept this life that is mine. I must finally bring myself to step permanently into the body that is named Antinous, and live the life that the Fates seem determined to spin for him. I begin now, here, by this very Word.

When dinner was over and the evening was drawing to a close, Hadrian stood and commanded an instant silence. He then gave an announcement which he must have known beforehand would ruffle the greatest number of the peacocks’ feathers: “I am resolved that Lollius Urbicus shall be my guide for the duration of this visit. Should the honoured magistrates wish to seek with me an audience beyond this evening’s acquaintance, I ask that you submit your request through his office, a trusted bureau with which my secretary, Phlegon, shall maintain a vigilant and constant correspondence. I thank you for your gifts and for your hospitality, and look forward, along with the members of my court, to an educational, enjoyable, and rain-soaked tour of the province.” And from the round of “Hail Caesar!” that ensued, it was not impossible to detect the subtle indications of surprise, confusion, and bitterness that laced the collective voice of the spurned men. Lollius Urbicus said nothing: he merely bowed slow and respectfully.

The days that followed (most of them, as Hadrian had hoped, wet) were spent in a frenzy of visitations, tours, and consultations – all of them hosted by the very knowledgeable and passionately committed Urbicus. It quickly became clear to me how much he loved his homeland; how ardently he desired for it to find the peace and prosperity that Rome could offer, if only it could be staffed with more of the right people (in other words, people like him!). We toured a section of the aqueduct that Hadrian had ordered built five years ago, and Hadrian was far from impressed by the progress of its construction. And no sooner had we arrived beneath the half-completed arches that I began to fully understand why Urbicus had been selected as our guide. For in addition to the expected bits of trivia regarding the engineering of the project, he also proved to be an invaluable source of information regarding the identity of certain magistrates who – if Hadrian sought in the correct places – could be discovered for their propensity to draw funds away from the aqueduct and route them, rather conveniently, into other, more personal cisterns. Naturally, Urbicus was also able to point Phlegon in the direction of those correct places, and before our time in Carthage was up, those certain magistrates had been stripped of their titles, and their purple stripes publicly burned.

You can be sure that I had a flood of questions regarding Hadrian’s selection of Urbicus. Had he been informed of the situation in Carthage before we’d even left Rome? Did he have spies here? Had Urbicus written to him to expose the corruption? Surely Hadrian could not have deduced, by the simple exchange of a few words on their first acquaintance, that Urbicus was a man who could supply him with the intelligence he required in order to effect his proper rule. Or could he? I was resolved to ask him.

My opportunity came the following day, as we mounted our steeds once again and set off northwestwardly toward the town of Utica. The weather was overcast and grey, but (thankfully!) the rains held for the duration of the three-hour ride, allowing us to bump along the rocky road at a leisurely pace. Hadrian considered my question, and replied, “I have many sources. In fact, some of those fools themselves have written to me in complaint of Urbicus, which tells me much about his true nature in opposition to what I know of theirs. What his detractors uniformly failed to realize is that with each of their messages, they inadvertently included other messages that they, writing in isolation, could not see. And it does not take an astrologer to read such stars as appear in the constellation of their intrigue. One needs only to think critically about what they are saying, and – more tellingly – what they are not saying, to piece together what is, more often than not, a rather facile and mundane puzzle. I have long known Urbicus to be a man of honour, although the night of our arrival was my first opportunity to meet him in the flesh. He certainly did not disappoint.”

I turned then to behold Urbicus, who had been within earshot of Hadrian’s entire answer. The man merely smiled at me and nodded – very much as Macedo might have done. I turned then to gaze at the Caesernii brothers, a few paces behind us. And then at Phlegon, who rode amicably among some of the Guard. I was once again astounded by the caliber of the company I was keeping. I felt privileged (and not a little cowed) to be riding with such an intense and efficacious group of men across the northern crust of Africa.

A few moments later I brought my horse up beside that of Urbicus. “What, sir, in your informed opinion, is your city most in need of in order to prosper?” He looked at me curiously: “Why do you ask, Antinous? Are you in a position to provide it?” It was a joke, of course, but I nonetheless shook my head as if I’d taken it quite seriously. “I am intrigued by this skill that you all seem so effortlessly to possess; an ability, not only to understand the complex churn of human society and polity, but to guide and govern it as well.” I turned now to Hadrian, who was also listening to my words. I wanted to address them both: “How do you know – truly know – what is required for your city, your province, your empire, in order to increase the happiness of the men who populate it? How do you decide, among so many competing interests, what shall receive your attention? Your care? Your support? Your funds? Your passion? How does one… govern?”

Rome in AfricaHadrian glanced for a moment at Urbicus, who gazed right back at him. They held a tiny moment of silence before Hadrian at last snorted out a rather embarrassed laugh. “O, Antinous,” he sighed. “If only I knew!” There was laughter then – even a chuckle from Macedo. “It is hardly a science, my friend – although the philosophers would of course have us believe that it is. To be sure, there are particular skills for which a ruler must be predisposed – and different skills will colour a man’s reign such that his legacy is gazed at from afar in either a cruel or beneficent light. Yet there is a healthy dose of instinct, of blind faith, of hope, of fear and uncertainty, and, I think, of the ever-present knowledge that one is limited by his own mortality. There is only so much one can do. Thus, I endeavour to surround myself by people and skills that I believe shall do much to extend my own efforts beyond what would ordinarily be within my very limited reach. Yet once the machinery of governance is three or four circles of influence removed from the inner sanctum of the Palatine, I’m afraid there is little else I can do but trust. And, of course, make those sudden and policing appearances in person that serve to punish those who have intentionally lost their way or reward them who have worked hard to follow upon the path I’ve decreed from far-off Rome. That, in the final analysis, is governance.”

I grappled with that for a time. In fact, I think we all did. Until at last Hadrian spoke again: “Yet Antinous asks a very respectable question, Urbicus. Tell me, what does your Carthage require? What, if you had your wish, would you see effected there in the name of public works?” Urbicus considered that for a small time before responding, “I believe, my lord, that an enlargement of the forum would be beneficial to both the public discourse and the market days. Already are the streets overcrowded with vendors and pulpits. More space would grant us the gift of more speech, and thus a greater ability to strengthen the Roman presence in a land that seems forever hostile to our ways."

Hadrian looked at Phlegon. Phlegon nodded. And it was done. The machinery of the Empire had been set in motion before my eyes – and had I not been watching, I most certainly would have missed it.

Our arrival in Utica was greeted with much fanfare, and Hadrian graciously received the thanks of the many dignitaries there that welcomed him. We have been here now two days, and just this afternoon Hadrian declared the town to be an official colony of Rome, a promotion in its civic status that was occasion for much rejoicing. Tomorrow we set out toward the west, where we shall venture into the heart of Numidia.

Until then, I am tired and pining for bed. The rain outside has begun again – and although it is good to know that at last the drought is over, I cannot say that the weather is not affecting me. The rain here seems thicker, somehow, than the rain that falls on Rome. And whereas the Roman rain tastes of a bitter water, the rain of Carthage tastes more to me like the iron of blood. And it is a dark blood. A purple blood. It would be nice for a day of sun, and the warmth of its rays upon my face. A.

 
Optimythic
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