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
  ~073 Epistle Coming Soon
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  ~075 Epistle Coming Soon
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  ~080 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~081 Epistle Coming Soon
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  ~083 Epistle Coming Soon
  ~084 Epistle Coming Soon
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  ~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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Phallic Amulets

The Heart of Numidia


Now that these epistles are no longer delivered into the hands of another, I have the dubious luxury of being able to re-read what I have previously written, and thus continue my tale without any gaps. And so I may begin precisely where last I left off, and tell of the remainder of the journey to now, whereat I am seated aboard the ship still several hours distant from Rome.

The road from Utica took us westward along the coast, with stops at Tabraca, Tunisa, Hippo Regius, Chullu, and Rusicada. All of these cities received us warmly, and presented to Hadrian the same line of dignitaries – albeit with different names and faces – as that which greeted us in both Carthage and Utica. Hadrian took pains to satisfy himself “that the worms of corruption had not yet eaten from the stout heart of Numidia,” and he was very happy to discover that, apart from the lone exception of a single thief, the governance of these various colonies and municipalities was generally quite exemplary.

“I suspect,” opined Statianus, “that there is far more of an impetus to ensure the effectiveness of government when to neglect it would surely bring disaster down from the tribes.” Urbicus agreed: “Life becomes far less cosmopolitan, and far more about survival, the moment one steps beyond the walls of Carthage.”

From Rusicada we turned south and made for Cirta. All along the roads, I saw much evidence of reverence for the Punic god, Baal. Carved upon the stelai that stood like milestones along the journey, his dedicants were naked and primitively doll-like, holding aloft to the crescent moon their palm branches and their cakes. And yet every so often, I would note the far more modern depiction of a decidedly Roman dedicant: carved in far more skillful relief, clothed in a respectable toga, and holding with considerable reserve the grapes of Dionysus instead of the palms of the desert. Still evident, however, was the crescent moon above him, and thus I was made to understand that Baal and Saturn were in effect fraternizing in the skies above Numidia. It is amazing to me how amicable are the gods of the world to one another, when indeed their worshippers do actively seek a mutual peace and prosperity. And while I do not personally know Baal, if that he is seen to be a friend of Saturn then surely he cannot be all that mysterious, can he? It is a comfort to the foreign traveler to see such a thing, and thus I am again reminded why Hadrian – the great ambassador – is so consistently irritated by consistent reports of that reticent, brooding, and exclusive god of Judea.

I was awestruck to behold Cirta, an entire town built precariously upon a great thrust of forbidding cliffs. Yet what better defense could there be against the Berbers, for it necessitates a watch from only three sides as opposed to four. On the evening of our arrival, we were provided with the entertainment of dancers, musicians, and an oratory from one of the local celebrities, a very handsome fellow by the name of Cornelius Fronto. Hadrian was as delighted by his appearance (if not moreso!) as by what it was he said and, after the man’s presentation, inquired after his age.

Fronto“I am seven and twice ten, my lord” replied Fronto. And Hadrian marveled publicly at the dexterity of his rhetoric, given such a youthful exterior. The magistrates took an evident pride in that, and congratulated themselves on having produced such a prodigy, despite the fact that they had had nothing to do with his education. “And where is your tutor this evening?” asked Hadrian. “Alas,” said Fronto, “he is ill, my lord, and could not be here to join us.” Hadrian considered that for a small time before responding: “Is he so ill that he is unable to receive some visitors from Rome?” It took Fronto a moment to understand the implications of what was being asked. He finally recovered himself: “I cannot imagine he would refuse to admit you, my lord.” Hadrian nodded happily, and said, “Perhaps you shall ask him to expect us on the morrow?” And Fronto bowed low.

The following day, Hadrian, Urbicus, Fronto and myself ventured into the modest home of Silvius Gnaeus, an aged and decrepit fellow who had obviously struggled to raise himself from his bed that morning in order to be presentable when his guests arrived. Hadrian was quick to apologize for the imposition. But Gnaeus shook his adamant head: “Be assured, my lord,” spoke the creaky, old man, “that I, until the day I die, shall far prefer it to discomfort my bones in receipt of a guest than to spare them at the expense of turning him away. One lives but in the company of others, and dies in the despair of solitude. You are welcome here, and I am honoured to have you.”

My curiosity as to why Hadrian would wish to visit Fronto’s tutor soon was satisfied. “Venerable Gnaeus,” he began, “far be it from me to suggest that the quality and standard of your practice is unsound. On the contrary, it is quite evident to me that you have provided Cornelius Fronto with a broad, deep, faultless, and impressive foundation of rhetoric. It is a foundation upon which I believe he can build himself into an orator of colossal means and achievement. With your permission, and by your blessing, I would be honoured to invite him to return with me to Rome, that I may direct him into the circle of her most eminent tutors, and thus provide for him an education that we may all deem to be worthy of having completed what Silvius Gnaeus so nobly began.”

The tears in the old man’s eyes overflowed in the space of mere moments. “Long have I tried to convince the stubborn fool that Rome was where he belonged. Yet he was far too effusive in his loyalty; far too expressive in his regard for this pruning old man to entertain such a notion. Perhaps now, seeing that the gods themselves have demonstrated their heartfelt endorsement of my long-ago wished-for wish, beauteous Fronto will at last concede, and go to meet his destiny.”

Fronto too was crying as he stared at the face of his beloved tutor. It was clear to him that this visit had suddenly transformed into a what was very likely a final farewell between the two of them. Gnaeus reached out with a shaky and bony finger to wipe the tears from Fronto’s cheek, and said, “Yours is a future in the Eternal City, my stallion. Go. Go and dazzle them!”

And so he went. The following day he was officially made a part of our train as we left the city and followed the gorge road northwest toward Tidditanorum, one of Cirta’s several fortified castella built strategically upon yet another cliff. As we passed through its high gate, Urbicus pointed out a small and quiet house that looked to me like all the others. But to him, it was a very special place: “That is where I was born,” he said to us with a smile.

Hadrian spent the rest of the day inspecting the defensive walls around the small town, leaving Fronto and myself a chance to acquaint ourselves with private and unobtrusive talk. I told him of my history and of my strange, not-quite-yet-the-Favourite relationship with Hadrian. He, in turn, told me of his malleable education in the capable hands of Gnaeus, a fellow for whom it was obvious he held a great and passionate love.

At one point in the day, I stopped to gaze upon Hadrian as he conversed amicably with the soldiers whose hard lives unfurled at the frontier. He praised them most sincerely for their accomplishment and for the excellent state of repair in which he found the walls. Was this, I wondered, what Decentius had experienced when he had met Hadrian years ago at the opposite end of the world? The men before me now so obviously adored their ruler; admired the casual way he jumped from his horse, completely unconcerned for the rain that fell around him and quite delighted, in fact, to be soaking wet. And I saw yet again a living answer to my question: This, I thought to myself, is how the Empire is gorgeously governed: by the very visible esteem that Hadrian holds for his soldiers, and the very tangible respect they hold in turn for him. It occurred to me that these few soldiers would return to their barracks… and talk. They would speak of their encounter with Hadrian, and report of his love for them; of his authenticity as a fellow soldier. And word would spread throughout the Legio III Augusta that Hadrian was a man worth following. And thus would Africa remain to him loyal, regardless of how many magistrates he angered in Carthage.

The BerbersFrom Tidditanorum we continued westward to Milevi. After a tour of its bustling forum, Hadrian called together his circle and, together with several of the magistrates and army commanders whose names were never told to me, they debated the establishment of a confederation of the four colonies of Cirta, Rusicada, Chullu and Milevi. The exact words passed through me in a blur. Suffice to say that they had much to do with the ability to coordinate an effective and timely defense of the region against the Berbers. But the words themselves are hardly important. What was far more captivating to me was the mesmerizing cadence of these men’s bullish talk – so efficient, so unscented by the flowery perfume of sycophancy. After what seemed (to me, at least!) like a far too brief elapse of time, it was suddenly resolved to remove the four colonies’ governance from under the hand of the proconsul of Africa and give it directly to the legate of the Legio III. And then some wine was brought, and the drinks flowed merrily. And I marveled at yet another aspect of Hadrian’s ability to govern – so different than the one I had seen earlier among the soldiers.

The following day, we turned north and crossed – if only for a brief time – into the province of Mauretania. We spent a day at Igiligili, on the coast, and it was there, as Hadrian gazed northward across the waters, that he decided it was time to return home. The vessel was ordered readied: we would sail the following day.

We spent our final evening in Africa dining as a group, with Urbicus the toast of the evening. At one point, Hadrian hushed the conversation and called for Urbicus to look at him. “My friend,” he began, “already, one of your countrymen has attached himself to us, knowing well and believing in my promise that a great education awaits him in Rome. And I should be remiss not to extend a similar invitation to you, with the promise that for Urbicus, there awaits a great career.”

Urbicus smiled at him. He paused to collect his thoughts. And then he replied, “My lord, your offer is a difficult one to refuse. But I dare say I shall be of far greater service to both myself and to you if that I remain in Carthage until both your forum and your aqueduct are complete. Then, perhaps, I shall come calling.” Hadrian accepted the refusal amicably: “You do me proud, Sir.”

And so it was that, the next morning, with Cornelius Fronto our living souvenir, we sailed northeastward, stopping briefly at Cagliari in Sardegna for a day so that Hadrian could “stretch his legs” – an explanation we all thought very amusing. The day passed quickly, and we boarded our ship again at dusk, to spend the night in transit.

As the wooden hull around me creaks and groans, and as the blackened waves beyond it can be heard streaming past outside, I compose these lines by lamplight. I have just re-read this letter, and also my previous one, intending to relive my entire journey at the side of a roving king. And O! how embarrassingly easy it is to discern in my words the shameless infatuation I am developing for Hadrian. Whereas in Rome it has always been for me a profound, restrained and abiding respect, it is suddenly transforming into a ferocious and, at times, frightening desire. For it is only now, amid these travels, that I am beginning to see his most authentic persona – and find myself consistently dazzled by it. The man in Africa was ten times as alive as ever I have seen him in either Tibur or Rome. The vigour of his mind is breathtaking; the energy and zeal with which his spirit strides across the terrain of the world is ineffable.

Ardently, Lysicles, do I love him! And even as I write such a thing, the longing that leaps into my breast is palpable. O, that he would finally name me his Favourite! That he would take me, drink me and slake me!

Heart. Look at what I have become. Despite all that has been exchanged between Hadrian and myself on the topic of our equality as the merest of mortals, I cannot help but suddenly look on him as being closer in constitution to a god, and I in his presence am increasingly finding myself reduced to but the quivering speechlessness of a child on his first and astounding visit to the idol of Jupiter. What say you to that, Lysicles? Hey?

Nothing. Naturally. A.

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