Stables of the Palatine
Anaxamenos confronted me in the stables with a locked box that
was quite familiar to me. “What is this?” he asked.
I stared at it without expression for a long time before answering,
“It is mine.”
Anaxamenos smiled at me: “Obviously. But what is inside it?
And why was it discovered buried in the hay at the back of Epeius’
“They are letters,” I confessed. “Letters to a
friend whose whereabouts I do not know; a friend who shall likely
never see them. Yet his memory demands attention; demands to be
flattered as the one to whom the chronicling of my life is dedicated.
I cannot send them; I refuse to destroy them; and I fear to have
them seen by anyone save myself. Thus I hide them.”
Anaxamenos considered the box for a small time. And then he smiled
and shook his head in wonder. “What is it with you silly boys
and your little leaves of paper?” I was confused by that,
and he beckoned me to follow him into his office. He unlocked a
cabinet and opened it, revealing a small pile of parchment.
“Vitalis,” he said simply. He reached to extract the
drawings and handed them to me. They were wondrous! Pictures of
Antinous – both clothed and naked; pictures of Epeius; of
Anaxamenos; of Decentius – both clothed and naked. I paused
to look at the depiction of that soldier’s body I knew so
well: how it languished in the grass; how the eyes of its face were
closed in a contented slumber so characteristic of the man I knew.
I looked up to Anaxamenos, who smiled at me.
“You are a very unreliable bedfellow, Antinous. Poor Vitalis
never knows anymore when to expect you in Rome. Can you blame him
for seeking out the company of your Decentius? Can you blame Decentius
for embracing him? They are both in remarkable love with you. And
each to the other appears as an avatar of the love that is given
by you in return. Why then should they not express it in a mutual
and convenient pleasure, when so often you are unavailable to satisfy
their individual need?”
I felt a pang of hurt by his words – for they rang so incontrovertibly
true. Far more frequently, over the course of the last year, have
I been absent from Rome than actually in it. My bed in the Gelotiana
has often lain empty while I slept alone in Tibur or, more recently,
in Africa. And what was poor Vitalis to do? How could I begrudge
him the need to seek out the company of a man whom he knew, by my
own endorsement, to be worthy of the warmest – and hottest
– affection? I was at once jealous – and angry at myself
for being so. I was at once sorry for the revelation of their togetherness
as I was made by it extremely happy. I felt myself to be part of
a great circle of love – and at the same time coldly excluded
from it. I could not speak. I sat down upon a nearby bench, brought
to my lap the locked box of letters and clutched it tightly.
Anaxamenos sat down beside me. For a long time there was silence
between us. At last he spoke: “There is no need for you to
hide your treasure in the hay, where it is vulnerable to all manner
of discovery. You may place your chest in my cabinet; you may call
upon me to access it at any time, and enjoy the privilege of unlocking,
depositing to, and sealing it up again in private. I shall not request
or ever expect to invade its contents. You may trust in me, Antinous,
to provide for your cherished memories a place of the most reliable
How could I not be thankful for such an offer? How could I even
think for a flash more brief than lightening to doubt his trustworthiness?
I smiled meekly and handed it to him. He stood, placed it in his
cabinet, shut the door and locked it. “Perhaps one day,”
he said, “I shall have the honour of meeting this Lysicles
– a fellow who so obviously fires the oven that is your soul.
Until then, I shall take pride in knowing that I am the custodian
of his memory, and do hereby pledge to remain so until such time
as you deem it no longer necessary.”
“Thank you,” I said to him.
It was not long after that Vitalis arrived to begin his morning
duties. He was lively and happy – a sparkling spirit that
I found difficult to resist. I smiled at him and said, “Why
do you keep your drawings hidden?” He looked at Anaxamenos
with a playful anger. Anaxamenos merely shrugged, and Vitalis turned
back to answer me, “Where would you have me put them?”
“On display!” I exclaimed. “But they are trifles,”
he responded dismissively. “Exercises. Studies. What is their
worth, if not to guide me in the creation of some future painting?
One day I shall have a studio, and use my record of the gorgeous
Antinous to design for the baths of Rome her most erotic and inspiring
I laughed at the thought of my eager and engorged self rendered
into fresco and mosaic, inciting to happy action the pleasure-seekers
of an epoch. I slapped the massive wooden beam beside me: “Right
here!” I said. “Let Anaxamenos gaze on me first. And
let him see Decentius too, that he can marvel at the erotic love
which courses between us all.”
By that utterance, Vitalis and I shared a silent understanding,
and he knew that I was not angry about his communion with Decentius.
It was, I think, the signal he needed to agree to have his drawings
shown – even if it was only to those internal eyes that had
regular and routine access to the office of Anaxamenos.
I went to fetch a tack as Anaxamenos opened up his cabinet once
again. Vitalis searched through his pile and eventually chose a
drawing that depicted me standing nude. It was a very heroic pose,
rendered on a particular day – still within memory –
that saw me emerge from my bath to hear his stern command: “Don’t
move.” The drawing itself took him but a moment to complete,
for he was a skilled and confident practitioner. I remember watching
him as he gazed at me. I remember becoming hard for him, and his
laughter at having foiled me: “I drew it first, you fool,
for I knew exactly what would happen when you found me looking at
it. You are so predictable.” What laughter we shared that
day, and what pleasures! And here was that image now posted on a
beam in the office of Anaxamenos. I felt happy to think that my
friend would have the opportunity to gaze at me every day. And though
he preferred his women, I had no doubts he would enjoy the sight
of my body – a vessel that, not so long ago, was the bringer
to his own of much pleasure.
It is fascinating to me to think on the Imperial Stables –
a compound that has played such a pivotal role in my development
upon the Palatine. It is there, among the stalls and the hay, the
tack and the manure, that I first met and befriended Anaxamenos.
It is there that I grew to know and love the horses that constantly
moved across Italia. It is there that I accumulated the many memories
of happy and industrious work; of good fellowship among a capable
team of young men – Florentius, Bromidus, Dominicus, Quintillius
– fellows with whom I was always on excellent terms. It is
there that I was observed in those initial months by Hadrian and
experienced the joy of promotion; of being recognized for the merit
of my work. It is there that Anaxamenos was also promoted, and stepped
into a role for which he is most gloriously suited. And it is there,
of course, that I brought to my side Vitalis, and carved out for
us both a private place in the hay where we could exchange our pleasures
and our love. It is the stables in which I cared for Epeius. It
is the stables from which I rode to Tibur with Hadrian. It is the
stables whereat I hid my epistles, had them discovered, and saw
Truly, it is my life that is the stables! So much that I have lived
in Rome has been lived among the horses. What does that say of my
character? What does that say for my future? Then again, why must
it say anything? Yet would my life be what it is today had I, upon
arrival at the Gelotiana, been given to the Keeper of the Fowl in
the Department of the Kitchen? I must sincerely doubt it. By the
gods, I owe those horses much! A.