Father of the Country
Who is Macedo – and how does he know? How does he commune
with the clouds and coax from them their rain? How does he predict
with such accuracy that I shall rise with the sun? By what incomprehensible
privilege does he secure his audience among the divine?
The daylight was streaming through the windows as I awoke this morning
to find Phlegon above me. I was groggy and tired, for sleep had
eluded until what I imagined was just before the dawn. I did not
know what time it was, yet the room was empty of all the other boys,
so I surmised it was late. All had gone to their duties, and left
me to sleep. It is a wonder I was not once awoken by them.
“It is time, Antinous,” said Phlegon. I did not know
what he meant. But then he smiled at me, and I suddenly knew exactly
what he meant. I swallowed hard, and he nodded in silent confirmation.
“Come,” he said, and helped me to rise from the bed.
We went to the baths, where I was washed and attended to by no less
than three servants. Phlegon watched me quietly, and then supervised
my dressing. The toga I was given was very fine, with a thin ribbon
of gold woven around the hem. My sandals were new, and my fibula,
bearing the image of Mercury, was of a highly polished gold.
From the baths I followed Phlegon deep into the Augustan halls and
down a wide corridor to which I had never yet been admitted. There
were busts on either side of us – a long line of portraits
stretching backward in time to Homer. I recognized very few of the
faces – although there were several that needed no explanation.
We passed through a series of guarded doors, and finally entered
what I knew was the sacred bedchamber. The first person I beheld
was none other than Carisius. He was standing quietly, holding a
folded toga completely dyed in purple and lavishly embroidered in
gold. He dropped his eyes, refusing to look at me.
“How did you sleep?” asked a familiar voice. I turned
to see Hadrian in another part of the sprawling room. He was tying
his loincloth and receiving a delicate application of perfume from
one of his pages.
“Not very well,” I responded. He laughed at that: “The
same with me. And yet how can I not be grateful for the clarity
I now possess? It has refreshed me as I suspect no amount of sleep
I smiled at him as he reached out his hand toward Carisius. Two
other pages suddenly appeared and advanced with Carisius, unfolding
the long and luxurious wool. They wrapped it expertly around Hadrian
and secured it with a sparkling fibula. “Why were you angry
yesterday?” I asked him. “Why did you leave so abruptly?”
He considered me intently as the pages took his hands and dressed
his fingers with an assortment of rings. A crown of golden laurels
was placed upon his head. “I was not angry,” he said.
“I was consumed in a tempest of thoughts and emotions. I was
terrified of opening my mouth, lest it spill something incomprehensible.”
He sighed heavily. “Absolutely dazzling,” he finally
said. “For a fellow with no balls, I daresay Favorinus is
remarkably well stocked with courage.”
I laughed, and he smiled at me warmly. I stared at him: this resplendent
man dressed in the clothes and colours of the highest earthly power.
I wondered if the sunlight was indeed streaming inward through the
open window to set his golden crown ablaze, or if it was the light
from his soul, escaping outward through the casement to shine across
the thirsty empire. “Will you walk with me to the Forum?”
he asked. I nodded happily.
He stepped toward me and held out his elbow. I took it. Carisius
and the other pages bowed low as we passed them, and I shuddered
to consider the envious eyes that stared at my receding head as
I left him there in the room.
But Carisius was soon forgotten. We emerged from the palace, strode
past the Arch of Titus, and stepped onto the Sacred Way. Suddenly
I was struck by the sheer number of Praetorians that surrounded
us. The deafening cheer of excitement as Hadrian advanced was incredible
– it was a far bigger crowd than usual, filled with the pomp
of a lavish ceremony. It slowly dawned on me that there was indeed
a ceremony underway, and I amazed at the fact that I had been so
self-consumed these several past days to have completely forgotten
what was elsewhere afoot. I turned again to look at the profile
of the man who guided me. He stared straight ahead, soaking up the
sublime revels. “Face forward, Antinous,” he said softly.
I obeyed immediately, and together we crossed the threshold of the
It was there that a senator named Quadratus made a lavish display
of bestowing upon Hadrian the title of Father of the Country, which
Hadrian dutifully (and at long last!) accepted. The people were
jubilant, and Hadrian proffered a fine and grateful address to bestow
on them an equal share of the honour that had just been draped across
his own shoulders.
From there the proceedings moved inside, and it was only then that
I started to become aware of the awesome heft of planets around
me. For just as the day’s business was about to begin, Hadrian
called me forth to his side. He introduced me by name to the assembled
Senate, praised the history of my schooling, and then announced
me as his Favourite. I could barely breathe, for it became immediately
clear to me how unusual a move it was. Past Favourites had become
known in their designation simply on account of a regular presence
in the Emperor’s bed. But I, Antinous, had been introduced.
I’d been formally presented.
“He is starting early,” opined Macedo, as together we
walked back toward the palace. “With what?” I asked.
“Your career,” he answered: “He has high hopes
for you, Antinous. And high expectations.”
We strode back down the hall of portraits, through the multiple
and guarded doors. But we did not enter the sacred bedchamber. Instead,
we turned into another room, also lavishly furnished. “Why
are we in here?” I asked him, rather stupidly.
He smiled at me in amusement and said, “Because this is your
room.” I blinked in astonishment. It occurred to me that I
would never again be opening my eyes from a bed in the Gelotiana.
Macedo continued, “Although it is not likely you will be sleeping
in here too often.”
I turned to him. He was staring at me with a combination of stern
pride and happy triumph. At last he spoke: “Your time is your
own until sundown. Prepare yourself however you will. Sleep, bathe,
play, work – whatever you wish. But be ready for him.”
I nodded in comprehension. He bowed his head respectfully, turned
and left, pulling the door closed behind him.
Once alone, I explored my environs, noting the luxurious linens;
the array of fine togas, sandals, and overcoats; and – most
tellingly – the ample stock of parchment upon a deep and spacious
wooden desk. At all other points in the empire, the highest officials
of government routinely write on wax. But here upon the Palatine
(and even, remarkably, upon the Caelian!) I have consistently been
spoiled with the luxury of writing on parchment. What shall I make
of that? How shall I comprehend it? Perhaps there is no use trying.
Let me scribble on, therefore – recklessly and with abandon
– to pour upon these expensive pages my inky amazement at
the unexpected and rarefied opulence that now encircles my life.