Announcements and Pronouncements
Why am I so disturbed by the news, quite ordinary under the circumstances,
that Hadrian has invested Fuscus with the office of Pontifex?
Is it jealousy? Possibly; despite the fact that I’ve never
possessed the personal ambition to become such a rarefied administrator
of our religion. And even now that the notion has been articulated
and considered, I still don’t imagine that I would want it.
If I am jealous, it is, I think, on account of the attention that
Hadrian has lavished on his nephew. But then the fault is mine,
for I should not be jealous of such a thing. I receive plenty of
the man’s attention, although in a private and personal sphere
beyond the scrutiny of public office. I ought to be content with
I think what is really agitating me is the confusion and disappointment
I’m feeling with respect to Hadrian’s apparent blindness.
How can he – who has shown time and again an uncanny ability
to touch the mind of others – be so oblivious to the fact
that Fuscus is entirely ill-suited for such a resonant post? The
appointment is completely inconsistent with Hadrian’s much-demonstrated
reticence to reward the undeserving. Then again, perhaps he is quite
aware of Fuscus’ unsuitability, and is hoping that the office
itself will, in time, shape the youth into someone worthy of it.
Maybe Hadrian is seeking to craft or compel a certain degree of
dignity in his nephew who has, until now, shown little else but
irreverence and self-absorption.
And yet, is that not just my own perception of him? Perhaps I am
far more infected by jealousy than I am admitting. There can be
little doubt that Fuscus is destined for the throne. He is already
being groomed for it, and this appointment is the clearest evidence
so far. Who am I in relation to that? In the final analysis, I am
reduced to nothing more than the emperor’s catamite –
a word that Favorinus himself used quite openly to describe my peers
(and, by extension, myself) in his oratory. Is this how history
shall remember me? As but an orifice for the emperor? Fuscus shall
have statues, arches, and inscriptions to his wisdom placed all
across the world. And I? I shall be forgotten; I shall grow old,
die and rot, as all men must.
Indeed. I am quite jealous of him; of the blood bond he enjoys with
the man I love so deeply. I despise the fact that his destiny is
already ordained, and Hadrian is dutifully helping to realize it
on schedule and on cue.
Yet still the image of Fuscus in such an office is jarring. Who
is Fuscus to consecrate a temple? How shall he preside upon a ceremony
of such gravity as to expiate for the damage done by a pestilence?
How shall he smooth the bridge ‘twixt gods and men, much less
hope to maintain the peace of the gods themselves? It is a farce,
Lysicles! But I am unable to laugh: I am forced against my will
to observe it from an uncomfortable proximity, and offer to Fuscus
my gushing congratulation and heartfelt blessings.
Gods? Hear this: I shall not gush, nor shall I be heartfelt. I shall
do my duty to acknowledge his ascendancy – but I shall do
nothing more. If such is not enough, let Zeus strike me down as
It appears I am still here. Good. Onward, then, to better news:
Far more sensible is Hadrian’s declaration of Sabina as Augusta.
She received the announcement with a composure and a self-assurance
that sent a surge of happy reverence through my bones. I am truly
coming to appreciate her as a woman of calm and intelligent poise.
And it is clear to me that, although she and her husband maintain
relatively separate lives, when they are together there is a great
deal of mutual respect. As Hadrian favours his chosen fellows over
random girls, it appears that Sabina favours her chosen women over
random boys. And thus there exists between the royal couple a fair
and silent understanding that their separate nights belong to their
private selves while their unified days belong to a very public
And what of her women? I confess to see little of them and thus
know of them even less. There is Cassia Parthenia, a woman of serenity
and soft, downcast eyes who is favoured, I think, for her silence
and self-possession. There is Julia Balbilla, a maven of bolt and
upright posture, who seems to serve the opposite role in orbit around
Sabina, for she is always thrusting her opinionated self upon the
affairs of the world. And then there is Julia Melino, a woman of
laughter and levity; the female equivalent to Commodus who no doubt
takes many a cue from him when they dine together. I can see how
the chemistry of those four women works well together; how Sabina
has surrounded herself by an array of personalities from which she
can fashion and sculpt her desired company depending upon her mood.
Of his wife’s three closest friends, I suspect Hadrian holds
the least affection for Balbilla, for it is clear how she grates
upon his intelligence. For Parthenia I believe he holds a deep and
abiding respect, and for Melino there is no doubt the happy tolerance
of a woman who reminds him so much of Commodus, whom he cherishes.
Otherwise, my dearest, little has changed. Still with Decentius
and Vitalis I exchange my pleasures, although with far less frequency
than before. Still with Anaxamenos and Vitalis I sometimes lunch,
especially when Hadrian is elsewhere occupied. My most enjoyable
occasions in recent days (apart from the private time I spend with
Hadrian, naturally) is when the maps of the world are laid down
for him upon the tables. They are intricate and astonishingly detailed,
with the names and precise locations of cities placed marvellously
upon the strange shape of the earth’s lands. Hadrian will
pore over those maps (as will I), comparing the city names with
the various reports he has received from messengers, steadily outlining
a travel itinerary to Phlegon.
You can imagine how busy such developing plans are keeping the palace.
Anaxamenos has noticed a steady increase in traffic as horses and
messengers are dispatched at an accelerated pace. I am only barely
beginning to comprehend the immensity of the storm that is raging,
much of it far beyond my field of vision. And all the while I stand,
quite awkwardly, at its very nexus, where the mouth of Hadrian calmly
utters the words and pronouncements that multiply over the endless
miles into gusts of gale and days of work for untold hundreds in
anxious preparation for his arrival.
What a strange life I lead, Lysicles, to enjoy such privileged witness
to this marvellous machinery of humankind! A.