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
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Phallic Amulets

A Playful Wager

My dearest Lysicles,

Not since our days together splashing upon the shores of the Euxine have I felt such a freedom of spirit and sense of life’s fullest blessings. In the aftermath of the Mysteries, the bounties of the earth seem to be trampling over each other in a mad and enthusiastic race to greet my awareness. I am positively assaulted by sensual things. Upon my eyes forms and colours appear crisper; to my ears there is a birdsong in every whisper; to my nose the air is fresher, richer and more pungent. The taste of food is downright astonishing. And, happily, the experience of my flesh in the service of pleasure is of a quality I had never imagined possible.

Hadrian, too, is smiling more generously. He has noted how our conversations, our riding, our laughter, our dining, and our physical love has become enriched. I certainly agree with him: “We are each of us living more profoundly now,” I recently whispered to his chest as I reposed my head upon it. His body was warm and solid; the rhythm of his slowing heartbeat lulled me into a half-slumber as we both recovered from our long and demanding evening of passion. I felt his hand touch my hair. His fingers plunged into my locks, caressing them tenderly. It was good to know he was still awake and had heard me. A long time passed. Slaves crept quietly in our midst, refreshing our waters and piling on the furs as the night-time air grew cooler around us. And then, at last, his reply drifted back to me: “You are the first of my Favourites, Antinous, to display such a natural affinity for this beautiful gloaming.”

Hadrian has taught to me (and thus have I come to appreciate, as like an acquired taste) a particular art of lovemaking; his stated preference for the expected course of an evening’s events that sees the exchange of pleasures concluded not by a climax, but rather by the slow encroachment of sleep. In other words, when the ultimate gush of fluid is given, and the body returns to its normal composure, that is not, for Hadrian, the end of a night’s activities. It is merely the beginning of a new phase of pleasures exchanged. It marks the onset of silent and spiritual communion, private reflection, sensual and warm conversation, and the closeness of bodies unburdened by the driving need to climax. It is a languid and unhurried stretch of time, qualitatively different from the sex which occurs before that brief squirt of rushing ecstasy.

“Tomorrow promises to be an arduous day,” he said. “We shall tour the construction together, but beyond that I am slated for heavy consultation with visiting emissaries. Phlegon has warned me I will be cloistered long into the evening. I trust you shall take for yourself a companion.”

I did not answer for a long time. I was grappling with a drop of disappointment at the prospect of a particular kind of hunt for which I was suddenly not in the mood. And then I became aware of how unusual it was for me to not be in the mood! It was a confusing moment for me, and still to this hour I do not know how to interpret it. Finally I replied, “Perhaps I’ll spend the night alone tomorrow. Wherefore is my need assumed always to require a companion? There is goodness in solitude as well.”

“If only to amuse you,” said Hadrian gently. “It is hard work to be constantly seen at my side, smiling and waving to endless strangers as an ambassador of the Imperial spirit. Don’t think I am not unaware of your sacrifice. You are an entertainer, Antinous: First of the multitudes, and then, in the evenings, of Hadrian. Not that I regard you so simply – you know well how vast and deep is my love. Yet do you not consider yourself entitled as much to receive the entertainment as supply it? Can you not take for yourself some pleasures of your own?”

“I take as much pleasure from you, Hadrian, as do you from me. Besides,” I said, “I find little comfort in ordering to my bed a slave. There is much more in me to be stimulated than my cock.”

Hadrian laughed. “No doubt! And your arguments are well received. Will you thus allow me the honour of selecting on your behalf tomorrow’s entertainment?” I pulled my astonished cheek from his chest and looked up at him: “You propose to choose for me my evening’s company?” He nodded happily: “And you shall report to me, on the morrow, how successfully I chose. If the night turns out to have been for you a bore, I shall be indebted to you and obliged to make reparation in any such fashion as you desire. Yet if, by the evening, you are enchanted and enriched, the debt of pleasure falls to you.”

And so it was a game we had launched upon, and I was suddenly eager for it. I smiled broadly: “Agreed. So long as you allow me to make a hasty offering to the gods, and implore them to hone and enhance your skills of procurement beyond what genius they have already demonstrated in choosing me.” And there was a great and bellied laughter from him, and our love for one another was swelled even more by it.

The following morning, we stepped from the Imperial House to be greeted, as was customary, by throngs of cheering admirers. The Athenians have quickly embraced me as the minor celebrity who strides purposefully at the side of their beloved Hadrian. From the children to their grandmothers, they all seem to have learned my name and can often be heard shouting it with as much ferocity as they do the name of my lover, whenever our train is discovered among their ranks. The streets of Athens, to say the least, are very welcoming. This is owing as much to the warmth of the city’s inhabitants as it is to the sense of urban renewal that those very streets are experiencing by virtue of Hadrian’s restoration projects, which, having been inaugurated several years ago on his previous visit, are finally nearing completion.

Of particular note is the temple of Zeus Olympios, which is positively dazzling in its breadth and height. Although not scheduled to be ready for consecration until January, some from our entourage were recently invited to mount the scaffold that encircled its perimeter, and, thereupon it, we spent a considerable time observing the artisans working laboriously on the decorations of the pediment. As we watched, it was evident that the men and youths about us were quite visibly puffed up with a beaming pride to have the emperor himself in their midst, praising them their extraordinary craftsmanship.

Upon descending the scaffold, we entered the cavernous interior and found it bustling with even more workers. Hadrian spoke at length with the foreman, inquiring after the details of colour, light, heat, and decorative elements. All in all, Hadrian was very complimentary, and I could tell how much he liked and admired the foreman – a fellow of few words and obvious ability.

We were on the verge of leaving when Hadrian’s eye was snared by (or returned to?) a young man working in a far corner of the building. He was a stout mosaic-maker who had been hunched quietly over a small patch of the floor. Hadrian beckoned me to his side, and signalled his desire to be followed only by myself and Phlegon.

“Good morning, friend!” bellowed Hadrian. The man looked up to our approach with a gasp and a deep bow of his already bowed head. “Rise, sir,” said Hadrian with a smile. “You’ve crouched enough. What is your name?”

“Alexander,” answered the man. “And how old are you, Alexander?” asked Hadrian. He replied, “Eight and twice ten, my lord.” Hadrian then gestured to Phlegon and introduced him as Secretary. Alexander nodded respectfully. And then Hadrian turned to look in my direction. “This is Antinous, of whom you no doubt have heard.” Alexander bowed deeply in my direction and said, “Good morning, Sir.” I smiled at him and said, “Good morning, Alexander. ‘Tis quite a name you are given.” He smiled and replied, “It is. As a child, I was often consumed by the stories of his travels and conquests.”

“In contrast,” said Hadrian, “Antinous has always found himself consumed and dazzled by the majesty of a well-made mosaic.” (This was not entirely untrue, though I certainly had never expressed it so literally. Yet another example of Hadrian’s power and skill of observation!) “Perhaps,” he continued, “you would like to join Antinous this evening at a private dinner, and make known to him what inspires you to craft such beautiful works?”

Alexander swallowed hard. I could tell he was nervous. He nodded quickly and replied, “Indeed, my lord, I would be most honoured.”

Hadrian smiled at me. He leaned in for a private word, although did not bother to exclude Alexander from earshot: “What think you of my choice?” he asked. I looked again at Alexander. He was tall. His hands were large and strong – although very rough. His arms were thick and shapely. His face was square, with a broad jawline. His eyes were very dark and saw well the nature of the world. “I think he is a very noble soul, and I would be happy to know him further,” I replied.

“Good!” said Hadrian. “I am off, then, to my embassies. Enjoy yourself, and take good note of it!” And with that he and Phlegon were gone. As the train departed, only Decentius remained at a respectable distance to watch over me and my awkward fumblings in the company of Alexander.

“I hope you are not unsettled by Hadrian or his impulses,” I stammered. Alexander shook his head, although it was clear to me that he was indeed unsettled. I continued, “Although I am embarrassed for the suddenness of the invitation, I am not dismayed by it. I would very much like to know you, Alexander.”

Again he swallowed. “But you belong to the Emperor,” he protested. I shook my head and said, “Not so. I belong to myself. I merely serve the Emperor at his convenience. May I expect you this evening?”

His eyes went groping for a reply. Finally he mumbled, “I am married, Sir. I was knotted at a very young age. I have never had the benefit of a noble education, nor the pleasure of a youth in my bed as such a schooling affords. Thus I am afraid I would lack the skills to be for you a good companion.”

I smiled at him and asked, “Are you still married?”
He nodded.
“What is her name?”
I laughed very loudly at that: “How appropriate!”

He nodded, and at last betrayed a tiny smile. “Bring her,” I commanded, suddenly feeling myself to have become Hadrian’s proxy. “We shall dine together, and then she shall find herself in good and caring company for the remainder of the night. It shall be a wondrous and nourishing respite for the both of you, and I promise she shall not want for luxury.”

He looked away, and his eyes found the foreman who was watching us from afar. “Please, Antinous,” he said, “do not make of me a spectacle. I do not wish to be singled out, for such unwished-for celebrity can only cause me future hardship beneath the jealous gaze of my peers.”

I suddenly understood his hesitations and his fears. It was of a nature that I myself have long known, and learned – over several years – to live with. But for Alexander, the suddenness of Hadrian’s blinding gaze was no doubt overwhelming. My heart lurched for him. “You have my word, friend, that these, our attentions, will cause you no harm, and bring to you and your name only good benefit. Shake my hand. I shall take my leave and let you to your noble work return. This evening I’ll await your wife and her husband at the Imperial House. You both shall be bathed, swathed in luxury, and cared for as like true and deserving guests of royal Rome.”

He took my hand and looked at me with earnest eyes. At last he smiled shyly and bowed. I nodded once to his foreman – a gesture of thanks and good confidence – and then signalled to Decentius our departure. Off, thus, we went, free to tour the city without the cumbersome ceremonials forever attending upon Hadrian.

“What was that?” asked Decentius as we emerged from the construction. The sunlight flashed upon his armour and dazzled as much my own eyes as it did the eyes of our many onlookers. “A strange and unnerving wager,” I replied. “Last night I made with Hadrian a game: that he should choose for me the object of my evening’s pleasures, whilst he by his obligations were elsewhere consumed. And I did readily agree to it. Yet now, Hadrian having made his choice, the poor Alexander is terrified of me, for he thinks he shall be treated for nothing but a plaything of Imperial lusts. I assured him that would not be the case, yet how can I avoid the fact that it most certainly is? O, I feel sick, Decentius! What a horrible hour!”

Decentius smirked. “Is not every one of us – including Hadrian himself – a plaything of Imperial lust? Be not so innocent, Antinous: it is unbecoming. What’s more, it is profoundly dishonest, for by now you are well acquainted with the mechanisms of Hadrian’s court. All that concerns you is to be this evening your authentic self, and allow the lucky Alexander to understand just how fortunate he is to have discovered himself in thy nourishing company.”

(Tell me, Lysicles: Who is the lucky one? Still to this day I marvel at just how loving is the counsel and protection that surrounds me!)

And so it came to pass that Alexander and his wife, Tessera, appeared at the Imperial House and submitted to the attentions of our staff. They were bathed and scented, then guided to the dining room where I met them. We enjoyed a lovely meal, and I learned (from Tessera, mostly; her husband is a man of few words) of their lives in Athens and the clans from which they hail. We were joined by Balbilla and Melino – curious (or shall I say, prying?) and chatty women of Sabina’s circle left idle in the absence of their empress, who had chosen to spend the evening with Parthenia. It seemed clear to me that the women very much favoured Tessera, and she in turn appeared quite at ease and receptive to their conversation. When the meal was concluded, they invited her to join them in chambers, having no doubt been informed by Phlegon’s vast network of deputies that such was expected of them as a result of Alexander’s “obligations” to me under the auspice of Hadrian’s game. (Such strange complexities, hey?)

And thus it came down to but myself and Alexander, whom I dutifully (though not without anticipation) invited to join me in my chamber. Owing to his complete lack of sexual experience in the company of an eager youth, our private time together began in a somewhat awkward and fumbling fashion, but such obstacles were quickly surmounted and I daresay he warmed to me considerably in the following hours. Our exchange of both talk and physical pleasures was marvellously enriching, and I do not think I flatter myself to say that he left my bed the following morning possessed of an entirely new spirit.

My report to Hadrian the following morning was lengthy, detailed and jovial (as is this letter!). He was very pleased to receive it, and proud of his refined skill – proven yet again – to identify any man of good worth. Thus, having lost our wager, I am now indebted to him in a very tangible and contractual way, beyond those vast and intangible gratitudes I’ve accumulated over the many years of our remarkable relationship. As Hadrian is fond of doing, he has elected to brood for a bit on precisely what form my repayment to him shall take, and I am eager to have it commanded to me, knowing well that suspense and anticipation for it will prove as erotic as its pronouncement. We shall see what comes!

In the meantime, Athens never ceases to enthral. There is a vitality here unlike any place I have ever seen. The history and ancient spirit of the city is constantly breathing new and passionate life into both my own lungs and Hadrian’s. Times are good for me now. They are happy and bold; filled with promise and exuberance.

Lo, I hereby offer a healthy portion of that goodness to you, Lysicles, wishing you great and lasting joys. A.

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