The Delights of Athens
As the days careen obliviously toward my birthday, I float through
the streets of Athens as if in a mighty and fantastical Elysium.
Upon every corner and at every turn is a new and joyous discovery
of people and their passions. Whether in attendance upon Hadrian,
in the care of Decentius, flanked by the Caesernii brothers, laughing
happily among the glorious minds of Favorinus and Fronto, or even
– surprisingly – in the personally requested company
of Sabina and her train, I have gulped down the sights as though
they were the sweetest elixirs of the wise and fearsome goddess
It seems that the Mysteries of Eleusis have had as profound an effect
upon the heart of Sabina as they did her husband and I. In fact,
Commodus and Balbilla (who were initiated with us) have also softened
somewhat towards me: there is an air of acceptance among them and
a small (if growing) sense of respect. Perhaps they are simply following
the lead of Sabina, who is slowly allowing herself to admit my name
and physical presence into her private sphere. Our exchanges, when
they occur, are still quite formal, but every now and again there
bubbles up a tiny and knowing smirk between us. I have always admired
her composure and her tact, and now – at long last –
I can honestly say that I’m beginning to genuinely like her.
She is a woman who is (understandably) very guarded, and it is only
after so many months on the road together that she is choosing to
let me into her world (albeit quite selectively). Her fawning circle
of friends thus has no other choice but to do the same – including
Truth be told, the entire entourage is becoming familiar and friendly
to me – except for the fellow called Fuscus. He is indeed
a strange duck. Some days he is aloof from everyone; other days
he drips the most honeyed compliments upon even the lowliest of
slaves. I confess that I understand little of him, and I do not
believe he is well-liked among most of the others in the court.
But what can be done? No one (not least of all Fuscus himself) is
ignorant of the fact that he could very well become the next ruler
of Rome. Thus his idiosyncrasies are endured, and his odd behaviour
among us all is silently accepted.
But enough of him! There is so much more to report! A considerable
number of our train found itself crossing the threshold of Plato’s
Academy, beneath the gates of which were inscribed the words “No
One May Enter Who Knows Not the Earth’s Rhythm.” I can
think of a few that day who had no business entering the Academy,
but who was I to stop them? And how indeed could the Scholarch be
expected to raise any objection when such people were arriving upon
the attendance of Hadrian? Regardless, I took comfort in the fact
that I myself, as well as my lover, boasted a most respectable claim
to indeed know at least a small amount of the earth’s rhythm,
and so I felt no trepidation in entering upon those most hallowed
That is not to say that I lacked humility in doing so. For I am
the first to admit that there is much about the music and math of
the world in which I remain yet ignorant. But there are, by contrast,
many wonderful things I have learned over the course of my life
that recommend me, I think, to a welcome place as a visitor within
the Academy’s walls. Were I destined to be a philosopher,
I dare say I would find no better home for myself than there. I
can only imagine how inspiring the visit was for Fronto, Favorinus,
and Polemon. Fronto in particular seemed to barely contain his exuberance.
“Across so many years have I heard of this mythical place
– and now am I standing in it, meeting and conversing with
a vast array of incredible minds!” I smiled at him lovingly
and responded: “Gnaeus would indeed be happy for you, as am
I wandered a bit on my own, and soon stumbled upon Favorinus who
was comfortably seated beneath a large and sheltering tree. He beckoned
me to sit by him, and I did so. “This,” he said, “is
the product of my Imminent Boys.” I was confused, and so he
reminded me: “Nyanthes and Timarchus.” Of course! How
could I have forgotten his dazzling oratory – the very one
in which he urged Hadrian to finally take me for his Favourite?
(How long ago that seems!) “I am contemplating an expansion
of the story,” he told me. This was fascinating and wonderful
news. “How?” I excitedly demanded.
“What I prepared for you and Hadrian that night was but the
seed of a much broader idea,” he replied. “I was testing
for its potential to enthral, and indeed it did not disappoint me.
Imagine how the ancient tribes of Athens must have received such
a thing as this – a school! Today, we take such places of
learning for granted. But it was not always so. I am restless to
tell a tale in which the genius contained within these walls is
not a forgone conclusion; in which the triumph of love and the tragedy
of fate bestows a dramatic justification upon the Academy’s
existence to a people who have so little appreciation for the rigour
of a formal education.” What could I possibly say in the aftermath
of such an ardent expression of love for the powers of the logical
mind? I kissed him upon the cheek and whispered softly into his
ear: “Let the muses sing to you, Favorinus, as they have never
sung to anyone ever before.” And I left him there amid his
Plato’s is not the only school we have visited. Seated at
Hadrian’s side, I found myself regaled in the Lyceum of Aristotle
and the Stoa of Zeno – and not only by its committed disciples!
Fuscus, Favorinus and Polemon were also invited to give semi-public
performances to the students – the trio of them being introduced
as great rhetorical ambassadors from Rome. In fact, Fuscus was even
presented at one point as being “very modest and of pious
aspect.” Can you believe that? It was all I could do to restrain
myself and applaud politely as he took the stage. His performance
was adequate, but by far the stars of the shows have been Polemon
and Favorinus. Their rhetorical prowess has consistently been salted
with a wide-ranging humour, some of which is uttered at the other’s
expense. Every now and again will come a subtle barb from Polemon
that is so obviously directed at the unmanliness of Favorinus that
I find myself suddenly uncomfortable. In rebuttal, Favorinus will
pull from his soul a searing little joke that lives and dies upon
Polemon’s gruff and haughty exterior. I am beginning to sense
that they don’t quite like each other, and this is a source
of sadness for me. Everyone else, however, seems to derive a great
deal of joyous laughter from their simmering animosity and openly
look forward to ever-escalating displays of wit and showmanship.
No visit to the schools of Athens would be complete without a trip
to the Garden of Epicurus. We heard a number of oratories there,
all expounding on his ancient philosophies. Hadrian himself subscribes
to much of the Epicurean world view, and was thus exceedingly lavish
in his praise of the garden and its scholarly keepers. Although
I find their theory of matter somewhat incomprehensible, I do enjoy
(and find much more accessible) their theory of knowledge as a product
of sense perception. “I shall spend an evening here,”
announced Hadrian, “beneath the stars, alone but for the company
of Antinous.” And thus, as the sun sank below the horizon,
the Garden was cleared of other men’s eyes and ears until
all that remained was myself, my lover, and the stillness of an
earthly paradise. I suddenly became aware of an object in his hand,
which he tenderly placed in my palm. It was a set of pipes. "Play
for me," he commanded, "as did Daphnis for the ears of
a hungry Pan." I stared down at the pipes. A wave of nostalgia
washed over me, for I hadn’t played such an instrument in
many, many years. Simply holding them brought back the sweet and
distant memory of Lysicles and Antinous romping through the tall
forests beyond the gates of Claudiopolis.
"Why?" I asked. Answered Hadrian: "It is owed to
me. This is your debt of pleasure, to repay me for the evening you
enjoyed with the stonesetter."
"I shall be rusty," I warned him. He reached down to fondle
me, and I was instantly hard in his hand. "Then I shall polish
you," he retorted. I giggled, revelling in the jocular dance
of my willful organ beneath its toga, and then slowly brought the
pipes to my lips. My first few notes were tentative and whispy,
but I very soon re-connected with the memory of their rhythms and
was shortly thereafter sending the sweetest notes of tenderness
up toward the smiling moon.
It did not take long for the passion to overtake me, however, and
suddenly the pipes had fallen silent. I embraced my manly lover,
pressing my loins up against his hand. "How can you call yourself
an Epicurean," I teasingly asked him, "when you are so
dismissive of his commandments concerning moderation of the flesh?"
"In my position," replied Hadrian, "I have learned
to be selective of those things I accept as commandments from the
past." My youthful manhood continued to writhe between his
fingers; the sensation of his touch bloomed in vast waves of pleasure
outward from my groin. He reached up to my fibula, and within but
a heartbeat the cloths had dropped from my body. I stood naked before
him in the garden as he reached again to take my flesh in his hand.
"What else," I asked him, "do you selectively ignore
of ancient men's prescriptions concerning pleasure?" He laughed
softly; his breath in my ear was growing hungrier as his beard brushed
softly against my cheek. "This," he whispered. And then
he was on his knees. A pair of wet and loving lips closed around
my erection. His hands crept around to my buttocks and pulled me
forward into his mouth. "Play..." came his distant, desperate
voice from beneath me. "Play, Daphnis, and do not stop until
Pan is sated."
And so I once again brought the pipes to my face and started playing.
I knew keenly what he wished to hear, for it was exactly what I
wished to play for him - a dancing melody that put to music the
pleasures I was experiencing in my groin. We took turns in the role
of leader: at times his mouth was my music's guide, but there were
other moments when my music would direct him to alter the pace and
intensity of his attentions. Together, thus, we achieved a mighty
orchestration of pleasures, and it rang up into the starry night
in celebration until I was unable to restrain myself and shuddered
my climax down his throat. The music fell silent as my lungs gasped
for as much gulping air as possible.
Now Hadrian removed his own toga and lay down upon his back. His
manhood was erect and shiny, glistening with translucent anticipation.
"Sit down upon me, Daphnis, and do not stop playing until Pan
is sated." Once again, therefore, I brought the pipes back
to my mouth and called forth the music to accompany our passion.
I slowly lowered myself down upon Hadrian, allowing his hand to
guide himself deeply into me. Our dance of fleshly and musical pleausres
resumed, and so too did our alternating leadership.
I should be a liar if I tried to report that the music was at all
accomplished. Endless hiccups and squeaks burst forth from my pipes
as Hadrian's thrusting grew more imperative. But who was I to be
embarrassed for it? How could I not by his passion be swept away
to a place beyond self-consciousness? Hadrian's final, groaning
thrusts signalled to me that my debt to him -- along with his spirit
into my insides -- was finally discharged. Again the music ended,
and only the crickets continued to sing around us as we fell together,
sweaty and spent, into a deep and unassailable embrace.
It did not take long for me to begin shivering, for the November
air is not so welcoming as it must inevitably be in the summertime.
Hadrian dressed me before dressing himself, and together we walked
from the garden arm in arm. A few of the resident philosophers greeted
us at the gates, as did Decentius and several of the other guards.
There was a respectful silence all around, although I could sense
a very suppressed bemusement in many of our company. A quick glance
into the face of Decentius told me that my music (or, at least,
my attempt at it) had been heard by everyone. He winked at me, and
I also suppressed a tiny smile.
Before we departed for the Imperial House, Hadrian turned to address
the Scholarch. "Thank you for your school's most wondrous hospitality,
my friend," he said. The Scholarch bowed deeply and replied,
"Thank you, my liege, for seeding it with such a divine passion.
What flowers it provides for us in the springtime shall no doubt
delight our senses with the memory of your train's colourful presence
here." Hadrian smiled at him in quiet understanding. Then he
turned, and together we left the garden.
If the Epicureans took from our lovemaking offense, we will never
know it. For in the days that followed, the Athenians no longer
merely cheered as we passed them in the streets -- they played pipes!
What's more, hardly was it done to taunt us. Rather, it was in a
spirit of lusty celebration that their music greeted us, and Hadrian
found himself laughing jubilantly whenever he heard it played. Never
have I felt so cherished, Lysicles, as I do here among the Athenians.
I feel to be as much a hero for these people as is Hadrian, their
restorer. How, then, can I not love and delight in a place such
as this, that loves and delights in me so deeply in return? A.