Yesterday was the celebration to mark the attainment of my ten
and eighth year, and to observe it there was prepared a grand feast
in my honour, attended by most, if not all, of the royal entourage.
Tidings had earlier come by horseback with letters from Maltinus
and Anaxamenos, and I rejoiced in reading them aloud to a smiling
Hadrian. In addition, I received from all of my travelling companions
best wishes for a prosperous year. Carisius in particular engaged
with me in a small conversation, and, although I could tell he was
nervous and possessed of a somewhat awkward disposition, our exchange
of words was very well mannered. But fear not! I am not so foolish
as to think it is because he is warming up to me. On the contrary,
Hadrian was seated directly to my left, and, owing to my lover's
familiarity with his Keeper of the Purple Robes, Carisius knew better
than to offer anything but the utmost respect.
When the feasting was done, Hadrian bathed with me in private and
then invited me into his bedchamber. I was expecting for the evening
our customary exchange of pleasures, but was surprised to hear him
banish from the room the pair of attendant slaves who had become
the fixtures among our lovemaking since we first took to the road.
Truly, now, we were alone, and I amazed to find a most unusual request
whispered into my ear: "You shall educate me, Antinous, as
you did your stonesetter."
I paused briefly to digest what I had heard. "What could I
possibly teach you, my love, that you have not already imparted
He smiled at me warmly and reached for a jug of wine. He poured
some into a nearby bowl and called out, "Come Eros, and rejoice
with us this evening; this night that belongs to Antinous!"
It dawned on me now that the slave who had attended upon myself
and Alexander must have had specific instructions (from Phlegon?
Hadrian himself?) to observe and report back upon our evening. I
recalled having related its events to Hadrian solely in terms of
the activity we made; I'd given little details of the conversation
itself. But now, my lover obviously wanted to know more. "What
is his name," asked Hadian, "the name of that fellow with
whom you splashed through your childhood in Claudiopolis?"
"Lysicles," I responded. He nodded and replied, "A
dear friend was he, no doubt."
"More than a friend," I said. "My first lover. Together
we discovered our bodies' most basic pleasures, and learned such
lessons as to inform and survive all future encounters of the flesh.
It is with Lysicles I discovered how to open myself, and choose
-- regardless of the girth or aggressive tendency of my partner
-- to receive the experience in a healthy frame of mind. It is in
observance of the wisdom I learned as a boy that I have both endured
and enjoyed the company of many subsequent lovers, not least of
"And who was it that taught you such wisdom?" he asked.
"A wineseller," I replied. "His name was Arkamedes.
It was by his instruction that Lysicles and I discovered ourselves."
Hadrian nodded thoughtfully. I felt a tension in my throat, as though
he had suddenly discovered in me a falsehood. But it was not a falsehood,
I told myself. It was merely a choice to keep my private history
from him. Finally, he spoke again: "It is to this Lysicles
that you compose your letters, yes?"
I nodded. It occured to me that this was the very first time Hadrian
had ever spoken to me of my writing. "How long have you known
of my letters?" I nervously asked him.
He smiled as he poured the wine into a pair of goblets, and said,
"Since you came to the Gelotiana."
I considered his words carefully before continuing: "And the
parchment that awaited me with every arrival at Tibur -- that was
by your instruction?" Hadrian nodded, and handed me my wine.
"Why have you never asked me about my writing, then?"
Hadrian sipped from his goblet. "I surround myself with spies,
Antinous. My entire reign is defined by them. How else shall I govern
Rome, when I am hardly ever there to see it? I know everything that
happens -- here on the road, and there upon the Palatine. There
is some security in this, to be sure. Yet I am not so foolish to
be ignorant of the fact that I am, in a very real sense, a slave
to my spies. Without them, my power shall wither and die."
I stared at him for a long time. I did not know how to respond to
such words. Where was he headng with such an argument? Had I angered
him? Was this the end of my time as Favourite? Was it a test? I
had no way of knowing. He smiled at me again, and said, "Do
not look so worried, Antinous." He sat down upon a couch and
beckoned me to his side. I took my place beside him and finally
felt comfortable enough to begin drinking my wine.
"You will not be surprised to learn that I have long watched
you, my love," he said. "Sometimes with my own eyes; sometimes
with the eyes of others. And you have never betrayed me. Never lied
to me. Never hidden from me anything I should need to know in order
to be assured of my safety and my throne. You are, I avow, one of
the most constant, trustworthy, and impeccable spirits I have ever
"Thank you," I whispered, and felt the tears well up immediately
in my eyes. It was the directness of his love that touched me; its
clarity and gratitude. I felt redeemed. Justified. Vindicated for
the arduous years of faithfulness.
"I long ago made the decision that your writing would forever
be your own," he told me. "I vowed never to look at it.
Never to ask of it. Never to intrude myself upon it. That you retain
your privacy in its regard ensures that you retain for me your mystery.
It keeps you human to me, and keeps me human to myself. So long
as I live, Antinous, I shall never read those papers. No matter
how hungry I become to know you; no matter how thoroughly I desire
to inhabit you, your epistles to Lysicles are forever safe from
my eyes. That is my pledge. It is my gift to you, this night, on
I could find no words for him, so merely nodded in grateful, tear-stained
silence. He reached over and wiped my cheek with his thumb. "Why
have I never heard tell of this Arkamedes?"
"There is no compelling reason," I answered. I reflected
for a small time before resuming: "But you have certainly benefitted
from him. The ease with which I inhabit my body and give it to you
is a testament to his long-ago instruction. If I have never spoken
of him, it is because I wished not to intrude my childhood and my
Lysicles into the space that we have made for ourselves. I have
taken from Arkamedes great wisdom, but he is no longer present in
my life as are you."
Hadrian was thoughtful then. There stretched between us a vast and
reverent silence. Finally he spoke: "It has been a long time
since I opened myself to a man."
Again the silence raged. I could barely fathom what was being hinted
at. At last he continued: "Trajan was not an accomplished lover.
He was impatient. Self-centred. Insecure. I never enjoyed his company.
I never enjoyed... receiving him. It was always for me a painful
ordeal." There was another long pause, in which I was terrified
to speak. I waited breathlessly for his next words, for I dared
not interrupt the intensity of his reveries. "I have always
marvelled, Antinous, at the joy you take in receiving me. The deep
and writhing pleasure that courses through you whenever we make
love. I confess to be by it... mystified. If I am truly honest with
myslef, I must also admit that I am envious for it. I wish to experience
it as you do. I wish to know what it is to receive such sensation
so happily. And there is but one person alive today from whom I
would feel right and safe in receiving it."
And so it was, Lysicles, that I, on my birthday, received not only
the highest assurance of my lover's respect for our continued privacy,
but his additional request to receive me as I have long received
him. Has there ever in the history of this wild world been so beautiful
a gift as that?
"I am overwhelmed," I exhaled. Hadrian merely smiled and
sipped more wine. I suddenly became aware that he was imbibing it
at a somewhat more accelerated pace than I was accustomed to. I
looked carefully into his eyes and saw the glint of his unease.
Perhaps even his fear. On an impulse, I reached up and took the
goblet from him. I set it down on a nearby table and said, "Arkamedes
was indeed a wineseller, but his wisdom has nothing to do with its
effects. You will not need to be drunk in order to receive from
me your most exquisite pleasures."
Hadrian considered that for a small time. At last he said, "Well
then. Tell me, Antinous, what I must command my body to do."
"No," I corrected, "for that is not what Arkamedes
taught. But I shall gladly explain where you must lead your mind,
and then, my love, shall your body respond as required."
I regret that I cannot, Lysicles, as is my custom, detail the erotic
activities we enjoyed together, for such an explicit tale would
blaze painfully ingenuous in contrast to the soft lamplight of Hadrian's
deep respect for our privacy. But know this: never before have I
received from my lover such pleasures, joys, tears, or expressions
of gratitude. And when at last we fell to our slumbers arm in arm,
an oblivious dawn was stretching from her bed in the skies beyond
our window. A.