The House of Statianus. The audience is greeted
and seated by Statianus, who addresses them personally and cordially
as his guests. When the house is full:
Gentle ladies and noble knights of Rome:
On this, the eve of his greatest crowning,
Do I, Ceasarnius Statianus,
Thy most grateful host and humble servant,
Ask you each to rise and be respectful
For the Emperor and light of the world –
Ceasar Trajanus Hadrian Augustus!
(Enter Hadrian, followed by Antinous.
Hadrian nods and smiles at the audience as Antinous is directed
into one of 2 reserved seats in the centre of the front row.)
Hail Caesar! And say us all: Hail Caesar!
A steadfast and glorious friend thou art,
Statianus, who, by grand ideals,
Doth well effect this welcome distraction
From the morrow’s mighty obligations.
Hadrian sits down beside Antinous, allowing
the audience to sit as well.
‘Tis thee alone who deems them onerous,
My liege. To all thine ecstatic servants,
Such grim degrees be jubilantly dressed.
And now, company, let us breathe deeply.
Let us consecrate our ears to the full
Attention of a most exotic mind.
Returned again to Rome from near abroad
Is that grand and astonishing sophist
Who hath agreed this night to regale us.
By the blessing of mighty Jupiter
And the smile of every beloved god,
I do hereby present to you the man
That’s not a man, yet more a man than most.
Let us all be moved by Favorinus!
Enter Favorinus the hermaphrodite. He
nods once at Statianus but does not acknowledge anyone else.
He stands upon the stage — alone and self-possessed. He takes
as long as he needs. Finally, he raises his hand in traditional
speaking stance, and begins:
Friends, Romans, Emperors – lend me your tears,
And willingly by my sweet voice be moved.
For here, upon this dias, I do pledge
To journey you more profoundly in word
Than Alexander, who, ‘cross vanquished worlds,
Toiled, traipsed, took Asia… and finally died.
Friends, Romans, Catamites – lend me your peers,
For by the constant prick of potent truth
Shall I on thy quivering backsides erect
A Trajan’s column to thy condition.
(Hadrian laughs again – loudly
and with abandon.)
Friends, Romans, Fffffffavourites – lend me your cheers,
For this oration doth belong to thee.
Aye. Aye, ‘tis true: ‘Tis my topic this eve.
Tonight I argue for the Favourite!
(Hadrian laughs uncomfortably.)
But wait! Heart! I have a one forgotten;
Omitted from my most reverent greetings
A noteworthy and scrupulous presence.
Let me see: I must think and recollect.
Friends, Romans, Emperors – lend me your tears.
Friends, Romans, Catamites – lend me your peers.
Friends, Romans, Favourites – lend me your cheers.
Ah, yes. Antinous. Lend me your fears.
For skillfully and by painful practice
Shall I so endeavour to dispel them.
How mischievous of me to forget you;
To exclude, overlook and neglect you –
As tho’ to do so might compel us all
To wonder why thou art avoided so
As Hadrian’s Favourite Catamite.
Hadrian stands, struggling to control
By the gods, Favorinus, you test me.
By this test, my lord, I make you godly.
No test by any mortal ministered
Ought reach to reveal for success a god.
What arrogance grants thy giving of it?
Nay, sir, this test but imperils thy tongue,
Which, like to low cheeks bereft of dangle,
I’ll have sniped, that those uppermost will mourn.
Desist, therefore, from this sad direction,
And rethink thy speech with loftier thoughts.
Wouldst have me speak on Athens, my liege?
Her deep history? Her council’s debate?
Her politics? Her warriors? Her pride?
Indeed, Favorinus. For all these things
Be worthy of a sophist remarking.
Very well, my liege. I’ll speak on Athens.
(Hadrian sits, satisfied.)
And speak as tho’ from her Acropolis
To eastern gods that eagerly listen;
Not to learn, but gladly to remember
Of a time more awesome and formative,
When she was a child, and Rome, her brothers,
But infants in the worry of a wolf.
That is appropriate, Sir, and useful.
And yet am I suddenly embarrassed!
Lo, I’ve mistook Athens for a girl!
Not that we are surprised when one as me –
Sexless and senseless of its distinction –
Doth make such an undignified mistake.
Yet I petition to be forgiven
By the fact that the frame of frocked children
Makes their sex too indistinguishable,
And ‘tis only in the blossom of youth
Will angle or curve deal out decisive.
Very well, so call Athens a boy then,
And say something of his magic childhood.
Not quite of that, my liege, but of its end,
For that’s my figure’s reconfigured theme:
The Puberty of a Formless Athens!
The gorgeous and ancient rite of Nature
What rendered him from Attica’s bumpkin
To that most manly and virile city
Upon whose shield vast histories were built.
What says my king of this new proposal?
I say it is approved, Sir, and welcome.
By Jove, so I’ll rejoice, and speak on it!