Nothing of what I am about to write was seen or heard by me. It
is all related secondhand from Anaxamenos and Vitalis. And yet,
that it concerns me completely, and has affected me to such a degree
that I am now feeling very despondent indeed, I am compelled to
express it with as much sorrow as frustration.
Anaxamenos believes it was Petasius, Master of the Household Page,
who spread the word about my likeness hanging from a post in the
stables. The man had come to see Anaxamenos on some trifle of ordinary
business, and took silent note of the drawing.
About a week later, Phlegon appeared in my friend’s office
to make arrangements for the rotation of a fresh group of horses
between Tibur and Rome. And he made a point of requesting to see
the drawing. He looked at it for only a moment, nodded once to Anaxamenos,
Can you guess who arrived next?
“This is remarkable,” said Hadrian. “Who is he
that has created such an image – and has he produced others?”
Anaxamenos dutifully opened up his cabinet and extracted the pile
of pictures. Thankfully, Hadrian was too excited by the prospect
of beholding them to inquire about the contents of the rest of the
cabinet. As he began to sift through them, Anaxamenos beckoned Vitalis
into his office.
“My lord,” said Anaxamenos, “I present to you
the artist: Marius Vitalis.” Hadrian looked up to assess him.
He narrowed his eyes, and spoke slowly: “Marius Vitalis. I
have spoken your name before. You were requested by Antinous. He
rescued you from the Department of the Wardrobe.” Vitalis
smiled and nodded silently.
Hadrian gazed at my two beautiful friends: “Both of you are
close to him. Both are esteemed. It is easy to see why.” Again
he looked down at the pictures before him and selected one of the
nudes. “May I have this?” he asked. “Of course,
my liege,” said Vitalis: “I am honoured that it pleases
you so.” Hadrian smiled, assessing the talented youth before
him. And then he replied, “It is not the only thing of yours,
Vitalis, that pleases me.” Vitalis blushed, and Hadrian laughed.
“Methinks I’d like a portrait drawn of Hadrian. May
I sit for you?” And Vitalis blinked in dumb astonishment.
“Of course, my lord!” exclaimed Anaxamenos: “Vitalis
has long wished for such a glorious opportunity.” Hadrian
was very pleased by that and left, drawing in hand.
Anaxamenos leaned over and pulled the ear of Vitalis close to his
lips: “Ensure your ass is very clean, and do not be embarrassed
to become aroused. On the contrary, if you find yourself getting
hard, make a damn fine show of it, and I daresay your career will
have officially begun.”
A few nights later, Vitalis was summoned into the sacred bedchamber
to draw a portrait of his Emperor. And to his credit, he followed
the advice of Anaxamenos perfectly. He spent the night in Hadrian’s
That was a week ago, and I was very happy to hear it from Vitalis
when the news was eagerly reported to me. What’s more, I was
delighted to have played such an unusual part in the story –
in absentia, with only my wordless image the catalyst.
My woes, however, surfaced today, by the report of Vitalis on the
morning after his third night with Hadrian. For they had reached
by then more familiar terms, and Vitalis was emboldened to ask why
he had not yet taken Antinous into his bed.
“Antinous is special,” replied Hadrian. “He exists
on a plane that floats far above the heave of flesh, and thus consistently
challenges me to climb up and join him there. To take him into my
bed is akin to pulling him down to the mundane world of animals.
I should much rather rise up instead.”
Vitalis considered that for a moment. And then he smirked: “He
is an excellent practitioner.” Hadrian smiled, “So I
am told. But my asceticism with regard to Antinous is self-imposed
and self-directed. I refuse to take him precisely because he is
the one person on this earth I desire the most. It is a program
of refinement and perpetual deprivation through which I assert the
will to govern myself. The empire, by comparison, seems far easier
to govern. Thus it is my intent that Antinous shall never come into
my bed, though it pains me immensely to say such a thing.”
It is these words that Vitalis reported to me, and sank my heart
in doing so. “But it makes no sense!” he protested,
as if to recover it from the ocean floor. “Anitnous, you must
speak to him. You must show him how foolish he is being.”
I sighed heavily, for in the mounting of such a campaign against
the man’s made-up mind, the prospect of success was horribly
“Seduce him!” continued Vitalis. “Grab him by
the ears and make known to him how ardently his desire is reflected!
Flatter him into submission!” I looked at Vitalis with impatience,
knowing well how fully he himself knew such tactics would fail.
“It is lost,” I said. “We must face the facts:
If he hasn’t taken me by now, he most certainly never will.
I must, therefore, for the sake of my health, abandon all hope of
becoming for him what the world has long assumed I would. I have
no explanation for why he looks on me with such a reverence; why
he places me in such a lofty sphere. Shall I consider it a blessing?
Hardly. On the contrary, it seems to have become the source of my
ignominy. Therefore, Vitalis, I beg you: do not speak on it further.
And, what’s more, do not relate to me ever again of your relations
with Hadrian. For I doubt in my ability to bear it.” And with
that, I walked away from him.
I have spent the day alone, in painful consideration of my predicament.
And from it I have arrived at the decision that I shall be for Hadrian
exactly what he wishes of me: noble, loyal, honest, true –
and distant. I shall no longer seek nor expect to touch or be touched
by him. We shall be as father and son, and I shall receive from
him his wisdom whenever he provides it, and do so without any supposition
of its prelude to the intimacies of our flesh. My erotic heart for
him I do hereby cast adrift, for it serves me no purpose, and indeed
has become an impediment to proper service.
There is not much left to say. But even if there was, I can’t
imagine I would have the willpower to continue writing. I am consumed
this night by my own self-pity, and am content for a time to wallow
in it, despite the fact that nothing on the surface of my life has
changed. Let the morning come fast, and let it be a bright one.
I am grateful, at least, for the return of spring. Perhaps tomorrow
I shall pass by the idol of Persephone and make to her an offering
of humble thanks for good return. Indeed, there is health in that
idea. For think how quickly my troubles shall pale from the stories
of her recent trip abroad! A.