Monday, November 24, 2008

Hadrian & Antinous: Mystery & Love Intro Post

I would like to do several posts about the Roman emperor Hadrian and his relationship with the Greek youth, Antinous. The reasons for this are many. I have always been fascinated by Roman history and find the time of the "Five Good Emperors" particularly interesting. This period started with Nerva (96-98 A.D.) and ended with Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.); with the reigns of Trajan (98-117 A.D.), Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) and Antoninus Pius (138-161 A.D) in between. The political and cultural aspects of this era interest me and I hope will interest people who read my blog.
The main reason I would like to do this set of posts, however, is the relationship between Hadrian and Antinous itself. Was this relationship one of the great love affairs of history that still echo down the corridors of time? Why did Hadrian, who was regarded as one of the most level headed of the Roman rulers become so deeply obsessed and enamored of the young man? Was the death of Antinous in 130 A.D. a murder, suicide, accidental drowning or an intentional act of self-sacrifice to extend the life and glorify the rule of his powerful lover and patron? How and why did Antinous after his death become the god of a cult that resonated deeply with people of the time and spread like wildfire across the Mediterranean world. The cult of Antinous the god evoked a creative and artistic response and endured for many years. To provide a backdrop of the history of the times I will give a couple of quotes from two famous men.

From Edward Gibbons in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: If a man were called to fix a period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose characters and authority commanded respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws. Such princes deserved the honour of restoring the republic had the Romans of their days been capable of enjoying a rational freedom.

Machiavelli said these emperors through "good" rule, earned the respect of those around them:
Titus, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus and Marcus had no need of praetorian cohorts, or of countless legions to guard them, but were defended by their own good lives, the good-will of their subjects, and the attachment of the Senate.

I should make note before ending this post that not all historians agree with Gibbons or Machiavelli. Machiavelli had noted that the period of the "Five good emperors" was notable for peaceful transfers of power, through the adoption of the new emperor by the old emperor, but as we shall see with Hadrian's rise to power after Trajan, perhaps there was a bit of skullduggery in the background. This is what fascinates me about studies of history; history is written with the bias of the person writing about it-some can block personal bias better than others, but I don't believe any of them can block their personal feelings toward the subject under consideration one hundred percent. And the thing that fascinates me most about history is that it is never "quite as advertised" there are always surprises and new viewpoints and discoveries to be made.

I do not know how many posts this series will run to. I will try to do beautiful bits of poetry and other odds and ends between these posts to prevent boredom with the subject-although I hope you, dear reader, will find this story as interesting and mysterious as I did! I just like to keep a surprise around the corner sometimes.


X. Dell said...

As someone who's studied the classics, you certainly have my attention. As you no doubt know, the idealized romance that older Roman males had for these young men, had been part of Roman culture for centuries by the time Hadrian came to rule (Catullus' poems to 'Juwentus' are good examples). That such relationships would have political ramifications thus comes as little surprise.

To me, what really clarifies Machiavelli's thought is his discourses on Titus Livy. It becomes clear that he really advocated a republic, because of an underlying belief that the decentralization of power leads to societal stability. The "good emporers" had a tendency not to take absolute authority at all times. In Hardian's case, there's the example of his correspondence with Pliny the Younger about how to handle the Christan problem\, and a lot of other things for that matter.

wise woman said...

Hi Devin
Thanks for your interesting post.

I do agree about history not being as advertised - it is far too cohesive - if you listen to a number of people talk about an experience they all shared there are always a load of discrepancies - but you just don't get that in history - there are token differences, but not 'human' ones.

All the best

Devin said...

X.Dell-thanks so much for stopping by. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. Also if you or anyone else who reads my blog has any criticisms-please feel free-especially if I get any historical details wrong on anything-I plan to be doing a lot of posts about all kinds of history here and I need to get it right. I agree with your thoughts here completely-in this set of posts I need to put the correspondence mentioned in somewhere. This set of posts could go for a long time and I am at a cross-road in deciding how many-I have no clue as to how many readers I actually have but I appreciate all input-I try to write and think that if I even just have one reader I need to keep that person interested. I will punctuate this set of posts with great poetry here and there-but I don't want to lose anyone!-once this series is done I will do more out of the book I am trying to write and go on to other history and current topics. In the future -I don't know how far I am going to do a series of posts with no fixed ending called Bloc-Head history-the only area of history I claim to have any special knowledge of is Soviet and the former communist contries in e europe-for anyone who reads me now or in the future that this will bore-don't worry-these posts will be one-offs-here and there. Thanks again for your thoughts and will appreciate any in the future!-Devin

Devin said...

wise woman-thanks so much for your comment. I could not agree more about the 'human' discrepancies. Two people can observe a simple event and disagree on the most fundamental things. Don't even get me started on the 'history' we are fed in school-esp here in the states!-hehe
I truly hope people will enjoy this series-the next post may be up very soon and after that I may need to take a small breather to get this intricate and beautiful story across right. I am so glad blogs like yours, the x spot,The hidden agendas,aferrismoon,Rigorous Intuition,the secret sun, pseudo-occult media,gosporn and others do such a great job of telling people just how 'different' from the official story line history really is. Best to you and your family!-Devin