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.