In the land of Libya to the west of Alexandria, a challenge had presented itself to Hadrian. This challenge was one the emperor could not resist and perhaps looked forward to taking on. A lion over two meters in length, with a short mane and a tawny-black color was roaming that land, making large areas of it uninhabitable. The nature of this lion was so violent and cunning, that Oppian called this particular breed 'the kings of all king lions'. Hadrian assembled a party of his most hardened companions, including Antinous and left civilized Alexandria for the purifying hardships of the Libyan desert, probably in the first days of September 130 AD. By now Antinous must have been between eighteen and twenty years of age. His appearance must have changed from that of a sensual ephebe to that of a lean and muscular young man.
From Royston Lambert's, Beloved and God: "It would be untrue to say that Antinous was no longer beautiful. He was no longer the smooth ephebe but a hairy, lean and virile young adult. The arrival in Egypt had perhaps coincided with this ultimate (and ceremonial) transformation of his appearance which in itself must have posed anxious problems for his future role and status with regard to his imperial lover. Perhaps Hadrian did not much like the inexorable change wrought by time and so happily delayed, since it was to be an earlier image of Antinous which he preferred to disseminate later in stone and bronze, after the lad's death. For the time being, however, the living Antinous' evident maturity assured him pride of place in the perilous and manly exploit ahead." Where and how Hadrian's party finally caught up with the huge lion we do not know. What we can know from later historical accounts is that when they did, Hadrian was the first to throw his spear and wounded the lion but did not kill it. Maybe this was to test Antinous in some way. Also from Beloved and God: "Thus even at the height of danger Hadrian could coolly almost callously, try out his companion's nerve and skill." Antinous had no time to aim and bore most of the enraged lion's wrath. Hadrian had to intervene to save him and managed to kill the lion.
Antinous must have been overwhelmed with gratitude. Hadrian had not only saved his life but had rid the people of Libya of a menacing and fearful predator. Hadrian of course made sure his exploit was made known to the world of the time. Official historians recorded the event and Pancrates made it into a Homeric epic. This exploit was also recorded on medallions and on the appropriate tondo of the Arch of Constantine. This point in their relationship was both a climax and a turning point for both of them. They were bonded as men moreso than ever, but Antinous was losing the physical qualities that Hadrian cherished and was completely dependent upon him. Hadrian also, would never again in his reign have a chance to demonstrate his physical courage and strength to the world.