Evening on the Riverbank
It worked! Epeius shines! In addition, he has about him the very
pleasing scent of rosemary – a fragrance that, in my opinion,
works to fire the intellect as its essence fills the head of whoever
is given to ride. And that person, it so happens, is the Emperor
He entered the stables the day after I finished washing his horse.
He greeted me respectfully and engaged in some polite conversation,
and then turned toward Epeius. He noticed instantly that something
was different, and leaned in to inhale the scent that was emanating
from the horse’s mane. “I should imagine this horse
has been wedded with the spirit of wild Italia,” he mused.
I held up the bar of soap to him and explained what I had done.
He was delighted, and ensured that everyone in his train knew of
it. He mounted Epeius, and called out to me to enjoy my leisure-time.
Then, with courtiers, corporals and Corinthus in tow, he trotted
off to Tibur.
What to do with my extra time? I chose to help Anaxamenos and
his new assistant, Bromidus, with their duties, and thus the two
of them also benefited from getting their work done sooner than
expected. To celebrate, Anaxamenos left Bromidus in charge of the
Tack for the rest of the day, and the two of us then skipped off
together for a good and vigorous Roman adventure.
I took him to see Maltinus, for I had been meaning to visit my
former tutor for a very long time, and needed as well to return
his books. He was delighted to see Anaxamenos after several years,
and the three of us decided to take our supper together on the bank
of the river. Maltinus asked us to wait for him while he packed
a small bag. Then, as we walked toward the market to purchase our
food, I asked him if he had received anything from the Emperor.
Maltinus smiled broadly: “I most certainly have,” he
said, and told me that Hadrian had rewarded him very generously.
“In fact, I used a portion of the money to buy, as a gift,
one more book for Antinous.”
I was overjoyed at his announcement, and asked him what it was.
He counseled me to be patient, for it would be revealed when we
had reached our destination. Anaxamenos laughed at my obvious impatience
to receive it, affirming to us all why I was indeed called “the
literate one.” Maltinus delighted in learning of my nickname,
for he could hardly disagree.
Maltinus was very generous in offering to buy for us all our dinner.
We selected a bread and some fruits, a round of cheese, a small
basket of olives, and a jug of wine. And then we continued on toward
the banks of the Tibur, arriving there just in time to watch the
sun begin its descent below the horizon.
As Anaxamenos arranged the food, Maltinus pulled from his bag
my gift. “It is a copy,” he said, “too rarely
transcribed, of the letters of Aristotle addressed to his pupil,
Hephaestion. I should think it will serve you well: the sage advice
of a great philosopher who counsels most personally to a very particular
person on how best to receive the ardent love of a king.”
I was astonished – for here was my very own tutor in the role
of Aristotle, calling me Hephaestion, and naming the Emperor Hadrian
as my personal Alexander. “But Hadrian has not embraced me,”
I told him softly. Maltinus smiled knowingly: “He will.”
As we ate and watched the sun set, Maltinus spoke glowingly of
his daughters. He described them each to us and it was clear to
me that Anaxamenos was very interested in hearing of them. Maltinus
joked with him that his eldest – Palmetta – had already
been offered to me, and we laughed at that, for the truth was that
Maltinus had always bestowed on Palmetta the trust to allow her
to choose for herself whom she wished to marry. “And if it
will be either of you,” said Maltinus, “I should be
very happy to consent.” With that, Anaxamenos and I good-naturedly
agreed that we would not duel for her, but come to a very civil
agreement over who it was that should win her.
At last Maltinus announced that he was obligated to return to
the Caelian, and after I thanked him lovingly for his gift, he left
the two of us alone to watch the stars come out. Together, Anaxamenos
and I lay on the grasses side by side, staring up into the heavens.
The constellation of Leo was directly overhead; Boötes the
hunter had him firmly in his sights. Anaxamenos wondered aloud at
the shape of his future: “I am nineteen,” he said, “and
I have not done too badly at the palace. I’ve had some lovers
– good men, all of them – and they have given me much
to celebrate. But what is most gratifying to me has been the admiration
of Florentius, who has told me lately that he is working to have
me promoted to Officer of the Stables so that he, in turn, can trundle
off to Gaul.”
I was very happy to hear this news. “But haven’t you
lived enough in the stables?” I asked him. He smiled at that,
just as a shooting star cut a white gash across the heavens above
us. The sky had already healed itself by the time he spoke again:
“This city,” he said, “delights me far too much.
I am so very comfortable here. I have many friends; many good memories.
And I have no aspiration to blaze a monumental career across the
provinces. No. Something modest is all I require: a modest work
with modest pay. A wife, a son, a life of simple cheer and honest
company – what more is needed? There are many vipers here
in Rome, but there are also a good many laudable souls. I know far
more of the good ones than the bad, and in my fellowship with them
I am truly content. Why abandon it? Give me the horses, the stables,
the occasional praise of my Emperor for a job well done, and I am
I felt a great surge of love for him then. Of warmth and fondness
for this robust young man – four years my senior – who
so inspired me by his noble simplicity; by his great embrace of
all that was pure and unaffected. I felt honoured that he had included
me within the span of his strong and encompassing arms of affection.
My body sent me a signal then: a quickening of the blood that I
suddenly wanted desperately to indulge. I hoped that Anaxamenos
would allow me to do so. I sat up so that I could look down at him.
He was sprawled openly upon the ground, his legs apart like a wishbone.
I smiled at him, and he smiled back at me, amused: “What are
you looking at, Antinous?” I put my hand onto his, and said,
“I wish to pleasure you. I wish to taste your body.”
He beheld me then for a time, staring up into my eyes. “You
prefer men,” he said. I thought about what he had just uttered.
About the simplicity of the statement – so honest and forthright;
so devoid of malice or double meaning; so very much like him. He
was right. I did indeed prefer their flesh over that of a woman’s.
I nodded. He seemed saddened then, and smiled sadly: “But
me, I do not.” I considered that, and replied, “I do
not expect you, Anaxamenos, to be for me what I wish to be for you.
To have you in my mouth is all the pleasure I require.” He
considered my words, and at last he spoke, “You are very generous,
Antinous. How can I refuse you?” And with that he pulled up
his tunic for me and shut his eyes.
I touched his loincloth, and massaged it slowly until I felt him
harden beneath it. Then I pulled it down to his knees, and he kicked
his legs out so that he could spread them as before. I lay down
between his thighs, my belly upon the grass, my head positioned
above his groin. And then I lowered my face upon him, taking him
slowly into my mouth. The smell of him was pungent, absolute, and
immediate. I tumbled heavily into it, marveling at the intensity,
the magnitude, the essential purity of Anaxamenos as he filled both
my nose and my throat; as his stomach became a wall before my eyes;
as his body began to writhe around me. I rejoiced, for I knew that
I already possessed a formidable skill well worth boasting of. I
could easily imagine the steady, rhythmic warmth I was causing now
to blossom between his legs, and I felt a great, personal pride
at both the opportunity and honour to provide it to such a deserving
friend. Too quickly, alas, his legs began to twitch. His body tensed
– the muscles within it strained and tightened, coiled themselves
up for the inevitable release. And then he surrendered: his flesh
convulsed in pleasure, the warm liquid flowed easily from one grateful
body into another, and I swallowed it most lovingly.
Anaxamenos groaned as I sat up and wiped my mouth. “By the
gods, Antinous, you have more talent than a vast majority of the
whores I have visited in all my time upon the earth.” I laughed,
for it was both a complement and friendly jibe. “Perhaps,”
I said, “it is because I supplement my considerable talent
with a love that I must imagine none of those others are able or
willing to provide.” He gazed at me fondly. “I suspect
you are quite correct.”
Illustration by Shawn Postoff
We sauntered home together, and I was very happy when I lay down
to sleep that night, knowing that I carried the spirit of Anaxamenos
within me. I imagined the three of us, Lysicles – you, myself
and Anaxamenos – sharing a bed together and enjoying the continuous
circulation of our mutual pleasures. I’m sure you would like
him, my friend, for he is a good and decent fellow: joyous and kind,
stout of heart, filled to bursting with the laughter of authentic
and frequent celebration. A.