All that I have heard whispered, and then spoken, and then exclaimed
in regard to the orator Favorinus is true: he is a man with the
overwhelming affect of a woman; he is a Celt who nevertheless speaks
with a tongue shaped purely like a Greek’s, and he is –
regardless of his many and very intentional improprieties of deportment
– a masterful and erotic magician of words. I was dazzled
by him, and not in my loins unaffected!
When he first presented himself to court, he did so in a manner
that was so relaxed and familiar that I felt instantly as if he
had been a longtime friend. Hadrian said nothing during the oratory;
merely sat and listened with but a tiny, asymmetrical smirk that
crept up the left side of his face. The topic itself was a treatise
on the role of memory as a necessary lamp-oil for the imagination,
and despite its swirling complexities, not once did I ever become
lost or drowned in his ocean of propositions, arguments, refutations
and explanations. I emerged from his spell, in fact, feeling thoroughly
refreshed and ultimately quite edified.
“You do your city proud,” spoke Hadrian at last, when
the initial wave of excited applause finally subsided. Favorinus
bowed low: “I am, my liege, always pleasured,” he said,
“and pleasured even when I am painfully pierced, by the heady
swelling of Arelata’s ecstatic pride.” There was momentary
pause then, while the room digested that. Was he suggesting that
his very own city, through its enthusiasm for his success, was in
a constant state of arousal and desired only to plow him in the
backside? I must have been the first to recover from my shock, and
so allowed to escape a tiny giggle. Hadrian glanced at me in my
strange amusement, and a moment later erupted into a bellied laughter
of his own. The rest of the court took this for permission to laugh
as well, although I noted on the faces of a few old codgers the
mark of considerable disgust.
indeed is the liability of a priesthood in the Cult of Augustus!”
bellowed Hadrian. And with that, the tone of the orator’s
visit was set: a mood of raunchy and irreverent fun in the paradoxical
service of an intellectually rigorous and physically exotic man.
He was, naturally, the guest of honour at dinner that night, a
relatively intimate affair attended by no more than XXV people.
I happened to be seated a few seats away from him – not so
close as to be regularly by him engaged, yet not so far as to be
altogether removed from the course of his conversations.
He was asked of and answered many things. He spoke of his education
– first as a prodigy in Arelata, and then, through the enthusiastic
recommendation of his teachers, in Massilia, and finally, upon the
wings of a growing fame, in Athens under the illustrious tutor,
Dio Chrysotom. He spoke of his home, and of a childhood spent reading
upon the banks of the Rhodanus, always within sight of a marvelous
bridge of boats. And he spoke of his parents, a mother and father
still alive with whom he corresponds regularly and for whom he holds
the utmost reverence.
For my part, I was content to keep quiet and simply listen –
an activity that provided for a considerable amount of entertainment
in itself and (even more relished) the luxury of being excused from
the customary dinnertime pressure to proffer something extraordinary.
Indeed, Favorinus seemed quite happy to supply the table with an
abundance of just such a feast, and the majority of us were delighted
to gobble it up. Commodus, naturally, worked hard (and not without
success) to hold his own, and Hadrian joyously tossed in his insights
whenever he could. From the ranks of the women, Balbilla provided
the lion’s share of words, of which only about half were worth
taking seriously. Favorinus, however, was always gracious and accommodating
(for indeed it would have been dangerous to insult anyone, being
ignorant of each of his audience member’s precise status or
position), and not once, despite an abundance of opportunities,
did he ever veer in the direction of insult or disdain. He positively
You may be sure that I am accustomed to receiving on a regular
basis the eyes of admiring men. And I am certainly no longer an
amateur at returning them. Yet Favorinus offered a perplexing conundrum.
On the one hand, I did, on several occasions, detect from him a
gaze that signalled his attraction to me. But then a moment later,
that same gaze was bestowed on an altogether different person –
as likely to be of the female sex than my own. And while I struggled,
each time our eyes met, to subtly indicate to him my arousal, it
was clear that I was not the only one: there were several others
at the table – Balbilla included – who were just as
motivated as I.
In the end, he took no one. After several hours of revels and
laughter, philosophical discussion and politics, he graciously took
his leave of the assembly and retired to his bedchamber alone. Hadrian
also went off alone, and upon his departure the crowd dispersed
quickly. I remained for a time in the dining hall, simply sitting
amid the vast space that was steadily becoming larger as the bodies
flowed out. At last I was alone in the room – save for the
slaves who busied themselves in the aftermath of yet another grand
feast, the discussion from which they neither understood nor likely
cared for, the leftover food from which they would secretly sample
when the Officer of the Kitchen and his pages weren’t watching.
They ignored me.
As I stepped out into the night and walked in solitude back toward
to the Gelotiana, I reflected on the man who had so captivated my
attention, and why he had not taken for himself, as is the standing
invitation to any guest, the willing company of a lower-ranked soul.
I believe his own restraint is easier for me to understand than
my personal lack of it. For him, the absence of balls must surely
diminish and make quite manageable the drive to find himself abed
with anyone, while at the same time producing (inadvertently, I
must assume) the natural charms of a woman that can so decieve an
unwitting observer into believing that the hermaphrodite is perpetually
aroused. Thusly do I explain to myself and try to comprehend his
choice to have remained on that particular night (as on every other?)
a celibate. As for me, I must wonder if my overwhelming and churning
attraction toward him was (and still is) on account of his uniquely
pansexual appearance, his astonishing and all-encompassing intelligence,
or simply (and far less honourably) out of a burning curiosity to
know what it is to exchange my pleasures with a eunuch; to touch
for myself the shape and shiver of such an unusual being. If I am
perfectly honest with myself, I must admit that it is a combination
of all three – although with a considerable weight placed
upon the third and least edifying reason.
The following day, all of Rome was abuzz with the fame of Favorinus,
and the man was invited to make several more performances for a
wider audience over the course of his month-long visit to the city.
He did so happily and without arrogance, engaging his fellow sophists
in a playful and respectful antagonism that both wooed and invigorated
their listeners. I made a point of attending several more of his
public appearances, and brought with me to have by my side Vitalis
on one occasion, Maltinus and Decentius on another, and Anaxamenos
on the third. Each of them, predictably, was dazzled.
As he was staying upon the Palatine in one of the guest chambers,
I had more than enough opportunities to meet him across the dinner
tables of our mutual host. I was able as well to spend with him
a limited number of hours in the casual company of Hadrian and his
court. In that time, Favorinus was always gracious and respectful
toward me, and surely received from me an ample indication of my
attraction toward him and my willingness to be for him whatever
he wished. Yet not once did he make an overture to have me. Eventually,
therefore, I decided to abandon the quest, and resigned myself to
the unfortunate reality of his impenetrably asexual state.
He set out from Rome yesterday, after a glorious and acclaimed
visit, to continue on with his tour. I write this in the wake of
his departure, not a little unsettled by his brief presence in my
life, and somwhat disappointed at not having had the occasion to
share my bodily pleasures with him.
We are bound, in the next couple of days, for Tibur. There, it
shall likely be for me more of what it has historically been: reading,
hunting, bathing, eating, and masturbating. An idyllic life, to
be sure. Yet I must wonder if it shall ever mature into something
that is truly meaningful. A.