Monday, March 15, 2010

The Hadrian Enigma: A Forbidden History, excerpt by George Gardiner

LUST, LOVE, REVENGE, & COMING OUT. M/M romance, ancient Roman-style. The Hadrian Enigma is the tale of Caesar’s fatal search for love …

130 years after Christ, but two centuries before Christians receive state recognition, Rome is ruled by pagan values & uninhibited morals.

From a barbarous war’s victory triumph in Rome’s Forum to a drunken orgy at Athens’ Acropolis; from the excitements of a boar hunt in the forests of Bithynia to the steam rooms of a Roman bath house; from the opulent bordellos of Egypt to the privacy of an emperor’s bed chamber, a ruler’s search for love destroys the very person he most adores.

His loved one, Antinous of Bithynia, is found dead one dawn beneath the waters of the River Nile during a pleasure tour of Egypt. Is it a youthful prank gone wrong, suicide, murder, or something far more sinister? Hadrian assigns the barrister & historian Suetonius Tranquillus to urgently investigate. Accompanied by his concubine hetaera sex-worker Surisca of Antioch, Suetonius uncovers more than Caesar wants to know plus more than he wants others to know.

THE HADRIAN ENIGMA is the secret record of Caesar’s investigation into one of history’s most intriguing & suspicious deaths. It depicts an era which sanctions men loving men in a macho culture of pride, honor, & shame.

THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History
Publisher: GMP Editions (
ISBN: 978-0-9807469-0-7



In the 13th Year of Imperator Caesar Divi Traiani filius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus. (Hadrian, ruled 117-138CE)

Stop now. Cease immediately. You are at risk. If you intend reading this history, take great care. Caesar will not be pleased. Hadrian may exile you to some bleak rocky outcrop dashed by stormy seas if he learns of it. Or worse. Reconsider while yet you may.

However, if juicy morsels of gossip have reached your ears and you cannot help yourself, then be it on your own head. You now share in my own plight.

This saga came to its climax three months ago. Its culmination struck Caesar’s traveling Household at the dawn of one of those bleached-out, white hot, stupefying days so common in Egypt. In the molten miasma of liquid heat that morning three months ago his Court’s communal bloodstream froze to ice, as they say. An unexplained death at Court is a sobering matter. The death of a young, vital, handsome favorite augurs even greater concern.

What is to be made of it, we wondered?

Three months later my anxiety grows. My head is now forfeit. Hadrian does not forgive my revelations before his Court. They were truly embarrassing. His reputation for machismo as a Roman Imperator was exposed to view for what it really is. Yes, Caesar’s loving tenderness was revealed. Tenderness is a sentiment an Imperator deems it unwise to exhibit.

This is the path of my chronicle’s journey. By the grace of Fortuna, I hope these words will persuade Hadrian of the integrity of my actions on that fateful day. May they fix my head more securely to my shoulders.

* * * *

Greetings dear reader, whoever you may be.

Your writer is Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, historian of renown, barrister-at-law, and alleged playboy of Rome. ‘Alleged’ because all Rome assumes I have been notably successful in a Roman male’s obligatory career of lively priapic endeavor.

However in this thirteenth year of Caesar’s rule I will have seen a full sixty winters. This means I am six years older than Hadrian himself. Being no spring chicken, my alleged priapic activities wane alarmingly.

My patron and friend of the past twenty years, Gaius Septicius Clarus, the well-known senator and one-time Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, has kindly assigned me a suite at his luxurious villa at Alexandria. Here on Caesar’s behalf I am under house arrest until Hadrian decides what to do with me. As a member of the eques class at least I know what my worst fate may be – a swift beheading or permission to suicide somewhat less messily.

In the meantime I gather my thoughts onto paper about the recent journey through Egypt. These thoughts will either save my neck or make it even less secure. While the memory remains fresh I must record the fate and subsequent apotheosis of the young man at the center of its most disturbing event, Antinous of Bithynia. To some he was Caesar’s beloved companion and Favorite; to others a mere catamite, a toyboy, a typical Greek hustler on the make.

I have written several admired histories for the Empire’s book copiers and their readers. I am best known for my Lives of the Caesars. Perhaps you too know of it? There I show in eight scrolls all I have learned of our first Caesar, Julius, and the following eleven Caesars from Augustus to Domitian. That last monster ruled in my youth at much cost to the lives of members of my family.

In my Lives I tried to tell of Rome’s rulers as they truly were. It has not always been a pretty picture, dear reader, but as you may perceive, I am up to the chore. I leave no unsavory stone unturned, no scandal unexplored. If a Caesar proved to be boring, I might even invent a little.

Thirteen years ago on Hadrian’s succession to the role of Princeps he appointed Septicius to be his Prefect of the Praetorian Guard. I was then appointed to be the Director of imperial correspondence.

For five years I was active at the very center of imperial affairs. No letter, official document, edict, or warrant in Latin or Greek went to the far reaches of the Empire without my oversight.

After some time Hadrian’s wife, Vibia Sabina the Augusta, declared Septicius and I to have insulted her. Sabina is a strong-willed woman, so she cleverly engineered a charge of laesa majestas against us and our subsequent dismissal. Hadrian was obliged to agree with his wife’s claim for public form’s sake.

It’s well known no love is lost between the Imperial couple. Nevertheless both show proper conformity to their marital obligations. After all, he is our Princeps, the First Citizen, who leads us all by example.

Hadrian leads in most things except perhaps in the matter of whelping progeny to populate the Empire or stock the Legions with fighting sons. He and Sabina have bred no children.

Hadrian wed his arranged bride at the usual age when he was twenty-five. As usual, Sabina was thirteen. They do not sleep together. I doubt they have much in common other than their unlikely coupling by the strategies of the imperial succession.

She has been heard to say her husband is a monster!, though she never defines her meaning. She swears she will never bear him a son. And she hasn’t.

Nevertheless despite their mutual antagonism the two maintain a prudent public comportment as the Princeps and his respectful wife. They are role models for all Romans.

My books of Lives of the Caesars focused upon the acquisition of power by the emperors, their uses of that power, and their abuses of power. Of the first twelve Caesars I revealed how only Julius and three of the remaining eleven retained their moral authority.

However, in recording the sexual orientations of all fifteen Imperators up to this very day, the tally declines to but two recognized for their common, garden-variety disposition. The remaining thirteen sought opportunities to be erotic innovators of considerable invention, if not outright ingenuity.

The remote province of Bithynia has been a prominent source of this inventiveness. Earlier when I was secretary for two years to Rome’s ambassador at this backwoods colony on the edge of the Black Sea, I experienced its wild, exotic culture at close hand.

Bithynia seems a place before memory; a place intoxicated with time’s open endlessness. Antique gods, demons, nymphs, or sprites of the forests, waters, skies or inner perceptions seem close to us at Bithynia. They challenge our very sanity. Sacred rites and holy oaths are essential to placate their feverish spirits. Strange, crude, brutal superstitions are veiled behind the token adoration of our sacred Pantheon or the honoring of our Deified Emperors.

Vestiges of customs from some ancient epoch survive beneath today’s normality, often undermining its validity. Ordinary assumptions become blurred, diffuse, flexible, shifting the barriers of understanding in unexpected or disturbing ways.

Male and female categories too become malleable, diaphanous, interchangeable, obverse sides of the same coin. In this heady climate the portals of license open wide. Vistas of voluptuous sensuality arise before us. Bithynia disturbs, shocks, and thrills simultaneously.

As you well know, a Roman male’s function is to subjugate, dominate, and penetrate. This has always been the victorious Roman way. Romans conquer and subdue compelled by their driven virility. Manhood is defined by the right to have sex – that is, to dominate and penetrate, or in earthier terms to fuck, if you forgive street Latin - whether it’s with a woman or a man, an older youth, a slave, an enemy, or a business opponent, though perhaps reluctantly metaphorically in the latter. Some say we Romans have an unimaginative sexual agenda. Others say we are immoral, wanton, crude fornicators.

Subjugation and domination are perceived to be a Roman male’s purpose in life. The way of the phallus rules. This is our ancient heritage, we proclaim. We despise intimate emotion. It is a sign of weakness. Only the meek, slaves, losers, and girls succumb to such defects. They are to be pitied.

Yet there are times when even I seriously wonder about this?

However in Bithynia, perversely, it is the giving and receiving of pleasure which rules. To this rustic breed pleasure is a two-way exchange at minimum, or every-which-way when inclined. Sex is a leisure activity, play, a game, recreation, an exercise in indulgence, a mode of luxury.

Those ancient rulers of Bithynia, the dynasty of her four opulent Nikomedes kings, were lauded across the Middle Sea as dissolute practitioners of this quality of luxury. Since Rome’s annexation of the province our virile Roman tastes have been infiltrating this Dionysian culture only very slowly indeed, if at all.

To Bithynia’s social elites sexual attraction is focused upon the beauty of the object, a person’s visible or moral appeal. This aesthetic ignores class, status, or even gender. The Bithynians are famously gender blind. Human beauty is praised, wooed, and hopefully consummated, regardless of its vehicle.

A century ago that last of the Bithynian kings, the notoriously bawdy Nikomedes IV, happily satisfied this racy itch while entertaining a visiting Roman ambassador. The ambassador was the nineteen year-old Julius Caesar. It seems our handsome future triumphant Roman victor of wars was introduced very personally, very intimately indeed, to the Bithynian mode of luxury. Consequently, his Legions later regaled the founder of the dynasty of the Caesars as being “every woman’s husband and every man’s wife’.

Yet today Rome’s stolid elders reject such license. To Romans, the Bithynians are soft, decadent, compliant, accommodating, too easily subjugated, too readily penetrated.

I am unsure which of these opposing convictions is the more natural under a philosopher’s definition of Nature’s Law? Surely if something occurs in Nature it is natural? Read Epicurus or Lucretius of long ago. But try telling that to Rome’s austere Stoics or those atheist followers of Chrestus who pester us with their prissy ways while defaming our gods and habits! Their abstemious asceticism chills our blood. It is utterly unRoman.

This leads us inevitably to --- What then is love?

Is love the urgent compulsion to have your way with someone, Roman style? Or is love some more ambiguous sensation, Bithynian style? Our thinkers search exhaustively for the answer. Even today’s philosophers Plutarch or Epictetus display uncertainty.

Take Hadrian and Antinous. Was this a love? Was it Roman style or Bithynian style?

Caesar’s promotion of his former companion to the status of Divus - godlike - positively compels our query.

His edict about the young man’s divine nature, as depicted by statues of the muscular stud as a New Apollo which are popping up all over the place, or the commemorative medallions being minted with his chiseled features, or the many reports of miracles attributed to his role as Osiris Resurrected, or the discovery of his new star in the heavens, plus the cult burgeoning everywhere in his name, make debate almost compulsory.

Was the five year liaison of these two a mere bizarre, brazen, delirious debauchery? Or was it a romance to touch our minds and hearts? Was it of Cupid, who Greeks call Eros, or was it of Venus, who they call Aphrodite? It was certainly a striking phenomenon.

Consequently I dedicate these scrolls of A Forbidden History to our Great Caesar. With luck they will persuade Hadrian how my revelations before the Court at Egypt three months ago were necessary to his peace of mind. The revelations do not warrant my head being cleaved from my shoulders.

In preparing my chronicle for the public record I have interviewed courtiers at the highest echelons of the Imperium. I have searched into times gone by to explore the hidden pasts of key participants.

I and my aide-in-detection, the beguiling Syrian beauty Surisca of Antioch, have probed the Court’s incessant gossip mill to weave together this tale’s dense tapestry.

Surisca is a captivating daughter of Aphrodite. She is a sweet courtesan enchantress of striking charms and superior intelligence whose worldly perception provided sharp insights into these concealed treasons. Surisca became my eyes, my logic, and even my heart.

I will relate these events as I experienced them. I will recount this saga as in a novella or romance by, say, Titus Petronius Niger of long ago. Incorrigible Petronius lived in the days of Caesar Nero and fell victim to that ruler’s vile temper. His lively Satyrica parodied the truths of that despised tyrant’s rule to warn us of the dangers of despotism. He paid the price for his witticism. But my tale is no comical parody. It will communicate the events of the life and death of Antinous as they occurred, plainly.

In this Forbidden History I will take a role as a character in the unfolding scenario. I, Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, an historical biographer, will appear as but a single performer in my saga.

The treason against Hadrian began long ago, Surisca and I discovered. It began a quarter-century ago at the very edge of Europa on its northern frontier of Dacia. This was an entire decade prior to Hadrian’s ascendancy as Caesar and five years before Antinous had even been born. At that distant time at least one contender in my saga was compelled to invoke the remainder of this chronicle’s savage drama.

But I am ahead of myself. First we must travel back to Middle Egypt three months ago to revisit the climax of these events. This opens the door to all else.

Here my tale begins ----
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1 comment:

Victor J. Banis said...

Totally fascinating. Great stuff, can't wait to read more.