Julian, 44

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
The driver indicated a large ruin to the right. “Hadrian,” he said. “Hadrian Augustus.” Like all travellers, I am used to hearing guides refer to my famous predecessor. Even after two centuries he is the only emperor every man has heard of—because of his constant travelling, his continuous building and, sad to say, his ridiculous passion for the boy Antinous. I suppose that it is natural enough to like boys but it is not natural or seemly to love anyone with the excessive and undignified passion that Hadrian showed for Antinous.

Fortunately, the boy was murdered before Hadrian could make him his heir. But in his grief Hadrian made himself and the Genius of Rome look absurd. He set up thousands of statues and dedicated innumerable temples to the dead boy. He even declared the pretty catamite a god! It was a shocking display and permanently shadows Hadrian’s fame. For the first time in history, a Roman emperor was mocked and thought ridiculous.

From every corner of the earth derisive laughter sounded. Yet except for this one lapse, I find Hadrian a sympathetic figure. He was much gifted, particularly in music. He was an adept at mysteries. He used to spend many hours at night studying the stars, searching for omens and portents, as do I. He also wore a beard. I like him best for that. That sounds petty, doesn’t it? I surprise myself as I say it. But then liking and disliking, approval and disapproval depend on many trivial things.

I dislike Hadrian’s passion for Antinous because I cannot bear for a philosopher-emperor to be mocked by his subjects. But I like his beard. We are all so simple at heart that we become unfathomable to one another.