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The Emperor

A Story Every Day in 2024 April 14th 105/366

By Rachel DeemingPublished about a month ago 3 min read
6
Bust of Antinous-Dionysus (Hermitage Museum) (from Wikipedia)

He was always nervous. On edge. Being the head of an Empire would do that. An Empire vast and built on bloodshed and domination. An Empire which holds power, power which is always coveted by others. Always.

Hadrian sighed. He had read the missives, his reports from the provinces and he moved from his desk on the barge to his couch. He would nap and then find Antinous. He smiled as he thought of his love, his beautiful boy. Antinous would want to talk later about all that he, Hadrian, had learned today and Hadrian would relish the discussion. He thought of the scathing comments of those who would oust him: of his penchant for "pretty boys" and how easily he was beguiled by a face or a physical form. But they did not know Antinous other than for his surface merits and Hadrian wanted to keep it that way. If they knew the intelligence of the boy, he would become a target and the thought of anything happening to him made Hadrian shudder.

Take the incident with the lion. One way he had learnt to endear yourself to the local conquered populace was a show of strength. A prowling lion threatening humans? Perfect. He had proposed a hunt and Antinous was eager to join him.

"Can I strike the killing blow?" Antinous asked, in anticipation.

"Of course. If you can get close enough," Hadrian teased, and they had gone off to rid the area of its predatory menace.

Only Antinous had got close, too close and the lion had been a claw and tooth away from maiming, no, killing his love and Hadrian had acted, with a savagery of urgency he had never experienced before. It was then that he knew he could not live without Antinous, that life would be black and listless without his presence.

Hadrian lay back. He would not think of such things now. Let sleep wash away his fears. The steady drifting on the Nile lulled and eased, and he rested.

*

He was woken by cries. Of alarm and distress.

A flurry of activity. Panic.

Something had happened on deck.

Antinous?

And then, the door opened and the loss announced.

***

366 words

I love Roman history and on TV at the moment, eminent historian Mary Beard, has started a series about emperors. I was learning much about their depravities and excesses but also about their loves and desires and I have always been struck by the love Hadrian had for Antinous and the amount of busts that he had made of him after his passing as well as deifying him. It speaks of great grief and longing as well as a slight unhingedness and obsession.

There is some uncertainty about how Antinous died although it was on or in the Nile in some way and so, in the grey, lies the fiction and I have taken what isn't known and woven it into something of my own.

Hadrian left his mark on Britain with his wall and is one of the emperors who was perhaps a little more sane and better equipped for rule than, say, Nero or Caligula. And so, I thought that I would have a little foray into the realms of historical fiction for a change, a place I rarely, if ever, frequent.

You can read more about Hadrian and Antinous here:

Busts of the lovers together:

Hadrian and Antinous

If you are interested in reading historical fiction set in Rome, then I can thoroughly recommend the books of Steven Saylor and his Roma sub Rosa series featuring Gordianus the Finder:

I visited Hadrian's Wall and shortly after, something terrible happened to one of its landmarks and so, I wrote about some of my experiences as a result:

Thanks for stopping by! If you do read this, please do leave a comment as I love to interact with my readers.

105/366

Short StoryMysteryMicrofictionLoveHorrorHistoricalCONTENT WARNINGClassical
6

About the Creator

Rachel Deeming

Storyteller. Poet. Reviewer. Traveller.

I love to write. Check me out in the many places where I pop up:

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Comments (7)

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  • Teresa Rentonabout a month ago

    I love learning history through your storytelling Rachel. Well done 🤗

  • Shirley Belkabout a month ago

    Love your greys!

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    I wish I’d had a history teacher like you at school. (Or an English teacher too). This was so good. I love the way you bring history to life.

  • John Coxabout a month ago

    Weren’t you tempted to fill in that gap? Or do you prefer leaving it a mystery? Hadrian is a fascinating figure. I like that you identify the threat to him, or anyone in power, that loving someone deeply represents. Well. Done!

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    Omgggg, that was so sad 🥺 I enjoyed the backstory as well.

  • D. J. Reddallabout a month ago

    An ingenious improvisation upon what is "historically grey," as you aptly put it above. I find the ekphrastic mode so intriguing for the same reason: there's diegesis here, but it is not yet verbal: tell it yourself.

  • Hannah Mooreabout a month ago

    I don't just want to know how, but why as well.

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