Sunday, July 27, 2008
Hadrian and the Power of Gay Love
An amazing exhibit on the life of the Roman Emperor Hadrian has just opened at the British Museum. And it's getting rave reviews.
I'm not sure how I feel about Hadrian. An ancient scribe once called him "stern and cheerful, affable and harsh, impetuous and hesitant, mean and generous, cruel and merciful and always in all things changeable".
You know brilliant..... but extremely dangerous. And in the case of the Jews of the time genocidal. In short; NOT the kind of kind of guy I'd like to get drunk with.
On the other hand I am delighted to see that after two thousand years of denial, the Emperor has finally been allowed to be gay.
While he was a hardened military man, he was also gay and seemed to fall genuinely in love with the "shameless and scandalous boy", the young Greek Antinous, for whom he built the city of Antinoopolis on the banks of the Nile, following his death by drowning in rather murky circumstances.
And that the exhibition is also a celebration of that tragic gay love story.
A fantastic marble faun from Hadrian's Tivoli villa gives a glimpse of the sensual excess of Roman life. But most haunting of all is the face of Hadrian's male lover, Antinous, sculpted on statues of gods and heroes - through which the emperor mourned his companion - including a vast, yet achingly erotic head of a Bacchic divinity.
To those who say gays can't fight I say ask Hadrian. Or Alexander. To those who say our love isn't real ... or a modern invention... I say ask Antinous. Or the Emperor whose heart he broke.
For thousands of years our history has been stolen, denied, degraded, and buried. But their love story will last forever.
The only thing I regret, is that while we now have a pretty good idea of who Hadrian was, Antinous remains a mystery.
Who was he? What was he really like? Did he love being the Emperor's favourite because of the power and the lifestyle it gave him? Or did he love Hadrian the man...his Emperor companion.... like he loved him? More than any other.
I like to think he did. And that he really did sacrifice himself because an old Oracle told him it was the only way to save his lover's life. But of course we'll never know. Just like he never could have known that his tragic story would become a monument to lost love... right up there with the Taj Mahal.
Even though the details, like so many other gay love stories, have been buried or lost in the mists of time.
That's why the last time I wrote about these two lovers I said that would NEVER happen to me. Because I'm writing my own gay history.
And I'm still writing it. In fact, in a few days time I'll be completing chapter twelve. Can you believe it ?
Hey. I'm afraid we're never going to make it to the British Museum.
Not with art like this...
But if Hadrian and Antinous haven't proved the almighty awesomeness and power of gay love.