Hadrian and Antinous: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Emperor Hadrian was one of the most influential leaders of ancient Rome across political, cultural and military spectra.  He was also a big gay.  But before we talk about his exciting, half-a-decade-long sex scandal (that, ok, I’ll admit it, wasn’t really that scandalous), let’s talk about why he was one of history’s best gays.

He was enormously successful in expanding  the Roman Empire through his military prowess.  He was a Grecophile, and was not ashamed to learn from Greek cultural achievements and use them to strengthen his own empire.  He is most remembered for his architectural and artistic contributions to Roman culture.

He was the adoptive son of Emperor Trajan and was pegged as his heir from a young age.  The two apparently had nothing in common, except a love of young boys.  It is speculated by some that Hadrian and Trajan may have been lovers, but that’s probably bull.  Regardless, they were both into dudes.

History's first bear?

But Hadrian had to get married, because that’s what people who are being groomed for emperor have to do.  So naturally, Trajan picked a 13 year old girl named Sabina.  I know what you’re all thinking, 13 years old, not too young for marriage in AD 100 something.  Well guess again.  That was still pretty weird.  Even for the Romans.  So they got married.  And shocker!  They didn’t like each other.  Probably because Hadrian was gay and Sabina was too busy chatting on AIM with her girlfriends and painting her nails to pay attention to him.   Needless to say, they didn’t do much boning.

And why would they when Hadrian had his dreamy favorite, the young, Greek boy Antinous to do.  Antinous was in training to become some sort of civil servant/fancy slave boy when he instantly caught Hadrian’s eye and he remained his favorite (lay) for at least 5 years.

He's naked in this one.

This was a looong time in gay years.

See, Hadrian subscribed to many Greek cultural ideologies.  And the Greeks believed that love between a man and a boy was the purest kind of love there is.  (Women had cooties.)  But as soon as the boy started to look like a man, it was time to get the hell outa dodge and as soon as the man started getting old, it was definitely time to call it quits.  But Hadrian was with Antinous when he was middle aged, so maybe it wasn’t just about being Greek-ish for Hadrian.  Maybe he really loved the guy.

Dang! Check that ass!

But let’s not get all emotional and crap.  Because shit’s about to get real.  While sailing down the Nile during some sort of seasonal festival, Antinous drowned under mysterious as shit circumstances.  He is rumored to have been the victim of a murderous court plot by bitches who were jealous of his relationship with the emperor.  It is also possible that he committed suicide as a sacrifice to the gods.

Hadrian was pretty upset about the whole thing.  And who wouldn’t be?  Have you seen a picture of this guy? He was a tooootal babe!  Actually you probably have seen a sculpture of him because there are more statues of him in existence than, get this, ANYONE in antiquity.  Hadrian had Antinous deified after his death and then started cranking out sculptures of his ass like he was Jupiter or something.

Like too many of our stories, this one also ends sadly.  I suppose it is quite a shame that Antinous had to die such a tragic death in order that we might enjoy his finely sculpted (literally) body in centuries to come.  But as you can tell by our photo captions, we’re not too upset about it.


6 Comments on “Hadrian and Antinous: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

  1. an admirer says:

    I feel guilty having such fun while learning so much!

  2. Kurt says:

    So you define any man in ancient Greece and Rome who had an pederastic relationship to be gay? Considering that older men having emotional and sexual relationships with younger men was a normal part of both Greek and Roman society, that would mean there was a whole lot of gay men running around. The problem is that the concept of sexual orientation is a modern one and forcing terminology like “gay” onto people who perceived sexuality differently than we do is simply anachronistic. Fun article, though.

  3. lbar216 says:

    Dear Kurt: Sorry it took us so long to approve your comment. WordPress was experiencing a few technical problems for the past few hours.

    Anyway, thank you sincerely for your response. We understand that conceptions of sexuality have changed drastically since antiquity and you are correct in your assertion that sexual orientation is a modern concept. We used the term ‘gay’ because although we’re writing about people who lived in ancient times, we’re writing for readers living in 2011. As our crude post titles and many inappropriate references suggest, the aim of this blog is not to educate, but to entertain. Please see ‘About Dirty Things’ for a more humorous explanation of our mission. Again, thank you very much for commenting and we hope that you continue to read and enjoy For Shame.

  4. Laura says:

    i like your article, but i have a miner correction for you, it wasn’t Hadrian that got Antinous deified, it happened in egypt, and then Hadrian just went along with it, ’cause he probably felt like it was a way to hold on to him after he died..
    And also it would have been a nice detail to mention that Hadrian made an intere city named after Antinous, (Antinoopolis, or something like that..) and he also killed himself right after making a poem dedicated to Antinous, after having been depressed all those 8 years he had outlived him.. (He tried suicide, like a billion times, but was always stopped. he joked about how he was so powerful he could order everyone in Rome dead, except himself.)
    BUT i like your way of writing! its a nice article..
    (PostSriptum: If there is any spelling mistakes its because i am still learning english in school.. sorry.. 🙂 )

    • lbar216 says:

      We have our very own Hadrian expert up in here! Thanks so much for the comment, Laura — and your English is fantastic. We hope you keep reading!

  5. Laura says:

    Also Hadrian had a photographic memory, he never forgot a face or name, and this also helped him with the economy and numbers 🙂

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