In the Eagle's Embrace
In the year 130 C.E., the Roman Emperor Hadrian fell in love with the beautiful Bithynian stable boy, Antinous, and swept him away on a luxurious grand tour of the Empire. When, only two years later, Antinous died, the emperor grieved, and the Empire raised their many voices in a single note of poignant pain, in sympathy for Caesar’s loss.
Cattle were sacrificed to the boy’s memory, temples were erected, and pure white marble idols of heart-rending beauty were carved in the youth’s image. But, even these stone effigies were too transient a memorial; the Emperor decreed that Antinous’s figure would be fixed in heavens, in the form of a constellation above Sagittarius and Capricorn.
In modern times, (which we assure ourselves are far removed from the barbarity and superstition of the ancient world) political leaders with passion for members of their own gender, as many believe U.S. Senator Larry Craig to be, are forced by an intolerant society to rendezvous in bathroom stalls -- and whose political careers are destroyed, like Craig’s, if they are exposed.1 Some modern pseudo-historians even condemn the open acts of homosexuality of the Romans as a cause for the fall of Rome.
Eleven of the first twelve Emperors were either homosexual or bi-sexual: a period of what might be called Homosexual Supremacy, during which almost all of the heads of state engaged in same-sex erotic habits. It is believed that Julius Caesar was sleeping with Augustus Caesar. Nero was the first Emperor to marry his male lover. Caligula, as viewers of Bob Guccione films know, was totally hetero-flexible. Vespasian, Titus, Tiberius: all more than a little “Brokeback Mountain”
One might think that with all of these friendly Roman countrymen getting into each other’s togas, the Empire was completely tolerant towards homosexuality, but this is not entirely the case. Excessive passion for one’s own sex was taboo in the days of the Caesars, but with none of the hysterical phobia you find common in America today. It was frowned upon (seen as robbing Rome of much needed sons and daughters, and as uncharitable to single Roman women) about as often, and as severely as we frown on people driving Hum-vees today. This is to say, it was sneered at by a meddlesome minority, but clearly legal and always would be. And besides, with so many fashionable people doing it, there was really no practical way of getting them to stop, was there?
If some modern fundamentalist moralizers are to be believed, such an era of homosexual hegemony would be an age of degeneracy and decay. The traditional authority on the subject, Edward Gibbon, author of, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, called the period in which Hadrian reigned, “the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the race were most happy and most prosperous”.2