Wednesday, February 6, 2013

ANTINOUS AND HADRIAN'S SECRET HIDEAWAY

By Antonyus Subia



THE "Maritime theater" as they call it was definitely one of the most spectacular parts of Hadrian's Villa, and I was very pleased to have seen it with Priest Hernestus several months ago...

Even in ruins you can see that it must have been an absolutely beautiful and enchanting building...almost insanely beautiful...a perfect circle surrounded by a high wall, with an inner colonnaded moat, with a little island and a little round Roman house on the inside...

That was Hadrian's private retreat from his grandiose world that surrounded him...in that magnificent, marble and gold encrusted Villa of sprawling palaces, the Emperor's private chambers were at once quaintly charming as they were wonderfully eccentric. 

His private chambers, the little open-air office where he attended to the business of running the whole world, the private baths, the little lavatories...four lavatories in that tiny little house...but most intriguing of all are the two little bedchambers towards the back of the house...identical little rooms just big enough for a queen-size bed and maybe a table...

In one of the two rooms, Hadrian spent his nights with Antinous...and the other room...well, that must have been where Empress Sabina slept. 

I just think it's the most wonderful thing...no grand huge master bedroom with a splendid view of Tibur...just two identical, "his & hers" rooms for the rulers of the world. 

One thing I noticed is that they were at the rear of the little house, facing south, and must have had a big windows that let in the morning sun at all times of the year. 

The sun would have poured in and sparkled over the water of the fountain-moat. 

The constant clamor of the Imperial court outside would have been drowned out by the murmur of gurgling fountains. 

It was a tiny little house, but it must have been beautifully decorated...walls covered in inlaid marble of exquisite color, draperies and columns and golden lamps and the finest of furniture from all over the Roman world ... and works of art by the very best ancient Greek artists...and a personal little library of Hadrian's most treasured books. 

One thing I fail to locate is the closet space...I'm in the apartment business, so floor plans are everything to me ... there were no closets because servants brought Hadrian's daily robes from somewhere else!


The entrance caught my eye....if you include the colonnaded walkway between the outer wall and the fountain-moat, and also the little oval vestibule...then it was all about the entrance, which was pronouncedly about disbarment...

And then if you were so honored as to have been admitted into the Emperor's private chambers...which almost no one ever was, we can be sure...then you would find yourself in the beautiful little oval drawing room...where you would be asked to sit and wait for Emperor to summon you...

From there, you would be led into the Atrium...the center of the house, Hadrian's own private little garden, with its little fountain open to the air. 

There you would find Hadrian's closest inner circle...members of his family perhaps, Sabina's handmaidens, the Emperor's personal assistants and house servants...perhaps Phlegon, his most trusted freedman, an officer of the guard standing at duty, and a musician playing soft chords on the cithara....


And there in a corner...playing with a new hunting puppy...would be Antinous himself...attended by an old Greek tutor trying in vain to teach Antinous the correct declension for his Latin verbs...

And there at the far end of the house, in the room they call he Tablinarium...obviously the most important room in the house..situated between the two main bed chambers...was Hadrian's office. 

You might have found him sitting at a table reading personal wax tablets of private concerns...this was not where Hadrian conducted the official business of running his Empire...this was his private office...where he only attended to his private communications. There must have been a more formal office somewhere else in the villa where Hadrian conducted his official business of the Empire...

This was his private study, and I'm sure by the moat that he made a clear division between his private business and his personal space...

This was Hadrian's private office...and so to have been given admittance to proceed so far into his private space, you would have needed to have been considered family.

The biggest space in the house is he atrium...that's the living room...then there's the three bedrooms...and then there are the two rooms that are described as tricliniums..or dining rooms...these were for very private dinners....just you, the Emperor and one other person...probably Antinous...and the other dining room was probably for Sabina. 

The last fifth of the little house was Hadrian's private baths...a full scale Roman bath on a tiny scale...which probably provided heat for the little house in the colder months. 

I would assume that, in the summer months, Hadrian would have used the grand bath not far away rather than over-heat his private chambers.


This is where Antinous spent his time when he lived in the Villa...and what an Isle of the Blessed it must have been...like a tiny island paradise...when Antinous was alive...and then...when Hadrian returned from Egypt...and the war in Israel had broken out...the beautiful island must have become rather like a customized chamber of Hell...

Marguerite Yourcenar describes a sickly old Hadrian dictating his memoirs beneath an austere Osirian statue of Antinous overlooking his bedchamber...this is where these lost memoirs were dictated...

It is no wonder that Hadrian couldn't live there any more and eventually fled to Baie south of Rome where he died...

The Isle of the Blessed held too many memories...and Hadrian wanted to live forever and he knew that if stayed even one more night in the Villa that he would die...He should have stayed.

When Hernestus and I were there...I gathered a little handful of dirt from there, in the hope that perhaps Antinous might have stepped upon at least one grains of the sand of the rubble that remains...


And amongst the sand I found a chunk of brick that had fallen from the wall..and quite honestly...this little piece of Roman brick has become one of the most important and sacred "rocks" (crystals) that I have ever touched...because this is a wall that Antinous once looked upon..

Sure, there were layers of marble between Antinous and my little chunk of brick..

But that's pretty close. I've been so, so much further away from Antinous....


~SUBIA

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