Hadrian and His God





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Published on Oct 7, 2007

The Emperor Hadrian and his younger Bithynian lover Antinous at the beginning of their voyage up the Nile. Antinous of course was later deified and became the subject of an intensive cult after his death in the river a short time later. I have personified the Nile god Hapi as a hippopotamus.


Massed black coiling snakes upon the surface,
the power of the water was intense.
Not sensing the deep danger, they entwined
in moonlight, great Caesar of the Romans
and his lad. Glittering Nile was calling
as only moving water calls. Spirits
of wind and wave were drawing, onward onward
under a bridge of stars (bright reflected
Heaven) tireless eddies of the dragging stream.

Along night's luminous margin
the half sleeping emperor and his love
moved with the river's music as,
limbs entwined and mouth to mouth, they lay
intoxicated, breathing each the other's breath;
stirring at midnight to make new love;
and secretly again at silvery morning
dutiful to the voice of Venus's son.

(And later, and much later
the widower recalled with many tears
the sight of Antinous' body when the moon,
moving to declension, illumined her new Endymion;
whitening his shapely sun tanned length,
mound muscle and thickly tousled hair,
with glowing beams and rippling luscious highlights
along the breathing grace of flesh and fleece.)

From the palace balcony at dawn, again
they heard the calling of the river
where the hippo Hapi fleered and floundered
enormously, heavily playful, noisily
showering fecundity (such his nature)
on harem and inferiors alike,
snorting like a bull, black lord of Nilus.

Ra-Horakhty, Phosphor, Morning Star,
great Aten in his rising, one after the other
(the emperor polymath and multi-lingual)
burst the ridges of the eastern mountains.
Dawn dawn whatever we may call him
bringing always light and brightened hope
even to the dying and the doomed.

So through riven river mist the first lights burned
and Antinous felt the vapour on his body
raising his arms to the solar disc
Heaven's bright hunter falcon
bringer of dearth and drought as well as life.
And when the mist cleared hailed the risen sun
standing beside his master in warm sunlight
hearing the chorus of the river birds.


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