three pairs of lovers with space

THE CAESARS BY THE EMPEROR JULIAN

 

Julian on a bronze coin from Antioch

Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, sometimes known as Julian the Apostate, was the last pagan Roman emperor, reigning 361-3, and tried to restore paganism in the face of recently-triumphant Christianity.  His The Caesars is a short comic sketch written on the occasion of the Saturnalia in December 361.

The setting is that “at the festival of the Kronia Romulus gave a banquet, and invited not only all the gods, but the Emperors as well” (307 B). As the latter arrive, the conversation between the gods allows Julian to pass judgement concisely on many of his predecessors.

The translation is by Wilmer C. Wright in the Loeb Classical Library volume XXIX (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1913). The only changes made here are to replace the then conventional Latinisation of Greek names with literal transliteration.

 

308 C-D

Now when the gods were seated in a circle, Seilenos, amorous, methinks, of Dionysos ever fair and ever young, who sat close to Zeus his father, took his seat next to him on the pretext that he had brought him up and was his tutor. And since Dionysos loves jesting and laughter and is the giver of the Graces, Seilenos diverted the god with a continual flow of sarcasms and jests, and in other ways besides. πάντων οὖν κύκλῳ τῶν θεῶν καθημένων, ὁ Σειληνὸς ἐρωτικῶς ἔχειν μοι δοκῶν τοῦ Διονύσου καλοῦ καὶ νέου καὶ τῷ πατρὶ τῷ Διὶ παραπλησίου πλησίον αὐτοῦ, τροφεύς τις οἷα καὶ παιδαγωγός, καθῆστο, τά τε ἄλλα φιλοπαίγμονα καὶ φιλόγελων καὶ χαριτοδότην ὄντα τὸν θεὸν εὐφραίνων καὶ δὴ καὶ τῷ σκώπτειν τὰ πολλὰ καὶ γελοιάζειν.

 

When the gods were seated, the emperors came in [as it transpires, in chronological order]:

311 C-D

Accordingly Trajan[1] entered forthwith, carrying on his shoulders the trophies of his wars with the Getai and the Parthians. Seilenos, when he saw him, said in a whisper which he meant to be heard, “Now is the time for Zeus our master to look out, if he wants to keep Ganymede for himself.”

Next entered an austere-looking man[2] with a long beard, an adept in all the arts, but especially music, one who was always gazing at the heavens and prying into hidden things. Seilenos when he saw him said, “What think ye of this sophist? Can he be looking here for Antinous? One of you should tell him that the youth is not here, and make him cease from his madness and folly.”

εὐθέως οὖν ὁ Τραϊανὸς εἰσήρχετο φέρων ἐπὶ τῶν ὤμων τὰ τρόπαια, τό τε Γετικὸν καὶ τὸ Παρθικόν. ἰδὼν δὲ αὐτὸν ὁ Σειληνὸς ἔφη, λανθάνειν τε ἅμα καὶ ἀκούεσθαι βουλόμενος, Ὥρα νῦν τῷ δεσπότῃ Διὶ σκοπεῖν, ὅπως ὁ Γανυμήδης αὐτῷ φρουρήσεται.

Μετὰ τοῦτον ἐπεισέρχεται βαθεῖαν ἔχων τὴν ὑπήνην ἀνὴρ σοβαρὸς τά τε ἄλλα καὶ δὴ καὶ μουσικὴν ἐργαζόμενος, εἴς τε τὸν οὐρανὸν ἀφορῶν πολλάκις καὶ πολυπραγμονῶν τὰ ἀπόρρητα. τοῦτον δὲ ἰδὼν ὁ Σειληνὸς ἔφη, Τί δὲ ὑμῖν οὗτος ὁ σοφιστὴς δοκεῖ; μῶν Ἀντίνοον τῇδε περισκοπεῖ; φρασάτω τις αὐτῷ μὴ παρεῖναι τὸ μειράκιον ἐνθαδὶ καὶ παυσάτω τοῦ λήρου καὶ τῆς φλυαρίας αὐτόν.

A drunken Seilenos being carried to his donkey as a nude adolescent Dionysos looks on. 3rd century mosaic now in the El Jem museum

313 A

Next Macrinus, assassin and fugitive, and after him the pretty boy from Emesa[3] were driven far away from the sacred enclosure. Μακρῖνος ἐνταῦθα φυγὰς μιαιφόνος· εἶτα τὸ ἐκ τῆς Ἐμέσης παιδάριον πόρρω που τῶν ἱερῶν ἀπηλαύνετο περιβόλων.

 

[1] Trajan, who reigned 98-117, was the only Roman emperor who was, as far as is known, exclusively boysexual in practice, which is why Seilenos thinks he is bound to be attracted to Ganymede.

[2] Hadrian, emperor 117-38, passionately loved a boy called Antinous and proclaimed him a god after he drowned in the Nile. Seilenos is here mocking Antinous’s divinity.

[3] The boy emperor Elagabalus, who came from Emesa in Syria, reigned 218-22 and was most memorable for his open promiscuity with men.