"In the midst of these pleasures the empress arrived"

It is known that, despite her estrangement from Hadrian, and the presence of Antinous, the Empress Vibia Sabina travelled with the Emperor's party on the journey through Egypt. With her was a travelling companion, the poetess Julia Balbilla, a member of the exiled royal family of Commagene (Armenia) with links to both the Seleucid and Ptolomeic royal lines. The four epigrams which make up the totality of Balbilla's surviving works were inscriped on a much earlier Egyptian statue, one of the "Colossi" of Memnon. They are written in the Aolic Greek used by Sappho eight centuries previously, and praise both Hadrian and Sabina. Balbilla's presence alongside Sabina, together with her admiration for the poetry of Sappho (evident from the metre of her own poetry) have led some to speculate on the possibility of a lesbian relationship between the two women, mirroring Hadrian's own passion for Antinous. The four epigrams are reproduced below:


Memnon the Egyptian I learnt, when warned by the rays of the sun,

Speaks from Theban stone.

When he saw Hadrian, the king of all, before rays of the sun

He greeted him - as far as he was able.

But when the Titan driving through the heavens with his steeds of white

Brought into shadow the second measure of hours,

Like ringing bronze Memnon again sent out his voice

Sharp-toned; he sent out his greeting and for a third time a mighty-roar.

The Emperor Hadrian then himself bid welcome to

Memnon and left on stone for generations to come

this inscription recounting all that he saw and all that he heard.

It was clear to all that the gods love him.



When with the August Sabina I stood before Memnon

Memnon, son of Aurors and holy Tithon,

seated before Thebes, city of Zeus,

Or Amenoth, Egyptian King, as learned

Priests recount from ancient stories,

Greetings, and singing, welcome her kindly,

The august wife of the Emperor Hadrian.

A barbarian man cut off your tongue and ears,

Impious Cambyses; but he paid the penalty,

With a wretched death struck by the same sword point

With which pitiless he slew the divine Apis.

But I do not believe that this statue of yours will perish,

I saved your immortal spirit forever with my mind.

For my parents were noble, and my grandfathers,

The wise Balbillus and Antiochus the king.




Son of Aurora, I greet you. For you addressed me kindly,

Memnon, for the sake of the Pierides, who care for me,

song-loving Demo. And bearing a pleasant gift,

my lyre will always sing of your strength, holy one.



For pious were my parents and grandfathers: Balbillus the Wise and King

Antiochus; Balbillus, the father of my mother of royal blood and king

Antiochus, the father of my father. From their line I too draw my noble

blood, and these verses are mine, pious Balbilla.