Page 128. " I was initiated at Eleusis eighteen months later "

Eleusis, near Athens, is the location of an ancient mystery cult dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, a myth first written down in one of the Homeric hymns (c650 BC), but arguably extending back into Bronze Age times (c1200-1500 BC). The historical Hadrian was initiated into these mysteries. According to the myth, Hades, the god of the underworld, abducted Persephone, the daughter of Demeter. Demeter searched for her and, eventually, Zeus forced Hades to return her, the reuinion of mother and daughter symbolising the triumph of life over death, of spring over winter. It closely mirrors the Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris, and is reflected in the later Roman cult of Osiris-Antinous. The key to the illustration below is as follows: 1 Demeter; 2 Persephone; 3 Athena; 4 Aphrodite; 5 Artemis; 6 the Eleusinian hero, Triptolemus; 7 the Hierophant (chief priest); 8 a junior priest; 9 a herald; 10. Hecate.

The Eleusinian Mysteries
Public DomainThe Eleusinian Mysteries

"The Golden Age." An aureus (gold coin) depicting the figure of the genius of the Golden Age was minted by Hadrian in 121 AD. This coin issue is now extremely rare and no image is available.

Page 135. " the ancient palace of King Nicomedus, where voluptuous memories of the young Julius Caesar abound "

The reference is to King Nicomedes IV (reigned 94-74 BC) of Bithynia (north-west Turkey). As a young man, Julius Caesar had been sent as an ambassador to Bithynia to collect funds to raise a fleet. According to Suetonius, he remained there for so long that rumours began to circulate of a homosexual relationship between him and Nicomedes, rumours that would be used against Caesar by his enemies for the rest of his life. Hadrian goes on to discuss his own homosexual relationship with Antinous, which begins in the same palace.

Page 139. " For the first time Athens was to grow again "

In addition to the completion of the Olympieion, already mentioned above, Hadrian's embellishment of the city of Athens included the construction of a substantial library complex (completed in 132 AD) with associated public gardens  on the north side of the Acropolis.

The Library of Hadrian at Athens
Public DomainThe Library of Hadrian at Athens - Credit: GreyElfGT
Page 140. " the opulent Atticus "

This refers to Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes (65-c160 AD), who was one of the first native Greeks to enter the Roman Senate, serving as Suffect Consul in 132 AD. His father, Hipparchus, was reputed to have been one of the wealthiest men in the Empire. Atticus's son, who is mentioned here, is Lucius Vibullius Hipparchus Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes (usually known simply as Herodes Atticus) who, among other public works, commissioned the building of the theatre that bears his name, standing on the south side of the Acropolis.

Page 140. " the most precious of all these encounters was that with Arrian of Nicomedia "

This is Lucius Flavius Arrianius Xenophon (86-160 AD), the author of the "Anabasis of Alexander" (a panegyric of Alexander the Great, which is nonetheless historically important as it draws on sources now lost), "Discourses of Epictetus" (directly referred to here) and "Indica" (a discourse on India). He was Consul in 129 or 130 AD and subsequently served as Governor of Cappadocia. As part of the "Second Sophistic" (along with Herodes Atticus and Polemo of Laodicea) he presided over a renaissance of Hellenistic rhetoric and education in the first half of the 2nd Century AD.

Page 142. " the Stoic philosopher Euphrates "

Euphrates (35-118 AD) was a native of Tyre. He became a friend of Pliny the Younger, and is described by him in a letter to Atrius Clemens (Epistle I.10 - It is Cassius Dio (Roman Histories LXIX,8 -, however, who tells us that he sought and obtained permission from Hadrian to end his life by poison.

Page 143. " Halcyon seasons, solstice of my days "

In her essay, "Tone and Language in the Historical Novel" (reproduced in a volume of Yourcenar's essays translated by Walter Kaiser, under the title of That Mighty Sculptor, Time - Noonday Press), Marguerite Yourcenar reflects on the writing of this passage: "I still believe that the emperor, retrospectively calling up his memories, could have seen them that way...But I no longer believe that he would have recounted them in quite that fashion...I don't hold the passage against him, or against myself. It is always difficult to recount a moment of happiness."

Page 145. " some of the great works of construction were nearing completion "

Both the "Colosseum" (or, as it was known in Hadrian's day, "the Flavian Ampitheatre"), begun under the Emperor Vespasian (reigned 69-79 AD), and the Temple of Venus and Rome, begun by Hadrian and completed under Antoninus Pius, were built on the site of Nero's "Golden House." This lavish residence was seen by Romans of the late 1st and early 2nd Centuries AD as symbolic of the excesses of the Neronian age, and Hadrian, like Vespasian and Titus before him, was keen to emphasise his role in turning back to public use (entertainment in the case of the ampitheatre, religion in the case of the temple) that which Nero had appropriated for his own private pleasures.

The Flavian Ampitheatre
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Flavian Ampitheatre - Credit: Paul Zangaru

The ruins of the Temple of Venus & Rome, painting by Edward Lear (1840).
Public DomainThe ruins of the Temple of Venus & Rome, painting by Edward Lear (1840). - Credit: Yale Centre for British Art