Eromenos is a perfect example of why historical fiction is important. Having never heard of Antinous, even in my self-induced and dedicated study of all things historical, I learned of an intimate aspect of the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian. And so the crucial aspect of historical fiction is fulfilled. Attracting lay persons (although I wouldn't consider myself a lay person by any means) to history and historical subjects. Not only was the very fact of Antinous's existence in history brought to my attention, but also the ritual of the October Horse and the study of lycanthropy, the former of which I had heard in passing and the latter, of which I had no idea its study extended as far back as antiquity. This, in my opinion, is the unique responsibility of historical fiction. To interest the reader in the further investigation of a time, place, and persons in history.
Not only do we get the fulfillment mentioned above in Eromenos, but we also get an idea of the culture of ancient Rome. Homosexuality was known and accepted, although it seemed tolerated among the patricians, yet frowned upon among the lower classes. I refer to Antinous's passing encounter with a farm boy who seems to judge Antinous's lifestyle disdainfully with one knowing glance. What I found most interesting in the story of Antinous was the fact that, despite his high status as Hadrian's 'favorite', he always had to keep in the back of his mind that one day he would be put aside for someone new, someone younger. Quite sad was that, upon losing his inheritance, he knew he would have no options in society after his favored status was lost. He did not believe truly that Hadrian loved him and, in truth had very ambiguous feelings toward Hadrian himself. A sad realization for us to find out that Hadrian would mourn him so fervently after his death. Perhaps Hadrian would not have put him aside, if we look at his grief as evidence of his true love for Antinous.
Eromenos gives us the tragic story of a boy who was not given much choice in life. We see the fact that once the Emperor sets his favor upon a person, then he must obey, as this royal favor is considered an honor and the knowledge of this is taught early on. A refusal would bring dishonor to the person's family and this was unacceptable in Roman society. In the end, Antinous takes control of his destiny. The result leaves a feeling of sadness and yet, elation for his triumph. In this short book, Ms. McDonald has succeeded in telling us an engaging story while whetting the appetite for historical investigation.
Eros and Thanatos converge in the story of a glorious youth, an untimely death, and an imperial love affair that gives rise to the last pagan god of antiquity. In this coming-of-age novel set in the second century AD, Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth from Asia Minor, recounts his seven-year affair with Hadrian, fourteenth emperor of Rome. In a partnership more intimate than Hadrian's sanctioned political marriage to Sabina, Antinous captivates the most powerful ruler on earth both in life and after death.
This version of the affair between the emperor and his beloved ephebe vindicates the youth scorned by early Christian church fathers as a "shameless and scandalous boy" and "sordid and loathsome instrument of his master's lust." EROMENOS envisions the personal history of the young man who achieved apotheosis as a pagan god of antiquity, whose cult of worship lasted for hundreds of years—far longer than the cult of the emperor Hadrian.
In EROMENOS, the young man Antinous, whose beautiful image still may be found in works of art in museums around the world, finds a voice of his own at last. (from Goodreads)
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FTC disclosure: A copy of this book was provided to me via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest opinion. No monetary compensation was received.