by Melanie McDonald
Published March 2011 by Seriously Good Books
Received for review from the author for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read August 2011
Not much is known of the brief life of Antinous, chosen favorite of Hadrian, Emperor of Rome, and in Eromenos, Melanie McDonald presents her idea of what might have been. The facts are thus: Antinous, a Greek by birth, became part of Hadrian’s circle at a young age; he became Hadrian’s preferred companion and they most probably had a sexual relationship; and upon Antinous’s mysterious drowning in the Nile at 18 or 19, Hadrian had the boy proclaimed a god and temples and statues were built in Antinous’s honor. Eromenos is written as Antinous’s secret diary, and it ends with his proclamation that he will sacrifice himself for Hadrian.
The unruly power dynamics implicit in the relationship between the very young, poor, Greek Antinous and Hadrian, the patrician ruler of the Roman Empire, are interesting, but they weren’t explored with the depth I was hoping. The sex scenes between Hadrian and Antinous, while written sparsely and do attempt to highlight this unbreakable tilt of power between the man and the young boy, are still hard to read because they are also scenes of rape. Antinous tells the reader:
After a moment, I realized what he wanted. [...] It was what one sometimes engaged in with a prostitute, or perhaps a servant or younger classmate. I was no slave, no girl, and this act I expected, anticipated, being done only to me, for me. By the Roman code, I knew, such submission was not asked of a partner, for it demeaned him. [p. 72]
Beyond this quick history lesson on how the folks in ancient Rome felt about a certain sexual act, we don’t get much more of a discussion from Antinous on his feelings of the matter. He quickly “matures” and comes to accept and enjoy the encounters.
An overarching weakness with Eromenos is that while McDonald is clearly quite knowledgeable about ancient Rome, she is heavy handed with her attempts to impart her facts on the reader. At one point, for instance, Hadrian recites “from memory” his dialogue with Epicteus, Questions and Answers, the full text of which is included in an Appendix, at a dinner party. Obviously I can’t say that Hadrian never did such a thing, but it seemed out of place for the story being told.
I’m sorry to say that Eromenos simply wasn’t the book for me. I seem to be alone in this opinion, however: to see what other participants in the tour thought about the book, check out the tour schedule.
Thanks to Amy of Passages to the Past for the opportunity to read Eromenos!