While in London I treated myself to a magnificent show about Hadrian at the outstanding British Museum. One of the greatest men to ever have lived, it did not disappoint. And despite the somewhat boring audioguide, I did learn a bit about this great poet Emperor of ours whose immense burial tomb is now Castel Sant’Angelo.
In Hadrian’s time, just like today, oil was the big issue – olive oil, that is. It fueled the empire, it was taxed and transported far and wide, and those that had it were pretty well off. Although at the helm of a fairly united Europe, Hadrian was unable to contain the Brits (probably for their lousy weather…after all, who’d want to occupy their country anyway?). And the Libyans and the Palestinians were regularly in revolt.
What is not quite common knowledge is that Hadrian was actually of Spanish stock. Given the rivalry these days between these two countries, well, I don’t blame the Italians for sweeping that little detail under the tapestry, so to speak. One might have noticed, however, since his beautiful head of curly locks did not reveal that most Italian of conditions…male pattern baldness. But soon enough (after being adopted by the childless Trajan), he certainly took on some Italian habits of his own.
Of course, like most politicians, he was duly married to the lovely Sabina, but had an open and long term relationship with a stunning youth (judging by the statues on hand), Antinous. While today, those paramours are still tightly kept secrets, I can assure you, they’re still going strong—after all, it’s a long-standing tradition.
His very first act upon attaining high office was to cancel tax debts, not unlike our new government which has also banished the housing tax on their first day on the job -- a terrific tactic to please the populace.
Hadrian also built himself a villa fit for an errrrr Emperor. Standing at Tivoli with over 900 rooms, I can say it’s a bit more over the top than most of today’s politicians' homes, but, I’m sure the artwork and entertainments that go on inside are right up his alley.
But Hadrian, like Trajan before him, took the reproduction thing one step further than our single-child Italians – he remained childless (for my very own explanation, see affair above) and adopted a few nieces and great nieces to keep things going.
Note: the word for nepotism comes from the word nipote, meaning nephew…a hallmark of the Italian way.
And finally, despite being a marked man, (he had a creased earlobe, a telltale sign of coronary artery disease), he lived a very long time, dying at the ripe old age of 62.
I don’t need any further proof than this, though, that the Italian 'Quality of Life' with its accompanying glass of red wine a day will certainly let you go far.