Wednesday 14 September 2011

Extraordinary Lives No. 2

Elagabalus, Emperor of Rome

One of the most extraordinary lgbt characters from history has to be the Roman emperor Elagabalus. You couldn’t make his life up if you tried. Even by Roman standards he was an odd-ball. Perhaps this may partly be due to him being born into a Syrian family of hereditary priests who worshipped a sun god in the form of a meteorite.

Some time ago I came across the story of Elegabalus as told by Neil Gaiman, the celebrated fantasy writer and artist. He set himself the challenge of telling Elegabalus’s whole life story in comic strip format, producing 24 pages in 24 hours. It’s a valiant attempt and has inspired me to do something similar in the future.

One of the most famous stories about Elegabalus involves his court officials scouring the Roman Empire for men who were, shall we say, especially “blessed” in the “trouser department”!! What Gaiman’s version doesn’t have room to tell is the full story, so here it is.

Elegabalus was married to his lover Hierocles (being High Priest of his own religion he could do that) with whom, so says the Roman historian Cassius Dio, he had a more stable relationship than with any of his wives. The court officials found a particularly “blessed” athlete by the name of Zoticus and brought him before the emperor. Elegabalus married him on the spot and took him to the palace baths where he saw for himself the naked truth.

But like a lot of gay, Hierocles became jealous. He was afraid that the emperor might dump him for this new muscle-bound stallion, so he furtively drugged Zoticus’s drink.

That night, as Emperor Elegabalus was high on expectation, handsome hunk Zoticus struggled to rise higher than a limp lettuce and the emperor was furious. Zoticus was immediately divorced and banished form Italy. How Hierocles would have sniggered as Zoticus was booted out of Rome with his tail between his legs!

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