As one of the further “bonuses” I promised in relation to PantheaCon, I wanted to write the following piece below.
Many of you know that I wasn’t, for various reasons, able to be in the “Yes They Are! Meeting and Greeting the Queerest of Gods” performance ritual run by Circle of Dionysos this year. I won’t say much more on “why” at present, but this was something I have literally been looking forward to since 2011, because that was the last time the ritual was done, and that year I portrayed Set. The next person in line after Set, as soon as that ritual was done, was Favorinus of Arles, so I’ve been preparing that performance since 2011. I didn’t get to do it this year–which was “good” in a way, because I certainly would have gone over the allotted time, but that also meant that there was that much more time and space for others in the ritual to do what they needed to. Depending on a few things, the following may be the basis for a whole session next year at PantheaCon…who knows? In any case…
Some of you may be familiar with Favorinus of Arles as one of the greatest Sophists of the second century, and as a teacher of Herodes Attikos. He was a “born eunuch,” a “hermaphrodite,” and what we’d probably consider today to be an intersexed individual (though he doesn’t seem to have identified as a non-binary gender, from what we know, hence the pronouns I’ve used thus far). He also plays an essential and enjoyable role in All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power: A TransMythology, which is fresh in my mind, of course. So, it seemed like this would be a good day to present this to all of you, given that his student’s family’s days are coming up starting tomorrow, and his children and grandchild’s birthdays are today.
I am writing it below as if I had presented it to the group assembled for the performance ritual at PantheaCon, so there are some stage directions in it, and a little bit by an M.C. at the beginning, as well.
So, without further ado, hear the words of Favorinus of Arles!
[M.C.] And now, introducing…
[Fav.] There’s no need, there’s no need! There isn’t a person here who doesn’t already know who I am!
[Favorinus poses in silence and waits for the applause of those present.]
Ahem. I believe I said, THERE ISN’T A PERSON HERE WHO DOESN’T KNOW WHO I AM!
Hmph! Well, they take down your statue in Corinth because they think you’ll be a bad influence on the youth, and suddenly no one knows who you are any longer, nor greets you as you deserve! Well, no matter–this is a wise and intelligent audience here, and I’m sure some of them, at least, know who I am, even if they’re afraid to say so before others and thus would garner disapproval by association.
You! Young man, certainly you know who I am?
[The man shakes his head.]
No?!? Well, apparently, the youth are not as educated as they used to be. You there, my good woman, you look very intelligent: certainly, YOU know who I am?
[The woman shakes her head.]
Apparently, then, looks aren’t everything. And you, my good person whose gender is neither male nor female, surely YOU must know who I am?
[The gender-variant individual shakes their head.]
Great gods above and below! Does no one know history any longer? Forget Herodotus and Thucydides, just pick up a scroll now and again, dear friends!
Well, I suppose then the burden falls to me to introduce myself. Ahem!
My name is Favorinus of Arles, and as I used to say, there were three paradoxes of my life:
I was born a Gaul, and yet I spoke perfect Greek;
I was born a eunuch, a hermaphrodite, and yet I was accused of adultery
(And, dear friends, I assure you, I was guilty!);
And finally, I was someone who had contradicted the Emperor, and yet still was alive.
And that Emperor was the Divine Hadrian, the Greekling, the devotee of Disciplina, the great man himself. He had a temper, and many other things–like the fear of the entire Empire and all of her enemies, who never dared to strike him, except for that one time…–but he was also a slave to the Lady Philosophy, and could not concede a point of logic if it was made against him. In this, he was truly reasonable.
You may wonder at the third less now, and at the second even more, but let me start with the first, for it was the most unusual in its day, and may shed further light on the second in turn.
I was born in the wilds of Gaul, in one of the cities of my people. My status at birth was unusual, but was not a sign of divine disfavor nor of any concern. I was, like all Gauls, raised in the women’s quarters until my teenagerhood, but where the other “real boys” then became members of the warband, the gods had another plan for me, and I was taught in the techniques of poetry.
But I soon realized that my fortunes were not to be found amongst my own people singing the praise of good senators and the satires against the impious, but instead would be found in the city of Rome and Athens and all the cities of the Greek East and Asia Minor. A small pouch of coins half-empty would be my fate amongst my own people, and rather than feel that was fitting to someone of my state, who had an “empty pouch” below my belt as well in my own flesh, I set out on the road to greater fame and glory in those distant place.
Dear friends, I found it, for never was a tongue as honeyed in all of Gaul since the time that Ogmios walked the earth and made his sticky chains of eloquence to entrance the ears of all who heard him.
But it was not the arts of Ogmios I learned in Rome, but the arts of Cicero; and it was not the great words of Hermes I learned in Athens, but those of Demosthenes. And the arts of philosophy I also learned, and became great in them. Though not everyone enjoyed my words or my company, including Polemo of Smyrna, who made it a point to demean my person and my character in his book on physiognomy–as if what shade a person’s skin is, or the shape of their eyes, or what they have between their legs has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with a person’s morals! I can only imagine what he had down below to have such opinions of others…
And my fame grew, and grew, and grew, until there was rarely a city I’d approach that did not beg me for a night of oratory in the public amphitheater! And there was not room enough for another spectator nor auditor on many such occasions! I decked myself out in the laurel crown of the victors, and painted my skin with gold paint, for my words were as golden as honey…
And even the Emperor himself became interested in my words, and demanded an audience. And I gave it to him.
But there were others who were not satisfied with my words. No, they demanded more of me, more of a performance by me…and it was not even a performance by me that they wanted, but instead a mere “showing.”
They hounded me constantly: “Come to the baths with us, Favorinus!” “Come and wrestle in the palaestra with us, Favorinus!” “Come to the gymnasium with us, Favorinus!” They would have done better had they been honest and simply said, “Take your tunic off, Favorinus–we want to see your penis!” And, it would have suited their purposes to have asked such in a rhyme, no matter how low or lewd such a sing-song street-poem might be.
I took my baths alone, I did my exercises by myself, and I bought a villa to make that happen. Yes, I could afford one, slaves and all, but that was the price of my fame and my peace of mind.
Until one day, when the Emperor’s young lover said to me, “Favorinus, would you care to join me in the baths?” And when Antinous of Bithynia asks you to come to the baths, you do not refuse!
So we went, and his clothes came off easily and quickly…and mine less so. But his eyes never left the level of my face, and his voice never wavered, and we sat in the baths, cloaked under the same sheet of refreshing water, and he never said a word about what I had beneath, nor did he even look. Dear friends, I cannot say that I was as chaste in my gaze as he was…but look at him! Could you have been either? I dare say not! But, for his modesty, for his courtesy, and for his good and virtuous mind, he deserves thanks and praise–if anyone deserved deification after death, it was him.
You may ask, therefore, what message I have come to give in so many words? It is simple, dear friends, and it is a twofold message.
First, the lesson that Antinous of Bithynia exemplified is a lesson that too many amongst us must yet still learn: it is no one’s business what any of us has beneath our robes. If you feel you must ask, realize you are boorish and rude, and if you are not willing to then let the likes of me see your own genitals, measure them with a rod and weigh them with a balance, and perhaps make a mold in wax to remember them afterwards, then likewise you are not in the right in asking about us in turn.
And second: did you ever think the likes of someone such as myself would not only be known to history, but would be a celebrity and even a superstar in the centuries of late antiquity? Do not fail to recognize that if you exist now, there have been ancestors who are much like you, who have had your same physical characteristics, your same social challenges, identities similar to your own, no matter how strange or even non-existent the world now tries to make you think you are. We are weeping with you at every step of the way during your difficulties, and we are crying out to be remembered, so that we might give you what wisdom our own lives and our own trials have given to us.
But, I leave you with one final thought, for who amongst the Gauls and the Greeks does not like a Triad? What drove me to such heights of fame, and such a quest for glory, despite all of the challenges I would face? Why, an unshakeable confidence in myself, that I had something to offer and to give, and to present to others. This confidence is alive and well amongst you. There is nothing wrong with being as fabulous and as fantastic as you actually are on as large a stage as you’d like. For, no matter what the critics said of me, and no matter how much those who hated me spouted their bile, there is nothing which can be compared to the adulation of the crowds, the full theatres, and the applause, applause, applause…