The Kalends of November arrive with their supplications
to Diana for this month to come;
may the goddess look favorably upon us all.
In Rome, they celebrate games, though I know not what for.
Perhaps one day, the New Boy God will have his own games in Rome.
The Emperor’s eyes are red, his eyelids round about are swollen,
but he has at last ceased his weeping from hour to hour.
He had planned to found a city in Egypt in his own honor,
perhaps further up the Nile, in another location,
nearer to the statues of Memnon we are to see soon;
but, he has decided to found it here instead,
where the Boy God’s body was found.
He will be the eternal throne-sharer
with the Golden Goddess and the dancing dwarf,
like their son—though strange the union—like their everlasting bedfellow.
His plans were suitable for any spot of land,
he has only changed the names of all the districts
to reflect the Boy God’s heritage and the many gods
that he and his family have come to find dear in their travels.
His mind, even in utmost sadness, is quick with the names of gods,
and the drawing of streets, temples, and the boundaries of cities.
In a moment of levity, the Empress called upon me
to bring her the Aeneid, not to read in pleasure,
but instead to use the Virgilian Sortilege.
The Emperor decided to interpret the passage.
Postquam introgressi et coram data copia fandi,
maximus Ilioneus placido sic pectore coepit:
‘O Regina, novam cui condere Iuppiter urbem
iustitiaque dedit gentis frenare superbas,
Troes te miseri, ventis maria omnia vecti,
oramus, prohibe infandos a navibus ignis…’*
[When they had entered, and freedom to speak before the queen was granted,
the eldest, Ilioneus, with placid mien thus began:
“Queen, to whom Jupiter has granted to found a new city,
and to put the curb of justice on haughty tribes,
we, unhappy Trojans, tempest-driven over every sea,
make our prayer to you: ward off the horror of flames from our ships…”]
The Emperor asks me: “Fiery ships—what means this to you, slave?”
The Emperor has never spoken to me directly before.
“In my country, we have a tale of our gods:
when they came to our land to settle it
from the cities of the north of the world—“
“From Hyperborea?” the Emperor asks.
“I do not know that name; but I believe you are right.”
(Of course he’s right—is he not The Emperor?!?)
“Go on, slave.”
“Gladly, My Lord. When the gods arrived,
they set fire to their ships, so they might never return
nor leave the land again, no matter the consequences.”
The Empress’ brows knit; the Emperor nods, but stares blankly.
“Then the interpretation is obvious, is it not?”
I say nothing, for this method of divining is not known to me.
“When we return to Rome, Hibernian slave, you are to be freed.”
“There is no question—the gods have spoken plainly.”
“Domine, I have no words…”
“Then let me give you one word to have forever after—
A name, in fact: Antinous.”
“Antinous? I do not understand.”
“It is not I who have freed you; it is the New God Antinous.
When you are free, he will be your divine master.
Honor him as you have honored him these past days
for the rest of your life, no matter what land you come to.
His ship will burn in your heart always, lighting its way to the stars—
the imperishable unmoving stars of the north, of Hyperborea,
of the lands from which your gods have come, no doubt—
to settle you in whatever land it might take you to,
like those Trojan exiles of old who made Rome great.
You will be called Publius Aelius Virgilius Philantinous.
And I will perform the ritual of manumission myself.”
I fell to my knees, weeping for joy,
but the Empress herself raised me to my feet
and set me before the Emperor, who smiled.
I went on my way back to my quarters,
and they have not called upon me for the remainder of the day.
Who knows when we will next see Rome,
or if I might die on the waves or the sands,
struck down by sickness or the sling-stone of a marauder.
But already, my heart is as free as a wild gander,
and I feel myself being drawn homeward to my island.
They will hear of Antinous, and I will rejoice in the telling.
My name is not Virgilius; it is Fergal Anténchair.
*: Virgil, Aeneid, Book 1, 520-525.