HADRIANUS An Exchange of Letters

TO: Dom. Publius Marcellus, Legate, Governor of Syria, General of Legions, I, Aelius Hadrianius, Imperator, greet and command you: 

Your news in two parts, earlier and recent, is received.

Regarding the burning of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi

I AM WROTH at the murder of Apollo’s High Priest, the most excellent Apollonius.

I AM WROTH at arson desecrating the Temple,  at the subsequent closing of Apollo’s sanctuary of his Pythia of Daphne, the vacancy of the temple which I had built for her residence.  

I AM SADDENED over the loss of Pythia to the service of the god,  and the people of Rome. 

ACKNOWLEDGED: the  announcement by your messenger,  the marriage of Princess Helen who I alone may reveal was Pythia, to the Emperor’s commander and civil servant, the noble S. Cornelius, Quaestor and sometimes Praetor, which marriage and surrender of vestal status by Helen is fully in accord with custom, which allows marriage for the priestess oracle.

BE ANGRY, as is the Emperor at sacrilege and insult to Apollo, and thereby sedition against Rome, in acting against those mighty ones who are the guarantee of Rome’s strength.  

BE ANGRY with the people of Daphne who committed or allowed this heinous crime.  I order you to see to their swift apprehension and terrible deaths, following which their bodies are to be hung on the temple approaches as warning and proof of the vengeance of the gods and Emperor. You will notify the Emperor when this duty is accomplished

MAKE  IMPERIAL  AWARDS to that Pythia, known as Helen, sometimes of legends, who served the Emperor so well, forecasting his ascent to the imperial throne, who, we are informed, served Apollo so well in guiding his arrows to the miserable cur, Apollodorus, who violated a priestess of the temple.   She is in our favor and under our protection.  Be that announced and public honors bestowed on her.  Advise her that the Emperor will hold her opinions as a private person of value, and indeed now calls on her, for Pythia acquires some wisdom that is not lost outside the sanctuary, to interpret an oracle delivered to the Emperor at Delphi, in Apollo’s sanctuary, nearby the Omphalos, sacred center to the earth.

BE MINDFUL   There is more than one Emperor who ascended acclaimed to a throne but was without the wit to keep it. His head cut off also loses him the wit to regret his carelessness. You are the Emperor’s servant and eyes, charged with protection.. An emperor who wishes wit, life and throne cannot see to these by himself. He needs the gods and, sometimes Apollo’s particular voice through his Pythia, and always, needs the best of men about him.  He will also need some luck. 

It is a troublesome sign politically for Syria, and the gods of Rome, that the Temple to Apollo in Daphne has been burned, and thereby we have lost so much from crime and insurrection. You will see to arrests and crucifixions. 

COMMEND the immediate actions undertaken in response by my Quaestor, sometimes acting Propraetor, S. Cornelius whom I hold in personal regard and who bears honors in proof of that.

REGARDING THE NEWS OF S. CORNELIUS REPORT of a process of conversion to the Christen sect, we sorrow deeply at such lunacy.  A man of his stature in doing that poses problems of policy and of pardon, but beyond that, , given his known eccentricity, continues to challenge understanding of his mind.

You advise me, Publius Marcellus. that S. Cornelius attends no assembly of theirs legal or illegal, swears he will sacrifice to the gods of Rome as proof of his respect and loyalty, expresses willingness to remain in his useful office, subject entirely as it is and must be to our will. These affirmations mitigate his lunacy. I stand reassured, yet I am troubled that Rome’s best must find other gods. There can be deeper meanings to this for Rome upon which an Emperor must reflect.


Respecting this decision and its transmission, there is to be no record of this filed in any office, but for those records of mine that are secret. These are to be destroyed on the death of S. Cornelius, or his removal or resignation from office, which ever is first

By way of preamble, testimony to our diligence in this unusual matter:

(1 Having minor knowledge of the Christians by virtue of the prior experience of my predecessors who suffered their disobedient will as insult to our gods who constitute Rome’s guarantee of well-being and Empire, and yet conscious of the wisdom of Trajan who disallowed excess complaint against them as a quiet and apolitical, however strange, barbarian sect.  

(2a) Conscious too  that the sect of Antioch has never brought itself to the attention of Rome but for one Ignatius, Bishop,  against whom imperial records show no complaint, who yet is reported officially executed but no record of proceedings necessary for that are found, (no prejudice against the action is implied)  and 

(2b) Mindful that the other Jews of Antioch have not set themselves in any revolt, we are not disposed officially to outlaw the sect absent its open violation of law. 

 (2c) We do nevertheless hold the sect, as with all barbarian Orientalism, in disdain, and are offended by a recent wave of fashion among certain Roman matrons even in honorable households, to embrace its mysteries and its leader, Christus, who was crucified and must be assumed criminal.   

Regarding that Christus: we are aware that our prefect for Judea, Pontius Pilatius, handled most local affairs badly, and was himself rightly, although too slowly, removed for his gross incompetence.  

3) We allow S. Cornelius to continue in office subject to his proper performance and loyal and discrete conduct respecting the practice of his  aberrant religion. We are assured the sect is no longer as Jewish one.  Your efforts are to maintain that separation, for the Jews, however intelligent, are a rebellious race.   It is not in the interests of the Empire they have further recruits.

4) In extreme confidence, we calculate that S. Cornelius’ proposed conversion, this man of noblest family, whose oath of honor  guarantees his loyalty to Rome, might prove useful should he ever rise to any power among the Christians.  Should his stubborn nature allow him to see the value to Rome, and to Christians, in an accord, modeled on his own private undertakings to us, it would a politic removal of a potentially insurrectionist threat. Christians are already our subjects, but if we are sure of their loyalty undivided by their belief, Empire enjoys greater concord.   We are easy with respect to the nature of their barbarian beliefs, as long as they are not divisive. We insist on the public practice of respect  to and formal  acknowledgement of the gods of Rome, from whom our strength derives.

Should S. Cornelius move to the Christian leadership, we encourage and, with extreme discretion, support that. Stay always mindful that other any other t ambition on his part will not be tolerated. A watch, then, must be kept. Your spies will attend to that.


BE ATTENTIVE, Publius Marcellus, Legate. Your head, as well as our tranquility,  relies your obedience. Report to us as appropriate.  

By the hand of Publius Aelius Hadrianus, Imperator        

The Next Correspondence;

TO: Sempronius Scipio Gracchus Cornelius Mules   By the imperial special post, through the office off Dom. Publius Marcellus, Legate, who governs Syria for the Emperor, but to be in that office unread, on pain of severest displeasure, by anyone but the addressee.   The Emperor commands you, Quaestor, attend:  

Hadrian, Emperor, went to Delphi and put his question to the priestess Pythia, sacred   

             Castalia who speaks as Apollo 

  Hadrian to the Oracle    “Will Rome ever fall?”

Pythia replying to Hadrian,

  “With the fall of Rome she rises greater over time”

              Hadrian to Pythia,  “When will Rome fall?”

Pythia replies to Hadrian

“When those who love her desert her

             When those who desert her love her

When those who defend her abandon her

When those who abandon her defend her

When those who guard her are in disunity

When those who guarded in disunity unite

             When those whom Rome once loved, are no longer 

When those who cease to love her love her more’

The Emperor in great confidence to the Mule:

I have had this prophecy in my keeping since my time in Delphi, which, as you know, is, for the Greeks and this Emperor, the spiritual center of the universe. I have made none of it known to anyone. Its prophecy reassures, teases, frightens. Eccentric as you are Mule, your unfathomable conduct in your renunciation of ambition, fortune, show, emblems, power,  and now, honorably disclosed as intention; this pending conversion to the degraded and alien Christus sect, all allow the inference, given your heroism, strength, trustworthiness and public excellence in every way- that you are so honorably foolish I may trust you in this private matter.  If you violate that trust I will have you killed.

              AND SO WE COMMAND ;

Put the question of interpretation of this Delphic prophecy to Daphne’s Apollo’s former oracle, now wife to you, who once so accurately foretold my own good fortune, and has otherwise long served me in trust.  If your Celtic/Galatian Princess Helen, held in esteem by us for her service, can illuminate Apollo’s in Delphi prophecies told, her clarifying words are to be transmitted to us under seal, for our eyes only. You personally will guarantee the authenticity her letter.  Undertake that under oath, not under bedcovers, where, I understand, you might prefer to conduct your most important marital exchanges.

            Your is a natural leadership, however aborted.  Dom. Publius Marcellus believes that should you come to influence the Christians in Syria, or elsewhere, you will require of them, as you assure us you do now of yourself, the lawful vows and ceremonies due to the gods of Rome upon whom all welfare depends. If they are obedient to you in respect to their lawful duties as subjects without hint of rebellion or conspiracy, we are indifferent to their religious beliefs. Nor shall you be dismissed from our regard, perhaps to the contrary.  Religion is not the business of Rome. Loyalty is. Greatness is.  Empire is.

Should it later transpire that the demands of your faith lead you to wish to resign as Quaestor, we regret, but do not impede it.  In the practice of our imperial office we have learned what is practical.  Had you taken the path open to you by your qualities, history and my special patronage, you would be wiser about being practical.  I do not yet rule out all possibilities.  Care, Mule, practice it as prudence. You carry a treasure, Quaestor, it is my regard. 

We have formally added your family name “Gracchus” to those names you already bear. Possibly your Gracchii blood compels you to sublimated gestures of benevolence, thus the new affiliation.   Be mindful always of the risks, as those Tribunes were not, whenever you depart from established Roman practices, even if some of those are not ideal.  I will not protect you as you once did me. We are both on new battlefields.

Yours is a self-imposed exile, Mule, which personally saddens me. You shed your blood copiously diverting blows that would have killed me. An ambush I should have foreseen, a danger which you did. You congratulated me on my courage, courteously refraining from a title I privately bestowed on myself, “stupidus”  (stupid). Your later conduct as Senior Centurion Commanding was in the tradition of those who hold that post; thoughtful in strategy, companion and model warrior to your men, fierce in combat, diligent and politic as well as incorruptible in administration, careful of the honor of Rome. Be this and you will be no more popular than Cato.  You remain impractical. An Emperor’s patronage by debt and affection comes not once in most lifetimes.  Since your urges are obviously toward philosophy, you would be wise, as Horace advised, to “go home and read the Greeks.”


 I will not object if your Christians bring more kindness to Rome. Do put that in the mind of any so ambitious they would assassinate emperors. We would be pleased by assurances that our subjects are more than loyal, love us.  That would be a unique sentiment in Empire.  Can any Christian, even you even become their high priest, deliver loyalty? Do not promise love, I will know that is a lie. If you cannot promise their loyalty, do as emperors do and think wisely on the limits as well as consolation of philosophies. Now you are Christian, you will soon be  a noble fish outsized and ill-watered in a plebian small pond. I am no oracle, but spies do assure a kind of prescient wisdom.  I do not prophecy; I anticipate your rise among your aliens.  If so, audaces fortuna juvat, fortune favors the bold, even among fish.  Let us see if your god, and Plato’s -for they seem the same- also favors you.

Be mindful that too much favor from fortune, if it favors not the Empire and its Emperor, compels these, and the gods, to be jealous, I am told it is one of my faults. So Mulus, should you become prince of small ponds, be watchful as you tread that treacherous path, for all princes have enemies. Even the Christus you follow. called “prince of peace” who preached only love, generated enemies cunning enough to manipulate our stupid Pontius Pilate to be their executioners.   Should you as their prince survive you will be good for Christians, I think not they for you, for they will not want the political peace you would bring.  I suspect Christians, like Jews, forest Germans and brigands, define themselves selfishly as “arête”, the best, and “the chosen”, that foolishness  of the Jews. Vanity brings foolish courage, misreading of the will of the gods. You cannot save these plebs from vanity, your modesty is too great to be a model for most men.  It is possible that you are one of the most virtuous men in all the Empire. It is regrettable that you dedicate it to barbarians and phantasmagoria.

‘When we fought together, (I grant few men that statement of comradeship) after you had saved me, you yourself were felled, almost to die.  In haste and some remarkable amusement, you sent me a note responding to mine, in which I had inquired after your condition.  I suspect you may have forgotten the warrior you were, nor were you then, or after sensible to the degree of my esteem, even affection, although the youthful god, my beloved, Antoninus will never be replaced in that. I kept your note, as example of what a Roman commander should be. I have shown it to many others proposing they emulate you. Your reputation as well as your deeds are much greater than you know. You could have stayed at my side as first among deputies. I regret you chose dutiful provincial obscurity instead. You will do well to ask yourself if your new God will serve you as well as the Emperor might. Here is what you wrote  that long ago bloody day.

The text of it:


General Hadrianus:  you ask of me after today’s events.   I must be brief, for my arm is wounded and bound and writes with difficulty.  After your safety was assured, the attacking Dacians fended off as the rescue squad moved up, I resumed my post, where as you no doubt vividly recall, we were under considerable pressure for some time after the unpleasant netting incident. We remained in that forward sector outnumbered.  Many were the sounds of battle.  Comrades beside me fell.  I was more alone than any soldier would prefer. On my eye’s periphery I saw an enemy blade remorselessly thrusting toward my mid section.  My shield, already defending against three in front violently set against me, could not be placed also sideways in defense. (One man is not a stockade after all) I am a large man, the bulk of me troubled them. All I could do was hunch deeply and move my head fore and side snarling.  The hunch would tighten my ribs as a shield, and the snarl-- well as all know I am already so scarred and rock set of face, and in battle even more jut- jawed, narrow eyed, beetle browed, and splashed so bloody that no one has ever called that ugly face anything but itself a looming danger. I willed the snarl to be frightful, as the open mouth of a tiger must, as it is set ever so close to devour its prey, or as baboons show fangs, their flaming uvula and roar to daunt a foe. So then was I.   I am sure no tiger dies acknowledging it is defeated, and so it was that day east of the Danube, as the enemy sword struck my ribs, they, and a cuirass,  were my only shield. But, striking me, the Dacian had come too close and careless. I am ever amazed, my closing snarl bit off his nose. As we both slid to the ground-I intended my knife in play- I remember my teeth enjoyed an oddly pleasing crunch.

I hardly remember the other attackers hacking at my phalanx- held shield above me. My men rushed from behind me to slay them As for my assailant, I had sense and strength enough, and an old warrior survives on these, to stab him as he fell. I admit there was annoyance in it. My vanity was also wounded by an enemy sword slicing meat off one’ s side.    This was battle. I was commanding hundreds, and yet I had my ridiculous reputation to uphold.  Until the faint took me, I denied the Dacian had touched me.  I can tell you, General Hadrianus that warty Dacian nose was not a tasty one, but the crunch was worth it.

That was the man you were, Mulus, all life continues a battle.  Serve your new unearthly lord if you must, but I command you, never let me or Rome be second


 By the hand of Publius Aelius Hadrianus, Imperator

The Next Letter:





Respecting the prophecy of Delphi to the Emperor, Consider:

A bright star in its ascendancy

Is not jealous of others in the heavens 

For out of what constitutes the firmament

Are all origins, including mysteries.

Over the great transit of time there is no one apogee

Constancy does not abide in the heavens or in life

Those victorious master inconstancy, change with change.

Know that the god’s decree what is now great will appear less

That in becoming less it will be greater

The victorious are amused by illusions

Although knowing illusions are one reality

If there is another, that other is also illusion

Which arises from necessity, yet aware

Necessity only sometimes wisely rules

For wisdom rules itself knowing that others will follow

The brightest star rules the heavens 

With confidence in its light 

By the hand of Helen, Filia Regis

And Following, the Next Letter;

            TO:  Publius Aelius Hadrianus, Emperor

From: S. Gracchus Cornelius, Quaestor, Secretary to the Legate, Governor of Syria  

I am indebted for the time, counsel, trust and good wishes of Hadrian Imperator.  I am aware that you might believe the Syrian sun has bleached my brain. I am called but I am not chosen.  I elect the light in an but otherwise dark and cold desert.  I do not aspire, although if summoned to be a prince of kindness I shall do my best to perform.  No other kingdoms beckon.  There are only a few steps leading up to altars, these cannot lead to great heights but for the spirit. 

I would see Christianity a gentle river with ever widening banks, merciful and replenishing waters that give rise neither to flood nor heroes.  The world needs goodness, not vanity; the two are incompatible.  Jealousy will not notice a man who is and seeks nothing but the Other who resides in Heaven. On earth begins the path there, but no earthly palace holds the chart to show the way.   The map is one the Lord gives to the heart, of which the soul is eternal steward.

Be assured:  I remain loyal to the Emperor, dutifully respectful of the powers upon which Rome’s greatness has depended.  I acknowledge my blood and being is Rome’s child. I am faithful to the God who has recently in Jesus become fully known to us, bringing us all great gifts.  To all of these I am grateful, and to all I swear my service. 

     S. Gracchus (by your imperial grace) Cornelius Mulus. 


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