Horses and Hounds: Hunting as a Theme in Eromenos
Thank you so much, Allison, for inviting me to The Musings of a Book Junkie, and today I’d like to discuss the theme of hunting in Eromenos.
Hunting for sport long has been a traditional pastime favored by royalty and the aristocracy, and in particular, hunting on horseback, hunting with hounds, and hunting for large game, all of which require more equipment, ammunition, and logistical support than hunting small animals such as, say, rabbits or squirrels (with certain exceptions, of course, such as the hunting of hares with hounds, or prey fowl with trained falcons—though that requires proper equipment as well). This is a different type of hunting altogether than that of the people, which most often simply has put food on the table, though game caught by royalty often has provided feasts for their own tables, as well.
Hunting for sport provides a way to display one’s wealth, power, and status, as well as an opportunity to spend leisure time away from the stressful business of ruling; in some cultures and eras, certain prey even have been forbidden to any hunters except royalty, helping to reinforce the royal sport’s exclusivity. The animals used to assist in the hunt, most often horses and dogs, also require great resources to maintain, and the breeding of these animals traditionally has maintained the exclusivity of their bloodlines as well.
Hunting became an important theme in Eromenos not only because such hunting was a frequent activity of the imperial court of second-century Rome, but also because history records several expeditions in which Hadrian and Antinous hunted together, the three most well-known being a boar hunt, a bear hunt, and, most infamous, a lion hunt during which the emperor saved the youth from attack by a wounded lion, an incident which inspired several artistic renditions of its sequence of events, including a poem by Pancrates and several sculptural representations (including reliefs on the Arch of Constantine, originating in Hadrian’s era but later reworked by the first Christian emperor), as well as factual accounts, and in my novel these three hunts became scenes that also help trace the progression of the relationship between Antinous and Hadrian.
The hunting of these large animals took place on horseback, and Hadrian had an imperial stable of hunting horses at his command. These horses were trained to be just as fearless as war horses in combat, able to stand their ground in the face of wounded boars, angry bears, or lions prepared to strike. Imperial owners regarded these mounts of theirs with great admiration and affection, and some of their steeds have been paid lasting tribute in stories, song, and memorials. Hadrian even commissioned a statue for his favorite horse, Borysthenes, after its death, similar to a famous work once commissioned by Alexander the Great in tribute to his mighty racer, Bucephalus. The young men of the imperial school at Rome also might serve as grooms for the imperial stable and learn to ride and train these royal animals, and also participated in hunts at invitation of the emperor, as did Antinous.
Another member of Hadrian’s court, Arrian of Bithynia, once wrote about the esteem and affection with which men regarded their favorite hunting dogs in a work entitled On Hunting with Hounds*, and I couldn’t resist quoting a few lines of this work:
“For I myself reared a hound with the greyest of grey eyes, and she was fast and a hard worker and spirited and agile, so that when she was young she once dealt with four hares in one day. And apart from that she is the most gentle (I still had her when I was writing this) and most fond of humans, and never previously did any other dog long to be with me and my fellow-huntsman Megillus as she does.
“If she sees one of us even after a short period of time, she jumps into the air gently, as if welcoming him, and she gives a bark with the welcome, showing her affection. When she is with one of us at dinner she touches him with her paws alternately, reminding him that she too should be given some of the food. And indeed she makes many different noises, more than any other dog that I think I have seen; and she shows audibly what she wants.
“And because when she was being trained as a puppy and she was punished with a whip, if anyone to this day should mention a whip, she goes up to the one who has said it and crouches down like one beseeching, and fits her mouth to his as if she is kissing, and jumps up and hangs from his neck, and does not let him go until the angry one gives up the threat. And so I think that I should not hesitate to write down the name of this dog, for it to survive her even into the future, viz. that Xenophon the Athenian had a dog called Horme, very fast and very clever and quite out of this world.”
Arrian has recorded for posterity how Xenophon the Athenian adored his canine companion, in an ancient display of affection as touching as the more recent and familiar one given by Sir Walter Scott to his own beloved Scottish deerhounds, “the most perfect creatures of heaven,” and so Horme’s name survives her still, even today.
Melanie McDonald has a website, www.melaniejmcdonald.com, and Eromenos now has its own page on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/Eromenos-by-Melanie-McDonald-a-novel-about-Antinous-and-Hadrian/177668218934051#!/pages/Eromenos-by-Melanie-McDonald-a-novel-about-Antinous-and-Hadrian/177668218934051?sk=info
*On Hunting with Hounds, Arrian of Bithynia, translated by Malcolm M. Willcock in Xenophon and Arrian on Hunting, ed. A.A. Phillips and Malcolm M. Willcock (Wiltshire, UK: Aris & Phillips Ltd.), section 5.1-6 and sections 33-34.