10 July marks the anniversary of the death of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (in AD 138). Hadrian was a fan of his own image and had statues of himself erected across the empire – many of which are now in museums. But there is also this oil painting interpretation of him after the Italian artist, Antonio Tempesta, who made images of plenty of other Roman emperors on horses, in battle dress. I wonder what Hadrian would have made of this?
Hang on a minute. This Hadrian hasn’t got a beard. Turns out this didn’t escape the notice of museum friend Mary Beard a few years back, who investigated in a blog post for the TLS. Chances are it’s just any other Caesar.
Historical sources about even emperors are always up for interpretation. I’ve always been fond of the poem Hadrian is said to have written on his deathbed:
Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos...
P. Aelius Hadrianus Imp.
Roving amiable little soul,
Body's companion and guest,
Now descending for parts
Colourless, unbending, and bare
Your usual distractions no more shall be there...
Whether this is genuine or not, I’m still rather partial to it.