Pudicus Atque Lascivus: The Sensuality of the Emperor Hadrian as Represented in His Poetry

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Dr. Charles O'Dahl


Peter Buhler


Linda Marie Zaerr


Sympathetic, caring, congenial, sensual, and spiritual in addition to being rugged, strong charismatic, influential, and determined, the Emperor Hadrian is more fully realized than commonly perceived. Adjectives of the first sort more appropriately describe the entire character of an Emperor who sought peace in his empire, and who, preferred to secure the frontiers of an empire rather than extend them. As Hadrian traveled throughout the Roman empire, he sought a spiritual meaning for his own life and for the people of the empire, and unifying force to unite his beloved eastern part of the world with his native west.

Beyond the physical accomplishments, Hadrian also proved himself capable in the writing of poetry. His love poems have often been trivialized, scorned as being prosaic or of little value in the world of poetry. Yet, a new image of Hadrian emerges through his poetry—a man of sensual character, who while burdened with the demands of state, preferred to strive for a lasting, tranquil reality of human sensual character.

Previous examinations of Hadrian have focused on his leadership abilities and his fortifying works, with sometimes only trivial mention of his ability in poetry. But, the ancient sources describe Hadrian, albeit sometimes with an unendearing note, in ways that when analyzed together with his poetry, allows a different Hadrian to emerge.

I have examined five poems of Hadrian’s: four Latin and one in Greek. I have concentrated on reading these poems, and thus translating them in light of the extant works that consider the life of Hadrian, and paying due regard to his relationship with his beloved. The poems range from flippant, yet endearing, response to a friend, to a hopeful wish for the sons of Troy, to the ever-appealing, sad and haunting, yet alluring poem from Hadrian’s deathbed.

By looking at all aspects of Hadrian’s life--including his sour relationship with his wife, his happy relationship with his beloved, Antinoüs, and a number of other intimate relationships—a Hadrian emerges that is not merely the capable soldier and emperor, but the sensual man who had a compassion for his soldiers, his people and his loved ones

It is from an examination of his poetry in this way, that Hadrian can be applauded for his sensuality, for his insight into human nature, and his insight into the longing of the spirit for something that the physical cannot provide.

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