“He lost his Antinous while sailing along the Nile and wept for him like a woman. Concerning this, there are various reports: some assert that he sacrificed himself for Hadrian, others what both his beauty and Hadrian’s excessive sensuality make obvious.”( from the Historia Augusta)
It was a monumental folly. South of Rome, the emperor Hadrian constructed a vast labyrinth of rooms, gardens, fountains, and colonnades. It was the largest, most luxurious, and certainly the most peculiar memorial ever left behind by a single man.
Next door to a huge garden was an area known as the Fishpond Quadriportico. Here, a large pond, possibly it was a swimming pool, was enclosed by a quadriportico built on two levels. The upper level was a roofed colonnade and the lower, below ground level but lit by high up windows, was a cool and airy tunnel for walking on hot days. his architectural caprice, known as a cryptoportico, was a favorite with Hadrian. Psychologists , attempting to analyze the Emperor across the centuries, have said that his love for shadowy places, of the interplay of light and shade, and of the inconstant constancy of running water, indicates a tendency to restlessness, ambivalence , even schizophrenia. They point out also that the Villa is schizophrenically planned; it has no harmony as a whole but is divided into aesthetically unrelated complexes. Each building is oriented to sun and view rather than to its neighbors.
If certain aspects of the Villa seem to indicate that hadrian was eccentric, others are monuments to his genius. For example, a certain room in the ”Bath Complex” is regarded as one of the wonders of modern architecture : its walls form an octagon, with alternately straight and convex sides, and its ceiling once soared dizzily for nine free-flying yards; a distance never achieved before and rarely since. Now, only a skeletal remnant of the vaults remains, and where rhe bathers used to congregate, great chunks of fallen masonry lie like burned out meteorites.
Hadrian had always had a restless spirit. He began sightseeing and traveling at an early age; first leaving his native Roman province for Rome in A.D. 86, on the death of his father, and was educated there under the supervision of his two guardians, one of whom was Trajan, at that time an important military commander. Hadrian’s tutors were Greek , and they inspired him with a lifelong love for Greek culture; his schoolmates called him the ”Greekling” . When he grew up, Athens, not Rome , was his favorite city, and most of his Villa is of Greek derivation.
At fifteen Hadrian returned to Spain, and at nineteen began his long public career by serving as a tribune at the particular section of the Roman frontier that is now Budapest. Three years later, in A.D. 98, Trajan succeeded Nerva as emperor, and in A.D. 100 Hadrian was married to Sabina, Trajan’s great-niece and nearest living relative. It was generally assumed that Hadrian would succeed Trajan, but Trajan lived seventeen more years and not until he was on his deathbed did he make Hadrian his official adopted son and heir.
Hadrian had no son. His closest favorite was a young man named Antinous, and there are those who see in the Villa much evidence of Hadrian’s devotion to him. Statues of Antinous seem to have been there by the dozens. The childless and unhappily married Emperor, at any rate, put all his tremendous energies into work and continual activity. until he was well into his fifties, an old man, by Roman standards, he went on traveling, often marching great distances and sleeping in the open. From Scotland to the Euphrates, from the Rhine to the deserts of North Africa, everywhere he went he collected; not only objects but ideas. And one can imagine that during this time he amused himself by planning the great Villa that was to be an end-of-the-road for all his traveling and collecting.