Illustrated introduction to Michelangelo, £9.99
Male intimacy in Classical Athens
This cup shows scenes of an elite male drinking party in Athens from around 485-480 BC. Guests lie and sit on couches and are served by boys.
Sexual relationships between males are particularly associated with fifth to fourth century BC Athens, the time of Plato and the temple of Athena known as the Parthenon. The ideal was that the younger partner should not be more than 20, and the older partner not older than 40. There is, however, also evidence for relationships between adult males, and life was much more varied than this ideal.
Male intimacy in Rome
While to modern viewers, images of a young man with a boy (probably aged between 13 and 16) are highly controversial, Roman society found the age difference essential for making the relationship acceptable.
A Roman man was free to choose sexual partners of either gender. The Romans believed men should be dominant, both socially and sexually, so as long as a man remained the active partner in any sexual encounter, his masculinity and status was not in question.
This cup was bought by the American art collector Edward Perry Warren (1860-1928). He referred to it as the 'holy grail' and treasured its vivid portrayal of the acceptance of same-sex love.
Hadrian and Antinuous: an imperial romance
The reign of the Emperor Hadrian (76–138 AD) was marked by military campaigns and imperial building projects, including the famous wall across the north of England.
He married into the imperial family, but in his early 50s he met a Greek youth in what is now modern Turkey, possibly during a tour of the province in AD 123. Named Antinous, the young manbecame the emperor’s lover.
During a later imperial tour of Egypt in AD 130, Antinous drowned in the Nile and Hadrian is said to have been distraught and ‘wept like a woman’. His devotion to Antinous led him to establish a city named Antinopolis close to the Nile where he died.
He also made Antinous into a god - not unusual for members of the emperor's family, but unheard of for such a low born person. Hadrian commemorated his beloved in huge numbers of statues, figures, portraits and coins across the known roman world.
More information about the objects featured here: