Dover’s work enabled scholars 40 years ago to explain – even ‘excuse’ – the behaviour of the Roman emperor Hadrian. Eight years after visiting Londinium he founded an entire city in Egypt, in honour of his beloved male sexual partner Antinous, who drowned in the Nile in 130 CE. Hadrian, it was argued, was simply a devotee of Greek culture, who could openly adopt traditional modes of sexual behaviour in places such as Greece or Egypt, but not in the West. We now know that even if this was true, it is at best only a partial explanation.
Hadrian may well have been gay (in the modern sense of being only attracted to other men ). In public he treated his wife Sabina with respect, but we shall never know if they had a sexual relationship. Certainly their long marriage produced no children. And whereas most Roman emperors were repeatedly lambasted for promiscuity with both girls and boys, there is just one, very mild, reference to Hadrian having an adulterous affair with a married woman.