Elagabalus Consults His Soothsayer

You must, Soothsayer, probe into Rome’s mind
And speak of any hidden threats you find.
Your Emperor commands you: show your skill
Lest I subject you to my godlike will!
In confidence, I come to you afraid
That perfidy may soon leave me betrayed!
I must know! Is Rome’s love for me enduring?
And just as grave: Do you find me alluring?

Of course you do! I share the sun-god’s rays.
You blush! That you’re too shy to meet my gaze
Is proof you find me regally attractive.
In my pursuit of flesh I’m boldly active
At banquets, brothels, even in the palace
Where I can say (with not one shred of malice)
My skills are far superior to any
In acts of love. And there have been so many!

I’ve conquered men and girls… But I digress.
Rome’s senators are causing me distress.
That group of dreary geezers I dislike
May well incite my enemies to strike!
I must know: will they seek to take my life?
And Hierocles… Will I become his wife?
You think it strange your Emperor should crave
To couple with his muscled, handsome slave?

Don’t judge me! Fat patricians all day long
Forget that Roman legions make me strong.
Men mock me as “an ornamental Syrian”
When I am firstborn to the god Hyperion!
One noble dared say I’m too fey and young
To be Rome’s ruler. How that insult stung!
Since my divinity is bona fide,
I took his lands and had him crucified.

The senators of Rome are strangely grave,
Resenting the advancement of my slave—
Brave Hierocles, the man who stole my heart
And makes me yearn to play a lady’s part.
I call him Caesar, he calls me his Queen.
He lets me play the girl I should have been.
I’ve offered surgeons gold and full regalia,
If they can craft me female genitalia.

Admit it! I’m exotic and bring style
To Rome, like Cleopatra of the Nile.
I serve the sun-god Elagabalus
And am at least as fair and fabulous!
So why should those who helped me grab Rome’s throne
Demand that I no longer rule alone?
They’re forcing me (I whisper this in candor)
To share the throne with Severus Alexander.

My younger cousin shall not rule my lands!
A dagger, poison or a strangler’s hands
Will halt this threat. Still… I have heard a rumor
My guards prefer him, calling me a tumor
To be removed. That’s blasphemously odd
When I’m adored and worshiped as a god!
I’ll make them sorry—sorry to their marrow
That they do not respect their Roman pharaoh!

But what of you, Soothsayer? Speak the truth.
Are you not drawn to me? My charms? My youth?
Tonight I plan to play a winsome whore
For soldierly young men in games of war.
Come join me, priestess, lest you breach my trust!
(Do not presume to show me your disgust.)
For one night let our sacred stars align.
To hell with Rome. Come! Let us share some wine!



Poet’s note: Elagabalus (204 A.D. – 222 A.D.), who became Emperor of Rome at the age of 14, was assassinated four years later by his Praetorian Guards on March 12, 222 A.D. After he and his mother were set upon with knives, he was beheaded, his body stripped naked, dragged about Rome and finally dumped into the Tiber.



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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32 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Masterful presentation of an odious subject (for me). The footnote really puts it all in clear perspective. Great choice of words and wonderful rhyme. I particularly loved the use of words like “perfidy” and “fey.” The “dreary geezers” echos what some of the Roman Senators were considered by other Caesars. Bringing in “ornamental Syrian” and “Cleopatra of the Nile” were great choices.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you, Roy. It is a somewhat odious subject, isn’t it? And yet Elagabalus lived. Personally, given his wretched character and morals, I do not think he deserves to be considered the hero that the trans community has made of him.

  2. Mark Stellinga

    Brian, as nearly every facet of transgenderism has been around since *forever*, your assessment fits in perfectly with what we’re experiencing today. It’s getting tougher by the month to come up with themes that address less unsavory issues. Great job, sir, on a meaningful subject.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Mark. While gender dysphoria may well be part of the human condition and probably has already existed, I believe it to be a vanishingly rare diagnosis which has been dramatically conflated into a virtual epidemic by an irresponsible and/or opportunistic medical establishment and breathlessly supported by social media, mainstream media and liberal politicians because it is “the current thing.” I shudder to think of the magnitude of the numbers who have gone misdiagnosed.

      • Cynthia Erlandson

        I agree, Brian — and not only because it is the current thing, but also because it is a money maker for butchers.
        Wonderful poem. I agree with Roy about your great vocabulary and rhymes.

      • Brian A Yapko

        Yes, Cynthia, you’re absolutely right. It’s a huge industry now. Something truly despicable has been unleashed, and it’s not freedom or self-expression. It’s self-denial of the deepest sort with this ultimately self-sabotaging idea that bodies and gender are fungible.

        Thank you very much for the kind words about the poem!

      • A.E. Ayrapetyan

        I disagree. Why should we assume transgenderism is rare? Who are you to decide if someone is “faking” or “being genuine?” Why wouldn’t it make sense to say that transgenderism has always been relatively prevalent and it has just been suppressed and trans voices have always simply been censored? It’s certainly looked down upon by many, even to this day. I don’t see why someone would willingly become transgender. I don’t see why someone would willingly become part of a marginalized group. If you are arguing that it gives a sense of community and stability, so do many other things. Many people are part of the church because it provides them with exactly those things. Many people consume certain types of media including certain music and join subcultures because of just that. Yet, you are not out here criticizing those people. You’re only criticizing transgender people. Which, personally, I find quite strange. It is not as easy as you may think to obtain hormones and is even more difficult yet to get the green light to have gender-affirming surgical operations performed. Why must you doubt the professional opinions of medically licensed psychiatrists who have undergone years of study and go against them? What would you suggest would be the solution to this perceived “epidemic?” I simply cannot see how one can come to such a conclusion without just ignoring everything laid in front of them in order to support their skewed world view.

  3. Norma Pain

    A most enlightening education for me Brian, along with perfect rhyme and meter. Thank you.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    What a magnificent dramatic monologue! The voice of this sick and perverted emperor, talking to his silent soothsayer — and how terrifying in the implied threats, the fey narcisssism, the sexual promiscuity, and the sheer cruelty that marked this little trannie freak. He so disgusted everyone in Rome that his own grandmother arranged for his assassination by the Praetorian Guard.

    The rhymes are stellar: marrow/pharaoh, Syrian/Hyperion, candor/Alexander, rumor/tumor… phonetically perfect, and perfect in their fit to the narrative. That is no easy feat to pull off in a 64-line poem in eight stanzas of heroic couplets.

    I also note in this poem an important symptom of this kind of sexual perversion — the desperate need to be found attractive by everyone around you, and to solicit them for physical intimacy.

    Robert Browning might have composed a dramatic monologue like this if he hadn’t been living in Victorian times. The subject would have been too shocking back then.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, Joe. The goal was to try to describe the human horror that was Elagabalus in a voice which made his lack of self awareness his most horrifying quality of all.

      I’m exceedingly pleased with the comparison to Browning who is a poet who did not shy away from speaking in the voice of unsavory characters: The Bishop Orders His Tomb, Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, Caliban Upon Setebos. Sometimes there is no happy ending. Unlike some of my other dramatic monologues, in my Elagabalus poem there is no flash of insight or possibility of change in the speaker’s character — nor can there be. He goes to his grave never realizing how awful he is. The reader’s judgment against this callow, callous man and this type are, ultimately, the point of the poem — a character study of someone no one wants to know. Except, perhaps, for those who now lionize him as a misunderstood standard bearer.

  5. Tiree MacGregor

    Mr. Yapko, I hope you’ll forgive my saying that you’ve handled the subject matter so exquisitely that I feel nauseated. The moral and psychological horror that was Elagabalus is superbly rendered.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Tiree (please call me Brian.) It’s rare that I would consider making someone nauseated from my poetry to be a good thing but I’ll take this as one of the exceptions! Yes, he was indeed a moral and psychological horror.

  6. Geoffrey S.

    I have to take a bath after reading this poem. Some of the rhymes made me laugh out loud, regalia/genitalia, Syrian/Hyperion, Elagabalus/fabulous. It’s like reading Tacitus’s Annals of Imperial Rome and reminding oneself that human nature hasn’t changed a jot or a tittle in at least twenty-five hundred years.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much for this hilarious comment, Geoffrey. A bath indeed! There was so much unclean about that young man (it’s sometimes hard to remember he was only a teenager!) I’m glad you enjoyed the rhymes and I agree with you fully: human nature has not changed in the least. Without a strong moral compass we too easily fall into depravity.

    • Brian A Yapko

      You ain’t kidding, Cheryl. I’m left to wonder: how does such depravity become possible? Who tolerates it and when is enough enough?

  7. C.B. Anderson

    Just, Wow! Brian. Joe Salemi covered most of the salient virtues of this poem, and I can only add that it is not the kind of poem one can stop reading.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much indeed, C.B. I do try to keep my work from getting boring so I’m glad you couldn’t put it down!

  8. Sally Cook

    Dear Brian —

    An excellent poem, and thank you!
    When in college I noticed this type of person would always claim of anyone well known that they were homosexual. Had I listened to them I would have thought deviancy was a prerequisite for creativity! Is that the next onslaught The Wokesters have in store for us, or did they start with it?
    Shades of Walt Whitman.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you very much, Sally! I’m not much of a Walt Whitman fan. But I am quite confident that deviancy is not a prerequisite for creativity! A character which embraces discipline and hard work, however, are.

  9. Paul Freeman

    An excellent show-don’t-tell portrait.

    By immersing himself, in the 1st person, in the historical character portrayed, Brian has made the young emperor appear all the more despicable and debauched.

    This is difficult to achieve, and I imagine mentally exhausting. Very few writers could manage this.

    Hats off to you, Brian.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Paul, I’m thrilled with this generous comment. Thank you! Yes, I have to say that getting in Elagabalus’s head in this case was exhausting and gross. Thank you for recognizing that writing something like this definitely takes its toll on the poet.

  10. Joshua C. Frank

    Brian, this is another of your really great first-person poems! Not only are the rhymes original, but it provides an insight into the thought process of today’s trans people, what with the narcissism and the “to Hell with Rome” attitude that’s both a cause and a symptom of our culture’s decay. It must have been quite difficult to write from the perspective of such an odious speaker. Well done!

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you so much, Josh! You understand precisely what I was aiming for — a character study and critique of a soul-sick, narcissistic, debauched individual who is astonishingly modern in his depravity. One of the things that inspired me to write this odious poem in the voice of an odious speaker is the fact that he is now being considered a sadly misunderstood transgender hero. Just for kicks, take a look at what they are selling to our children nowadays.


      Yes, the transgender heroes coloring book. One of these “heroes” is Elagabalus. Josh, you can’t make this stuff up. Here’s hoping my poem helps knock that human-horror off the pedestal trans people are putting him on.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I notice that Amazon also lists “The Butch Lesbian Coloring Book,” “The Queer Heroes Coloring Book,” “The Trans Affirmation Coloring Book,” “The Gay Agenda Coloring Book,” and several other titles of the same ilk. All of these books are for children.

        Are any of you out there still in favor of “diversity” and “inclusion”? That’s the kind of moral poison that dog-whistle words like diversity and inclusion produce.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Meanwhile, they won’t let you sell a book contrary to the trans agenda. “When Harry Became Sally” was pulled off their shelves in 2021, and similar anti-LGBT books have been given the same treatment.

        I hear 80% of books are now sold by Amazon. This is what they do with their power. Sickening.

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, your poetry goes from strength to strength. Your gift for portraying historical characters is admirable… I could feel the stone-cold chill of Elagabalus’s fetid breath on my neck after reading the first three stanzas. His presence grew stronger from there on in, leaving my brain abuzz with the horrors inflicted by one so young.

    The poem is written in smooth, mellifluous language with excellent employment of linguistic tools. The end rhymes are superb and the subtle use of internal rhyme is a triumph. As ever, none of this detracts from the message.

    For me, that message speaks of the depravities of today – our sick society’s burning urge to foist choices concerning sex and gender on children as young as three; pushing dangerous puberty blockers on pre-pubescent children; mutilating minors’ bodies before they’ve had a chance to explore their sexuality because they’re not adults!

    This poem also tells me that age plays a huge role in behavior. Elagabalus was indisputably wicked and with the brief protection of his elevated and unchallenged status, he wreaked havoc. Our current government is labeling parents ‘terrorists’ for wanting pornographic reading material banned from school libraries and for objecting to drag-queens reading to their children in schools. Parents have been imprisoned for ‘mis-gendering’ their child. We are removing parental rights surrounding a child’s gender-choice, and destroying the boundaries that keep children safe, especially from rash decisions during sensitive and difficult years. This is precisely why history is important. It helps to highlight the atrocities of today’s society. Your excellent poem is a great medium for allowing the reader to see through the glossed-on smile and coquettish eyelash fluttering of grown men (yes men in woman-face) giving sex/gender lessons to our kids.

    Brian, your poem stands alone as a superb dramatic monologue, but for me (more importantly) it stands as a stark warning to all those who think it’s okay to mess with the minds and bodies of children… to give them full power over rash and irreversible decisions before they’re mentally able to do so. Thank you very much indeed! Never stop shedding poetic light on the evildoers – it serves to remind us of the horrors of ill deeds in a world that doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Susan, I am so grateful for your comment — thank you! I appreciate the kind words about the construction of the poem, of course (not easy to create a story like this in heroic couplets and keep it from getting wooden or sing-songy.) But far more important is the message that I’m glad you understood so readily — this is about documenting depravity — not just in the Ancient World but as it exists today. There is not one character flaw that Elagabalus exhibits that does not have a corollary in the narcissism of a woke culture which treats bodies as either commodities or as fungible objects to be customized or altered or accessorized rather than as sacred gifts from God — whether it’s the removal of a toe that interferes with a pair of designer shoes or the removal of a teenage girl’s breasts. It’s all part of a deep soul-sickness that infects much of modern culture. God forbid that these soul-sick individuals be encouraged to have a spiritual life, a relationship with a Higher Power, that they find the deep emotional solutions that have given courage and valor and solace to hurting individuals for two thousand years. No, leftism triages spiritual solutions to everything as being either nonsensical or dangerous. And this type of mass insanity — and mass misery — is the result. Today’s society says better to twist humanity through a trans meat-grinder — with “gender-affirming care, surgeries, hormones, deep resentment at society and their own bodies — and have everyone pay the price for their soul-sickness rather than encourage them to come to terms with their Creator.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Susan, well said! I couldn’t have expressed it better myself! Only, I’m not sure today’s world doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong; if that were the case, why would it consistently reward wrong and punish right?

      Jesus tells us: “If the world hate you, know that it hath hated Me first.”

  12. Yael

    Thank you very much Brian for the superb history lesson in this delightfully crafted poem. I had never heard of this particular Roman Emperor before and it seems I wasn’t missing a whole lot, but I’m glad I got to read about him in your poem. This is probably the most savory way to meet this unsavory character.

    • Brian A Yapko

      Thank you so much, Yael, for this kind comment! He was indeed deeply unsavory! But rather memorable (for all the wrong reasons) despite a mere 4-year reign.


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