What a thrill to hold the actual book in my hands! After years of research and gatecrashing classics conferences, I have to resist the urge to cradle it. Rufius would not be impressed with any maternal petting. Instead I cheekily squeezed him in between Vidal’s Julian and Graves’ The Claudius Novels … Catullus within kissing distance on the book shelf.
Classicists will recognise the statue on the cover as the Farnese statue of Hercules … or maybe not, as it’s usually Hercules’ front on show, not his arse. The Farnese Hercules is probably a copy made in the early third century AD from a 4th century BC original. The enlarged copy was made for the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (dedicated in 216 AD).
Jason Anscomb, designer extraordinaire from Rawshock Design stretched Hercules’ buttocks, as Rufius is not quite as slim of hip as Hercules. We got rid of the beard as cinaedi were as smooth as boys – facial hair was out. He also erased, at my request, one of the three apples of Hesperides (the collective name for the nymphs of the evening) to make it more suggestive of one of the novel’s themes: ancient Roman sexuality and gender identity. Rufius couldn’t have been further from Hercules who, even in this unusual weary pose with the pelt of the Neamean lion thrown over his club, represents the hard Roman ideal of what a man should aspire to. Pumping iron was commonplace, as it is for the body conscious in gyms today. Not for Rufius. He would have swooned at the mere prospect of breaking a sweat. Cinaedi might be represented as a cross between modern day transgender, flamboyant gay queens of 50s London and the eunuch priests of Cybele – or that’s how Rufius is depicted in the novel.
Jason did not work from a photo of Rufius. Barbican Press wanted a souvenir of Rufius at their London office and so Martin Goodman ordered a replica of Caracalla’s 3rd century copy. The statue was shipped from Israel to Hassocks where Jason lives on the South Downs. Jason waited for a sunny day when he could photograph Hercules in natural light. Martin got carried away by his muse and asked Jason if the novel title and author name could be stuck on to the body of the statue – instead of being photoshopped – in order to maintain the contours of the statue’s body. Hence it also needed to be a dry day, so the paper letters wouldn’t turn to mush. Finally the British weather brightened up. The effect of sunlight illuminating the marble is striking.