What quality or qualities of Antinous do you find the most troubling?
One of the issues that challenges Polytheists who follow a reconstructionist methodology is finding that balance between accurately reconstructing and respecting ancient practices and putting that devotional practice into use in our modern world and modern culture. It seems like it’s a natural human tendency to romanticize the past. Everyone wants to go back to the 1950’s to live in a world like the one depicted in Leave it Beaver, right? Things were simpler. People were kinder. Life was better. Or was it? What that rosy nostalgia leaves out is the experience of lots of people who weren’t straight white men. Women were the property of men, racism was openly accepted, and gays, lesbians, and trans folk were either closeted or lived in fear of their lives. Much like that nostalgic view of America in the 1950’s, sometimes Pagans and Polytheists wear those rose colored glasses when looking at ancient religious practices. We sometimes want to romanticize ancient practices, attitudes, and customs. However, I believe that society has progressed in some important ways with regards to some things, particularly how we treat women, people of color, children, and the poor. There are some modern attitudes worth keeping.
Ironically, one of the aspects or qualities that comes into play with Antinous that some might find troubling is connected to one of the aspects I discussed yesterday that first drew me to him: his homoerotic relationship with Hadrian. While there is much to celebrate in that relationship, by today’s standards, that relationship would be considered illegal, not because the relationship was a romantic or sexual one between two people of the same gender, but rather, because of the age differences between Hadrian and Antinous. Hadrian would have possibly been around 47 or so when he met Antinous, and was 54 when Antinous died. It is unclear exactly how old Antinous was, but we know he was in his teens when he became Hadrian’s companion, and possibly as old as 18 or 19 when he died. Which means that for most of their relationship Antinous was a teenage boy having a romantic and sexual relationship with a man who was well into adulthood. To be sure, this erastes/eromenos relationship, which was an erotic relationship between an adult male (the erastes) and a younger male (the eromenos), was not unusual in Classical Greece and Rome, and would not have been considered taboo or inappropriate. However, it should be pointed out that even within the Greek and Roman cultures where the erastes/eromenos relationship existed, there were complex rules of social and sexual etiquette that defined these relationships. It simply is not accurate to portray them as the same type of relationships that most modern gay men experience. If such a relationship existed today, where a 50 year old man with considerable social and political power were having a sexual relationship with a 16 year old, it would most certainly be universally condemned and labeled as child molestation. What are we to do with this relationship between Hadrian and Antinous, then? Are we to denounce it? Again, within the context of when and where Antinous and Hadrian were living, the erastes/eromenos relationship would not have been considered unusual or unethical. These two individuals engaged in a relationship that was socially accepted, and even celebrated. Practices must surely be judged within the time, place, and culture they are a part of. So we honor their relationship and also celebrate it. But what about today? Are we saying that this type of relationship should be perfectly acceptable and practiced today? Once again, we must look to time, place, and culture. As I stated earlier, there are some positive ways that society has progressed and changed. We no longer treat women as property. We strive to treat people of all races and ethnicities with respect and equality. And we have come to understand that sexual relationships where there is a power imbalance are often abusive and harmful to those who are in a position of less power. We also have different ideas of what consent means and even who can give consent. Can a teenager truly give consent to have a sexual relationship with an adult who stands in a position of power over him? Most would answer no, and understand that type of sexual relationship to be unethical and improper. And so, while the Ekklesia Antinoou holds up the historical homoerotic relationship between Hadrian and Antinous and declares it beautiful, we also do not support any type of modern sexual relationships between an adult and a minor child or teenager.