31 Days of Devotion, Day 29

What is something you wish you knew about this deity but don’t yet?

Unfortunately, one of the things that many of us in devotion to Antinous wish we knew about him is something that we’ll likely never know, not with any certainty at least, namely, what were the circumstances of his death? There has been speculation about this since his death and deification, but nothing we can say for certain to be true. There were only a couple of references even then, and they swiftly became outrageous with each telling.

“During a journey on the Nile he lost Antinous, his favourite, and for this youth he wept like a woman. Concerning this incident there are varying rumours; for some claim that he had devoted himself to death for Hadrian, and others — what both his beauty and Hadrian’s sensuality suggest.” Augusta Historia Hadrian (14.5-6):

“Antinous was from Bithynium, a city of Bithynia, which we also call Claudiopolis; he had been a favourite of the emperor and had died in Egypt, either by falling into the Nile, as Hadrian writes, or, as the truth is, by being offered in sacrifice. For Hadrian, as I have stated, was always very curious and employed divinations and incantations of all kinds. Accordingly, he honoured. Antinous, either because of his love for him or because the youth had voluntarily undertaken to die (it being necessary that a life should be surrendered freely for the accomplishment of the ends Hadrian had in view), by building a city on the spot where he had suffered this fate and naming it after him; and he also set up statues, or rather sacred images, of him, practically all over the world.” Dio Cassius (69.11)

He either fell into the Nile and drowned, as Hadrian was said to believe, or he had devoted himself to death and was offered in sacrifice for the sake of Hadrian’s health or the health of the empire (i.e. so that the inundation of the Nile could come and bring fertility to the land). Or, as was insinuated in the Augusta Historia (‘what both his beauty and Hadrian’s sensuality suggest’), Antinous killed himself because his station in life as the emperor’s favorite was due to end, as his youth and beauty faded.

Now, there are some things that I would prefer to believe about his death, that it was simply a tragic accident, and not some grisly sacrifice or despairing suicide. Would knowing the true circumstances change my devotion to him? That’s hard to say. So much of what I know and love about Antinous is from what occurred after his death, so perhaps it doesn’t matter. But, it would be nice to know regardless, for every bit of knowledge increases our understanding and appreciation of our god. In this matter, though, the world may never know.

We shall never know.  His death, as his life, was his own, and all that we can know is that darkness took him, and that he ceased.

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