Observant readers might recognize this title, and remember that there was once a report of a journey to the Getty Center in the City of Angels that promised a sequel (a “part one” does beg a “part two”, after all). Well, here it is! Apologies for the great delay. I’ve never really developed a strong writing ethic, I’m afraid, so this essay languished in my notes for many moons.
NOTE: All photographs were taken by © Jay Logan , and all captions for museum exhibit pieces were adapted from text from the exhibit itself, which were photographed during the visit.
My journey in the Getty Center’s exhibit “Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World” began and ended with Antinous, as one might expect since he was the raison d’etre for my trip, but I actually do mean this literally. His face was the first thing I saw upon entering, for it was his face on the cover of the exhibition book, which was prominently displayed in the gift shoppe at the entrance to the exhibit (which, let me tell ya, is not fair and very distracting! So many pretties….). And his bust was front and center in the last exhibit; journey’s end, the heart of the labyrinth. But what of the journey?
One of the things the exhibit did beautifully was capture the context from which Antinous grew. He was not the first mortal to be worshipped as a god, by any means. Outside the realm of myth, Alexander the Great beat him to that by several centuries. There was also the Ptolemies, the dynasty that took over rule of Egypt after Alexander, who apparently all received divine honors upon their own deaths. And while the Hellenistic period is depicted as being highly syncretic and cosmopolitan (and it was), it was just the latest in a long line of cultural exchange and mixing that occurred between Egypt and the rest of the world. The exhibit took a serpentine route from Egypt’s beginnings through to its diverse interactions with the Mediterranean world.
Bowl Dedicated by Sostratos to Aphrodite; Greek, made on Chios, 610-600 BCE; found in Naukratis, Egypt
Tjayasetimu, an Egyptian Priest; Dynasty 26, 664-610 BCE
Kouros (Youth); Greek, c. 520 BCE, found in a sanctuary to Apollo in Ptoon, Boeotia, in central Greece
Sarcophagus of Wahibreemakhet; Egyptian, Dynasty 26, c. 600 BC. The hieroglyphic inscription on this large sarcophagus identifies the deceased as Wahibreemakhet, a high official who held the title of Royal Sealer. Although he bears an Egyptian name and was buried in the manner of an important Egyptian courtier, the names of his father and mother, Alexikles and Zenodote, are Greek. He was likely born in Egypt to immigrant parents, and his father may have been a military commander in the service of Psamtik (ruled 664-610 BCE)
Funerary Relief with a Carian Inscription; Egyptian, Dynasty 26, 575-526 BCE; found in Saqqara, Egypt. Carians from southwest Asia Minor were among the foreigners fighting alongside Greeks in the Egyptian army. This funerary relief found in Saqqara (the necropolis of Memphis, Egypt) belonged to a Carian woman, who is identified as Piabrm, daughter of Usol. The carved scenes display a combination of Egyptian and Greek images. The upper and central registers include a winged solar disk and the Egyptian deities Osiris, Isis, Thoth, and the Apis bull. The bottom register shows the body of the deceased laid out on a couch in the Greek manner, attended by mourners.
Head of Alexander the Great; Ptolemaic, c. 200 BCE, found in Egypt. When Ptolemy I pronounced himself king of Egypt in 305 BCE, he established a cult to the deified Alexander the Great (ruled 336-323 BCE), whose posthumous portraits were displayed throughout the country.
Relief with Cartouches of Alexander the Great; Ptolemaic, 323-305 BCE. Alexander the Great asserted the legitimacy of his rule in Egypt by being depicted as a pharaoh in Egyptian temples. This relief fragment, probably from the temple of the god Thoth at Hermopolis Magna, preserves part of his traditional pharaonic titulary, consisting of multiple names. Two identical cartouches on the left contain his Egyptian royal name, “Chosen One of Re and Beloved of the God Amun,” while those on the right provide his personal name, “Alexander,” rendered phonetically in hieroglyphs. The rest of the inscription reads, “King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Lord of the Two Lands.”
Relief with Arsinoe II, Ptolemaic, c. 180 BCE. Arsinoe II reigned as queen with her brother-husband Ptolemy II (ruled 285-246 BCE). They were worshipped as the Theoi Adelphoi (Sibling Gods), and after her death in 270 BCE the king instituted a special cult for her throughout Egypt. In this relief from a temple probably in Memphis, she wears an elaborate crown that was created specifically for her and adopted by later Ptolemaic queens. The hieroglyphic inscriptions, “Arsinoe, daughter of Amun” and “beloved of the gods,” suggest that this is a posthumous image.
At the time, I had been reading Laura Tempest Zakroff‘s latest book on Sigil Witchery, which takes an artist’s approach to seeing and crafting sigils. As a result I found my eye being drawn to the variety of motifs and symbols on the ancient artwork, often getting quite close to the artifacts in question to get a good look, seeing how they were represented and depicted. I also found myself drawn to the grave stele and statues of various priests. I felt…a kinship to them, in a way that I’ve never really thought of before, often feeling moved to address them as Brother and Sister. This was probably due in large part to my recent elevation to the third degree in my Wiccan tradition, which among other things denotes being a Tradition Keeper, and which coincided with my own personal acknowledgement and acceptance of the role as a Priest of Antinous; not something I say lightly. That’s what I am, though, and that’s what I do – the priestly work of the Beautiful Boy. It was inspiring, and a delight, to see so many faces (and torsos!) of fellow Greco-Egyptian priests and priestesses.
Torso of a Priest Wearing a Leopard Skin; Egyptian, Dynasties 25-26, 700-600 BCE; found in the Temple of Hera on Samos. As early as the mid-seventh century BCE, Greeks returning to their homes from Egypt brought back objects to be dedicated in sanctuaries. Some votives found in Greece, however, may have been donated by Egyptians. The pharaoh Amasis II (ruled 570-527 BCE) himself was renowned for giving valuable works to temples on the Greek islands of Samos and Rhodes. This torso was one of many Egyptian bronze offerings deposited on Samos.
Statue of a Priest or Official; Ptolemaic or Romano-Egyptian, 50 BCE-50 CE; found in Soknopaiou Nesos in the Fayyum. This portrait is notable for its strong features, including prominent ears, a square jaw, and a firmly set mouth. The highly stylized hair is incised in short horizontal rows. This man wears a three-part garment with a fringed skirt and shawl and crosses his left arm over his torso. His attire and pose, as well as his youthful appearance, are common in portraits of priests and officials carved in the first century BCE and early first century CE.
Torso of Harchebi (Archibios); Ptolemaic, 170-116 BCE. Harchebi was an Egyptian priest who served as dioiketes (finance minister) during the reign of Ptolemy VIII (170-116 BCE). He wears a traditional three-part kilt and holds both arms tightly at his sides, clenching rolls of cloth, a sign of status. The relief scene at the top of the inscribed back pillar shows him making offerings to the gods of Mendes, in the eastern Nile Delta: Harpokrates, the Ram of Mendes, and Hatmehyt. The hieroglyphic inscription on his belt provides his Egyptian name as well as its Greek form, Archibios. As a high official in the Ptolemaic administration, he used both names in performing his duties within a bilingual society.
Gravestone of Alexandra, Priestess of Isis. Roman, made in Athens, 125-150 CE; found in the Kerameikos Cemetery, Athens. An Athenian priestess of Isis is shown in the guise of the goddess. The Greek inscription identifies her as “Alexandra, of the deme of Oe, wife of Ktetos.” Her curled tresses, long-sleeved tunic, and fringed mantle crossed over the chest resemble Isis’s hairstyle and attire. She carries objects associated with the deity’s cult – a situla (ritual vessel) and a sistrum (rattle, now missing).
Relief with Snake-Bodied Deities. Romano-Egyptian, 30 BCE-100 CE. Two deities with human heads and serpent bodies intertwine their tails. They each wear a crown in the form of a grain measure, emphasizing their agrarian significance. The bearded figure on the left is probably Agathos Daimon (Good Demon), divine guardian of the city of Alexandria in Egypt, who was also associated with the god Serapis. The figure on the right is the goddess Isis in her manifestation as protector of the harvest, known as Thermuthis.
Head of Serapis. Roman, c. 200 CE; found in Walbrook, City of London. Worship of the god Serapis, the consort of Isis, spread from Egypt to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. This marble head was discovered in the Temple of Mithras in London in 1954. It may have been dedicated there when the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (ruled 193-211 CE) visited the city in 208 CE. The North African-born ruler particularly revered Serapis and styled his own portraiture on the deity’s appearance.
Isis with the Infant Horus. Roman, 131-138 CE; found in Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, Italy. The goddess Isis, wearing a solar disk and cow horns, offers her breast to the infant Horus. The sculpture is carved from Egyptian granite in a traditional, rigidly frontal style that dates back to eighth century BCE.
Relief with Isis. Greek, 250-150 BCE; found in Dion, Macedonia, Greece. The goddess Isis began to be worshipped outside Egypt during the Ptolemaic period (323-30 BCE). In this relief from Macedonia, she is depicted as a fertility deity equated with the Greek goddess Demeter. She holds a sheaf of wheat and a scepter decorated with a solar disk. Her broad-rimmed hat may have had a crescent moon attached, and her drapery is tied at the shoulder with a characteristic knot. The inscription names a Greek couple, Kallimachos and Kleta, who dedicated this votive offering to the Egyptian deities Serapis, Isis, and Anubis.
Head of Isis. Roman, 40 BCE-100 CE, found in Rome. Carved in fine Greek marble, Isis is shown wearing a traditional Egyptian three-part, curled wig as well as a headdress in the form of a dove (the bird’s head is now missing). The dove indicates that Isis was assimilated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The complete statue may have stood in a temple of Isis and Serapis on the Via Labicana in Rome.
Statue of Isis. Roman, 1-79 CE; found in the Temple of Isis, Pompeii, Italy. Dedicated by a wealthy freedman named Lucius Caecilius Phoebus, this statue of the goddess Isis stood in the portico of her temple in Pompeii. The style of the sculpture is unusually eclectic. Isis wears a diaphanous dress belted below her breasts and carries her traditional attributes – an ankh (the hieroglyphic symbol for life) and a sistrum (Egyptian rattle, now missing). Her hairstyle and broad facial features, however, are borrowed from Archaic Greek models of about 500 BCE, perhaps an allusion to the antiquity of Egyptian religion.
Relief with Bes Dancing. Romano-Egyptian, 30 BCE-100 CE. The dwarflike Egyptian god Bes was a protector of women and the household. Here his face is both humorous and frightful, with bushy eyebrows and a protruding tongue. His oversize phallus emphasizes his role in warding off evil while stressing virility. The dynamic contortion of Bes’s pose derives from Greek models rather than traditional Egyptian images, and his appearance in this relief recalls paintings of dancing dwarfs found in Pompeii.
Gravestone of a Soldier. Romano-Egyptian, c. 300 CE. The deceased is shown in military garb, holding a spear and shield, with a wreath in his curly hair. Two falcons, each wearing the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, represent his devotion to the god Horus. The unnamed man was likely an Egyptian who served in the Roman army.
Relief with a Roman Emperor as Pharaoh. Romano-Egyptian, 80-200 CE. Within a shrine topped by a frieze of cobras, an unnamed Roman emperor in the guise of a pharaoh approaches the hawk-headed god Re-Horakhty. The pharaoh presents a basket containing the figure of Maat, Egyptian personification of world order. Above them is the winged griffin of Nemesis, Greek goddess of divine justice. These symbols convey the ruler’s power and responsibility to maintain lawfulness and cosmic harmony.
The Demotic Magical Papyrus of London and Leiden (Papyrus BM EA 10070). Romano-Egyptian, 200-250 CE; found in Thebes, Egypt. This papyrus contains magical spells for a variety of purposes, such as interpreting dreams, attracting lovers, cursing enemies, and healing physical ailments. It is written primarily in demotic Egyptian, but some sections are in Greek, and there are frequent annotations in various languages made by a skilled scribe. The owner may have been an Egyptian priest familiar with Greek magic, who offered his services as a magician to a multicultural clientele in Egypt. The complete text is divided between collections in London and Leiden and measures over sixteen feet in length. It is one of several books from a hidden library discovered in Thebes, in southern Egypt.
Noticeable in his absence were any images depicting Emperor Hadrian. The last exhibit held many items from his Villa in Tivoli, including the aforementioned bust of Antinous, but not a single representation of him, not even a coin. It was as if he lived on through his work, or perhaps through his beloved Antinous.
EGYPTIANIZING SCULPTURE FROM HADRIAN’S VILLA
During the Roman emperor Hadrian’s visit to Egypt in AD 130-131, his companion Antinous tragically drowned in the Nile River. The grieving ruler memorialized his young lover by founding the city of Antinoopolis near the site of his death. He also established a Roman cult in which Antinous was honored as a semidivine hero and equated with Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld.
Hadrian’s lavish imperial villa at Tivoli, northeast of Rome, was decorated with numerous statues of Antinous in Egyptian costume, as well as many other sculptures with Egyptian imagery. The enormous complex was designed to evoke the ruler’s wide-ranging travels throughout the Roman Empire. A terraced garden with a long pool was named Canopus after the site near Alexandria in Egypt, and a sanctuary that may have been dedicated to Antinous contained an obelisk in his memory.
Bust of Antinous. Roman, 131-138 CE; found in Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli, Italy. Antinous, the young companion of the emperor Hadrian (ruled 117-138 CE), drowned in the Nile in 130 CE and was posthumously honored with a cult that was celebrated throughout the Roman Empire. Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli displayed numerous portraits of Antinous in the guise of a pharaoh or the underworld god Osiris, wearing a traditional nemes headdress with a uraeus (royal cobra).
What was odd, and which came as a great surprise to me, was that I didn’t feel any closer to Antinous for being in his physical presence. Here was a statue from the ancient world, that I had seen before only in pictures, which was made in the years immediately following his death, and which resided in Hadrian’s own Villa in Tivoli, an object of veneration and worship, but I felt no closer to my god. In fact, I felt more “religious juice,” as it were, the night before, while watching The Bacchae on stage at the Getty Villa. The Bacchic Chorus was amazing, as I have mentioned, and I had to constrain myself from diving into the fray and joining their merry band (To the Mountain! To the Mountain!).
Perhaps that’s where the difference lies. For all that the word “museum” would seem to denote being a “temple to the Muses,” the fact remains is that it’s not a temple. While this one in particular contained objects that I would deem to be sacred, the only sacrifice being performed was at the register, and that not for the benefit of the gods. And there’s an immediacy, an aliveness to drama (especially one devoted to Dionysos!), which is not the same as stationary statues that aren’t receiving fragrant incense; that aren’t being sung to, being prayed to. Maybe if it hadn’t been as busy as it was, I could’ve gotten some singing in…. 😉
Some selfies of this priest with the Beautiful Boy
At the same time, though, I left the museum content, my cup filled. There was beautiful art to be seen and connection to priests and priestesses before, as well as a new realization. For perhaps there was another difference between the play and the museum, in that I was already close to Antinous. I’ve had devotion to him for many years now, been initiated into his Mysteries. After all, how can I be any closer to him than that, and when I encounter him everyday at my own altar? I was reminded of this poignant moment from Doreen Valiente’s “Charge of the Goddess”:
If that which you seek
You find not within you
You will never find it without you
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning,
And I am that which is attained
At the end of desire.
The Gods can be far away, but they come at the speed of thought, at the speed of prayer.
And who knows? Perhaps I’ll feel differently after I’ve made pilgrimage to some of his sacred sites; walked the land that he once walked, touch the waters he drowned in with my own fingers. The Land has its own ways of Knowing, and Antinous in those Places will likely be quite different than as I’ve experienced him so far. One can hope….
A view of the beautiful grounds of the Getty Center.
Contemplating what I have seen and learned from the exhibit in the sun and grass. Also, gearing up for another trip through the exhibit, to take a closer at what I might have just passed over.
The final face in the exhibit. Head of Caracalla. Romano-Egyptian, 211-217 CE; found in Coptos, Egypt. The Roman emperor Caracalla (ruled 198-217) is shown wearing a uraeus (royal cobra) to mark his status as pharaoh. This head, carved from a hard Egyptian stone, once belonged to a colossal figure that stood in the Temple of Isis in Coptos, Egypt. It carefully copies the close-cropped hair, furrowed brow, and distinctive scowling expression of the ruler’s official portrait, which was first displayed in Rome in 211 CE and is known from many versions in marble.
 Apparently in this I was mistaken. Looking through the exhibition catalog for “Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World” I was able to find a single coin of Hadrian (cat. 182). Somehow, I must’ve missed it….