31 Days of Devotion, day 11

Talk about the deity’s festivals, days, and sacred times.

One of the reasons your humble bloggers here at the Naos decided to do the devotional meme this month is that October is both the end and the beginning of the sacred year for devotees of Antinous. On the 24th of October, the Sacred Nights commence, the nine days that mourn Antinous’ death and celebrate his deification. On the 24th, we remember the death of Osiris, whose deification became the pattern for Antinous’s. On the 25th, we celebrate all the goddesses, especially Isis and Nephthys and others who lose those dearest to them, on the Panthea. The 26th brings the Ophidia, a day which honors the serpent deities, among them Glykon, the Serpent Path of Antinoan mysticism, and the mystery of deification or apotheosis in general. The 27th faces the mystery of the Ananke Antinoou, that is, his fate or destiny, the necessity and yet seeming randomness of his death. The theme of this day is that there was likely no warning, nothing unusual about this day at all–but it was his last in mortal life.

On the 28th of October, we cover the images and mourn his death. We don’t know exactly how he died, what brought him to the river, what circumstances took the young man’s life; we only know that it did happen. On the 29th, we ponder Antinous in the Underworld and remember that while he was missing from the people who loved him, he was an initiate of the Mysteries at Eleusis, welcomed by Persephone. October 30th is Foundation Day, arguably the most important date of the sacred year; it is the day on which the body of Antinous was recovered. Hadrian grieved him publicly and declared his intention to found a city in his beloved’s honor; worshippers today observe it as a liturgical new year’s day and as the founding date of the renewed cultus.

October 31st and November 1st celebrate Antinous Triumphant and Antinous the Liberator respectively. Antinous is not merely one of the justified dead, initiated into the Mysteries; he has become a god. As the darkness of winter deepens, he will confront the constrictive powers of the underworld and defeat them, to emerge as the Navigator in the spring.

On November 27th, we celebrate Antinous’ birthday as a mortal (and yes, a lot of us sing “Happy Birthday” to the god). In December, we observe the feasts of the Roman Saturnalia, from the 17th to the 23rd, culminating in the feast of Antinous Dionysus on the 21st, close to the Winter Solstice. On January 21st, when the Sun enters Aquarius, we recall the syncretization of Antinous with Ganymede, whose myth parallels Antinous’ so closely, and then on the 29th, we hail the Stella Antinoi, the Star of Antinous, which appears in the constellation of Aquila. At this time Antinous ascends to the heavens as the Navigator, piloting his Boat of Millions of Years through the night skies.

The next major feast for Antinous occurs in April, the Megala Antinoeia on the 21st. At this time sacred games, including poetry contests, were celebrated in his city of Antinopolis, and we begin to celebrate the god’s aspect as Lover. Modern devotees frequently observe this feast with an agon, an artistic contest to which one can submit poetry, prose, artwork, or music in the god’s honor. In ancient times, the winner of the games was honored with a crown of the sacred red lotuses.

On June 21st, near to the Summer Solstice, we commemorate Antinous Apollon. July 16th brings the Antinoan Arbor Day, a celebration of his syncretism with Silvanus, the god of trees and woods. We also remember the visit of Hadrian to Britain during which he inaugurated construction of the great wall that bears his name. July 31st is a day for honoring Antinous’ syncretism with river deities such as the Nile, the Alpheios, one’s local rivers.

On August 21st and 22d, we celebrate the paradoxical festivals of the Lion Hunt and the Red Lotus. Hadrian and Antinous did a good deal of hunting for sport; on this occasion, they chased down a lion which had been attacking people. Antinous faced the beast without sufficient preparation and might have been killed had not Hadrian intervened. He was ashamed of his failure, yet the rare red lotus of the Nile bloomed out of the lion’s blood on the river bank. On the first day we examine ourselves and admit to our failures; on the second, we welcome and grasp the possibility of a new beginning, change, and growth.

On September 21st, close to the Autumnal Equinox, we commemorate the Eleusinian Mysteries, of which both Hadrian and Antinous were initiates. This commemoration is balanced at the Vernal Equinox by the Apotheosis of Sabina, wife of Hadrian. And so we approach the Sacred Nights again as the days grow shorter and the nights lengthen.
I have attempted to keep this post shorter than a book by mentioning only those festivals that concern Antinous first and foremost. There are also festivals honoring Hadrian and other members of the Imperial family, feasts for the gods of Rome such as the Lupercalia and the Megalesia, and days to honor the Sancti or spiritual ancestors of the tradition. In observing the feasts of Antinous, we participate in his death and deification, confront and conquer the forces that oppress and inhibit us, ascend into our potential, and celebrate the joys of a life of love, creative activity, and the blessings of pleasure.

31 Days of Devotion, day 6

What other deities and entities are associated with this deity?

To answer this question with, “All of them” would be easy and not wholly incorrect. Antinous has the gift of making connections among gods and between gods and mortals. He is often described as a “gateway god”, someone who attracts people to polytheism by their worship of him.

However, a facile answer doesn’t make for a very interesting read. Therefore, I’ll offer my opinion on the deities and entities that are definitely associated with Antinous.

First and foremost, of course, there is Hadrian. Without Hadrian’s relationship to Antinous, we would likely know nothing of the Greek youth from Bithynia, even if he had travelled to Egypt and drowned in the Nile under other circumstances. Antinous still would have been deified, but his cult would have been confined to a small locale instead of promoted around the Empire. Without Hadrian, we would have no statues to immortalize Antinous’ beauty, and one less model of an erotic, even romantic relationship that in some ways broke the rules for such relationships by its intensity.

Along with Hadrian I must mention his wife, Sabina. That may seem strange to our sensibilities, if we are thinking of Sabina as the wronged wife of a man having an affair with a younger man. A few considerations have helped me to understand Sabina’s importance. First, that categories like heterosexual and homosexual really do not apply in the ancient world; in both Greek and Roman culture, adult men could take whatever partners they wished, male, female, slave, free, as long as they were appropriately dominant. The double standard wasn’t a hypocrisy, it was simply a fact; men were not under the same sexual constraints as women.

Second, that it would have been simple for Hadrian, once established as Emperor, to divorce Sabina and replace her with another wife, or no wife. He did not. And third, he ordered her divinization, which along with their continued marriage leads me to believe that he had affection and respect for her and found value in their partnership. The Obelisk of Antinous portrays the divinized youth praying for Hadrian and Sabina together as rulers of Egypt and the Empire; I think his worshippers should do no less than honor them together in the same way.

After Hadrian and Sabina, Antinous’ closest connections are with the four deities with whom he was most often syncretized: Osiris, Dionysus, Hermes, and Apollo. He became Osirantinous upon his death in the sacred river. The Greeks had already syncretized or equated Dionysus with Osiris, and much of Antinous’s iconography borrows from the traditional depictions of Dionysus. Antinous was syncretized with Hermes as a messenger, communicator, interpreter among the gods, and with Apollo as an oracle, healer, and inspirer. With the exception of Osiris, these gods are all portrayed as youths, the children of Zeus rather than the first generation of Olympians.

Besides Sabina, the goddesses with whom Antinous has the closest connection are Diana, especially at Lanuvium, where a burial society was dedicated to both of them, and Juno, who was also worshipped at Lanuvium. I find it interesting that both of these goddesses support female sovereignty, Diana the virgin huntress, refusing the ties of marriage, and Juno the queen of heaven who gave her name to the divine spirit within every woman.

Those are my choices for the deities most closely associated with Antinous. But I still stand by my original answer: The deities connected to Antinous? All of them.