31 Days of Devotion, day 16

How do you think this deity represents the values of their pantheon and cultural origins?

The cult of Antinous is unusual in that it crosses the streams of three different religious cultures: Egyptian, Hellenic, and Roman. Antinous looks a little different through each of these three lenses.

In Egypt, Antinous embodies what I think of as the egalitarian strain in ancient Kemetic religion. It is likely that all the rites of mummification, the ritual Opening of the Mouth, the “Book of the Dead” that guided the deceased safely into the afterlife were originally applied only to Pharaoh and perhaps other members of the royal family. Gradually, however, over the course of centuries, they became normative for everyone, although the extent of one’s funerary rites no doubt depended, as it does today, on how much one’s family could afford to spend on it.

Yet at the same time, those who drowned in the Nile were, for centuries, perhaps millenia, accepted as gods no matter what their status in mortal life. Even a foreigner like Antinous could become one with Osiris. It is likely that his body was embalmed in the traditional way and buried according to Egyptian custom.

In Greece, Antinous’ life and death resonate with a tradition we might call “Flower Heroes”. These Flower Heroes are beautiful mortal youths, often loved by gods, who die untimely and are transfigured into flowers, such as Hyakinthos (the hyacinth), Narcissus (the daffodil), and Krokos (the crocus). The erotic love of a god for a mortal youth recalled the erotic partnership of erastes and eromenos, older man and younger man, which came to an end when the youth became a man himself.

Antinous inverts this tradition, however. His sacred flower, the red Nile lotus, blooms not from his body but from the blood of the lion which he failed to kill. His erastes Hadrian is a powerful older man, but only mortal, while Antinous in death becomes not only a hero but a god, able to bless and even divinize Hadrian by his power.

Antinous seems not to fit very neatly into Roman religious traditions. The deification of the imperial family after death was not an old tradition, as Roman traditions went, and it applied only to them; Hadrian could not simply proclaim Antinous divus on the strength of their relationship. His relationship with the younger man was, itself, one of the ways in which his temperament was more Greek than Roman, like his preference for wearing a beard.

There was, however, a class of deities called Semones, among whom were very old, very Roman gods such as Vertumnus, Faunus, Picus, and the eponymous Semo Sancus, who were held to have been mortal once and become gods. It would not be out of bounds to consider Antinous one of the Semones, a reminder that the boundaries between gods and humans were not impermeable in Roman thought. That gods and humans are not eternally distinct, that humans can become divine and gods become human, is, in my opinion, one of the chief mysteries of the worship of Antinous, as of another late-coming god in the Roman empire, a Galilean fellow named Yeshua.

31 Days of Devotion, day 12

What are some places associated with this deity and their worship?

POEM: An Antinoan Geography







Born in Bithynia by the river Rhebas,
in Rome by the Tiber you won the favor of Hadrian;
with him you saw the Mystery in Eleusis
and won a place amongst the happy dead.
In the Nile in Egypt you met death and destiny
and became Osiris, a god in truth. There
Hadrian raised a city in your honor, between
the town of Thoth and the village of Bes,
where the water yielded your body,
holy Antinoopolis, and in his villa at Tibur
he enshrined your memory, youth that he loved.
Where were you buried? We do not know.
But you live as god, Antinous of Bithynia,
and wherever rivers flow, the Nile is remembered,
your presence is felt, your name is praised.

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.