Antinous was a beautiful young man from Greece/Turkey who was deified by Emperor Hadrian after he drowned in the River Nile in 130 CE. Numerous statues and temples of Antinous were erected. It is unclear what we may regard as Antinous’ domain. As the probable lover of Hadrian he may be regarded as a God of youthful male beauty, if not male homosexuality, but this cannot have been his sole domain, as a 3rd/4th century spell from Roman Egypt invokes Antinous and asks him to:

“bind Ptolemais … the daughter of Horigenes, so that she should not be f–ked, buggered or should not give any pleasure to another man, except to me alone … I conjure you, Antinous spirit of the dead … bring me Ptolemaic … prevent her from eating, from drinking, until she comes to me … and do not allow her to accept the advances of any man other than me alone … Drag her by the hair, the guts, until she does not reject me … and I have her … subject to me for the entire extent of my life, loving me, desiring me, telling me what she thinks [cited in Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press) at 266-267].”

This spell was written, in Greek, on a lead sheet and placed in a vase with a female figurine pierced with needles. It is clearly an example of attempted magic, and so perhaps we may attribute chthonic magic to Antinous, if not sexual success, even within heterosexual unions.

Antinous’ chthonic aspect may be highlighted by the fact that in ancient Rome there was a funerary club to Diana and Antinous. The purpose of funerary clubs was to ensure that members were accorded a good funeral, and they were particularly popular among ordinary people. It is clear they also had a social and religious aspect, for the constitution of the club of Diana and Antinous records that:

“the club president, on religious holidays during his term of office, should clothe himself in white, and make offerings of incense and wine, and perform other such duties. And on the birthdays of Diana and Antinous he should provide, in the public bath building, oil for club members before they dine [Shelton, As the Romans Did (Oxford University Press) at 98].”

Antinous is sometimes represented as another more well known deity, for example as Bacchus or Apollo, which suggests that he may have been regarded as a human manifestation of a God, in the same way that the Hindu Rama is said to be an avatar of Vishnu. In the ancient world there was no such thing as Pagan orthodoxy so pinning down the exact nature of how Antinous was perceived in the ancient world is likely impossible.

Bust of Antinous (2nd century CE)

Written by M. Sentia Figula; find me at neo and on Facebook


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