Antinous' Death

Jul 2014
683
Messinia
When Hadrian's young lover Antinous died, the emperor, mad with grief, had him deified. Temples and cities were erected in his honor, and he was worshiped through the Roman empire. To what degree was Antinous embranced, and how long did worship and commemoration last after the emperor died?


It always struck me as strange that a provincial nobody who Hadrian happened to be infatuated with ended up being worshiped as a god after he died young. I guess that's the power of being an emperor - you've got cash and clout, and can make your grief felt across the empire. Hadrian was able to have cities and temples built for his dead lover, and instituted his religious worship.

It seems like people accepted this demand without too much consternation, which surprises me, but is that the case? How was this blitzkrieg of honors for a boy with no significant accomplishments taken? How long did his worship and commemoration, and general legacy, last after Hadrian died?
 
Oct 2018
1,734
Sydney
The empire's subjects appear to have received him with enthusiasm (perhaps originally faux enthusiasm), since the surviving Roman record (at least in the Greek east) is littered with statues of, coins for and dedications to Antinous. He was variously understood as a divine hero or a god, and it was believed by some that he could cure ailments and was a conqueror of death (he was often depicted on coffins). I suppose it was ultimately palatable because, by the time of Hadrian, it was normal for emperors to deify their predecessors, ancestors and recently-deceased relatives. The deification of a friend/boyfriend was unique, but at least it fit into an established practice of imperial consecration, and I would imagine that he framed the deification as that of a friend.

That said, Hadrian's action had its critics. For example, in his satire The Caesars the emperor Julian depicts Hadrian in the following manner (311d): 'Next entered an austere-looking man with a long beard, an adept in all the arts, but especially music, one who was always gazing at the heavens and prying into hidden things. Silenus when he saw him said, "What do you think of this sophist? Can he be looking here for Antinous? One of you should tell him that the youth is not here, and make him cease from his madness and folly."'

The anonymous author of the Historia Augusta is also critical (Hadrian 14.5-7): '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. But however this may be, the Greeks deified him at Hadrian's request, and declared that oracles were given through his agency, but these, it is commonly asserted, were composed by Hadrian himself.'

There is also the following by Aurelius Victor (Liber de Caesaribus 14.6-9): 'He himself, as is the custom with the fortunate rich, built palaces and devoted himself to dinner parties, statuary and paintings, and finally took sufficient pains to procure every luxury and plaything. From this sprang the malicious rumours that he had debauched young men and that he burned with passion for the scandalous attentions of Antinous and that for no other reason he had founded a city named after him or had erected statues to the youth. Some, to be sure, maintain that these were acts of piety and religious scruple because when Hadrian wanted to prolong his life and magicians had demanded a volunteer in his place, they report that although everyone else refused, Antinous offered himself and for this reason the honours mentioned above were accorded him. We shall leave the matter unresolved, although with someone of a self-indulgent nature we are suspicious of a relationship between men far apart in age.'
 
Sep 2013
632
Ontario, Canada
Hadrian indeed deified his Antinous, using the point that he died in the Nile (which was sacred) thus making him instantly divine.

It was unprecedented for a sitting Emperor to deify someone without the consent of the Senate, but Hadrian had his own way of doing things.

He raised so many statues to Antinous that, after Augustus, the man's face is the most common carved face from the ancient world.

At the Emperor's behest the cult rapidly spread through the Empire, and for a little while there in the 2nd century CE it actually rivalled Christianity in popularity.

It incorporated Christian elements such as promise of resurrection to those brought into its mysteries, even having Antinous hold a cross in his depictions. But ultimately Christianity won because it allowed both men *and* women in.