Highway to Hel
Interview with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Founder of Ekklesia Antinoou
You maintain a significant devotion to Antinous. Who was He?
Antinous was a young man of Arcadian/Greek descent from the Roman province of Bithynia, who somehow (we're not sure how) came into the entourage of the Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-138 C.E.). He appears to have been his youthful lover during Hadrian's tour through the Eastern Empire in c. 128-131, and during their time in Egypt, Hadrian and Antinous hunted a very ferocious lion in the deserts west of Alexandria. A short while later, in late October of 130, Antinous drowned in the Nile. By Egyptian custom of the time, anyone or anything which was submerged in Nile water was "deified," and so Antinous became a god immediately by Egyptian custom.
Hadrian's grief over Antinous's death was considered excessive by the standards of his time, and he not only founded a city in his honor near Hermopolis where Antinous's body was found, but he spread his cultus throughout the Empire, where in many places (particularly Asia Minor and parts of Greece) it was taken up with verve. Antinous was subsequently syncretized to many Greek, Roman, and Egyptian deities, among them Osiris, Dionysos, Hermes, Apollon, Pan, Silvanus, and even the Apis Bull! He was also honored as a hero in many places (including by the Emperor himself in a temple from Socanica, now in Croatia), or was linked to various Greek heroes, like Androklos (the founder of Ephesus). The cultus was celebrated in regular athletic games and artistic competitions in many cities in the Greek East and Egypt, and these continued up to the so-called "triumph" of Christianity in the late 4th century.
Antinous was known and honored, though, well into the 6th century in his holy city of Antinoöpolis in Egypt by such writers as Dioscorus of Aphrodito, a poet and jurist who worked in Antinoöpolis. While his worship was eventually suppressed, the knowledge of him never really died out, as it is recorded in various (usually hostile) Christian writers' work. A resurgence of interest in his statuary and his literary role has occurred on an often underground basis since the 18th century. The foundation of the discipline of art history by Johann Joachim Winckelmann owes a great deal to Winckelmann's fascination with Antinous's statuary. The Uranian Poets period or movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which included such figures as Oscar Wilde, John Addington Symonds, and Montague Summers (before his "conversion" to Catholicism), also featured Antinous as a subject of poetry and a metaphor for youthful male beauty quite heavily. The interest in Antinous has continued through to the present day.
The Antinous cults of antiquity even had a good deal of direct influence on Christianity; and though there is little to no evidence that the Antinous cults were as widespread or prevalent as many other ancient cults were, the Christian fathers from Justin Martyr onward (with a few exceptions) all mention it—Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanios of Salamis, Athanasius, and several others. (Augustine does not, which is interesting, but anyway!) The problem of a human who became a god, who was syncretized to Osiris and Dionysos (sacrifice/death, wine) but also Hermes and who had a Thoth connection (the "Word"), who was to some of his followers a "savior" (particularly his cultists at Lanuvium outside of Rome, where Antinous was worshipped alongside Diana), who became a star after his death, and who caused the Nile to flood, was far more of a contender for credulity in Christian eyes than many other cults may have been.
The author of several books on the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, shaman, and devotee of Odin. She blogs at Gangleri's Grove.