His life is a mystery to modern scholars. Yet he was elevated to the status of a god in the late Roman Empire. To this day there is a minor religion dedicated to Antinous The Good.
It was on this day in the year 111 that Antinous was born in Bithynian city of Bithynium aka Claudiopolis which is now the northern part of modern day Turkey. At a young age, Antinous joined the entourage of Roman emperor Hadrian. The boy had prodigious wisdom and character. He was physically, an extraordinarily beautiful young man. Antinous was soon the favorite of the emperor.
Many historians believe that Antinous and Hadrian were bonded together in an erotic relationship. Both were deeply devoted to one another. That devotion became tragic when Antinous was approximately 20 years old.
In classical times in Greece and Rome, it was common and normal for esteemed men to mentor young men to educate and prepare their prodégés for life and success. Often those relationships were of a sexual nature, too. The bond created often went beyond mere romanticism. It was profound and deep to both parties.
There was a very widely held religious belief in paligenesia or reincarnation. The mystics taught that the soul migrates from human to human. This teaching means there is only one death, the final death. Where the romantic bond and the religious belief intersect came the beginning of the new religion.
During a journey to Egypt, Antinous consulted a prophet as to whether or not emperor Hadrian would be graced with a long, productive life. The soothsayer told the young man that unless someone near and dear to the emperor sacrificed his life for Hadrian, the ruler would suffer a premature death.
According to legend, soon after hearing the prognostication, Antinous walked to the river Nile and drowned himself as a sacrifice to his mentor. It was further believed by Egyptian priests that the person who loses his life to the River Nile becomes a God. In this case, Antinous experienced his last death. It was his victory. Antinous ended his life as a mere mortal and began his new life as a God. In effect, he died for his master.
The grief of the benevolent and esteemed emperor was boundless. The veneration of Antinous by Hadrian was very extravagant. Cities were founded in his name. Including the spot in Egypt, where Antinous became a deity. Emperor Hadrian commanded the beginning of Antinoopolis. A coin was minted with the likeness of Antinous engraved upon it. The only Roman coin to depict a non-imperial likeness.
The new god had conquered death and now offered protection, good works and salvation to all people, their livestock, and crops. He was the nature god who was associated with rivers. He was the patron saint of children who died young. He was credited with healing the sick in dreams.
His status among the pantheon was similar to Osiris, Dionysos and Hermes. He was seen as the divine boy–the offspring of Zeus and Demeter. Antinous appeared to his followers as the dynamic God of change who underwent suffering, abnegation and triumph.
Antinous has been commemorated by sculptors throughout the ages. Some of the art world’s most sensuous, beautiful statuary was created in his honor. The ruins of the grand tomb of Antinous were found by archaeologists at Hadrian’s Villa in 1998. The most sensual and beautiful of the statues was found at that site.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes Hadrian decreed that Antinous was lifted up to heaven by the eagle Aquila. They remain to this day as constellations in the night sky.