Commentary on the Hymn for Antinous I

Ave, ave, Antinoe!
Ave, vive, Antinoe!
Hail to Antinous, beloved of Hadrian,
born in Bithynia, deified in Egypt,
numbered among the gods, one with Osiris:
This is where life comes from!

Eternally beautiful, eternally beloved,
mourned by Hadrian, hymned by your worshippers,
in your eternal Barque you voyage the Otherworlds,
brilliant among the stars, pilot and beacon both:
This is where life comes from!

Mantinoe your mother and Hermes your father,
Serapis your grandfather and Sabazios your kinsman,
Diana your comrade and Selene your bride,
beloved of all the gods, beloved on earth:
This is where life comes from!

The red lotus your crown, the boar and lion
your creatures, all of history’s queers and lovers
your joyous retinue, your temples in Egypt,
throughout the Empire, in Rome:
This is where life comes from!

Thoth gave you his city and Bes danced for you,
the gods of Egypt gave you a throne,
you wear the lotus, the ivy, or the laurel,
Liberator, Navigator, and fairest Lover:
This is where life comes from!

Man become God, Emperor of Peace,
victor over the archons, lovely and fruitful,
flower and star, spider and hunter,
even at the world’s end, I am always with you.

Vel in limine mundi, Ecce!
Ego semper sum coram te!
Ave, ave, Antinoe! Ave, vive, Antinoe!
Haec est unde vita venit!
This is where life comes from!

My goal was simply to survey or sum up the most common epithets of the god that were preserved from his ancient cultus, along with some of the key phrases used by his contemporary worshipers. The opening lines in Latin might be rendered, “Hail, hail to Antinous! Greetings and life to Antinous!” I then acknowledged his homeland (Bithynia, a Greek colony in what is now Turkey) and his crucially important relationship with the emperor Hadrian.
I mention that Antinous was “deified in Egypt” and “one with Osiris” to counteract the common misconception that he was deified by Hadrian. While the Roman Senate had been deifying members of the Imperial family for centuries, Antinous was not even Roman, let alone a member of a noble lineage. However, that was not a factor in his deification. It happened that he drowned in the Nile, the circumstances of which remain a mystery almost 1700 years later. Ancient Egyptian religion, which stretched back into an antiquity that made the Greeks and Romans feel like children, proclaimed that any person who died in that way, in the same manner as the god Osiris, became Osiris, the benevolent god of the dead, the earth, and earth’s vegetation.
Antinous was deified solely by the accident of his death; he achieved unity with a god. It must be acknowledged, however, that he had the advantage of being the beloved of an Emperor, a man with the power to build a city on the Nile at the spot where the body washed ashore and to promote his cultus throughout the known world. Were it not for Hadrian, Antinous would have been forgotten eventually like the many others who must have died in the Nile’s waters over the millennia.
As Osiris-Antinous, the Bithynian boy became a god of the underworld and the afterlife. However, he also had a celestial aspect. Like Ra (or Re), the most widely worshiped of the sun gods of Egypt, he had the privilege of a boat or Barque which voyaged the heavens. To become Osiris in death was, to some extent, the fate of every Egyptian; Osiris, king of Egypt in life, became an everyman in death. However, the goal of the pharaohs and temple priesthoods seems to have been to become Ra, not confined to the Underworld, but passing through it by night and emerging at dawn to cross the sky.
Further stanzas mention other non-Egyptian deities Antinous was closely associated with, as well as his connections to Thoth or Djehuty and Bes, who had shrines nearby the site of his city Antinoopolis. The rare red Nile lotus was his sacred flower, but he was also depicted crowned with ivy or laurel leaves to represent his syncretizations with Dionysus and Apollo respectively. The refrain “This is where life comes from!” is a translation of the Latin “Haec est unde vita venit”, an acclamation used by his contemporary cult. Likewise the titles Liberator, Navigator, and Lover were coined by contemporary worshipers, whereas the epithets “Homo Deus”, Man-God, “Imperator Pacis”, Emperor of Peace, “Deus Amabilis”, the lovely God, and “Deus Frugiferus”, the fruitful God, go back to ancient sources.
The acclamation “Vel in limine mundi, Ecce!/Ego semper sum coram te!” is translated by the lines which precede it in the hymn, “even at the world’s end, I am always with you”. “Coram te” is more precisely “in your court” or “in your presence”, and those of us at the end of the world, geographically, are his devotees in the Americas. With that statement of trust and confidence, the hymn ends.

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