Commentary on Hymn V: To Antinous-Osiris

Son of Bithynia, the Nile has made you a god.
Son of Mantinoe, your death has made you one with Osiris.
Osiris has given you the crook and flail and the crowns of the Two Lands.
You are adorned like Pharaoh; your skin is green like the new growth.
Isis has given you new life; you will live for ever and ever.
You are enthroned with the gods of Egypt;
you are a prince in the Am Duat.
You have been justified by the forty-two judges;
your heart is as light as Maat’s feather.
The limbs of your body are the fourteen nights of light;
the beats of your heart are the fourteen nights of darkness.
May your heart live for ever, Osirantinous, Wesar-Antnus!
May you look favorably upon us who pray to you
when we come to join you in the West.

The next group of four hymns covers the four principal syncretisms of Antinous. By “syncretisms” I mean pairings in which Antinous is identified with another god and vice versa. One might use the analogy of one god or goddess adopting another’s uniform and tools and doing their job. The Ptolemies and other Greek settlers in Egypt looked at the plethora of Egyptian gods and the existing syncretisms among them, and over time renamed “Wesir-Hapi-Ankh” as “Osiris-Apis” or Serapis. The Romans boldly syncretized their pantheon with the gods of the Germanic and Celtic tribes they subjugated and built temples and left offerings to Sulis Minerva, Apollo Grannos, Mars Thingsus.

The first and most important syncretism of Antinous is with Osiris, the beloved god of the earth’s fertility and growth and of the afterlife and the dead. By dying in the Nile as Osiris had, Antinous (like however many souls before him) became identified and united with the god. In writing this particular hymn, I did my best to imitate the style of ancient Egyptian prayer and to include references to the myths of Isis and Osiris I had read as a child. I was fascinated not just with Greco-Roman mythology but with Egyptian, Norse, and Celtic, and beyond the mythology, I loved ancient Egyptian culture and its aesthetic. For many years my drawings resembled those on the walls of Egypt’s temples and tombs, with figures in profile making precise gestures, their eyes drawn in full.

The Egyptian land of the dead was the home of multiple deities and of terrifying spirits, many of whom threatened incoming souls. It is fairly well known that the heart of the deceased was weighed against a feather of the goddess Ma’at, the goddess of righteousness and truth, and if the heart was too heavy, it would be tossed away like offal for the goddess Ammut or Ammit to devour. Yet the general picture of Osiris himself is a benevolent one. While his body is eternally wrapped in the bindings of mummification, his face and hands are green like plant life, which grows up from beneath the soil. He might be called the original “Green Man”, as I said in a poem I wrote in 2017:

The Green Man

I am Osiris. I am the Green Man.

I was the first Green Man, Asar, Au Sar, Wesir.

Green like the papyrus growing by the Nile.

Green like the barley growing in the fields.

Green like the leaves that support the sweet lotus.

Sometimes I am black like the soil,

The rich fertile flooded soil of Kemet, eponymous soil.

I am the Green Man of the Black Land.

The first to die becomes the god of the dead.

That is I. First to know death, first to go west,

Killed by my brother, sought by my sisters,

Resurrected by my wife. She fashioned the part

That was missing. I am moonlight and moondark,

Black earth and green plant, a missing phallus

And an upright wand. Come to me, Antinous,

Child of Bithynia, beloved of Pharaoh,

And I will teach you how to be a god.


It is from Antinous-Osiris that we, too, may learn how to become gods.

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