Commentary on Hymn VII: To Antinous-Hermes


Swiftly you come and swiftly you go, Antinous Neos Hermes,
the new Hermes under Hadrian, messenger, interpreter, emissary.
With winged feet and sacred staff you weave paths
between gods and humans, between god and god,
between soul and soul. You have been entrusted with the caduceus
and its secrets; Thoth, Hermes, and Mercury
have whispered in your ear. Far-wandering Odin
and spear-throwing Lugus, too, are not unknown to you,
and perhaps you have wandered even in eastern lands
with rings on your staff and bowl in your hand, a mendicant.
Come swiftly, Neos Hermes, and whisper in my ear:
Entrust to me, if I am trustworthy, the secrets of language and its magic,
and likewise also the secrets of magic and its language.

The infant Hermes as drawn by the D’Aulaires

Antinous as Neos Hermes, “the new Hermes under Hadrian”, is the third major syncretism, attested in coins, inscriptions, and poems. Hermes is, of course, the herald or messenger of Olympos, a god of communication, language, travel, commerce, and luck, and his staff with two serpents, the cadeuceus, was an elaboration of the beribboned staff which mortal heralds bore as a sign of their sacred status (not killing the messenger was actually A Thing). Later the caduceus also became a symbol of the kind of magic to which Hermes lent his name once he had been thoroughly syncretised with Thoth, or Djehuty to use his Egyptian name, that is, Hermetic magic, a tradition of magic carried out by mind, symbol, word, and speech.

I have mentioned before that we often call Antinous a “gateway god”, one who introduces people to other gods who want a place in their lives. He is also something of a party god; his public rituals (so I am told) tend to become “god parties” where many deities are invoked and make themselves manifest in a harmonious atmosphere. That intermediary quality, I think, is the essence of his syncretism with Hermes. He is not merely a messenger, but a master of ceremonies, a host, even a headhunter in the employment/business sense. He connects gods to mortals and mortals to gods. He also connects gods to gods through his syncretisms and mortals to mortals by gathering people as his devotees. In 2017 I traveled from the east coast of the United States to the Pacific Northwest to meet fellow Antinoans I knew only through the internet and received initiation into his mysteries at their hands–among other things, that was a powerful display of the god’s Hermetic side!

I decided to expand the syncretism a little with this hymn by mentioning, along with Thoth, Hermes, and the Roman Mercury, the Germanic Odin and the Celtic Lugus, both of whom are associated with language, magic, and travel or wandering in various ways. There is at least one known minor syncretism of Antinous with a northern European deity, the Gaulish Belenos, and I think there is a potential for future syncretisms in that direction and in an eastward direction, with some of the buddhas or bodhisattvas. I hope to explore these directions in future.

At the end of this hymn, I prayed for “the secrets of language and its magic,/and likewise also the secrets of magic and its language”. The answer to my prayer, I think, is the body of devotional and ritual poetry I have produced since Antinous came into my life. I am grateful for his continued inspiration and pray that it never departs.

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