Commentary on Hymn XI: To Antinous-Dionysus, Lover

Who but you is the Lover of all things, Antinous Dionysus?
Who but you has loved so many so intimately?
In mortal life you were the lover of Hadrian,
beloved of an emperor, and lover to your friends.
You have loved women, you who took Ariadne to be your bride;
you have loved men, you who boldly kept your promise to Prosymnus.
You have loved mortals, you who loved an emperor, a princess, a shepherd boy;
you have loved immortals, you who coupled with Aphrodite and Persephone.
Do you love any less the grape vine and the ivy
which you took for your own, or the leopard and the panther?
Did you not love even Pentheus and hope he would yield to your charms?
Shamelessly and without fear you have given and received the gift of Eros;
hopefully and without shame I praise you and pray you will share that gift with me.

Antinous is most famously the beloved of Hadrian; Dionysus is famously the lover of everyone. While he wedded Ariadne, there are numerous myths of his coupling with other mortals and with deities, as well. While Apollo has myths of passionate, emotional attachments to both men and women, Dionysus might fairly be described in the vernacular as Down to Fuck, although he also is reputed to be completely faithful to Ariadne.

The story of his encounter with Prosymnus is one of my favorite myths, for its combination of humor and pathos. While seeking a way into the Underworld in order to rescue his mother, and perhaps his bride as well, Dionysus encountered a young shepherd named Prosymnus who claimed to be able to show him an entrance. He offered the god this information in exchange for sexual favors. Dionysus promised to fulfill the bargain but pled haste; he would return to Prosymnus once he had carried out his rescue mission. Prosymnus accepted the terms and Dionysus went on his way.

Later, he did indeed seek out Prosymnus, only to find that the shepherd had died. (Was it an illness or an accident? Or had so much time passed in mortal reckoning that the young man had died of old age?) Dionysus, regretting the lost opportunity, went to Prosymnus’ grave and fulfilled his promise by inventing, and using, the first dildo. In my opinion, it is notable that a god would, even symbolically, bottom for a mortal.

Antinous Dionysus is a god without shame when it comes to Eros. I wished to celebrate that shamelessness and my feeling that he embodies the diversity and multiplicity of erotic experience, that it need not be limited to sexual experience or even attraction. Dionysus loves pleasure and the intensity of all the senses; he also lures both devotees and enemies with his erotic attractiveness. In The Bacchae he gives Pentheus a chance to respond as a devotee, a lover, a chance that Pentheus vehemently rejects. The young king’s downfall is his settled belief that what the maenads do must be shameful and his prurient desire to witness it without being involved. Dionysus always demands involvement and intimacy; it can be accepted as a blessing, or be resisted as an unwelcome fate, like the resistant Pentheus dying while dressed for the god’s rites.

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