Commentary on Hymn XXII: To Antinous and Mantinoe

To Mantinoe, mother of Antinous, together with her son, the god,
let us give praise, for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the womb that bore him, a healthy son,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the breasts that nourished him with the milk of life,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the eyes that watched him with mindful care,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the mouth that kissed him and spoke his name, Antinoos,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the hands that prepared his meals and changed his diapers,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the hips that carried him before he could walk,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor the feet that walked for him and to him and with him,
for his mother’s whole body heals.
Let us honor her beauty, her strength, her wisdom, her care,
for like Semele she has been brought out of darkness and oblivion
by her devoted son to shine forever in the stern of the Boat of Millions of Years,
mother to the people of Antinous. Hail, Mantinoe! Hail, Antinous!
The semen of the gods is truly in his body, and his mother’s whole body heals!

Maia and the infant Hermes by Grace D. Palmer

One of our most important sources for the ancient cult of Antinous is the Obelisk of Antinous. It is from the hieroglyphic inscriptions on its four faces that I took the lines “his mother’s whole body heals” and “the semen of the gods is truly in his body” and built this poem in honor of Antinous’ mother, known to his devotees as Mantinoe.

We know little about Antinous’ life before he drew the attention of Hadrian. We know that he was born in the city of Claudiopolis in Bithynia, which is now part of Turkey, and that his background was Greek; Claudiopolis was a Greek colony. We don’t know what was the status of his family, whether he had any siblings, or even how and when he met the Emperor. Detractors of his cult have asserted that he was a slave, which is highly unlikely; Hadrian would probably not have been able to promote the cult of a slave, however much he respected Egyptian tradition.

One thing we do know, however, is that he had a mother. The deified youth whose physical beauty has been so celebrated for almost 2000 years was born from a female body and cared for by a woman. Without Mantinoe’s female body, there would be no Antinous, no eternal divine youth. Without maternal care, he would have died as an infant or in childhood, unknown to history. Whether her name was actually Mantinoe or something else, we have that one particular woman to thank for the beauty and goodness of the god.

There is no place in the cultus of Antinous for any kind of misogyny. It is an insult to the mother of the Beautiful, Just, Benevolent One.

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