Commentary on Hymn XXIII: To the Treiskouroi

Where the people of Antinous gather, three youths
are honored above all: Antinous, the god, deified
in Egypt, worshipped throughout the Empire;
Polydeukion, the hero, revered by his family,
wise and generous child; Lucius Marius Vitalis,
athlete and scholar, first among the sancti.

Antinous we revere for his beauty, for the love
that he gave and received, and for his holy death,
by which the gods of Egypt made him one of them.
Polydeukion we honor for his youth and gentleness;
he knew the signs and passwords and came safely
before Persephone, having drunk of Memory’s well.
Lucius we remember for his friendship with Antinous,
his tenacity in scholarship, his joy in the hunt.

As Polydeukion and Lucius praise Antinous, friend
become god, so Antinous blesses Lucius and Polydeukion,
sanctus and heros, and in praising them, we praise and
bless Antinous, too. Hail to the Treiskouroi, the three youths
of most honor, revered in Egypt, Greece, and Rome!
May they be remembered around the world, today and always!

Detail of the Apotheosis of Polydeukion, ward of Herodes Attikos

“Treiskouroi” is a Greek compound word that means simply “three boys” or “three youths” (treis + kouros, kouroi). In Antinoan devotion, it refers to Antinous together with two of his contemporaries who also died untimely young, Lucius Marius Vitalis and Polydeukion, “little Pollux”, the ward of Herodes Atticus.

Both of these young men were connected to Antinous through Hadrian. Lucius was a rising young member of the Imperial court or staff, notable for his scholarship and athleticism. Herodes Atticus, the adoptive father of Polydeukion, was an educator and wealthy philanthropist who spent his money freely on public works, as the wealthy were expected to do in traditional Greek society, and on the education of his sons and daughters and of a large number of adoptive or foster children, orphan boys without other resources. Among his students outside his own household were the young Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, both future Emperors of Rome.

Lucius died at the age of seventeen, leaving behind an inscription ordered by his mother that celebrates his literacy and intellectual aspirations and mourns his untimely death. He is considered by some Antinoans to be the first Saint devoted to the God. The Antinoan Saints are not necessarily his past devotees, as few of them are known by name, but simply honored dead whose lives exemplify in some way the God’s blessings, most of them being queer persons. Among my own favorite Saints of the God are Marsha P Johnson, one of the several trans women of color who played an important role in the Stonewall riots, and Alan Turing, the computer genius who decoded the Germans’ cryptography during World War II but was nevertheless arrested for his homosexuality in the 1950s and sentenced to chemical castration.

Polydeukion, one of four adopted sons of Herodes, died around the age of fifteen, possibly by water (like Antinous) and was treated by his father as a Hero. In ancient Greek polytheism, a Hero was not just someone who showed exceptional courage or strength in life (though many of the most famous Heroes did); rather it was someone who had been in any way exceptional in life and who in some way continued to influence or communicate with the living. Herodes, who treated all of his adopted children equal to his natural children, mourned deeply for the boy and commissioned a good many statues, shrines, and other works in his memory and that of the other two adopted boys who died young, Achilleus and Memnon.

This hymn serves for me as a reminder that Hadrian was not the only person in Antinous’ life, however great their importance to one another, and that the divine Emperor is not the only person in the God’s immortal life, either. Antinous has connections with multiple deities and with ordinary people throughout history. To proclaim someone a Saint or Hero of Antinous is a statement that they exemplify some of the virtues of the God and are welcome on his Boat of Millions of Years, or as I like to call it, the celestial queer Love Boat on an eternal tour of happy afterlives. It doesn’t require perfection; it mostly requires love–for the god, for his people, gay and lesbian, trans, bisexual, queer, and for life itself.

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