A hero among heroes we hail you, Antinous,
noble youth, exemplar of virtues.
Surpassing in beauty, noted for strength,
loyal to your loves, beloved above all,
your death Hadrian mourned,
your eternal life we celebrate.
Wise with the innocence of youth,
joyous and vital in life, in death
you are wiser still and
a vital, protecting presence.
Fairest of boys, a flower plucked
just at the moment before its full blossom,
look kindly on us who hail you
as one of our own, young, gifted,
queer, passed on too soon,
offspring and ancestor.
In most places Antinous was regarded as a god, on a level with Osiris, Dionysus, Apollo. However, in addition to being addressed as Agathos Daimon, the Good Spirit, he was also regarded as a hero in some places.
Looking at Antinous as hero, I see the many, many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans youth who died too soon. Even though I see Antinous’ death as accidental, in his death before he was truly adult, I see all the children and adolescents who have been murdered out of fear and hatred, or bullied by peers, rejected by parents until they committed suicide. Many devotees of Antinous consider such young people martyrs for Antinous, witnesses to the reality of queer life and death in our culture.
One who stands out in my memory is Leelah Alcorn, who walked out into interstate traffic just after Christmas in 2014. She was seventeen years old, assigned male at birth, and a Tumblr user who had queued a suicide note to post on her blog after her death. She was also denied any support in transitioning, sent to conversion therapy to force her into accepting her assigned gender, and deadnamed by her conservative Christian parents even after her suicide. Leelah Alcorn, too, is a hero, a departed soul that still reaches out and troubles the living, a queer person whose early death denied the world any gifts she might have given. In her, in Matthew Shepard, and in many other victims, we see the face of Antinous the Hero.