Commentary on Hymn XXVII: To Antinous Imperator Pacis

Emperor of Peace we hail you, Antinous,
victorious in the heavens and in the depths,
lord of the living and the dead. Not, like
Hadrian, commander in chief of armies,
not the hero in war, though hero you are,
and fighter in need, wielder of the spear
in defense of your people. You are the ruler
of a city whose center is everywhere, whose
four walls form an obelisk, and whose crown
is friendship. Where you rule, Mars never
rides forth to conquer; Bacchus is always
welcome within the city gates, and galloi
and megabyzoi walk freely in the streets,
their ways and their gods respected. There,
where love freely chooses its object, children
are cherished, and women respected, as friend
and sister no less than consort and mother.
Jews and Greeks, Romans and Egyptians,
Germans and Celts, and all of us their children,
scattered around the globe, can gather
in your city to live and to work, to buy and to sell,
to teach and to learn, to worship and to feast.
O Antinous, Imperator Pacis, soon may your reign
spread abroad on earth, soon may your peace
grow bonds of friendship between strangers,
soon may your people find a place where
they can gather, led by your star, defended
by your spear, and governed only by your love.

The title “Imperator Pacis” is something of an oxymoron. It translates as “Emperor of Peace”; what makes that a contradiction in terms is that the Latin word imperator, meaning “one who gives orders”, was originally the title of the commander in chief of Rome’s armies. It was only fairly late in Roman history that it was applied to the ruler and protector of the Roman state as a whole.

Hadrian, one might say, is the Emperor of War, the battle-proven commander respected by the troops. Antinous is the Emperor of Peace, the ruler of a society which is at peace not only with its neighbors but with itself. In writing this hymn, I was inspired by the image of Antinoopolis, the city which Hadrian founded and named after his eromenos, and by a line from the biblical Psalms: “Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity within itself” (Ps. 122). Antinous is the Emperor of his city, a place of unity within great diversity. The historical Antinoopolis was, like Alexandria, a cosmopolitan hub of multiple nationalities, languages, ethnicities, and religious practices, where Antinous was especially honored. So is the spiritual Antinoopolis that we construct in ritual, invoked by the image of the god’s obelisk and its sacred texts in the Egyptian language.

No culture, no religion, no sexuality, no race, no gender is excluded in the imagined empire of the Beautiful Boy. I included the galloi and megabyzoi because they were among the most alien and gender-variant people in the Empire, the former being castrated priests of Cybele and the Magna Mater and the later priests of the Artemis of Ephesus. In Roman society they were objects of fascination and fear; Roman citizens were not permitted to join these cults where castration was required. I envision them as free and equal citizens under Antinous’ rule, as are trans and gender-variant and gender-nonconforming people.

As we draw near to the conclusion of this cycle of hymns, it should be noted that the one attribute with which Antinous is never associated is war. He is a hunter and a liberator, able to wield bow and arrow and spear, but he is not a soldier; he is never depicted with sword or shield. In many of the surviving images we have, he is nude, completely exposed, completely vulnerable. He places no armor between himself and the world and invites his devotees to approach him with the same openness he displays. The spiritual city of Antinoopolis is a safe place for all of us queers, and for all lovers, ruled by the divine youth who guards diversity in peace.

Ko-Fi | PayPal.me

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s