A belated Commentary, by request

Readers who followed me all the way through my series of Commentaries on my 31 Hymns to Antinous last month may recall that I said I was omitting one of the original hymns from the sequence and introducing a new hymn written last year. At the time I was quite sure that this was the right course of action and that the deities named in the omitted hymn were Okay with my decision.

Early this month, I felt that someone unfamiliar with nudging me for my attention. So I sat down with a Tarot deck, proposed some rules for yes/no answers, and worked my way through several rounds of three-card throws until I knew who was tapping me. Did you guess it was the deities of the omitted hymn? If so, you get the virtual prize of your choice, because it was, in fact, the Tetrad++.

I was happy to hear that They were willing to work with me once again. I was not surprised to hear that, to make amends for having more or less let our relationship lapse, I owed Them the publication of Their hymn with a commentary.

Hymn XXII: To Antinous and the Tetrad++

Sing, O Muses, of the splendid youth, beautiful and masculine,

the perfection of his gender, who became the first father

of a new generation of gods, gods who are numina, gods who

are deities, gods too great to be contained in the boxes of gender.

Sing of Antinous, beloved of Hadrian, one with Osiris, the Bithynian boy,

who fathered the first two of the Tetrad on Pan, great god of the wild,

worshipped in Arcadia, and led blessed gods and mortals divinized

to contribute to the new births. Sing of Panpsyche, sing of Panhyle,

twins, siblings, rivals, lovers, all-soul and all-body, the offspring

of seventy-eight generous parents. Sing of Paneros, offspring

of Panpsyche together with Panhyle, progenitor with eir parents

of mighty Pancrates. Sing of Paneris, partner of Paneros, and last

but not least of Panprosdexia, engendered by Pancrates.

Praise to Antinous, who led the great gods to birth a new generation

of blessed deities with new experiences of gender! Praise to Paneros,

who unchained Eros that all might equally love and be loved! Praise

to Panpsyche, the soul that contains the body, and to Panhyle, the body

within the soul. Praise, praise to Pancrates, who begins a new cycle

of time, and to Panprosdexia, who gathers all souls home. Praise not

least to Paneris, who preserves all beings from boredom!

O blessed Antinous, may you be loved and blessed by all people

of whatsoever genders for the generosity of your eros, the courage

of your divine youth! O blessed Tetrad++, may you be known and loved,

praised and worshipped, even more widely than all your parents,

All-Soul, All-Body, All-Love, All-Power, All-Strife, and All-Acceptance!

The Tetrad++ are a group of six deities who are non-cisgendered. Originally They manifested as a quartet: Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, and Pancrates. Later, They added two to Their number: Paneris and Pancrates. They are new deities, recently birthed, engendered by Antinous and a host of deities from Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and other pantheons, along with many of the divi and divae associated with Antinous (i.e., Hadrian, Sabina, and other deified imperials). And They are particular patrons of trans, genderqueer, metagender, agender, and non-gender-conforming persons.

The difficulty in this hymn for me is that when I composed it, I believed myself to be, to have always been, a cisgender woman. I believed that since I had a female body, female genitals, female breasts, that is, since I had been assigned female at birth (AFAB), I was a woman. It didn’t matter that I had never felt comfortable in that category, or that there seemed to be many experiences common to women that I did not share, or aspects of femininity that I could not identify with. It wasn’t significant that I rejected typically female roles like wife (I almost never referred to myself as “So-and-so’s wife) and mother (I was a stepparent but did not want children), or that self-help books written specifically for women (I often picked up titles on writing or creativity) tended to seem infuriatingly unhelpful. I had a certain set of physical characteristics, so I was… as gender-essentialist as many people were and still are.

However, a couple of years before I wrote this set of hymns, I was motivated to participate in a novena of spiritual elevation for the trans dead: nine days of prayer concluding on November 20th, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every year, hundreds of trans people die by violence, often isolated from friends and estranged from their birth families. The novena is intended to help them progress spiritually in the afterlife so that they don’t remain trapped in a state like their moment of death.

I distinctly remember sitting on the floor of my cramped apartment, praying over the offerings of candle and cool water that I had laid out, and suddenly sensing the Tetrad++ around me, a hexagram of tall, bright, vibrant, armed beings who said, “This is one of ours.”

At the time I was unable to grasp the plain sense of these words: that I, like Them, was not cisgender and did not fit into the box to which I had been assigned at birth. It took me five or six years to start to understand that, and I’m still working on it. But I was happy to worship and work with the Tetrad++, until events within the Antinoan community disrupted our relationship.

I am happy now to renew my connection with Them, and to deepen my understanding of Their genders and my own. (I capitalize Their pronouns not simply as an honorific, but because They tend to communicate with me as a unified group.) Panpsyche, whose name means “all soul”, is of the first generation of the group, a trans feminine goddess who appears winged and armed with a spear. Panhyle, whose name means “all matter” or “all body”, is her trans masculine twin brother, who bears bull’s horns and a bow and arrow. They are the parents of Paneros, whose name means “All love”, who carries the sword and is metagender, sometimes manifesting a serpent where their genitals would be.

Panpsyche, Panhyle, and Paneros together became the parents of Pancrates,”all power”, the fiery deity who contains all genders. Paneris, “all strife”, manifested as the polar partner and lover of Paneros, a genderfluid being who shifts without stability between male and female presentation (and might appear as a fox as well). And Panprosdexia, “all acceptance,” the offspring of Pancrates, is agender and asexual, usually appearing hooded and cloaked, the one who walks in dark places and leads those who are lost there back to the light.

In my experience of these deities, They are deeply concerned with the survival and well-being of people who don’t fit into the usual boxes of gender or sexuality, to the point in my case of nagging me about self-care. I will not resist if They decide to resume that role in my life, because I could use some divine nagging (even more than I already get, thanks, everyone). They also affirm that gender is a choice and your choice is valid, even if that choice is cis masculine or cis feminine, because those genders, too, are part of the diversity of life. I hope that, if you are moved to use this hymn and find out more about the Tetrad++, They will manifest to you as They did to me and bless your life.

Commentary on Hymn XXXI: To Antinous, My God

I will wear a garland of red lotus in your honor, Antinous.
I will put my hands to work and write hymns in your honor, O Bithynian.
I will dance because your body is beautiful, most beautiful god,
that my body also may become beautiful.
All my pleasures will be yours, offered on your altar, O most lovable god,
like flowers, like incense, like chocolates, like wine, like kisses.
When I look up at the stars, I will look for your star, Navigator.
When I see the moon, Antinous, I will remember you are beloved of Selene, like Endymion.
The light of the sun is your light to me, Antinous Apollon.
The fragrance of the greening earth after rain is your fragrance, Antinous Dionysus.
The life that wells up again and again in me in spite of all defeats is your life, Antinous Osiris.
I will wear a garland of red lotus in your honor, Deus Frugiferus, Deus Amabilis,
Homo Deus, Hero, Daimon, sweet thing, I will wear a garland of red lotus
in your honor, and I will sing, I will dance, I will sing.

In 2015 when I first wrote these hymns, I had about two years of devotion behind me. I had also been listening to Irish singer-songwriter Hozier for about that long, finding performances on YouTube as well as listening to his debut album and two EPs. (There was a long gap between his first and second albums. Very long.) I think I must have discovered his cover of Van Morrison’s “Sweet Thing” shortly before I came to write this hymn. It was, frankly, the inspiration for it, metrically and in spirit. I wanted the rhythm, the candor, the intimacy of Hozier’s cover in a hymn that would reiterate the titles of the god and the themes of the preceding hymns as much as possible and make them personal.

I came to Antinous, attracted by his beauty and his goodness, and he accepted me. I didn’t have to be called or chosen or special; I could just show up. In a relationship with the god begun hopefully and tentatively, I found help, support, inspiration, and meaning. I found a door into relationships with other deities through Antinous and a mystery initiation that changed my life. In writing these hymns and now in writing their commentary, I hoped to do honor to the god of my choice and to help those who wish to know him better or who already love him and wish to praise him. May this offering fulfill my intentions, O Antinous, Beautiful, Just, Benevolent!

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Commentary on Hymn XXX

This hymn is new to the sequence and is published here for the first time. It was composed in early 2019; the events of 2020 have made my intention in its words even more fervent. First the hymn, and then the commentary:

Hymn XXX: To Antinous and Melinoe at the Apocalypse
Join together, beloved of Hadrian, daughter of Persephone,
join together in holy union, the bride upon the lap
of her groom, upon the rod of his beauty, face to face.
Join together, fairest of gods, brightest and darkest
of goddesses, copulate in love and desire, lip to lip,
breast to breast, phallos in kteis. Let the pleasure
build and swell, let the power rise within.
Let the juices gather and fall, the red and the white,
the semen of a god, the honey of Aphrodite,
let them fall on this age of the world, O purify us.
Let your love and joy and ecstasy dissolve
all hatred, greed, and fear. Let your orgasms
break the towers of the mighty and the chains
of the oppressed. Let your cries of pleasure
drown the speech and deafen the ears of liars.
Let a rain of sexual juices wash away the lust
for power, the thirst for domination, the safety
of those who dominate and punish. Let all
who will not rejoice in your union be dissolved
by your joy as by fire and acid. Fuck now
and bring about the end of this age of the world.

Vajrasattva with Consort

The background of this hymn is complex. Its imagery derives from Tibetan Buddhism and the practice of Vajrasattva, the cosmic buddha who presides over purification. In the most basic form of the practice, one visualizes Vajrasattva above one’s head, beaming down purifying rays of light as one chants his mantra of one hundred syllables. In advanced forms, however, one may visualize him as depicted in the image above, sexually united with his consort (a female buddha of equal wisdom and attributes), and the purifying light that descends is imagined as the fluids of their copulation pouring down into one’s energy body. The light from above, however envisioned, floods through the meditator and pushes all negativities out of the lower orifices of the body. Paradoxically, the impurities that humans purge serve as the purifying light and nectar for lower beings.

In this hymn I thus envision Antinous and his consort coupling, and their sexual fluids purifying not just one individual but the world. The concept of Antinous having a female consort, however, is my personal gnosis, at least partly shared with and verified by a few other people in the Naos.

Several years I wrote and blogged a short story that started with a simple premise: What if Hel, goddess of the dead to the Germanic peoples, came to visit Hades, god of the dead in Greece, while Persephone was away from the underworld visiting her mother? I am not a planner when it comes to writing, so I had no idea where the story would go when I began with that idea, a meeting of two underworld deities. It led to the birth of Melinoe, a goddess known to us only from the Orphic Hymns.

According to the Hymn addressed to her, Melinoe was begotten on Persephone by her father Zeus, only he deceived her by disguising himself as her husband Hades. Melinoe is described in obscure language which describes her as two-natured or two-bodied or half light, half dark and seems to say that she brings nightmares or hallucinations to mortals. At the conclusion of my story, little Melinoe is sent away to foster with Hel in her domain of the underworld, to protect her from any action that Zeus might take against her.

A couple of months later, I found myself thinking about an adult Melinoe being brought home from the North by Antinous in his Boat of Millions of Years. Once again, I started a story with no real plan other than to introduce these deities to one another as fictional characters. I soon realized, as I started to write their interactions, that, to be blunt, they wanted to bone. And that, on some level, if I wrote them a sex scene or a romance with sex, it would happen.

I consulted another Antinoan friend to divine for me. What did the gods in question have to say? Was I allowed to write them a sexual relationship? The answer my friend gave me was, “Yes, you can do that. But if they have sex, it means the end of the world.”

Somewhere in the past four years, I reached a point where the End of the World began to seem like a very desirable thing. Because I don’t mean the end of the cosmos, or the universe, or nature, however you want to call it. I mean the end of the saeculum (in Latin), or the aion (in Greek), or the wer-old, in Old English, the age of man–the end of our culture, our civilization, our paradigm. To quote the song that was used in the opening scenes of Independence Day, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

I am sharing this hymn publicly for the first time after nearly 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. After a string of natural disasters in Puerto Rico, the Midwest, and Louisiana (remember Hurricane Katrina? Laura is forecast to be worse). While fires rage in California and the incarcerated men who had been the principal (barely paid and unhonored) defense against wildfires are dying of the coronavirus. While the virus continues to spread, the federal government continues to withhold guidance or resources, right-voting citizens are protesting the virus (as if that resists it?) and black citizens are still protesting being shot by police, who continue to meet protests with armed force and to shoot unarmed black citizens–

Yes, I’m quite ready for this Age of Man to end. I’ve spent much of my life imagining and writing about alternatives, ways to build a better future, saner and more loving ways to live. The sexual union of a god identified with gayness and an obscure goddess who is the child of an incestuous rape seems like the perfect catalyst.

I have come to know and love Melinoe since her first appearance to me in my own fiction. She accompanied me through my initiation into Antinous’ Mysteries and has helped me through the difficult times that followed. She has not so much given me strength as called forth the strength I didn’t know I had. The agenda she has shown me is, basically, smashing the patriarchy, creating a new world in which no child shall be born under the same conditions as she was–the product of rape and incest, threatened almost from birth by her own family. And she is quite happy to bring nightmares, a bad death, and an afterlife of punishment to sexual predators, while at the same time helping and empowering their victims.

If you’re just plain tired of all this fucking shit–and believe me, I can find no words less vulgar that are adequate–join me in praying to this unlikely pairing of divinities to purify us by their erotic raptures and help us to create the world we want, a world not under the knee of white cis-male predators and exploiters. It’s possible. Love and desire burn hotter and cleaner than hatred.

Commentary on Hymn XXIX: To Antinous Deus Frugiferus

May your presence in my life be fruitful, O Antinous,
Deus Frugiferous. May grapes grow amongst your curls
to make sweet refreshment on my plate. May vines spring
out and wind their way down your arms and legs. May sheaves
of wheat stand up between your thighs and heavy round fruits
hang down for my delight. May flax and cotton pour from
your palms to be woven into my garments. May nuts and
beans appear in your footprints to be gathered and soaked.
May I always have food to cook nourishing meals and offer
my gods due portion. May I always have clothing that I may
appear with decency before your shrine. May money pile up
that I may buy wine and incense, candles and ice cream,
for you and all the gods and spirits. May good food and
sweet sleep, wise books and wise dreams fill my life that
poems and stories may germinate in me like seeds.
May I have an abundance of your blessings that I may
pass them on to all who need them, to feed the hungry,
to console the lonely, to calm the angry (or to arm them
for the fight), to bless always as I have been blessed,
O Deus Frugiferus, Antinous, most fruitful and generous of gods.

“Deus Frugiferus” is another title of Antinous which I love very much. It is usually translated “the fruitful god”, but if I am not mistaken, -iferus in Latin means “one who bears”, e.g., Lucifer, Luciferus, the light-bearer. “Deus Frugiferus” is “the fruit-bearing god”, with grapes in his hair like Dionysus.

Antinous has been a most generous giver of blessings in my life, and I have done my best to give back. There is a cycle of reciprocity between us and the gods; they give us good things, and we use their gifts to create things which we give back to them. Offerings of first fruits, of the best lamb in the flock or the best bull in the herd, of water, oil, and wine are present in all ancient religions and in many living ones. Even the Christian Eucharist conforms to this pattern, if you have a Catholic theology: God gives wheat and grapes, which we transform into bread and wine so that we can offer them back and receive them again transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

My material offerings to the gods over the past six or seven years have been pretty simple: water, wine, incense, candles, sometimes a bit of food if I cook a proper meal or order Chinese. My devotional writings, however, are also offerings to the gods, especially to Antinous. I may not be able to afford expensive wine or mount elaborate rituals on holy days, but I have created a considerable body of devotional and liturgical writing, a significant offering of my time and effort.

These writings are an offering of my heart; they are also the fruit of my relationship with the Beautiful Boy. One of my favorite sayings of our friend Rabbi Jesus is, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” I know I am on the right path spiritually because I see the fruits in my life, in my writing, in emotional healing, in concrete material help. And I have something to share with others, to reciprocate the gift not just by lighting some incense and saying a prayer (though I do those things) but by creating works that will help others to connect with the god, who is fruitful and generous, beautiful and good.

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Commentary on Hymn XXVIII: To Antinous Deus Amabilis

O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
you are the lovely god, fairest of mortal boys,
beautiful even amongst the gods.
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
you are the lovable god, most attractive
in your beauty, in your kindness, in your
open-handed welcome to those who seek you.
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
you are the loving god, the passions of your mortal heart
now kindled from red-hot to blue-white, your love
and loyalty a divine ecstasy.
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis,
accept the offering of my love,
and return it to me, if you will;
love me and in that love,
may all my loves be purified;
may I love like you, be as lovable
as you, become as lovely as you,
O Antinous, Deus Amabilis.

Amabilis…

“Amabilis” is one of my favorite titles for Antinous and perhaps the one that sums up my experience of him. He is Deus Amabilis, the Lovable God. He is not intimidating, scary, spooky, “dark”, or whatever (although he is not without a wrathful side). He is open, approachable, attractive, even likable. While many have looked at his surviving representations and seen a lazy, sulky, or melancholy adolescent boy, in my devotion I have found him to be a good listener, a patient friend, a god of good cheer. His surface beauty is matched by a deep goodness; he wants his devotees to be happy and does what he can to help them.

On the other hand, I don’t want to imply that Antinous is a doormat. Just as he did when mortal, he has definite preferences; he likes some people, loves some people, and rejects some people. He does not welcome homophobes, TERFs, racists, or other bigots into his court. He is on the side of liberation, inclusion, and equality, which means he opposes those who want to oppress, exploit, exclude, or dominate others. While I have been at pains throughout this series to convey that he does not reject straight people just for being straight, neither will he reinforce heteronormativity. He can be wrathful in the protection of his own, and he can be demanding of those who have pledged their service to him. Yet I myself find his demands empowering: If my god expects me to do a thing in his service, he must have good reason to think that I actually can do it, and do it well. (Such as writing this series of blog posts.)

For years I struggled, as a Christian, to have the sort of feelings about Jesus that I read about in the medieval mystics I loved so much. I was baffled by the fact that I had much more devotion to Julian of Norwich than to the god of her devotion. I loved liturgy and theology and saints and the Holy Spirit, and often felt more or less indifferent to Jesus. I didn’t know what I was missing until I encountered Antinous and fell in love with him. You can’t generate devotion to a deity in yourself any more than you can generate romance or sexual desire; I think there has to be a spark of something, perhaps the initiative of the deity and not the mortal. In any case, I am fonder of Jesus as a deified rabbi than I was of him as The Incarnate WORD, and I am deeply devoted to Antinous as the god who, to me, is the most lovable and also the most intelligible.

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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.

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Commentary on Hymn XXVI: To Antinous Homo Deus

Blessed are you, Antinous Homo Deus,
deified by the waters of the Nile:
blessed are you, man become god,
one with Osiris, mortal raised to
immortality. Blessed is the mystery
by which human becomes divine,
blessed the holy gods who welcome us
into their company; with Herakles, Semele,
Ariadne you take your place among
the glorious ones. Bid us remember,
O Bithynian boy, the lesson behind
this mystery: That no human becomes
a god without first dying.

I am not a fluent user of Latin; nevertheless, I dare to say that “Homo Deus” is a phrase that does not translate well into English. You could render it as “Man God”, but you could equally render it as “God Man”. It is possible in Latin to say that X is Y or Y is X without having to use any form of the verb esse, to be, so one might extend the translation into “the man who is a god” or “the god who is a man” or even “the human god” or “the divine human”.

This to me is the central mystery of Antinous’ deity and of his mortal life: that he was an ordinary youth who, as it were by accident, became a god. That he was a historical person deified by fate. The other names I mentioned, Herakles, Semele, and Ariadne, are mythic rather than historical, and there are good reasons to think that Semele and Ariadne were originally seen as divine in their own right rather than elevated through relationship to Dionysus. Antinous is simply right there, in history, standing perhaps beside and slightly behind Hadrian, and then changed by the waters of the Nile.

Of course there is another historical figure who became divine, a not-quite-contemporary of Antinous: namely, Jesus. While I myself am persuaded that Jesus was, indeed, a historical person, it ought to be said that the evidence for Antinous is much greater than that for Jesus. Antinous was mentioned in historical record by people who had met Hadrian (and perhaps Antinous, too) and by people who were hostile to his relationship with the Emperor and skeptical of his divinity. Jesus himself is not mentioned outside of writings within his movement.

Christian theology looked at the divinity of Jesus from two perspectives, traditionally called high or low, descending or ascending Christology. From the high perspective, Jesus was the human incarnation of the divine Logos, a manifestation of the only true deity, a unique instance of God becoming human. From the low perspective, Jesus was an ordinary man chosen or adopted by his heavenly Father who attained godhood through his death, which he accepted as an offering of himself to his Father’s will. The high perspective can be seen in the prologue to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word…”; the low perspective in the speeches of Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

You could say that, to coin a phrase, we have an ascending Antinology by default. We know Antinous was mortal, died, and became divine. In the religions of his time and place, he was not unique in that. And as I say in today’s hymn, death is the only way that mortals become immortal. We are not allowed to not die; even if we experience apotheosis, deification, death is part of the process.

Yet I wonder if we cannot imagine a descending Antinology as well; if Antinous the mortal youth cannot be seen as the embodiment or instantiation of a universal principle, a Platonic Idea (if I understand the Idea correctly, and I make no guarantee that I do). Likewise, if each of us is potentially divine, then perhaps each human being is the embodiment of a universal principle as well. Every deity, every human, every Idea is in a process of both ascending and descending, as Heraclitus said: “The way up and the way down are the same.”

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Commentary on Hymn XXV:

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.

Leelah Alcorn

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.

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Commentary on Hymn XXIV: To Antinous Agathos Daimon

You are the protector of our cities, the protector
of our prosperity, guardian of the grain, Antinous
Agathos Daimon, yet you are also the guardian
of our spirits, the genius and juno, the spark
of divinity within. Grant prosperity to us who need it,
first of the body, then of the soul; grant health and
well-being to us who need it, first of the body,
then of the mind and spirit; grant self-knowledge
to us who need it, Antinous Agathos Daimon,
that the Antinous in us may bless the Antinous in you.

Antinous as Agathos Daimon

The next group of hymns are based on a series of titles for Antinous found in inscriptions and other sources. The first of these is Antinous as the Agathos Daimon, the good spirit.

The Agathos Daimon was originally conceived of as a protective spirit of the household or the granary, imaged in the form of a serpent. Snakes prey on rodents who would otherwise help themselves to the family’s grain. Gradually, the agathos daimon came to be seen as a deity in his own right, the spouse of Tyche Agathe (good fortune), then as the protective spirit not only of a household but of its individuals. Every person possessed a good spirit, their guiding presence of divinity, which Romans called the genius in men and the juno in women.

Antinous, as a deified mortal, uniquely embodies and represents the divine potential in human beings. In none of the ancient mythologies of Rome, Greece, or Egypt is there a hard and fast line between deity and humanity. While pride or hubris is certainly a vice and reverence for the gods a virtue, nevertheless immortals mingle with mortals, father or bear their children, and raise humans to godhead. To worship Antinous as Agathos Daimon is to recognize and celebrate our own divine potential and to acknowledge and honor it in others as well. The Antinous in us sees the Antinous in everything.

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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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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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Commentary on Hymn XXI: To Antinous and Diana

Who is the man, or who is the god, who is favored
by Diana? Who can please the white-clad huntress,
swift of foot and swift of bow, chaste and just,
aloof and severe, surrounded by nymphs and
beasts of the chase? Only the one who, like Antinous,
also follows the hunt as master of the hounds,
who does not trespass on the goddess’ privacy
nor claim that which is not his right, the male
who extends his hand in friendship and delights
in comradeship, not scorning the fellowship
of woman or goddess, not despising the love
between women. Hail, Antinous, beloved of
Hadrian, Antinous Kynegetikos, favored of Diana!
Hail, Diana, goddess of Nemi and Lanuvium,
bright as the moonlight, mistress of the forest,
friend to those who earn her trust!

The association of Antinous and Diana stems from two roots: One, the archaeological evidence for their being worshipped jointly at Lanuvium, and two, their mutual passion for the hunt. The latter is no doubt the source of the former, as her role of huntress is one that Roman Diana shares with Greek Artemis, and with the mortal, historical Antinous as well.

I happen to be writing this commentary on the 21st of August, the Festival of the Lion Hunt. Hadrian and Antinous led a party to hunt down and kill a lion which had been killing people in Mauretania, in the Libyan desert. During that hunt, Antinous made a grievous error in judgment and was nearly killed by the lion, but Hadrian’s intervention saved his life (which perhaps made it more difficult when Antinous drowned, and nothing could be done). Devotees of Antinous observe this day by acknowledging our own shortcomings and failures, with the reminder that even Antinous was human, fallible, and fragile.

As a lifelong city dweller, I have never hunted. I know that while there are wealthy people who pay obscene sums of money to go and kill exotic animals to no purpose, there are also many people in the U.S. for whom hunting is an essential activity that helps to feed their family. Last weekend I was reading the essay “Gun Country” in Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno, a book I highly recommend, which helped me to begin to understand that hunting is not only subsistence for many people, but an experience of solitude and of communion with nature that they can get in no other way. The death of something is a precondition of food and life for something, someone else most of the time; even plants die when they are harvested, insects and small animals may be killed by the cultivation of crops, and farming and animal husbandry take their toll on human laborers. Antinous and Hadrian went out and put their lives at risk for the sport of it, in one way–it was not as if the Emperor were required to do the deed–but also to protect and preserve human lives, not unlike firefighters. Antinous made a mistake during that hunt and came very close to death, but he was saved by another fallible mortal human being who loved and cared for him. We, too, may fail and falter and yet not lack the help of our gods or our friends and loved ones.

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Commentary on Hymn XX: To Antinous and Serapis

Great Serapis, Osiris-Apis, Wesar-Hapi-Ankh,
whose Son is Anubis who is also Hermes,
bless your grandson, beautiful Antinous,
he who is one with Osiris, enthroned with the gods
of Egypt, and bless his worshippers, we who honor
the Greek ephebe who died in Egypt, him to whom
Bes and Djehuty gave a city, whom Hathor suckled,
to whom Harpocrates whispered the secret.
Hail, Osirantinous, the one who is made perfect,
who perfects his worshippers, triumphant in the West,
radiant on high, bringing red blossoms out of the black mud,
and hail to you, Serapis, grandfather of Antinous,
both of you the meeting-place of many gods.

Head of Serapis at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

I was in college when I first read R.E. Witt’s Isis in the Ancient World. Originally titled Isis in the Greco-Roman World, it has stayed in print because it is a classic, really: a study of how the Egyptian goddess became an international deity worshipped as far away as Britain and in Rome itself. When Dion Fortune’s Sea Priestess said, “All the gods are one god, and all the goddesses are one goddess,” she was talking about Serapis and Isis. Fortune wasn’t wrong; there was a point in history where Isis had been syncretized with just about every goddess in every region of the empire. Her epiphany to the unfortunate Lucius is the climax of Apuleius’ novel The Golden Ass.

As Isis’ cult spread outside of Egypt, Osiris was transformed (with a bit of a boost from the Ptolemies) into Serapis, a synthesis of Osiris and Apis the bull-god. Osiris’ two sons, Horus with Isis and Anubis with Nephthys (in at least some versions) became Harpocrates, a Greek’s best guess at pronouncing Heru-pa-kraat, Horus-on-the-horizon, and Hermanubis, the jackal-headed, caduceus-bearing messenger and psychopomp who seems to have been Christianized as St. Christopher. Harpocrates was depicted as a boy wearing a side-lock of hair and putting his finger to his lips, both symbols that stood for childhood in Egyptian art. (If you’ve ever seen The Ten Commandments, Yul Brynner fetchingly sports the side-lock in the early part of the film.) To Greek interpreters, however, the finger on the lips implied silence before the Mysteries, keeping the sacred secret.

Antinous is connected more obviously to Serapis than to Isis because Serapis himself is a transformation of Osiris. He is depicted as a bearded man crowned with a kind of basket for grain and bearing the bident, the two-pronged staff or weapon proper to the underworld god known as Hades, Pluto, or Dis Pater. He is often accompanied by the three-headed Cerberus. He is the underworld god as benevolent father, giver of grain, guardian of a peaceful afterlife, consort of the goddesses who traverses all worlds, rather than as distant and scary lord of the dead.

Serapis fuses Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultus in much the same way that Antinous does, which has prompted Antinous’ devotees to call Serapis the grandfather of the beautiful boy. He also happens to be my favorite paternal deity, the father god I trust when I need a dad. I have more than once stood before the image of him in the photograph and prayed and felt, despite the damage to the idol, the benevolent power of the god.

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