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.

Sacred Nights: Foundation Day

Some years I write and post a lot during the Sacred Nights, when we celebrate Mystery of Antinous’ life, death, and deification. This was not one of those years. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t observing the holy days; I made some small solitary ritual at home, and I start every day with a brief journal entry that includes the phase and sign of the Moon and the holy day on the calendar.

But I was observing other things, too, this year, in the wider sense. I was observing racism and antisemitism at work. I was observing violence against elderly members of a minority religion, carried out in their place of worship on their weekly sacred day. I was observing threats to prominent members of the more liberal political party in my country, pipe bombs delivered by mail. I was observing a President who neither condemned these actions nor took responsibility for his incitement of them through his rhetoric.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so anxious, frightened, and depressed during the Sacred Nights. I took refuge in the most positive, optimistic pop culture I could find–Supergirl and Doctor Who–and when watching those shows didn’t help, I took refuge under the covers of my bed with my stuffed animals.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, a nation which is the home of many devotees of Antinous, a national leader has been elected who is overtly a Christian fascist, eager to force his brand of Catholicism on the country. Brazil’s queer, trans, and pagan citizens are even more scared than those in the U.S., and we’re pretty scared up here.

Today is Foundation Day, when Antinous’ body was found on the banks of the Nile and the local priesthood of Osiris took charge of him, recognizing that he had become a god. It is so called because Hadrian’s response to Antinous’ death, after the first wave of terrible grief, was to declare that he would build a city on the place where his beloved’s body was discovered; the discovery of Antinous’ body was the founding of Antinoopolis. Hadrian, a great builder throughout his reign, carried out his resolution and built a thriving city in memory of the Beautiful Boy; he also promoted his beloved’s cultus throughout the Empire.

History happens. The cult of Antinous was suppressed and all but forgotten like the much older cults of so many gods. The city of Antinoopolis survives only as picturesque ruins. Yet his sacred images survive; his cultus has been revived, and his city forms the shape of our sacred space in his rituals. Every year we devotees of Antinous re-found his sacred city and make it more real in the manifest world, a place where equality and friendship are paramount values and love, beauty, good health, and the arts can flourish. That, to me, is what his cultus is about.

On many holy days, Jewish people around the world make the devout wish, “Next year in Jerusalem!”, hoping to come together one day in their own city in their own land. If I may, I will borrow that sentiment and say, “This year, this place, this is Antinoopolis. This is the city of the Beautiful Boy and we are its citizens, right here, right now.” May all of us dwell in our own holy city and worship our own god in peace and joy. May it be so.

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