Two poems and a flower crown

Colors for Antinous the Lover

Black

Like the fertile earth wet

With heaven’s rain, seed of Zeus,

Black like the noonday shade beneath

The cypress tree where lovers lie between

Its roots, black like the depth of night in which

True knowledge is gained, not by sight

But by taste and touch

Blue

As the Nile lotus, the ornament of

The Pharaohs, blue as the summer sky,

As the precious lapis lazuli inlaid in a collar,

Blue as the flame of desire in lapis eyes,

As the shadows cast on the afternoon wall

By lovers coupling

Purple

For the hyacinth, a fragrant life

Struck down, for the amethyst and its

Purity, purple for bruises and for sorrows,

Purple that is neither red nor blue nor pink,

A flame of the soul and the spirit of a body,

Purple for the drag queens and purple for the dandies,

Purple for the leather daddies and the lipstick lesbians,

Purple for Marsha and all her trans siblings,

Purple for our queerness, our sovereignty, our royalty,

Purple for all who worship the catamite who became a god,

The unconquerable Antinous, the Lover of body and soul

Andrew Hozier-Byrne in a flower crown

Colors for Melinoe

Melinoe, black

As Egypt, black

As Nebthet, mistress of

Wesir, mistress of the temple, black

As the vulture’s wing, the jackal’s eye:

Guide me on my journey through the Duat.

Melinoe, white

As Selene, white

as salt, white as snow,

White as old bones stripped

By vulture beaks and scoured by the rain:

Shine on my road in the night.

Melinoe, red

As Sekhmet, red

As bloody jaws, red as rage, red

As the sunset spreading over

The desert, red land west of the Nile:

Burn me clean with your passion.

Melinoe, golden

Lady, saffron-gowned, golden

As the autumn leaves, as the sandaled feet

Of Ariadne dancing the labyrinth

In the stars, golden as honey:

Turn wisdom to sweetness in my heart.

Commentary on Hymn XVII: To Antinous Apollon, Lover

How many are your loves, Antinous Apollon,
and how many the stories with unhappy endings.
How often your beloveds shrink away in fear
or fall prey to jealous rivals; how often the light
of your regard turns mortals into plants.
Laurel and cypress and hyacinth bear testimony
to the terror your purity of love can inspire.
Yet to those who yield, you give joy and fruitfulness;
many are your sons by many mothers, and
how poor we would be without their gifts.
If you insist on loving us, father of Aristaios and
Asklepios, then make us worthy of your favor
and sensible of our worthiness in your sight.
O Antinous Apollon, if you approach us mortals,
be gentle; if we flee your light, do not pursue
too swiftly; if we hesitate between mortal and
immortal love, do not judge too harshly, for we
are as moths to your flame, dust motes in your
beams, herbs thrown onto the fire sweetly to burn.

Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne

The myths of Apollon that I remember best from my childhood are his many and often unsuccessful romantic relationships. If romantic one can call them, since consent seems to play little part. What the mythographers deemed important about a god’s romantic escapades was usually the son he fathered on a goddess, nymph, or mortal woman, and Apollon fathered some notable offspring, including Asklepios (Aesculapius to the Romans), a god of healing second only to his father, and Aristaios, the god of cheese-making, bee-keeping, and olive-pressing (and thus patron of a large portion of the average daily diet in ancient times).

A brief perusal of Apollon’s pages at Theoi.com informs me that the god was credited with, literally, dozens of lovers and children unknown to me from my childhood reading, including four relationships with young men that all ended badly (that is, the young man died and became a flower or a tree). It is no wonder that in thinking of Apollon Antinous as lover, I thought again of the god’s light, of that purifying laser brightness, and how it might be too much for a mere mortal to bear.

The story of Daphne is often held against Apollo as proof that he is simply another rapist, albeit a mortal one. However, Ovid’s version of the story in his Metamorphoses is more complex than that. Ovid relates that Apollo, seeing the childlike Cupid practicing with his bow, mocked him and boasted of his own prowess in its use, advising the boy god to stick to lighting torches. Cupid had his revenge by shooting two arrows: a golden one at Apollo, kindling him with desire, and a leaden one at the nymph Daphne, kindling revulsion against love, sex, and marriage. When Apollo met Daphne, his attraction and her repulsion led to a chase that concluded only when she reached the river Peneus, her father, and called on him for help. He transformed his terrified daughter into a tree, the first laurel tree.

I would like to think that, seeing the object of his desire turned into a tree rather than yield to him, Apollo regretted his lapse in rationality and his mockery of the power of sexual desire, and that his claiming the laurel tree as his own, sacred to him, was not a final attempt to override Daphne’s lack of consent, but rather a reminder to himself of the harm he had caused by scorning Cupid. Which, as a mythographer myself, it is my right to think and to write. Affairs between gods and mortals, even gods and lesser spirits, can be dangerous things, yet how rewarding when, as with Apollon and Kyrene, or Dionysus and Ariadne, everything goes right.

Commentary on Hymn XIV: To Antinous-Hermes, Lover

You are not known for your loves, Antinous Hermes,
but you have not lacked them. Among the goddesses
you dallied with Aphrodite, Brimo, and Daeira,
sought Persephone, and called Peitho your wife.
Amongst the nymphs Penelopeia bore you
the great god Pan, and Carmentis went to Latium
with Evander, her son, the seed of a future empire.
Many were the mortal women whom you found desirable,
and there were men, too, especially Krokos, flower-lad.
You are he who woos with wit, who persuades with suasion,
who seduces with banter, who charms with speech,
lover of the mind and the mind’s lover, who shows us
how to join sense, sensibility, and sensuality, and
for this we praise you, Antinous Hermes.

The Antinoopolitan Lovers

Hermes, like his brother Apollon and others of the younger Olympians, is a deity who remained unmarried and dallied with a good many lovers, both males and females, deities and mortals. He was sometimes called the husband of Peitho, a goddess whose name means “persuasion” or even “seduction”, but who seems to have been worshiped in conjunction with Aphrodite or with the Charites (the Graces) more often than with the messenger god.

In writing this hymn I ran with the idea of the god as a lover of the mind, as someone who could find a way to one’s heart (and/or one’s loins) through the head. While there is not much hint of this in the myths, it is certainly a way of courting that works for me. I am not alone in being a fan of fictional couples who woo and wed with witty banter; it’s a trope that’s been popular at least since Shakespeare gave us Much Ado about Nothing and has fueled such diverse tv shows as Moonlighting, The X-Files, and (a personal favorite) Remington Steele. As it happens, my still-favorite musician, Hozier, included a song on his last album that perfectly embodies what I had in mind, and the lyrics are complete with mythological references.

Commentary on Hymn XI: To Antinous-Dionysus, Lover

Who but you is the Lover of all things, Antinous Dionysus?
Who but you has loved so many so intimately?
In mortal life you were the lover of Hadrian,
beloved of an emperor, and lover to your friends.
You have loved women, you who took Ariadne to be your bride;
you have loved men, you who boldly kept your promise to Prosymnus.
You have loved mortals, you who loved an emperor, a princess, a shepherd boy;
you have loved immortals, you who coupled with Aphrodite and Persephone.
Do you love any less the grape vine and the ivy
which you took for your own, or the leopard and the panther?
Did you not love even Pentheus and hope he would yield to your charms?
Shamelessly and without fear you have given and received the gift of Eros;
hopefully and without shame I praise you and pray you will share that gift with me.

Antinous is most famously the beloved of Hadrian; Dionysus is famously the lover of everyone. While he wedded Ariadne, there are numerous myths of his coupling with other mortals and with deities, as well. While Apollo has myths of passionate, emotional attachments to both men and women, Dionysus might fairly be described in the vernacular as Down to Fuck, although he also is reputed to be completely faithful to Ariadne.

The story of his encounter with Prosymnus is one of my favorite myths, for its combination of humor and pathos. While seeking a way into the Underworld in order to rescue his mother, and perhaps his bride as well, Dionysus encountered a young shepherd named Prosymnus who claimed to be able to show him an entrance. He offered the god this information in exchange for sexual favors. Dionysus promised to fulfill the bargain but pled haste; he would return to Prosymnus once he had carried out his rescue mission. Prosymnus accepted the terms and Dionysus went on his way.

Later, he did indeed seek out Prosymnus, only to find that the shepherd had died. (Was it an illness or an accident? Or had so much time passed in mortal reckoning that the young man had died of old age?) Dionysus, regretting the lost opportunity, went to Prosymnus’ grave and fulfilled his promise by inventing, and using, the first dildo. In my opinion, it is notable that a god would, even symbolically, bottom for a mortal.

Antinous Dionysus is a god without shame when it comes to Eros. I wished to celebrate that shamelessness and my feeling that he embodies the diversity and multiplicity of erotic experience, that it need not be limited to sexual experience or even attraction. Dionysus loves pleasure and the intensity of all the senses; he also lures both devotees and enemies with his erotic attractiveness. In The Bacchae he gives Pentheus a chance to respond as a devotee, a lover, a chance that Pentheus vehemently rejects. The young king’s downfall is his settled belief that what the maenads do must be shameful and his prurient desire to witness it without being involved. Dionysus always demands involvement and intimacy; it can be accepted as a blessing, or be resisted as an unwelcome fate, like the resistant Pentheus dying while dressed for the god’s rites.

Commentary on Hymn IV: To Antinous the Lover

You have the power to set us free, and so
we hail you as Liberator. You have the wisdom
to guide, and so we hail you as Navigator.
Yet wisdom and power are not enough to satisfy
us, and so, Antinous, we hail you as Lover.
For you do love, intimately, personally,
individually, even as you loved Hadrian,
or your parents, or your friends. And you are
supremely lovable, as beautiful boy, as
faithful friend, as glorious god who is Victor
over the archons, Star of the Eagle,
Emperor of Peace.

To the powerless grant power, God Man,
and to the foolish grant wisdom, but above all,
grant love to those who are without it. May those
who are unloved know the ever-flowing waters
of your grace; may those who are unable to love
know the sting of desire, of sympathy, and of
compassion. May I, your devotee, love you
with all that I am and all that I may be, and
in your love, may I become all that I may
to be loved by and to love you forever.

The Farnese Antinous

On April 21st, the Naos Antinoou celebrates the Megala Antinoeia, the Great Games of Antinous, a cluster of festivals both ancient and specific to the Boy which ushers in the season of Antinous the Lover.

Antinous the Lover is probably the default view of the Beautiful Boy to anyone who knows his history. He was the favorite, or beloved, or in the Greek word, eromenos of the emperor Hadrian. Hadrian, a Roman of Iberian descent, had a notable love for Greek culture–one of the reasons he wore a beard when Roman men generally went clean-shaven–and it seems most likely that he conceived of his relationship with Antinous not as the relationship between a master and a slave, or between a ruler and his concubine, but as the relationship of erastes and eromenos, adult male and youth, which formed a part of a youth’s education to manhood in ancient Greek culture.

I can’t look at Antinous as Lover without looking at Hadrian and their relationship, and I can’t look at their relationship with looking, honestly, at issues of adult/youth sex and consent. We don’t know for certain how young Antinous was when he became involved with Hadrian, nor how old he was when he died–probably no more than nineteen. We don’t know what kind of sex their relationship involved, how young Antinous was when it began, or how much of a say he had. What we do know is that the erastes/eromenos relationship was held in high esteem; it traditionally required the consent of the youth’s parents and of the youth; it was an exchange of mentoring and sponsorship in return for sexual pleasure. We also know that Hadrian’s grief at Antinous’ death was so overwhelming, so openly expressed, that his contemporaries considered it unseemly and unmanly. That implies to me that it was a relationship we would call romantic as well as sexual. You don’t build a lover a city and scatter temples for him across an empire just because you had satisfying sex with him.

What I myself keep in mind when I ponder Hadrian and Antinous is, for one thing, that their relationship has not ceased; it is surely ongoing in their immortal lives, and for another, it is now Antinous who is superior in power and status. Hadrian may be divus, an honor accorded to many of the Emperors and their spouses and kindred, but Antinous is Osiris, a god worshiped for countless generations before the Latins wandered into Italy from Anatolia and began to think about building some cities.

Furthermore, I think it is a mistake to think of Antinous as merely the lover of Hadrian or exclusively the patron of gay love, homosexual love. Hadrian was what we would now call bisexual; his marriage was a political arrangement, apparently an amicable one, and he had relationships with both men and women besides his wife before meeting Antinous. Antinous, had he lived, would have been expected to marry and have children, and as another adult male, would have been seen as an unsuitable sexual partner for Hadrian (although certainly people defied that expectation and formed permanent same-sex relationships just as they still do today). Antinous to me is the patron and protector of queer relationships and queer people, of bisexuals and trans people as well as men who love men and women who love women. He is the god who proclaims all erotic love holy so long as it is founded on consent–and while his historic relationship with Hadrian may not look very consensual by our standards, personal experience with the god will prove that he is very much a champion of consent. He might borrow the words of Blessed Elua in Jacqueline Carey’s D’Angeline novels and bid his devotees “love as thou wilt”.

This love, erotic love, queer love, non-reproductive love and sex, is the love which brings the celestial Navigator down to earth, and whether the sex is reproductive or not, the love is generative, creative, fructifying. It is the love which expresses itself in the earth’s flowering and the Beltane-like festival of Floralia in honor of Flora. It is the love which is celebrated at the beginning of April in the Veneralia in honor of Venus. It is the love which brings the gods to make love with mortals and to make stars and flowers and goddesses of their beloveds. It is this love and beauty of which we joyfully say, “Haec est unde vita venit!

Prayers to Antinous in a time of crisis

A Litany for Antinous the Liberator

In the name of Antinous, the Liberator, the Savior, the Human-God, Victorious One, Emperor of Peace.

From all that oppresses us, Antinous, liberate us.

From all that inhibits us, Antinous, liberate us.

From all that constrains us, whether without or within, Antinous, liberate us.

From racism and all racial prejudice, Antinous, liberate us.

From sexism and all misogyny, Antinous, liberate us.

From disrespect for our elders, Antinous, liberate us.

From disrespect for our youth, Antinous, liberate us.

From homophobia and all hatred of sexual minorities, Antinous, liberate us.

From transphobia and all hatred of gender minorities, Antinous, liberate us.

From all contempt for women and girls and for effeminate men, Antinous, liberate us.

From all injustice, Antinous, liberate us.

From sexual violence, Antinous, liberate us.

From bullying and harassment, Antinous, liberate us.

From depression and melancholy, Antinous, liberate us.

From loneliness and despair, Antinous, liberate us.

From doubt of our own gifts, Antinous, liberate us.

From doubt of our ability to act, Antinous, liberate us.

From the wounds of the past, Antinous, liberate us.

From fear of the future, Antinous, liberate us.

From all our addictions and from contempt for the addicted, Antinous, liberate us.

From poverty and the shaming of the poor, Antinous, liberate us.

From hunger and from greed and grasping, Antinous, liberate us.

From all illness of body, mind, or soul, Antinous, liberate us.

From ignorance, especially willful ignorance, Antinous, liberate us.

From the tyranny of the wealthy and their greed, Antinous, liberate us.

From the tyranny of the bigoted and their fear, Antinous, liberate us.

From the tyranny of the lustful and their self-loathing, Antinous, liberate us.

From every kind of hatred and violence, Antinous, liberate us.

[Additional petitions may be inserted here. ]

Guard and defend us, Antinous, as we struggle to free ourselves; guard and defend us, Antinous, as we strive to liberate others; guard and defend us, Antinous, as we await the rising of your star.

Ave, ave, Antinoe!

Haec est unde vita venit!

 

antinous_pio-clementino_inv256_n2

Hymn II: To Antinous the Liberator

Many are the burdens we bear, and high are the walls

that are built around us; many are the voices we answer

to and the eyes of the judges; many are the wounds

that never healed and the old pains that catch at

the spine, and we lower our eyes to the pavement

and feel that nothing will ever change.

But you, Antinous,

have defeated all the archons, and nothing can withstand

your power. You offer your hand to all those who are bound

up in their own knots; you lift your spear in defense of all

who live under tyranny. Where there is a march for justice,

you march with them; where there is a fire for freedom,

you bear the torch. Where truth is spoken to power,

you stand beside; where the truth of a soul is opened,

you listen in witness. You are the Liberator from all

that oppresses or inhibits; you hunt down the tyrant,

strike open the locks, trample down the doors.

O liberate me, Liberator, from all that oppresses

or inhibits, that I may have the freedom of your friendship

now and forever.

2af62d6900000578-3184551-image-a-46_1438648885578

Hymn IX: To Antinous-Dionysus, Liberator

As long as there’s music to dance to, he will come.

As long as there’s a bottle of wine or something else to share, he will come.

As long as lovers slip off and couple even when there’s no place or time for it,

he will come, Antinous Dionysus, Dionysus Lusios, Liberator.

As long as there’s sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, he will come.

As long as people march in peace and break windows in fury, he will come.

As long as people sit home in the darkness, afraid to get up and step out

into the light, he will come, Antinous Dionysus, the breaker, the loosener.

He will come and break the bonds of tyranny and oppression.

He will come and loosen the knots we tie ourselves up in, inside.

He will throw open the windows and doors, turn stairs into ramps,

water into wine, sorrow into joy, depression into weeping,

tears into laughter, He will come, Antinous Dionysus, Lusios,

Liberator, deliverer, he will come, he will come, if we call:

Evohe! Evohe! Evohe!

 

antinous_osiris_louvre_2

A prayer to Antinous in this time of crisis

O Antinous, Beautiful Boy, Osirantinous, Justified One,
I cry out to you in a time of many struggles.
My nation is an empire falling to its knees and falling apart.
There is no good emperor. There is no just rule.
I cry out to you as Liberator
on behalf of the immigrants imprisoned in camps:
Set them free.
I cry out to you as Liberator
on behalf of the protestors in our streets:
March with them. Protect them.
I cry out to you as Antinous Hermes:
May the images of resistance and brutality
be spread far and wide.
May wickedness be exposed.
May police and governments be held accountable.
I cry to you as Antinous Asklepios:
We still suffer from the plague of coronavirus.
Send us healing. Protect the healers.
I cry out to you as Lover:
May these armies of lovers not fail
who love one another more than their privilege,
who love justice more than order,
who love equality more than hierarchy.
And I cry out to you as Navigator:
Show us the way forward.
Turn the wheel of the ages.
Show us how to untie the knots
of hatred, hierarchy, bigotry, privilege,
how to pull on the threads that will
unravel the whole tapestry of
-isms that covers the world
so that we may unveil the true beauty
of the world, of one another, of ourselves.

POEM: A prayer to Antinous Belenos

O Antinous Belenos,
lord of this day, friend of Flora,
lady of the white track,
hunter who with your lover
Hadrian the wise and prudent
brought down the terrible boar:
hear our prayer and hunt the boar
that still rages among us;
the boar that feasts on women,
the boar that charges same-sex love,
the boar that tramples trans folk,
the boar that fears and hates Eros.
Hunt down the terrifying boar
that always threatens lovers,
that gores and gashes any kind of love
that is not restriction and repression,
hierarchy and domination,
the master and his property.
Hunt down the boar of hatred,
O mighty Antinous Belenos,
so that all lovers may love
free of fear and free of chains.

POEM: The Erotic Metaphor (for Antinous the Lover)

If my love is like a red red rose, then a red red rose is also like my love, and perhaps Burns was thinking of the folded petals nestled between the twin stems of her legs, holding honey inside.

If my love is like a melody that’s sweetly played in tune, then a sweet melody is like my love, perhaps like her cries of pleasure as he opened the rose and sought inside.

If the love of Solomon and Sheba is like the love of Israel and Hashem, or the love of God and the Church, or the love of Christ and the soul, then the love of the body is like the love of the soul, the body with its breasts like twin gazelles, its ruddy tower, its belly-heap-of-wheat, its dripping myrrh.

If eros is a metaphor for agape, then agape is a metaphor for eros, because the metaphor is a seesaw, a bridge, a two-way street, and the love of an emperor for a youth is divine love, and the love of a youth become god is an erotic love, is a sexual love, is a romantic love, is a passionate, quivering, dripping, fragrant, noisy love,

and this, Antinous, my beloved, is the only love I have ever truly desired.

POEM: To Antinous the Lover 2

You are the Boy crowned with the flowers

that Flora calls out of the moist earth.

You are the Beautiful Beloved who catches

the eye of Venus as she wafts ashore.

You are the wine of Dionysus, the music

of Apollo, the green grass of Osiris,

the laughter of Hermes over the dice.

You are the best friend, the dearest lover,

the guest welcome everywhere, bringer

of gifts. Beloved of Hadrian, twin of Eros,

bridegroom of Melinoe, Lover of those who

love you, come, Antinous, our Lover,

with flower and fruit, with cup and lyre,

with joy and sunshine, with tears and rain,

come down to earth, which both hallows

and is hallowed by your footsteps, and

be our emperor of peace, of joy, of love.

POEM: To Antinous the Lover 1

I dreamt of your coming long before you came–

dreams of boat rides watching the sun set

while you stood in the prow, wild curls streaming

in the wind. The water under us was dark green

and strewn with flowers, white, red, deep blue,

golden yellow. Then we docked and there was

a party under striped canvas, grilled meat, heaps

of rice, vegetables in every color, and wine, wine,

wine. You filled my cup again and again

before I could empty it, smiling, your mouth

full of silent promises. Later, when the moon

had risen, we sat alone by the river and you fed

me chocolate cake, not too sweet, perfect.

In a few days, this dream will come true.