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.

A world full of gods

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Vesta’s fire burns on my stove and in the candles on my shrine. She consumes the incense I kindle and crackles through wires as electricity to power lamps, laptops, and everything else.

Apollo gives music, healing, poetry, prophecy, all of which I need. He and Diana shed light by day and by night. Venus and her court bless me with birds and flowers as well as love and desire. Mercury, who blesses writers as well as merchants and thieves, sends the bus to get me to work on time, protects me when I cross a busy intersection, notices when I help a homeless person.

Who better than Minerva to help a single woman further her career, especially in an intellectual field? To whom shall I appeal for just government if not Jupiter, king of the gods? Mars is a protector of boundaries and of the fields we cultivate, not merely a god of war. Juno’s image burns within me, my sacred personal sovereignty.

The blessings of Ceres put food on my table. Bacchus entertains me not merely in every glass of wine but in every movie and television show, transforming reality and slipping me meaning and wisdom along with pleasure and diversion. Neptune and Portunus are needed to bless our rivers and our harbor, a center of tourism and of trade. Without Vulcan, would I have a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone? I’m not an artificer, but I need the products of craft and manufacture. With Janus at the door, I sleep safely at night.

Antinous, my beloved boy, god of my heart, carries the gifts of Apollo, Dionysus, and Hermes, as well as of Osiris, and opens the door to all the gods. He is the center around which my sense of the numinous is organized, the heart of the mandala.

There is no god that is not part of my life. They are everywhere. I may not go into the wilderness, but I know that Diana and Faunus are there, just as Mercury and Apollo, Minerva and Venus are not far away in the city. Even a vacant lot overgrown with weeds can be a glimpse of Faunus; Diana’s deer are hiding in patches of woods just off the light rail’s route. Flora blesses the carefully tended yards and gardens no matter how run-down a neighborhood may be.

Other gods are no less real for my not worshipping them. They, too, are present even if I don’t notice them.  It doesn’t seem like mysticism, or magic, or anything but reality. The gods and my relationships with them are woven through my life, my ordinary life. I pay attention to them, and they pay attention to me. Their reality affirms my reality; their sacredness affirms my sacredness. After all, some gods become humans, and a good many humans have become gods….

(Image from Wikimedia)

Natalis Dianae Lanuviensis

 

Hail, Diana, great goddess!
Hail, Diana of Lanuvium!
Hail, Diana Nemorensis!
Hail, goddess of the groves!
Hail, queen to the sacred king!
Hail, protectress of the golden bough!
Hail, companion of Antinous Master of Hounds!
Hail, goddess of the wilderness!
Hail, huntress par excellence!
Hail, mistress of the hounds and the deer!
Hail, protectress of women!
Hail, deliverer of women in labor!
Hail, guardian of the infant and the mother!
Hail, bright shining lady!
Hail, sister of the Lightbearer!
Hail, mother of Aradia!
Hail, mother of witches!
Hail, companion of Hecate!
Hail, Diana Trivia!
Hail, goddess who belongs only to herself!

 

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Hail, on this your natal day!

Let’s talk about something else

There are a number of topics I’d rather not talk about right now, gentle readers, including but not limited to my hiatus in writing, whether trans women are really women (they are), and whether all goddesses manifest as Maidens, Mothers, and Crones (I think not). At a certain point one has to look at some of the shenanigans on the internet and say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” or perhaps, “Not my theology, not my deities.”
So let’s talk about something else. Here’s a suggestion: Are the Greek and Roman deities the same beings?

The ancient Greeks and Romans certainly identified their pantheons with one another. The Greeks interpreted the gods of Egypt in terms of their own gods; Zeus was Ammon or Amun, Dionysus was Osiris, Hermes was Thoth. The Romans interpreted the gods of the Celtic and Germanic tribes as Roman, building shrines and temples to Apollo Belenus and Mars Cocidios. Even late-comer Antinous was identified with Belenus.

So here is–I don’t want to call it my personal gnosis. Here are my impressions. Better yet, to borrow a fandom term, here are my headcanons about the gods, the things that are canonical for me, in my head.

Christian philosopher Nicholas of Cusa wrote that “God is an infinite circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”. He was thinking of the Christian god, but I would apply those words to Hestia and Vesta. The hearth goddess, the sacred fire whose presence creates home and altar and temple, she is surely the infinite center of a circle whose circumference is everywhere and nowhere.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram of Hermes and Mercury, their two circles would overlap almost entirely. Hermes is a bit more tricksterish, Mercury concerned a bit more with business and commerce. But I tend to invoke them in the same breath, and to honor them together with Thoth, Seshat (the Egyptian goddess of records, archives, and libraries), and Hermanubis (the son of Isis and Serapis).

Aphrodite and Venus, on the other hand, seem to me to be quite distinct. My mental image of Aphrodite is of a golden-haired beauty who appears to be in her twenties, although if you look into her eyes, you see she is much older. My mental image of Venus is of a dark-haired woman in her forties–okay, basically my mental image of Venus is Gina Bell as Sophie Devereaux in Leverage. Dark-haired, olive-skinned, always perfectly dressed, and simultaneously the mom friend in any gathering and the embodiment of what a man desires in a woman, able to show each particular man the face he desires to see.

I have to admit that my perspective on Zeus and Hera has been influenced perhaps beyond saving by the myths about them I read as a child. I know intellectually that Zeus is more than the chronically unfaithful dad, Hera more than the scold who hides her hurt beyond anger at the wrong targets, but my emotions say Nope. Jupiter and Juno are easier for me to relate to, separately from those myths and from Zeus and Hera, as the god and goddess of the sky, of rain and cloud and weather, and as the granters and guardians of sovereignty, along with Minerva. They were worshipped as a triad on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, and I tend to approach them that way. Jupiter guards the sovereignty of the state and desires that it be good and just. Juno guards the sovereignty of women and, by extension, other minorities. Minerva guards what I would call intellectual integrity, public reputation, virtuous conduct as a citizen.

Apollo is just the same everywhere. The Romans were quite direct about having imported him, and likewise Dionysus, even if they called him Bacchus. I don’t have much relationship with Diana or Artemis, but my headcanon is that they are not the same goddess, but have closely overlapping interests. Demeter, Persephone, and Hades are such major deities for me that I have little sense of Ceres, Proserpina, and Dis Pater at all. My headcanon for Demeter, incidentally, is absolutely Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation. She even calls her daughter “little one” instead of her given name.

So that’s the end of my round in this game, gentle readers. Stop by and tell me who you think is the same or different in the pantheons of Greece and Rome, or anywhere else.