Commentary on Hymn VI: To Antinous-Dionysus

Come, Antinous Dionysus! Antinous Epiphanes, come!
Come crowned with ivy and bring surcease of sorrow.
Come shaking and stamping your thyrsus and bring the joy of dance.
Come with amphorai of wine, with sweet grapes sprouting
from your wild curls, and bring laughter, intoxication, and release into sleep.
Come let us see you, let us hear you, be near you,
let us get close enough to touch you, embrace you and kiss you,
taste the wine of your mouth and smell the perfume of your hair.
O Antinous Dionysus, you may be kindly, you may be cruel,
you may be severe, you may be mirthful, but what you never are
is distant, and in your intimate closeness is my ecstasy.

The Braschi Antinous, now in the Vatican

After Osiris, the god with whom Antinous was soonest syncretised was Dionysus. The Greeks had long identified their Dionysus with Egypt’s Osiris; a position which I confess I don’t understand, but I know far less about the historic cult of Osiris than I do about the cult of Dionysus.

I may have already told the story, on this blog, of how I came to read The Bacchae for the first time. I was ten or twelve years old, I think, when I acquired three Norton anthologies from the used book table at a bazaar (by which I mean not a market in a Middle Eastern culture, but a fund-raising sale by a church or other organizations, featuring donations and homemade candies and baked goods). One anthology was short stories, one poetry, and one drama. I don’t remember for certain anything else that I read in those anthologies, but The Bacchae was in the blue one, the drama collection. I knew of Dionysus from reading about Greek mythology, so I dived in.

I don’t remember how I felt the first time I read it. I do know that I read it more than once. Possibly this explains something about me, or possibly it doesn’t. Dionysus is beautiful, alluring, seemingly helpless at the beginning of the play; by its end, he has had quite literally bloody revenge on his mortal maternal relatives, who doubted that Semele his mother could have been beloved of a god. Imagine Jesus coming down from the cross to punish Nazarene villagers who didn’t believe his mother conceived him without sex and crucifying his cousin instead.

Nevertheless, Dionysus is a beautiful, beloved, and alluring god, and The Bacchae is closer to HBO than to the Gospels. Euripides perhaps had some issues with the god of the theatre, the god of ecstasy as Arthur Evans calls him in his book of the same title, the god who offered freedom especially to women from the restraints of society. Intimacy and ecstasy are the hallmarks of his presence; liberation from madness, from mental illness, and from too much sanity and civilization; freedom to embrace one’s emotional, sensual, even animal nature; equality between the sexes, due honor to goddesses as well as gods (as he is often associated with Cybele and other Great Mother goddesses), and opportunity to love and have sex with the partner of one’s choice, as he indulged with both gods and mortals, women and men (and we will come back to some of those stories in other hymns).

These are all qualities which Antinous shares. He is very frequently depicted wearing a garland of ivy or one of grape leaves and clusters, both attributes of Dionysus. The Braschi Antinous, which is pictured above and is usually identified as Antinous-Dionysus or Antinous as Osiris-Dionysus, shows him wearing the grape garland and carrying a thyrsus, the staff of Dionysus and his worshipers. The plant-like object on top of his head may represent a lotus.

In writing this hymn, I did not hesitate to call to Antinous as Dionysus and ask him to come. Dionysus is always portrayed as the god who comes from somewhere else, bringing a challenging joy and disruption to everyday life. Even so Antinous came to me unlooked for, unexpected, and brought joy, ecstasy, and intimacy along with him.

FIC: Sto dasos kapou

Sto dasos kapou (3227 words) by MToddWebster
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Andrew Hozier-Byrne (Musician), Ancient Greek Religion & Lore
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Dionysus/Forest God
Characters: Dionysus (Ancient Greek Religion & Lore), Forest God – Character
Additional Tags: Mythology – Freeform, Celtic Mythology & Folklore, Explicit Consent, Enthusiastic Consent, Blow Jobs, Anal Sex, Kissing, Drinking, Pagan Gods, gods having sex, top!Dionysus, Bottom!Forest God, Flowers, Mushrooms, Kemonomimi, Non-Human Genitalia
Series: Part 7 of Tales of the Forest God
Summary:

The young god of the wine and the old god of the forest meet in the woods, and shenanigans ensue.

 

POEM: Hymns to the Forest God #14

The Forest God was there 

before the old gods came, 

the ones we call the Old Gods 

but to him, they are new and young.

Before the Aesir found their way 

into Midgard and crossed paths 

with the Vanir or the Jotnar, 

he was there. Before Aeneas

landed in Latium or Brutus 

and his men came ashore in Britain, 

the antlered lord was there. 

Before the rabbi of Galilee was 

crucified or the Nile deified 

Antinous, the Forest God walked 

the land. Before Odin hung, he 

listened to ravens. Before Dionysus 

danced in his delirium, the god 

danced in the spirit-trance. 

He has no enemies for none 

can threaten him. He was here 

before they came; he will be 

here when they depart.

A world full of gods

casa_dei_vettii_-_larario

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)

POEM: Ariadne’s Blues

Let’s go ashore, said Theseus, let’s go ashore, he said.

So I went ashore with Theseus, and gave him my maidenhead.

 

Let’s sleep on the beach, my darling, let’s sleep on the beach tonight.

So I slept on the beach beside him, while the moon rose late but bright.

 

I woke on the beach next morning, I woke on the beach alone.

The ship was off on the horizon, too far off to hear me moan.

 

I let Theseus into my palace, I let him into my heart.

I let him love me a little, and then he broke my heart.

 

I cried on the beach at Naxos, I wept a day and a night.

I slept on the beach at Naxos, woke up to something bright.

 

A boy who looked like a woman, a god who looked like a man,

a man who looked like a leopard, looked like no mortal can.

 

You look like a girl who’s lonely, you look like a girl who’s lost,

you look like your man has left you, you look like your stars are crossed.

 

You look like an ancient goddess, you look like a priestess-queen,

it seems to me I remember, who you are and who you’ve been.

 

Won’t you come with me to Olympus, won’t you sleep with me tonight,

won’t be my wife and priestess, with a crown of stars so bright?

 

Oh I’ll go with you to Olympus, yes, I’ll sleep in your arms divine,

I’ll be great as your wife and priestess, just see how my crown will shine.

_Bacchus_and_Ariadne__by_Titian_-_National_Gallery,_London_-_Joy_of_Museums.jpg
Bacchus & Ariadne by Titian, at the National Gallery in London

A prayer for people I care about

In the Name of Antinous, the Beautiful Boy, the beloved of Hadrian and lover of all queers, Star of the Eagle and heavenly Navigator, victor over the archons:
I call on Antinous, the Liberator, the protector, to bless, guide, and protect transgender people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people.
I call on Dionysus, cross-dresser, sexual transgressor, gender outlaw, to bless, guide, and protect these beloved people.
I call on Hermes, lover of males and females, guide of the dead, father of Hermaphroditus, to bless, guide, and protect my friends.
I call on Melinoe, the bright dark lady, half black and half white, daughter of Hades and Persephone, foster daughter of Hel and Loki, to bless, guide, and protect the people betwixt and between.
I call on Loki, the shapeshifter, mother of monsters, father of giants, who lies to the mighty and befriends the powerless, to bless, guide, and protect the shapeshifting people.
I call on Cybele, Attis, Agdistis, and the honored spirits of the galloi to bless, guide, and protect transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people.
I call on the spirits of the trans, intersex, two spirit people of North America; humbly I call on them although my ancestors wronged them, to bless, guide, and protect the trans and intersex and two spirit people who live on their land today.
I call on Jesus, who defended women, foreigners, and eunuchs, and on his disciple Philip the deacon, who baptized and taught the Ethiopian eunuch, to bless, guide and protect those whom they would have called eunuchs.
May the blessings and protection of all the gods, along with my own love and good will, stand between transgender people, nonbinary people, gender nonconforming people and all malice, hatred, bigotry, violence, and tyranny, until all such evils wither away. In Antinous’ name, may it be so.

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.