On God Forms

P Sufenas Virius Lupus

An issue which comes up perennially at Neos Alexandria is the idea of syncretism, and what exactly it might entail in different situations. Does one need to adopt a form of “soft polytheism” in order to understand that there is an underlying essence shared between, say, Horus and Apollon, or Anubis and Hermes, or Ares and Mars, or Silvanus and Cocidius? Is it still possible to be a “hard polytheist” and a syncretist, and to see these various deities as separate entities, but connected or similar in some way, in an attempt to honor several cultural or ethnic traditions at once? In such syncretisms and instances of interpretatio Romana (or Graeca, or otherwise) which one can find, do the two entities remain separate, but become “fused” and further separated in particular instances, so that Hermes is always still Hermes, Anubis is always Anubis, and Thoth is always Thoth, but various combinations of them lead to the existence of Hermanubis and Hermes Trismegistus, who then are differentiated and separate from their individual “parent” deities?

And with someone like Antinous, how does one sort all of this out? With a deity who is first and foremost himself, and yet found in the guise and the dress of so many other deities, how does one understand him and his identity?

I would stress that my remarks here are ones which are not to be taken as binding or universally-appropriate or applicable; they are merely a few among countless possibilities for how one might choose to think about these issues–if indeed one needs to think about them at all. (I do not discount the further possibility that this is mere theological and scholarly pedantry, rather than something which is essential for all devotees of Antinous to consider and upon which to come to some conclusions.)

There has been a great deal of virtual ink spilled on the idea that Antinous is somehow “more real” or “more important” as a god because he was “actually real” in a way that Dionysos, Hermes, and all of the others are not/were not. If I may be so bold, I think we can dismiss this particular strain of thought out of hand, both as the gods are relevant to modern people as well as to the ancients. Many people who are likely to be reading this have had experiences which would concur with some of the Tibetan Buddhist notions of deities–namely, that they are entities on a different or higher order of existence than humans, and if anything they are “more real” than the illusory and confusing material world is. Even if that position is not adopted (and it need not be), many of those likely to be reading this have had experiences of deities, spirits, angels, energetic entities and presences, which are just as real as anything else they might have experienced. And some others might be of the opinion that, perhaps along demi-Platonic lines, even though such a thing as a “perfect circle,” or “love,” or “peace,” or “the gods” might merely be thoughts or concepts or abstract realities primarily existing in and experienced through our minds, they are no less real for lacking physical forms and imperically-identifiable, quantifiable and repeatable objective existences.

At the same time, I do not wish to discount the power and possibilities inherent in the ideas implied by euhemerism, i.e. that the gods are merely humans who were exceptional and thus gained a deific honor in the minds of people afterwards. As a group that recognizes and acknowledges various Divi amongst the Roman imperial families and the ancient Greeks, and whose primary deity of focus was formerly human, there should be no problem with this type of concept. Heroes among the Greeks are of a similar order. And if we consider that there is divinity inherent in every human, and that we all have the potential to become gods in the same way which Antinous did, then we do have to take a euhemeristic perspective seriously.

This leads me to another idea, namely incarnational or “avatar” ideas of gods. Jesus may very well have been nothing but an extraordinary human and teacher, and possibly a miracle-worker, but there are well over a billion people alive today who experience him (or at least believe in him, whether that belief is lip-service only or not) as the incarnation of a transcendent and omnipotent deity. The Hindu pantheon is filled with great numbers of avatars/incarnations of different major deities, including Vishnu as Ram(a) and Krishna, and Shiva as (in some interpretations) Hanuman. The formerly-mortal Bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism have found reincarnations in various teachers, sages, masters, lamas, and others, including the (male) bodhisattva of compassion Avolakitesvara reincarnated as the Dalai Lama, or understood as the goddess Kwan Yin in China and Kannon in Japan. Perhaps Antinous can be thought of as an earthly incarnation of some deity or another; or perhaps (like the Roman Emperors, invested with the Numen Augusti) he embodies some other form of numenis, which in the past we have suggested could be thought of as the numen homosexualitatis, and therefore he is in some sense the spirit or power or energy of homoerotic love, in the same way that this numen has manifested in other prominent queer lives and relationships, as well as myths of various deities.

To which deities and heroes was Antinous syncretized? None of the ones of which we are currently aware are “creator-gods,” nor are any of them “war-gods” as such (though many are connected with hunting and/or skill with particular weapons in some sense). Most of them are youthful (or at least potentially portrayed as such), like Hermes and Dionysos; many are liminal or are connected to liminality and transgression of boundaries (as are both of those just named); many are connected in some sense to death or to death-and-rebirth. This explains a great deal of why Antinous was celebrated with mystery rites, and why he would have been appealing to many people as a salvator/soter/savior and perhaps even eschatological figure.

Note also that he is often compared to (but not equated with–an important distinction) various dying youths who underwent kataphytosis (transformation into flowers/plants): Hylas, Narcissus, Hyakinthos; this is of course sensible, since he himself had a flower named after him. But, unlike all of these, he did not literally “become” the flower, even in the highest flights of fancy of the poets who lived after him and praised him in their hymns on the lion hunt.

While the following catalogue is by no means complete, it might be useful for many to understand the exact contexts and extents to which Antinous was equated to, compared with, or simply given the attributes of other well-known deities in the ancient world.

Ignoring the vast number of comparisons and associations found on various coin issues involving Antinous, the most common two deities to whom he is syncretized in literature, inscriptions, and statuary are Hermes and Dionysos. Likely hermetic visual depictions include the Farnese Antinous, as well as the Delphi Antinous (which is given the epithet Heros Propylaios–“hero before-the-gates,” a hermetic epithet); and he is said to be Argeiphontiadas (“Argus-Slayer”) in the poem of Pancrates, as well as the Neos Hermes in an inscription from Rome and the Theos Hermes epi Hadrianou (“God Hermes under Hadrian”) in the acrostic found in Dionysius of Alexandria’s poem Periegete. Many of the ivy-crowned busts of Antinous depict him as Dionysos, as well as the Braschi colossal statue in the Vatican, and the Iacchos (or perhaps Zagreus) statue from Ephesus, and Pausanias states that most of the statues of Antinous he encountered in Greece were in this guise; further, he is given the Dionysian epithets Choreios (“[god of] the dance”) in Athens and Epiphanes (“[god who] comes/arrives”) in Antinoopolis itself.

Also prominent is Osiris, especially in the Obelisk and in the phyla-name of Antinoopolis; but note, it is not Osiris “as-such,” but Antinosiris, or Osirantinous, a combined name (not unlike Hermanubis and others) in Greek form, connoting perhaps the way in which an individual who has died in the Book of the Dead then becomes “Osiris-Ani” for example.

We have a single statue which depicts him as the Agathos-Daimon (which is quite likely very late, from the 17th century), and several which seem to depict him as Vertumnus, the god of the seasons and agricultural plenty. We also have one fine relief showing him as Silvanus (most certainly, despite what some others have asserted concerning this relief due to the grapes in it) from Lanuvium, identifiable because of his use of the vineyard knife and his accompaniment by a small scent-hound for hunting. Not only was Silvanus a hunting deity, but he was also a god of boundaries, thus connecting him to the liminality present in the Hermetic and Dionysian aspects as well.  We have one inscription from Hadrian’s Villa comparing (but, again, not equating) him to Belenus, a Gaulish deity, but in second century Rome Belenus was more-or-less synonymous with Apollon; however, apart from this, we have no direct and definite syncretisms or comparisons to Apollon with Antinous–yes, Antinous had an oracle; yes, Antinous had a hymn in Curium on Cyprus inscribed on the doorway of Apollon’s temple; and it is possible that some statues, like the Mondragone head, have an Apollonian aspect; but none of these are definite and direct identifications in the same way that the Hermes and Dionysos epithets and depictions are. In the Curium Citharode’s Hymn, Antinous is said to be Adonis, but it is uncertain whether this is a comparison to the specific figure, or simply to the title of Adonis as meaning ultimately “lord”; further, he is said to be “offspring of the gold-winged mother,” which is Aphrodite, and therefore equivalent to Eros.

One statue head portrays Antinous (and even the identification with Antinous is rather arguable) as a priest of Attis and Cybele, but he is never equated with the god Attis (and as a Bithynian, not a Phrygian, it is not exceedingly likely that Antinous was a devotee of that religion in his youth, or ever for that matter, any more than all other Greeks and Romans were, since the Magna Mater cult was to some extent part of the state religion of Rome). The comparisons/connections to Dumuzi and Tammuz as fertility/dying-and-rising figures mentioned elsewhere are entirely modern, and are based on the similarity of these figures to Adonis and Attis, and we have already seen how tenuous these identifications happen to be.

Further, Arrian of Nikomedia alludes to Antinous through the story of Achilleus (and, by extension, Patroklos), but we should not therefore equate the two automatically. The relief figure that is possibly of Antinous from Antinoopolis showing a nude male holding a cross up in one hand and grapes in the other is puzzling and may indicate some synthesis of Antinoan gnosticism; and the pagan Celsus’ comparison of Jesus and Antinous, as reported by Origen, with both being equally ridiculous because they were formerly humans, does connect the two, but in a negative way. Some statues seem to hint at the Ganymede identification, but these are very likely late/post-Christian, and the only other places where this identification occurs for Antinous are in the writings of Christian polemicists (as well as possible allusions in Lucian of Samosata’s writings). Another monumental statue in Paris, possibly from Hadrian’s Villa, seems to have Heraklean attributes, but since Antinous did not successfully slay the lion in the lion hunt by himself, this seems a bit more allusive; further, one of the sacrifices on the tondi of the Arch of Constantine is an offering to Herakles, but since Antinous is not present in any of the offering scenes (of which the other two male deities are Silvanus and Apollon), we cannot discount that there was some association between the two for some people at least.

[Antinous was never depicted as Mithras, and as far as we know he was never compared to him or mentioned in association with him either; this was an interesting modern devotional fiction which arose simply from the collation of deity-names in the index to Royston Lambert’s Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous without regard for context by certain members of other groups, which then inspired rather far-fetched reinterpretations of Mithraic iconography in Antinoan size-queen excesses. But I digress!]

In my own writings on a number of occasions, I have connected each of the three aspects of Antinous that we have identified in the modern groups–the Lover, the Navigator, and the Liberator–with three principal deities–Apollon, Dionysos, and Hermes, respectively. I would like to stress that this was done on lines emphasizing the modern, psychological and philosophical uses of the terms “apollonian, dionysian, and hermetic,” rather than on any primarily mythological or cultic lines. Apollon perhaps makes a great deal of sense as the Lover, since he was said to have had quite a few lovers (both male and female) in the many myths of ancient Greece and Rome; but perhaps Eros would be equally appropriate in this regard (though Eros is more a giver/inspirer of love than a direct participant in it, if I’m not mistaken–with the exception of the Cupid and Psyche myth, which though useful allegorically, is ultimately not about a male-male couple). However, for some people, switching the roles I have assigned to Dionysos and Hermes might be more logical–Hermes in his role as psychopomp might make more sense as the Navigator (the one who steers the Boat of Millions of Years in the afterlife), while the Liberator might be better represented by Dionysos (one of whose Roman names was Liber, and there is no more clear signifier of liberation therefore than that name itself!). But perhaps other deities would be appropriate to any of those roles as well…it is a wide world, and there are many possibilities. If one wishes to simply deal with Antinous as himself, I still think the three roles/personae of Lover/Amator, Navigator and Liberator are very applicable and useful, as well as appealing.

A great deal more could be said about any and all of the above-named figures and concepts–as well as further ones besides–but I think this is a fair enough starting point for people’s consideration in these matters. I would be very interested in hearing what your further thoughts on them might be–not in order to reach a consensus or maintain and establish some form of “standard” on these matters, but simply to hear how Antinous, his relationships to other deities, and his particular manifestations have interacted with your own lives.

I wish everyone the blessings of Antinous in all his forms, as well as those of the other gods and particularly your own gods, upon you on this day and every day!

 

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