Antinous - From Eromenos to God

Antinous - From Eromenos to God

The image is of Antinous as depicted in his Gianicolo hill statue.

Antinous, the beloved companion of Roman Emperor Hadrian, occupies a unique and enigmatic place in ancient history. Born around 110 AD in Bithynia (modern day Turkey), Antinous became Hadrian's lover and favorite. Their relationship may be seen as an example of Roman pederasty, a social custom where an older man (erastes) formed a bond with a younger male (eromenos), often characterized by mentorship and sexual relations. The Romans inherited the concept of pederasty from the Greeks, where it was institutionalized and idealized, particularly in Athens.

Hadrian's affection for Antinous was profound and well-documented. The young man's untimely death in 130 AD, while the imperial entourage was traveling along the Nile, remains shrouded in mystery. Several theories abound regarding the cause of his death, ranging from accidental drowning to deliberate suicide... to murder. The lack of conclusive evidence has left scholars debating the true nature of this tragic event for centuries (Boatwright, 2000).

In the wake of Antinous's death, Hadrian initiated a remarkable campaign to deify him, a practice not uncommon in the Roman Empire for those who had earned particular reverence or displayed extraordinary qualities. Hadrian founded the city of Antinoöpolis near the site where Antinous had died and commissioned numerous statues and busts to immortalize his beloved companion. The emperor's efforts effectively transformed Antinous into a god-like figure, worshipped in various parts of the empire, with his cult spreading rapidly (Lambert, 1984).

The deification of Antinous reflects Hadrian's deep grief and devotion, as well as the sociopolitical context of the Roman Empire, where the deification of mortals could serve both personal and state agendas. This phenomenon underscores the complex interplay between personal relationships and imperial propaganda. Antinous's legacy endures, not only through the artifacts and temples dedicated to him but also through the continued scholarly fascination with his life, death, and the profound impact he had on one of Rome's most notable emperors (Vout, 2007).

Boatwright, M. T. (2000). Hadrian and the Cities of the Roman Empire. Princeton University Press.

Lambert, R. (1984). Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. Viking Penguin.

Vout, C. (2007). Power and Eroticism in Imperial Rome. Cambridge University Press.

Cantarella, E. (1992). Bisexuality in the Ancient World. Yale University Press.

Hubbard, T. K. (Ed.). (2003). Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents. University of California Press.

Williams, C. A. (2010). Roman Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity. Oxford University Press.


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