Role models of greatness.
Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Roman Emperor Hadrian and Antinous
The emperor, who had spent seven years with his young lover, subsequently commissioned 2,000 naked or partially clothed statues of the beautiful teenager for display throughout the empire. Hadrian declared his beloved to be a god and founded a cult city in his honor, Antinoopolis, in Middle Egypt along the banks of the Nile. Temples were dedicated to the worship of the Roman Empire’s newest God. This was an astonishing act, because heretofore in the Roman Empire, deification was only conferred upon emperors.
The new city of Antinoopolis was a forest of white-marble temples, monuments and colonnades laid out on a grid pattern and adorned with hundreds of images of the New God Antinous. A great arch welcomed travelers arriving by boat at the marble docks. Broad streets lined with fine shops and luxurious homes led to a central intersection, where a colossal gilded bronze statue of Antinous Epiphanes “coming forth” towered over the square. A north-south colonnade was matched by an east-west colonnade which ran the length of the city, linking the Mausoleum of Antinous at one end with the Theater at the other. Beyond the city walls, on the dusty plain between the river and the eastern cliffs, an enormous Hippodrome dominated the elevated land east of the city gates.
Antinoopolis c. 1799
At the direction of Hadrian, cities throughout his empire organized festivals and games to commemorate Antinous. Between 133 and 137, thirty-one Greek cities issued coins bearing his image. In addition to the bronze and marble statues and busts of Antinous (more than 100 of which survive), countless reliefs, medals, cameos and gems were crafted to further honor the emperor’s young lover. Private shrines dedicated to Antinous sprang up everywhere, from Britania, to the Danube Frontier to North Africa. Priests of Antinous were appointed to perform the ceremonies that would perpetuate the memory of the new God for all eternity.
During the Byzantine Period, after the fall of the Western Empire, Antinoopolis was renamed Ansena, to distance itself from it Greco-Roman past. When the Byzantine Empire was ultimately overrun by Muslims, Antinoopolis/Ansena was abandoned and vanished from history. The village that today occupies the city’s site, Sheik Abadeh, suggests nothing of its former glories. It is known that the Egyptian Caliph plundered the heavy bronze doors of the Temple of Antinous and brought them to his new city of Cairo, but they have since vanished, unfortunately.
When the ruins of Antinoopolis were surveyed in 1798 by Napoleon’s representative Edme-Francois Jomard, 1,344 statues of Antinous were discovered. Archaeologists subsequently found over half a million jars containing offerings to the shrine at Antinoopolis. Unfortunately the ruins of Antinoopolis were lost in the early nineteenth century when an Egyptian construction company ground most of the city’s remaining pillars into cement. A few, however, survive to the present day (shown below).
However, the extraordinary story of Antinous was inadvertently preserved by the Catholic Church in documents denouncing paganism. Thus the beautiful sculptures and images of Antinous were often carefully buried underground by his worshipers to protect them from destruction. Hundreds of years later, the statues were unearthed and subsequently hailed as magnificent treasures from the ancient age.
Hadrian’s predominant sexual taste, like that of Trajan, his predecessor as emperor, was for teenage boys, and he fathered no children. The emperor wrote extravagant love poems idolizing young men, all of which have been lost, unfortunately. However, the surviving examples of the sculptures and busts of Antinous he commissioned rank among the greatest extant works of art of the Hellenistic period. Some of these are currently displayed in the Vatican, Louvre, Fitzwilliam and Altes Museum (Berlin). Hadrian flaunted same sex love by filling the gardens of his villa at Tivoli with suggestive statues of teenage boys.
Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose homosexuality failed to diminish even after harsh treatment by his father, imitated Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli when he built his own palace, called Sans Souci. Frederick incorporated busts of Antinous to function as a subtle code for his own homosexual desires.
In more modern times the love affair between Hadrian and Antinous is acutely and sympathetically analyzed in Marguerite Yourcenar's historical novel, Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), which led to her election to the French Academy as its first female member.
I recall a 2008 visit to London’s British Museum, which featured an exhibit called Hadrian: Empire and Conflict. Among the images of Antinous was an enormous bust (shown above) depicting a male youth sporting elaborate cascades of hair. The notes explained that the holes drilled into his hair were for attaching flowers and fruit, and the empty eye sockets would have been filled with precious stones to make the eyes look alive. As well, the voluptuous lips (a trademark of all images of Antinous) would have been painted red. I wish I had known all this when I lived as a student in Germany, where I often crossed the Limes, the ancient remains of Hadrian’s wall that ran through the Odenwald in southern Germany, not far from my university city of Würzburg.
To my blog readers:
I just received a comment by Australian author George Gardiner. You may be interested in his book.
Readers of your Antinous/Hadrian materials may be also be interested in the recently-published novel about this historic relationship in "THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History". It is available in 500-page paperback and Kindle ebook formats at Amazon USA, UK, & Australia.
THE HADRIAN ENIGMA