Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

Apotheosis of Antinous

Introduction: It was widely accepted practice to worship the Roman emperors as Gods, for just as in life so also in the afterlife, they continued to wield great power for good among the peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It came as something of a surprise, however, when the Emperor Hadrian in A. D. 130 established a cult, not to himself, but to his favorite slave Antinous, adding scandal to shock since this slave had not only been the emperor’s pet companion and lover, but he had died suddenly under very suspicious circumstances by accidental (?) drowning in the Nile. Nor did Hadrian’s immediate proclamation of the divinization of Antinous and founding of temples for his worship, do much to stem the wild rumors that began to circulate. Repercussions of these events were still echoing a century later, when, for example, the Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria considered outrageous the galling insult of his learned antagonist Celsus, who said that the superstitious Christians had invented a new God by divinizing the man Jesus in much the same way that Hadrian had introduced a new deity by ordering everyone to worship his dead lover.

The selections pertaining to the apotheosis of Antinous are of three sorts: Hadrian’s own sacred inscriptions proclaiming Antinous to be Osiris, contemporary pagan comment, and later Christian comment.


Hadrian’s Memorial to Antinous

These inscriptions on the Pincio Obelisk in Rome are very difficult to translate,
being composed of extraordinarily confused heiroglyphic phrases written by
someone who obviously knew little of the ancient sacred language. But enough
can be understood to make some sense of them. The first of the four carvings
is an inscription dedicated to Hadrian himself; it is followed by three others
which are here given, on the basis of the German translation by A. Erman.


Antinous Before Thoth

Antinous the Holy, he grew up to be a beautiful youth, while he … gladdened (?); his heart … as that of a strong-armed man; he received the commands of the Gods as … All the rituals of the priests of Osiris were repeated in respect to him and all his … as unknown. When his book (?) was going forth, the whole land … was … and … never has anything similar been done before to earlier persons as (is done) today, (that is,) his altars, his houses, his titles … He breathes the air of life. His glory is in the hearts

-195-

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