From Tivoli, Hadrian's Villa, Pecile (1736 excavations)
Period of Hadrian131-138 AD
Height 241 cm.
The Vatican Museum
Statue of the divinity Antinous/Osiris in white marble, signifying Upper Egypt. The statues of the Serapeum of the Canopus demonstrate how the emperor Hadrian had deified his favourite Antinous, who drowned precisely in the canal called the Canopus which linked Alexandria to the main branch of the Nile, through his assimilation with Osiris, the god who dies and is reborn, in his turn already associated by the Ptolomies with Serapis, Alexandrian divinity of salvation.
Antinous was born to a Greek family in Bithynion-Claudiopolis, in the Roman province of Bithynia in what is now north-west Turkey. One version is that Antinous joined the entourage of the Emperor when Hadrian passed through Bithynia in about 124, and soon became his beloved companion who accompanied him on his many journeys through the empire. Another version has it that Hadrian had the empire searched for the most beautiful youth, and chose Antinous. Although some have suggested the two might have had a romantic relationship, it is uncertain if this was true.
In October 130, according to Hadrian, cited by Dio Cassius, "Antinous was drowned in the Nilus". (D.C. 69.11) It is not known for certain whether his death was the result of accident, suicide, murder, or (voluntary) religious sacrifice, but the last is best supported by the surviving evidence.
At Antinous's death the emperor decreed his deification, and the 2nd century Christian writer Tatian mentions a belief that his likeness was placed over the face of the Moon, though this may be exaggerated due to his anti-pagan polemical style.
After his death
The grief of the emperor knew no bounds, causing the most extravagant veneration to be paid to his memory. Cities were founded in his name, medals struck with his effigy, and statues erected to him in all parts of the empire. Following the example of Alexander (who sought divine honours for his beloved general, Hephaistion, when he died) Hadrian had Antinous proclaimed a god. Temples were built for his worship in Bithynia, Mantineia in Arcadia, and Athens, festivals celebrated in his honour and oracles delivered in his name. The city of Antinopolis or Antinoe was founded on the site of Hir-wer where he died (Dio Cassius lix.11; Spartianus, "Hadrian"). One of Hadrian's attempts at extravagant remembrance failed, when the proposal to create a constellation of Antinous being lifted to heaven by an eagle (the constellation Aquila) failed of adoption.
After deification, Antinous was associated with and depicted as the Ancient Egyptian god Osiris, associated with the rebirth of the Nile. Antinous was also depicted as the Roman Bacchus, a god related to fertility, cutting vine leaves. Antinous's was the only non-imperial head ever to appear on the coinage.
Worship, or at least acknowledgment, of the idealized Antinous was widespread, although mainly outside the city of Rome. As a result, Antinous is one of the best-preserved faces from the ancient world. Many busts, gems and coins represent Antinous as the ideal type of youthful beauty, often with the attributes of some special god. They include a colossal bust in the Vatican, a bust in the Louvre (the Antinous Mondragone), a bas-relief from the Villa Albani, a statue in the Capitoline museum (the so-called Capitoline Antinous, now accepted to be a portrayal of Hermes), another in Berlin, another in the Lateran and one in the Fitzwilliam Museum; and many more may be seen in museums across Europe.
There are also statues in many archaeological museums in Greece including the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the archaeological museums of Patras, Chalkis and Delphi. Although these may well be idealised images, they demonstrate what all contemporary writers described as Antinous's extraordinary beauty. Although many of the sculptures are instantly recognizable, some offer significant variation in terms of the suppleness and sensuality of the pose and features versus the rigidity and typical masculinity. In 1998 the remains of the monumental tomb of Antinous, or a temple to him, were discovered at Hadrian's Villa.