This particular syncretism is a singular occurrence as well, and a very intriguing one at that.
In Corinth, the priest of Antinous named Hostilios Markellos is known to have existed and operated. He issued a number of coins with Antinous on the obverse (with his own name as priest included in the legend), of which one is curious because it portrays a very traditional Poseidon body seated and holding a trident, but Antinous’ youthful head is clearly on that body.
This may very well have been a one-off decision by Markellos himself; or, it could have been the peculiarity of the numismatic artist responsible for striking the coin. No statuary or texts from Corinth or elsewhere at present alert us to any further connection of Antinous with Poseidon. One would almost think the notion somewhat strange, given that Poseidon is the god of the sea, and therefore presumably not prone to drowning!
However, apart from his water-associations (which are also witnessed, for example, in the Panantinous syncretism being a ship’s figurehead), Antinous may share something else with Poseidon that suggested the syncretism: queerness. Strangely enough, the invention of male homoeroticism is something which Poseidon is occasionally credited with, in terms of his patronage of Pelops (the son of Tantalus who was revived after the god served him as a meal to the gods) and his later assistance of him in his career and wooings. However, one myth in particular is somewhat endearing and interesting in relation to Poseidon and homoeroticism, and it is one known only from one source (Aelian’s On Animals), and is not even mentioned in some major works on this subject, including Cassell’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol, and Spirit, Andrew Callimach’s Lover’s Legends: The Gay Greek Myths, and Bernard Sargent’s Homosexuality in Greek Myth. It is the story of Nerites, who was a sea god said to be the most beautiful of the gods and men, that Poseidon loved, and that the love of Poseidon and Nerites resulted in Anteros (“mutual love”). That is powerful indeed! The sun god Helios became jealous of him for some reason (perhaps involving a chariot race, or a boast of swiftness), and turned the god into a spiral sea shell. Aelian also gives an alternate version, saying that he was beloved of Aphrodite, and when the latter ascended to Olympos, she invited him to come, but he refused and preferred to live his life amongst the fish and his family in the ocean, so he was turned into a shell, and the wings that he had from Aphrodite were then given to Eros instead. Interestingly, while this alternate version takes us away from homoeroticism, it takes us closer to the realm of Eros, Adonis, and Aphrodite which has already been detailed in this series. You can read the full text on the Theoi.com site here. Depictions of Nerites are pretty much unknown from the ancient world, much less any modern reproductions or interpretations; but in absence of anything else, why not use this (for his pre-shell version) or this (for his post-shell version)? (These are made by December Diamonds, a company that puts out a whole line of gay-themed ornaments each holiday season, and they have a whole line of mermen and mermaids in addition to these.)
Very interestingly as well, Aelian’s writing took place sometime in the late second or early third centuries (particularly under the emperor Septimius Severus). Thus, the only appearance of this tale involving Poseidon that can be pinned down to an historical context is a post-Antinoan one. Could it be that the story originated, or was influenced by, the situation of Antinous and Poseidon in Corinth? It’s not very likely, but the sequence of events is suggestive, if nothing else.
Sailors and Naval personnel, then and now, were utterly reliant on one another, and on the sheer luck and happenstance of good weather and good seas for their survival. Many of the Argonauts seemed to have homoerotic relationships, and indeed a ship-borne homoerotic romance is not something that is unusual. A drowned shipmate might be a new companion to the beauty- and skill-loving Poseidon, as equally as any nymph that could drown a beautiful youth (which we’ll discuss further eventually in this series). Perhaps this connection of homoeroticism, seamanship, and drowning could be neatly characterized by these myths of Poseidon and syncretizing Antinous into that situation.
Whatever the case may be, may Poseidon favor us with calm seas, and may Antinous also favor us with his own calmness!