Something I’ve considered writing about for a while, but particularly after this post the other day, is something that many people might not quite understand, and perhaps a fine distinction that needs to be made about certain matters regarding Antinous, physical beauty, and some of my own engagements with Antinous in a religious context. It’s something that many people who are hostile to my religious activities have never understood in their critiques of me (and other Antinoans) over the years, and it’s a further thing that Dan Savage failed to understand in his brief write-up on Antinous.
So, let’s start way back in 1998, when I first encountered Antinous, identified by both image and name in close connection, in John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, which was a required textbook in a course I was taking at my undergraduate college during my senior year. (I had seen images of Antinous before that, but didn’t know it was him I was looking at, nor what his story was.) The image in Boswell’s book was a very small image–strange, considering there would have been enough room on the photo plate in the middle of the book for this purpose–of the Farnese Antinous, the statue shown above. There was hardly enough of an image of it present to know anything other than that it was a statue of a nude youth in a classical Mediterranean style. In comparison to some of the nude statues of Ganymede that were on previous and following pages of the photo plates in Boswell’s book, it wasn’t the one that was most striking or beautiful to me, but that was mainly because of the size. Alas, size does count in some things, and “photo size” is one such.
In the years following this, and leading up to my fuller engagement and knowledge of Antinous in 2002, when I began my devotional activities to him, I ended up realizing that even though I do have a type in terms of certain types of people or collections of physical characteristics that attract me more than others, a great deal of flexibility and variation in my preferred types was also present, and likewise a number of things that many others found attractive were not necessarily attractive to me. While my range of attractions was not quite as large as I had ideally hoped it would be, no matter what gender was concerned, nonetheless I found by the time that I was coming to Antinous as a god, he didn’t really strike me as being “my type” at all in terms of his physicality. Yes, he has a beautiful face; yes, he has a beautiful body; and yes, he has a lovely cock, even though it doesn’t fit most people’s modern standards and preferences (particularly amongst gay men–but then again, since I’m not gay nor a man that hardly matters!) in terms of size; and also, yes, he has beautiful hair. But, back then, curly hair simply didn’t do anything at all for me. Perhaps growing up with so much anime, and finding many of the lead male characters in anime rather attractive–almost none of whom had curly hair–just put me on a track to having certain preferences in this regard. Oh well.
And yet, as time went on, and as I got to know Antinous more and more in a variety of ways, and got accustomed to his images from antiquity, my view changed greatly. I have been known to have perceptions that will turn on a dime, when I find that someone I find very attractive physically reveals a personality flaw or offensive opinion that so disgusts me that I can no longer view them as at all physically attractive, even to the point of finding their image–no matter how artful or impressive–to be repugnant; and likewise, there are some people who I find nowhere-near-as-attractive but who have such outstanding intelligence, personality, talent (often of a musical nature), or in some other way something that is not at all physical about them, who suddenly become these shining and angelic beings in my sight. For me, one might say, the physical is never merely physical; and the metaphysical is also not, either.
Not surprisingly, thus, Antinous has gone from being “nice but not my first choice” in terms of my physical preferences to “the most beautiful being I know of,” and that beauty is quite independent of his perfect ass or his kissable lips or his mounds of what I imagine to be perfumed purple-black cascading locks of hair. (Ahem.) Yes, he has physical beauty beyond the common lot of mortals and immortals, and in spades at that; but, it’s not his physical beauty that is the most wonderful, remarkable, or attractive thing about him, and in fact his non-physical qualities greatly enhance his physical ones in my perspective. (Which is all the better, considering he’s dealing exclusively in non-physicality these days, in many respects!) We can never forget his physical image as it has come down to us in many likenesses in statuary and coinage; but, we can’t stop with that either. To do so would be the heights of shallowness, I think–and I’m not averse to defending certain aspects of shallowness, as many of you know!
So, when I approach gods (and other types of divine being) on a cultic level, I tend to look for things that remind me of Antinous. Not unlike Hanuman, who once crushed a valuable necklace of pearls because to him they were worthless without something of Lord Ram in them, so too have I often found in my post-Antinous polytheistic activities that deities with some element of Antinous in them are the ones that appeal to, resonate with, and that I become the closest with in the aftermath. I get to know them for themselves eventually, and they too please me in terms of what I find out, and I appreciate them likewise in their various unique characteristics, but it is the initial attraction that is a spark of the reflected light of Antinous that usually does so for me. (And, it’s not at all restricted to the established divine or heroic syncretisms of Antinous that prompt such notions…) While it has not been 100% accurate that this has been the case with every deity that has become important to me since, it is largely the case–there has almost always been some connection, no matter how minor or tenuous, that does this: whether it be lions (e.g. Apedemak, Maahes), or drowning (e.g. Sarutahiko-no-Okami, Palaimon/Melikertes), or the location of Antinoöpolis (e.g. Bes), or general cultic resonances and derivations (e.g. Polydeukion), there is always some connection to Antinous that I perceive in those deities who become the most important to me.
As for my preferences for humans: they’re not that different now than they were back when I first got interested in Antinous. I still prefer straight hair to curly, but I don’t rule out curly hair automatically. (Baldness, on the other hand, I almost always do…) But, I’m pretty lenient about physical matters generally speaking. They are so variable and subject to change that it would be unwise, in my view, to be too set on them; and, because non-physical matters almost always have a greater sway in my own perceptions, I have to be ready for that in every instance when possible.
This may not be earth-shattering news to anyone who knows me; but, I think it does bear mentioning. It’s ironic how often people get too caught up in strictly physical considerations where religion is concerned. It is perfectly possible to be materiality affirming, physicality positive, and body primal while also having one’s eyes (and other senses) on the very important and real non-physical things–like personality, demeanor, words, and other such things–as far as they influence and shape one’s spiritual experiences, thoughts, and preferences.