I’ve just been able to add the following article to my ongoing Antinous Bibliography; I heard about it in 2010, and was only able to get a hold of it recently:
Gil H. Renberg, “Hadrian and the Oracles of Antinous (SHA Hadr. 14.7); with an Appendix on the So-Called Antinoeion at Hadrian’s Villa and Rome’s Monte Pincio Obelisk,” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 55 (2010), pp. 159-198.
I knew a bit about what this article would contain, and thus looked forward to it; and, I generally look forward to any serious academic article on Antinous, which might in some way shed light on his life, his cultus, and other things associated with him. While I’m glad I got this one (despite the relatively large amount of trouble I had to go through getting it), and am glad that it is a serious work of scholarship that does not make many of the mistakes of the more popular Antinous-related scholarship (some of which were noted recently), I have to say I’m also a little bit disappointed. One doesn’t often look forward to reading something for two years without some let-down after such a long period (or, in some cases, longer and a much larger let-down!), but instead because what I’ve read reminds me just how tentative, speculative, and ultimately conjectural almost everything we know about Antinous happens to be.
You might be able to tell from the title–especially if you have the Historia Augusta handy–that a major matter in this article is regarding the establishment of Antinous’ cultus and the oracles that occurred in relation to it. Renberg’s assertion–which is in line with some of his wider work, which I hope gets completed in the near future–is that rather than the statement in the HA on Hadrian “issuing oracles” and being the source of the oracular pronouncements attributed to Antinous, instead it may be that Antinous himself was issuing the oracles and Hadrian was receiving them through dreams. Renberg’s wider work is on dream incubation and other dream-related practices in late antiquity, which has relevance for the cultus of many deities (Asklepios, Serapis, and Nodons among them, plus many others). That is a fascinating suggestion in and of itself, and certainly is not only indicated by a line from the Obelisk of Antinous (which is the inspiration for the dream incubation ritual that will take place at PantheaCon in relation to Antinous next month), but which has inspired and been enacted in a great deal of my own work, and many of my interactions with Antinous as a god. So, of course, this is of HUGE interest to me…
He also suggests, at one point, that the god who was obliterated by damage at the top of the Obelisk on one side may have been Ptah. One further intriguing (and rather re-assuring, at least for me personally!) suggestions he makes about the line regarding Antinous sending healing dreams to the “needy ones” is not just people in need of them, but specifically people who were financially challenged and could not afford medical attention–since that’s often been my own situation, that’s sort of nice!
What Renberg’s contention in relation to this is, however, seems less likely to me. He suggests that it was Hadrian’s dreams of Antinous that prompted his cultus, and not simply the deification-by-drowning phenomenon that occurs in Egypt when someone becomes a hsy by drowning in the Nile. Renberg marshalls a great deal of evidence which indicates that some people set up tombstones, or even small shrines, to deceased individuals who appeared to them in dreams, and some of them even said they were heroes or even gods in that process. One such individual is Marcus Lucceius Nepos, who appeared to his in-law Sextus Onussianus Com[...] in a dream:
Renowned kinsman, why do you lament my
having been lifted away to the heavenly stars? Cease your weeping for a god,
so that your loyal affection, ignorant that I have been received into the celestial abode,
does not put you in mourning and your sorrow afflict a divinity.
For I shall not sadly descend to the Tartarean waters,
nor as a shade be carried across the Acheronian depths,
nor propel by oar the dark vessel,
and I shall not fear you, Charon, terrifying in appearance,
nor will ancient Minos pass judgment on me or in the funereal
places shall I wander, and I will not be hemmed in by the rivers.
Arise, bear tidings to my mother that she should not night and day
bewail me, as the mourning Attic mother does Itys.
For holy Venus has ordained that I know nothing of the silent ones’ abode
and has brought me into the glorious realm of heaven.
So, rather interesting, eh?
And yet, what I find problematic about this is that it leaves a large set of questions on what the timeline of the “creation” of Antinous’ cultus was: did it happen immediately after his drowning and death, which therefore Hadrian would have known about? Since we know that there were celebrations for Hadrian and Antinous in Herakleia Pontica by the end of 130, that sort of problematizes the “uncertain timeline” question that Renberg suggests. One of the other figures closely associated with Antinous’ deification by drowning is the young woman, Isidora, who had a small temple and was likewise a hsy, but she appeared to her parents as a kind of apotheosized nymph some time after her death. Because of the lack of immediacy in this case, likewise Renberg suggests the same for Antinous’ appearance to Hadrian in a dream.
Now, of course, much of this depends on one’s reading of the HA, and the way that Renberg parses eum in the text for Antinous rather than Hadrian is, up to this point, novel. But, the logical positivism that he engages in with the rest of the article, and especially in the appendix, also raises many questions. He puts a great deal of emphasis on evidence from Christian literature about Antinous’ cultus, including the remarks of Epiphanios of Salamis and Clement of Alexandria that Antinous was buried in Antinoöpolis, and that the work done at Hadrian’s Villa in the last few years which has resulted in the suggestion that the “new temple” there is the Antinoeion and the burial place of Antinous, with the Obelisk of Antinous having been there originally (which would also be my contention) being an overstatement rather than a sure thing. Nothing at the Antinoeion, he argues, makes it certain that it was Antinous’ burial place, nor even that it was a shrine to Antinous, since many of the Egyptianizing statues from the Villa were found elsewhere. (He also says that only in Antinoöpolis was Antinous honored as Osirantinous, and thus the Egyptianizing statues from the Villa do not portray him as Osiris.) He furthermore states that the burial place was much more likely to have been Antinoöpolis, and that it was the site of the original Obelisk, and it was moved from there (though he also suggests that the one now in Rome might be a copy of the original that was in Antinoöpolis), using amongst other pieces of evidence for his conclusions that most eponymous hero-shrines for foundational heroes in Greek cities are buried in the city, and not elsewhere.
At this stage, I have to state that one of the reasons that I think the Obelisk was at Hadrian’s Villa, that it was the Antinoeion, and that it was Antinous’ burial place, is that practical concerns seem to be the most logical: while it’s possible to move an obelisk from Egypt to Rome, it’s not easy. The rectangular rather than more angular design of the Obelisk of Antinous, and the irregularity of the hieroglyphic linguistic usage on it, both suggest to me that it was done outside of Egypt rather than within it, by people who were familiar with the idioms of the art but not traditionally trained in them, and by someone with a “provinicial” grasp of Middle Egyptian rather than someone in the native country. The fact that the Obelisk keeps stating that “A city was build there called Antinoöpolis” suggests to me an absence from the actual location as well; and, for my own logical processes, it makes the most sense to say that “Antinous’ body rests here, in the border fields of the princeps of Rome” means Tivoli/Tibur at Hadrian’s Villa, on the outskirts of Rome, rather than in a metaphorical outlying province of Rome. The far-more-complex suggestion that if it wasn’t moved from Antinoöpolis, then it might be a copy of one that was originally there, seems a little unnecessary as well to my own standards. And, if Ptah is on the top of the Obelisk in the damaged area, then it makes even more sense that it was in an Antinoeion at Hadrian’s Villa, because in that very area they found statues of Ptah.
Further, do we know that the Christian evidence that Renberg puts so much stock in was reliable? They lied about and misunderstood many things about a variety of polytheistic cults; why not Antinous’ cult as well? Do we know for certain that Epiphanios or Clement were ever in Antinoöpolis? If they weren’t, how do we know their informants knew what they were talking about either? Was there a cenotaph there, which may even have included a “ship burial” as Epiphanios reports, but which doesn’t even have a body to go with it? Lots of questions seem to linger on this matter, so I think the case is far less settled than Renberg might suggest.
So, as I said, there’s several interesting things in this article, and a great deal to think further about and to follow up on in greater detail in the future (including hunting down some of the further sources he cites). However, at the same time that I don’t personally buy lots of his suggestions from an historical viewpoint–and thus neither do I from a theological viewpoint (though the two don’t have to line up–see: foundation of Wicca!)–I am also further reminded of what shaky grounds we rest upon in making any of our choices about “what really happened” as far as Antinous’ life, death, and cultus are concerned.
What do you all think?