Posted by: aediculaantinoi | March 9, 2011


Now, at last, we come to the reason for this entire set of festivals, though by no means the end of them: Polydeukion himself, the “hero of Herodes Attikos,” the foremost of the Trophimoi, and one of the Treiskouroi. There is a great deal to be said about him, so let’s get right to it…

The above, very damaged, relief sculpture comes from one of Herodes Attikos’ villas, and shows Polydeukion in what has been described as “the guise of a hero.” Note the horse’s head that is visible in the background of the upper right hand corner. This has been taken as an allusion to his hero-status, particularly in relation to his name, Polydeukion, which is a diminutive/hypocoristic form of the name Polydeukes, one of the Dioskouroi or Gemini twins, the sons of Zeus, known as Castor and Pollux in Rome and as Kastor and Polydeukes in Greece. Like his foster-brothers Memnon and Achilles, Polydeukion is named after a well-known Greek hero, who also–coincidentally?–has some connection to the cultus of Antinous. Indeed, the likelihood that Herodes Attikos based his hero-cultus for Polydeukion directly on that of Antinous is practically beyond doubt, and his success in doing so, while not as impressive as Antinous’ international and persistent cultus, nonetheless is remarkable.

Vibullius Polydeukion seems to have been a kinsman to Herodes Attikos through Herodes’ maternal line. In one inscription, he is said to have been a Roman knight; while not impossible, he would have been relatively young to have been considered one. Had he been about fifteen at death, which is the estimate, he would have been eligible to have taken on the toga virilis at age fourteen, which customarily took place on the Liberalia on March 17 each year. If he was a kinsman to Herodes, it makes it (at least in my mind) all the more unlikely that he was an eromenos to Herodes–though that may have occurred in other cases, e.g. Hadrian being a possible former eromenos to Trajan. I think the inscriptions of Herodes on Polydeukion, however, tell a different story.

But so does Polydeukion’s surviving statuary, for that matter, in my opinion. As I noted yesterday in relation to Achilles, all but one of Polydeukion’s surviving, certainly identified statue likenesses are either heads-only, or preserve some indication that there was clothing, as the one above. Greek and Roman culture at the time did not have any qualms about depicting anyone, including children and adolescents, as nude, and in fact at weddings and other such events, “live nude children” were hired to walk around wearing wings and such simply for visual effect. The eroticization of children was not a “hot-button topic” or anything at all controversial during those centuries. (It is now, and for good reason!) Antinous’ statuary, even in his most striking and grand representations, is highly erotic, and not simply because of his inherent beauty–there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the artists and those who commissioned the statues of Antinous to make them erotic, approachable, and desirable. So, it is very noticeable that Polydeukion does not fit this trend. And while I find it very upsetting and annoying that people such as Royston Lambert says, in his one note about Polydeukion, that he was “a rather unattractive youth” (for Polydeukion is attractive, in my opinion), nonetheless it is strange that this self-consciously created hero is portrayed in this fashion almost invariably by Herodes Attikos and his circle. Does it perhaps indicate something about Polydeukion himself, a habit for modesty or some other such personal trait? Who knows…

The one depiction that is nude, however, is the one above, from one of Herodes Attikos’ Arcadian villas and a hero shrine therein with a variety of sculptures that seem to reflect a variety of usages. I have not been able to get a hold of the necessary publications at this stage detailing these findings (and they’re in Greek, from what I understand!), but it appears that a hero-shrine at that location that was originally for Antinous (not surprising, given its location in Arcadia) eventually became a hero-shrine to the various members of Herodes’ family and his foster-sons as well. The particular depiction shown here, it is suggested (based on what I’ve been able to find out about it), is the deceased Polydeukion receiving instruction in the afterlife from Herodes, and Polydeukion seems to be holding a book or scroll of some sort, which it has been suggested is an Orphic text that gives instructions for the afterlife. This is intriguing from a huge number of perspectives…

There is also this statue, which comes from Athens, and was found with a similar Egyptian-style statue, in a context connected to Herodes Attikos. Because of this fact, it is often said to be Antinous–but look at the face, and it is clear that it doesn’t resemble him very much. While it may not be Polydeukion (or Achilles or Memnon or anyone associated with Herodes Attikos), I think it more likely that it is Polydeukion than it is Antinous. You be the judge yourself, however…

So, remembering that Polydeukion and his two foster-brothers were probably “alphabet boys” initially, making him born c. 145 CE, he appears to have been around fifteen when he died. This would put his death at, about, or after 160 CE, which means that he would have died right about the same time that Herodes’ wife Appia Annia Regilla died. As such a horrible series of events would no doubt have been mentioned in the records we have of Regilla’s death and the trial for murder that her brother prosecuted against Herodes during the early principate of Marcus Aurelius seems likely, it is interesting that we find nothing of the sort. There is no mention of such in the extant correspondence between Marcus Cornelius Fronto and Marcus Aurelius either. And, there are no inscriptions to Polydeukion from Regilla herself–though at least one still exists from Herodes’ mother to Polydeukion. From this I conclude–contra Sarah Pomeroy–that instead of taking this as Regilla’s distaste for her husband’s “playthings,” it instead indicates that she pre-deceased Polydeukion. And, while it is far more circumstantial evidence, I think the lines about Herodes’ honors for both his wife and Polydeukion in Lukian of Samosata’s Demonax suggest that Regilla died first as well.

Unlike Memnon and Achilles, we have about twenty-five statue likenesses of Polydeukion (which is, again, more than any non-imperial or political person for all of antiquity from Greece), mostly from Greece but a few from Italy and its offshore islands, and even one from a German villa built several centuries after Polydeukion (and Herodes’!) death. There are also a number of inscriptions that are related to him, and there is one inscription by him, which we do not have for any of the other Trophimoi, or Antinous for that matter. Several of the inscriptions have Herodes’ “curse formula” as part of them, which is also encountered with some of the inscriptions relating to Achilles and Memnon. Some of the inscriptions that follow are on statue-bases, while others are on headless herms. Another indicates that there were some sort of “sacred games” held for Polydeukion, and a list of participants in them is given, and the head of the games on that occasion may have been Polydeukion’s father. All of these inscriptions are given here, in Jennifer Tobin’s translations.

Marathon: Polydeukion to Dionysos, for the sake of piety.

Delphi: The Delphians for Vibullius Polydeukion because of his decency. The hero of Herodes.

Delphi: Tiberius Claudius Attikos Herodes the Athenian, by decree of the Amphictyonic league, dedicated the statue of Vibullius Polydeukion, his own trophimos.

Kata Souli: Polydeukion, whom Herodes loved as if he were a son. Herodes set it up here where they used to hunt.
Before the gods and heroes: Whoever you are who hold the land, on no account move any of these things. And as for the images and honors of these statues, whoever either pulls them down or moves them, may the earth not bear fruit for him, nor the sea be navigable, and may he and his race die miserably. But, whoever keeps watch on this place and continues giving the customary honor and exaltation, may there be many favors to him himself and his children. But neither maltreat or knock over or break up or demolish anything of this shape and image. But if anyone does this, this curse be on them.
But leave the epithémata of the images and hypostémata undamaged and unharmed, and the bases as they were made.
And in addition to the first clause and first clauses, whoever either orders another or governs the intentions or influences the intentions concerning moving or destroying anything of these, this curse on them.

Kephisia: The hero Polydeukion. When Vibullius Polydeukes was agonothetes, during the archonship of Dionysios. The rhabdophoroi: Ploution, Euporos, Philoserapis, Protagoras, Onesimos, Theophilos, Kosmos, Menodoros, Metrobios, Chryseros, Aristokrates, Athenaios, Leukios, Philetas, Kasianos, Helix, Eisidotos, Epaphrodeitos, Leochares, Kallineikos.

Kephisia: Vibullia Alkia dedicated this statue of the hero Polydeukion, dearest to her son and herself, to Poseidon.

Kephisia: The hero Polydeukion. Lucius Octavius Restitutus of Marathon set it up at his own expense.

Kephisia: The Hero Polydeukion. Once I used to walk with you at this crossroad.
[The same curse as that at Kata Souli above, follows this.]

Kephisia (on an altar): Asiatikos Lanptreus, to the hero Polydeukion.

Rhamnous: By decree of the Boule of the Areopagus and the Boule of the 500 and the people of Athens, Herodes, who raised him like a son, set up the statue of Vibullius Polydeukion, Roman Knight, to Nemesis, to whom he used to sacrifice with him, the kindly and ever-remembered trophimos.

Varnava: hero, watcher of the baths

Vrana: The hero Vibullius Polydeukion, Vibullia Alkia the mother of Herodes set this up.

So, in comparison to some other situations with which we deal historically in the Ekklesía Antínoou, we’re in a very interesting position with Polydeukion. We know a great deal more about him from these inscriptions, in certain respects, as a human than we know about Antinous.

I’ve written quite a bit for Polydeukion in the last few days, and would like to share it with you here. I’ve already given you the first two parts of this poem, and now here is the final part. As Polydeukion died after Achilles, but before Memnon (most likely), but as a hero he was gifted in a way that the others were not (though I would not say in a definitive or final sense, since we are treating them as heroes just as equally as Polydeukion in our modern Ekklesía Antínoou practice), I have combined the influences of both Memnon’s elegiac villanelle and Achilles’ more light-hearted acrostic into a combined villanelle/acrostic, shorter than Memnon’s and Achilles’ poems both because their two names are shorter than the ones Achilles had to deal with. He also praises his foster-father and mother, and his predecessor and hero/god Antinous, because it would not be virtuous to leave them out. Though this means that each of his brothers only gets one verse each to themselves, the fact that their names give structure to the entirety is a trade-off. This clever combination, both a challenge and a “breaking of the rules” of the one form of poetry, suits Polydeukion’s position as a “mediating figure” between the deaths of his other two foster-brothers, and his role as a hero, and his desire to please all and favor everyone equally; but, because in doing so he also didn’t have to write poems as long as either of his other foster-brothers, it also does something that the rather-too-clever children, particularly in competitive situations, utterly relish: not having to do as much work while having an equally astonishing effect come from it. Hmm…can’t figure out where I would have come up with something like that at all, now, can I? 😉 But, this is also his poem as he is on the point of death, knowing his brother Achilles has already died, that his brother Memnon remains, and that his foster-father Herodes will be inconsolable in his grief. Also note, the term “Nubian” is used here in relation to Memnon, even though Memnon was Ethiopian, not Nubian; though, in the minds of many people in the ancient world, anything “south of Egypt” may have seemed to have been “the same,” and given that there is no reason to believe Herodes nor Polydeukion was ever in Egypt, much less Nubia or Ethiopia, they may not have made such fine distinctions–alas, even clever people sometimes make mistakes, then as now. So, here is that first.

The Trophimoi Praise The Trophimoi

III. Polydeukion

My Topádein, a Nubian moon-child–
Each of my brothers’ qualities I praise–
My little hero, rambunctious and wild.

No shepherd in the field would be more mild
Or just beneath the bright sun’s saving rays–
No, my little Topaz, the moon-shade child!

At play, his sense of fairness undefiled,
Climbed past the stamina of gods for days–
Heroic one, rambunctious and wild.

In virtue, Antinous’ deeds compiled;
Lady of Rome, Regilla’s greatness stays;
Like Herakles, calmness Herod exiled…
Excellent Topaz, Nubian moon-child,
Stay well, remember brothers who were wild.


Next, I have something for the fans of the Eleventh Muse, not unlike previous work I’ve posted this year, including the song used at the beginning of Act II of Bakkhoí Antínoou, which I also posted independently here earlier. In this song, as in all of the prose writings that record Polydeukion at all, he is called Polydeukes, whereas in all of the inscriptions (by Herodes and his circle), he is called by the more familiar and affectionate diminutive form of his name, Polydeukion. This was done mostly for metrical purposes, but I note here that, technically, either one is correct (just as Memnon’s poem’s usage was); but also, there is some heightened and even archaic diction in parts of this song, so it fits that particular mode slightly more.

For those familiar with “Paparazzi,” you already know the tune…so sing along!


Hero, not god
with Herodes’ nod
virtuous and true
and this statue of you
it’s so magical
you are so fantastical…

Curses and praise
and herms without heads
tell of your short days
and Herodes’ dreads
that you’d be forgot
from memory you’d be blot–

but you know, you know, YOU’RE NOT!

I’m your devotee
I’ll follow you where’er you lead me
Boy, you know no other
Trophimos or brother feeds me
like you do, POLYDEUKES
Promise that I’ll find
a way to keep you always on my mind
Boy, you were so famous
just like Antinous’ drowing

Didn’t live long
as brother Memnon
though Achilles died
and the tears that you cried
were not shed amiss
death gave you a bitter kiss…

Statues he made
and to your soul he prayed
like the heroes of old
from the stories he told
and you turned divine
just like Dionysos’ vine…

now we drink, we drink YOUR WINE!

I’m your devotee
I’ll follow you where’er you lead me
Boy, you know no other
Trophimos or brother feeds me
like you do, POLYDEUKES
Promise that I’ll find
a way to keep you always on my mind
Boy, you were so famous
just like Antinous’ drowing

Real good, your face on a sculpted wall;
Clop, clop! From horse you would never fall…
Don’t stop blessing us now–
We’re not heroes, lest you SHOW US HOW!

I’m your devotee
I’ll follow you where’er you lead me
Boy, you know no other
Trophimos or brother feeds me
like you do, POLYDEUKES
Promise that I’ll find
a way to keep you always on my mind
Boy, you were so famous
just like Antinous’ drowing


And finally, a piece I wasn’t expecting to write (though I didn’t expect to write the previous song/filk either!), which is far more personal and perhaps overly sentimental than many might like to read or hear…but it is real, and it is sincere, and captures the situation in which my most intense devotions to Polydeukion started last year. This year’s observances are the fulfillment of a vow, in essence, that has its roots then, but I hope that many others will (and I know many already have!) taken up these particular devotions now as a result of all that, and I will continue to do so in the years to come. I make no apologies for it, other than for not being as open as this on previous occasions. So, here it is…with the necessary accompanying photo, which I’m sure looks very familiar by now (even though I don’t think I’ve posted this particular photo of him before).

To Polydeukion

I sing the praises of a hero
now neglected from the halls of virtue.

Vibullius Polydeukion, Roman knight,
named “little” after the Great Gods,
twin brother to Antinous, Memnon, Achilles
though born of other parents.

Ivory milk and golden honey,
while appropriate, is inadequate
compared to your visage,
like crystallized sunlight
in sculpted Pentelic marble.

From months in snow and sadness, lonely isolation
and desolate nights of torment and pain
you came in advance of spring and winter’s thaw
bringing brightness and warmth to my exile.

From the most random of chances
I was drawn across mountains
to be in your presence
by forces far greater than myself,
and though I knew their names
their motives were inscrutable to me.

I tarried in my ignorance too long,
and I hope you have excused me
for the tardiness of my attention
to your presence in my midst.

I, who am childless, found you
and like Herodes long before
found a child I could love
and who I could wish the best for
as every good parent hopes,
who I would visit whenever possible
(hoping I was not boring you
nor embarrassingly cramping your style!),
who I would fail, but, gods grant, would be pardoned,
who would be a solace when none else cared,
who would always try to help when called upon…

If I had a son, I’d wish him to be like you–
serious and undaunted, mature for his years,
talented in fields both grassy and word-strewn,
a beauty and a joy in the eyes of all.

I mourn your loss as Herodes mourned,
bereft as he was from children and wife;
but more, I celebrate your memory,
for the life you did have and the impression you made
on people greater than me in your brief time breathing.

May my words and my actions bring your memory alive
again, now, in this world that needs heroes,
where young people are dying for lack of love,
of food and shelter, at the hands of the hateful…

May you stand for all of them,
may you assist those struggling on the earth,
may you comfort and receive those who have died,
may your virtue be my virtue,
and may your praises flow from me
as I strive to be worthy of your many blessings.


I make that last prayer on behalf of all who remember Polydeukion, and his brothers Achilles and Memnon, and for all of those who have lost children, brothers or sisters, relatives or friends, who were not even on the earth for sixteen years, who have been lost to suicide and murder and childhood illness, of every race and gender and sexual orientation and religion…

May we value and treasure the wisdom and the experiences of the youths who still live,
and may we never forget the memory and virtues of those who have died.

Praise, thanks, and blessings to Polydeukion, the Hero of Herodes Attikos, the Crown of the Trophimoi, and his brothers Achilles and Memnon!


  1. This was a wonderful post to read, and I wish I had a more relevant comment to leave … but all I can think of is, Damn that boy looks like Luke Sykwalker.

    • 😉

      Actually, I had never really thought that previously…but, you’re right! Particularly in the first film…

      “Polydeukion, I want you to stay in the heroon and clean that marble image of Antinous.”
      “But me and Memnon and Achilles were going to go into Athens to bother some Stoics!”
      “You can waste time with the other Trophimoi later…”

      Verily, the mind boggles!

  2. I don’t have time to make a large comment, sadly, but I can say . . . now we’re talking. 🙂

  3. […] have celebrated, over the last week, the Treiskouroi and the Trophimoi, with Memnon, Achilles, and Polydeukion each getting their own day, as well as having a day for the daughters of Herodes Attikos, Elpinike […]

  4. […] And, we’re currently in the middle/toward the end of the festivals of the Trophimoi, of Polydeukion, Memnon, and Achilles. Earlier in the festivals, we also honored the Treískouroi, including Lucius […]

  5. […] most of you know, not only from reading this blog and its entries (particularly on recent occasions), I am someone who is artistically-inclined, most particularly in the direction of poetry, but also […]

  6. […] are near two millennia or more in age) of deities–including Serapis–and an image of Polydeukion that is the best I have been able to obtain for him at present, from the museum in Ann Arbor where […]

  7. […] into “Hadriane“ for the second act of the Bakkhoí Antínoou play, and “Paparazzi” into “Polydeukes” for the festival of Polydeukion in March. I had long intended to turn a few of her other songs that I know well and like into further […]

  8. […] in fact, be somewhat comparable (apart from the reversal of their orders of death) to that of Polydeukion and Herodes Attikos, right down to some of the “controversial” aspects of the latter. […]

  9. […] be familiar with some of my Eleventh Muse (a.k.a. Lady GaGa) treatments of matters for Antinous, Polydeukion, and others (Pancrates and Hadrian); you may also be familiar with my Glykonic take on Rebecca […]

  10. […] may not be familiar to many people.   Lupus says quite a bit about him in this post.  I think of him as one of the figures involved with, and surrounding Antinous, part of an […]

  11. […] grouping: the Treískouroi, the “three boys,” being the hero/god/daimon Antinous, the hero Polydeukion, and the Sanctissimus Lucius Marius […]

  12. […] I’ve been up for a large portion of this calendar day–I didn’t sleep very well or very much, and before I got out of bed this morning (literally), I wrote my poem for Polydeukion for the day, which I’ll say more about below (and will actually give below as well!). You can read about Polydeukion in general from last year here. […]

  13. […] have written about him on this day in 2011 and in 2012, and one of the best and most useful devotional hymns I’ve ever written was also […]

  14. […] For more on Polydeukion, click here. […]

  15. […] musical setting of that song might be (and, let’s face it, folks–I’ve done much worse!–and in doing so, have used some of the same vocabulary unproblematically as I’m […]

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