Antinous: the boy done god

Antinous, the Bithynian youth whom Hadrian loved, died in Egypt. Drowned in the Nile. He was turned into a god on Hadrian’s orders. Statues were set up across the Empire and the town where he passed was renamed Antinoopolis. This suggests that he became the chief god of the town (or at least this was Hadrian’s intention).

The small exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford presents depictions of the young man from the ancient and modern world.

Objects have been found across the Roman world, most notably in Rome, Greece and Bithynia. These consists of coins, gems and statues and busts.  

Antinous was an icon- literally images of him as an apotheised god acted as a item of veneration, and he has become a gay icon.


Antinous Osiris?

As a god he was associated with various gods, possibly even with Osiris. A statue of him with an Egyptian headdress has been interpreted as Antinous Osiris. Such identifications are far to simplistic.

Osiris was portrayed in Egyptian headdress but also as a mummy (a mummoid) and as a vase (symbolising the holy waters of Nile). These later types of Osiris statue have been called Osiris Canopus. One was even found in Hadrian’s villa in Trivoli. Osiris is often portrayed as the spouse of Isis, the mighty Egyptian goddess.



Antinous Dionysos

Antinous was also identified with Dionysos. The Townley Antinous shows the god with a wreath of ivy leaves and berry clusters. The colossal Antinous from Praeneste show him with a similar wreath on his head, but also a pinecone. This statue was “restored” in modern times. The flowing clothes would formally have been made from another material.


An intriguing bust of Antinous is dedicated to the Hero Antinous. A Hero is not quite a god, although worthy of veneration.


Modern Times

His ascent continued in the eighteenth century when craftsmen continued to depict Antinous. A gorgeous carnelian gem was cut by Edward Burch.

Most notably Yourcenar depicted a heartbroken Hadrian in her novel Memoirs of Hadrian. This image of the emperor has retained a certain popularity, even though the emperor was quite a high handed rule as his treatment to his Jewish subjects shows.



A fine exhibition that explores big themes of politics, religion, sexuality, culture, art history and reception in a small setting.


By Rhakotis Magazine

Classic beyond the classics