Some patristic sources on Antinous and Antinoupolis

In his article on the city of Antinoupolis, Jomard quotes a few authors relevant to the story of the wretched Antinous, and the city that bore his name.  I thought that I would give a few here.

Justin Martyr, First Apology, c. 29, writes:

And again [we fear to expose children], lest some of them be not picked up, but die, and we become murderers. But whether we marry, it is only that we may bring up children; or whether we decline marriage, we live continently.

And that you may understand that promiscuous intercourse is not one of our mysteries, one of our number a short time ago presented to Felix the governor in Alexandria a petition, craving that permission might be given to a surgeon to make him an eunuch. For the surgeons there said that they were forbidden to do this without the permission of the governor. And when Felix absolutely refused to sign such a permission, the youth remained single, and was satisfied with his own approving conscience, and the approval of those who thought as he did.

And it is not out of place, we think, to mention here Antinous, who was alive but lately, and whom all were prompt, through fear, to worship as a god, though they knew both who he was and what was his origin.[1]

The statement that everyone worshipped Antinous through fear, even though they knew who he was and what he was, is telling.

Jerome, Against Jovinian II, c.7, writes:

Almost every city in Egypt venerates its own beasts and monsters, and whatever be the object of worship, that they think inviolable and sacred. Hence it is that their towns also are named after animals Leonto, Cyno, Lyco, Busyris, Thmuis, which is, being interpreted, a he-goat.

And to make us understand what sort of gods Egypt always welcomed, one of their cities was recently called Antinous after Hadrian’s favourite. You see clearly then that not only in eating, but also in burial, in wedlock, and in every department of life, each race follows its own practice and peculiar usages, and takes that for the law of nature which is most familiar to it. [2]

Athanasius, Contra Gentes, part 1, c.9, writes:

But others, straining impiety to the utmost, have deified the motive of the invention of these things and of their own wickedness, namely, pleasure and lust, and worship them, such as their Eros, and the Aphrodite at Paphos. While some of them, as if vying with them in depravation, have ventured to erect into gods their rulers or even their sons, either out of honour for their princes, or from fear of their tyranny, such as the Cretan Zeus, of such renown among them, and the Arcadian Hermes; and among the Indians Dionysus, among the Egyptians Isis and Osiris and Horus, and in our own time Antinous, favourite of Hadrian, Emperor of the Romans, whom, although men know he was a mere man, and not a respectable man, but on the contrary, full of licentiousness, yet they worship for fear of him that enjoined it.

For Hadrian having come to sojourn in the land of Egypt, when Antinous the minister of his pleasure died, ordered him to be worshipped; being indeed himself in love with the youth even after his death, but for all that offering a convincing exposure of himself, and a proof against all idolatry, that it was discovered among men for no other reason than by reason of the lust of them that imagined it. According as the wisdom of God testifies beforehand when it says, “The devising of idols was the beginning of fornication.”[3]

Origen, Contra Celsum, book 3, , writes:

But as he next introduces the case of the favourite of Adrian (I refer to the accounts regarding the youth Antinous, and the honours paid him by the inhabitants of the city of Antinous in Egypt), and imagines that the honour paid to him falls little short of that which we render to Jesus, let us show in what a spirit of hostility this statement is made.

For what is there in common between a life lived among the favourites of Adrian, by one who did not abstain even from unnatural lusts, and that of the venerable Jesus, against whom even they who brought countless other charges, and who told so many falsehoods, were not able to allege that He manifested, even in the slightest degree, any tendency to what was licentious?

Nay, further, if one were to investigate, in a spirit of truth and impartiality, the stories relating to Antinous, he would find that it was due to the magical arts and rites of the Egyptians that there was even the appearance of his performing anything (marvellous) in the city which bears his name, and that too only after his decease,-an effect which is said to have been produced in other temples by the Egyptians, and those who are skilled in the arts which they practise.

For they set up in certain places demons claiming prophetic or healing power, and which frequently torture those who seem to have committed any mistake about ordinary kinds of food, or about touching the dead body of a man, that they may have the appearance of alarming the uneducated multitude.

Of this nature is the being that is considered to be a god in Antinoopolis in Egypt, whose (reputed) virtues are the lying inventions of some who live by the gain derived therefrom; while others, deceived by the demon placed there, and others again convicted by a weak conscience, actually think that they are paying a divine penalty inflicted by Antinous.

Of such a nature also are the mysteries which they perform, and the seeming predictions which they utter.

Far different from such are those of Jesus. For it was no company of sorcerers, paying court to a king or ruler at his bidding, who seemed to have made him a god; but the Architect of the universe Himself, in keeping with the marvellously persuasive power of His words, commended Him as worthy of honour, not only to those men who were well disposed, but to demons also, and other unseen powers, which even at the present time show that they either fear the name of Jesus as that of a being of superior power, or reverentially accept Him as their legal ruler. For if the commendation had not been given Him by God, the demons would not have withdrawn from those whom they had assailed, in obedience to the mere mention of His name.

XXXVII. The Egyptians, then, having been taught to worship Antinous, will, if you compare him with Apollo or Zeus, endure such a comparison, Antinous being magnified in their estimation through being classed with these deities; for Celsus is clearly convicted of falsehood when he says, “that they will not endure his being compared with Apollo or Zeus.” Whereas Christians (who have learned that their eternal life consists in knowing the only true God, who is over all, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent; and who have learned also that all the gods of the heathen are greedy demons, which flit around sacrifices and blood, and other sacrificial accompaniments, in order to deceive those who have not taken refuge with the God who is over all, but that the divine and holy angels of God are of a different nature and will from all the demons on earth, and that they are known to those exceedingly few persons who have carefully and intelligently investigated these matters) will not endure a comparison to be made between them and Apollo or Zeus, or any being worshipped with odour and blood and sacrifices; some of them, so acting from their extreme simplicity, not being able to give a reason for their conduct, but sincerely observing the precepts which they have received; others, again, for reasons not to be lightly regarded, nay, even of a profound description, and (as a Greek would say) drawn from the inner nature of things; … [4]

Epiphanius, Panarion, writes, discussing the various customs of the Greeks:[5]

But if I were to describe the woman ecstatics in Memphis < and > Heliopolis who bewitch themselves with drums and flutes, and the dancing girls, and the performers at the triennial festival— and the women at Bathys and in the temple of Menuthis who have abandoned shame and womanliness—to what burdens for the tongue, or what a long composition I could commit myself, by adding their countless number [itself] to the number I have already given! (2) For even though I were to take on the enormous task I would leave our comprehension of these things incomplete, since scripture says that there are “young women without number.”48(3) The rites at Sais and Pelusium, at Bubastis and Abydus, the temples of Antinous and the mysteries there. The rites at Pharbetis, those of Mendesius’ goat, all the mysteries in Busiris, all the ones in Sebennytus, all the ones in Diospolis, where they sometimes perform rites for the ass in the name of Seth, or Typho, if you please, while others < worship* > Tithambro, or Hecate, and others are initiates of Senephthy, others of Thermuthi, others of Isis. (4) And how many things of this sort can be said! < If one tries > to name them specifically it will consume a great deal of time. The entire subject will be summed up by the phrase, “young women without number.”

This reminds me of the 6th century life of Severus of Antioch, written by Zacharias Rhetor, where visits to the temple at Menouthis for problems of “fertility” did indeed involve sleazy “priestesses”.

It’s not really very much, is it?  But there are still a few to go.

  1. [1]ANF 1, here.
  2. [2]NPNF2, vol. 6, here.
  3. [3]NPNF2, vol. 4, here.
  4. [4]ANF8, here.
  5. [5]Vol. 1, p.669 of the English translation by F. Williams.

One thought on “Some patristic sources on Antinous and Antinoupolis

  1. “It’s not really very much, is it?” But it is vivid and interesting – St. Justin Martyr as presumably a somewhat older contemporary of Antinous, and Origen not so many generations later. And there is evidence of the cult successfully continuing at least till the late 3rd c. – which brings us close to the birth of St Athanasius. The English Wikipedia links this interesting-looking recent article by Trevor Thompson (which I have only started even to skim, looking for the papyrus referring to Diocletian):

Leave a Reply