The bust of Antinous is located in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
Antinous was from the Bithynia (modern day Turkey) and was a lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. While travelling with Hadrian and the imperial entourage along the River Nile in 130 AD, Antinous fell into the river and drowned.
The Egyptian God Osiris was murdered by his brother Set. There are different versions of the ‘Osiris Myth,’ one of which tells of Osiris being drowned in the Nile. This gave rise to an Egyptian tradition claiming that those who drown in the Nile are sacred. This tradition is celebrated on October 24th, the supposed day Osiris drowned. During the celebrations young boys who were considered beautiful were thrown into the Nile to drown (A sacrifice to Osiris in order to provide for the valley). It was during these celebrations that Antinous drowned in the Nile and thus the cause of his death was questioned. Some believed Antinous drowned by accident or by saving the emperor’s life, while others believe Antinous to have committed suicide in an act of self-sacrifice or was scarified by Hadrian. There is no detailed account of what happened to Antinous, however, in Hadrian’s description his death was not accidental.
Homosexual relations were not unusual in Roman times. However, the extent to which Hadrian memorialised his male lover was unprecedented. Hadrian founded Antinoplois (modern day El Sheikh Ibada, Egypt), a city located along the River Nile close to where Antinous died. Hadrian also deified Antinous and established a cult which quickly spread across the empire and rivalled Christianity.
Sculptural depictions of Antinous are often in the guise of Hermes or Dionysus and portray the downcast expression of a life lost too soon. Defining attributes of these sculptures include the broad chest, luscious curls and thick eyebrows, as seen in the adjacent photograph. Depictions of Antinous became somewhat of a standard of ideal male beauty. His likeness was third to Augustus and Hadrian, as the most depicted figures in classical antiquity.
Did you known? Antinous has been a symbol for homosexuality in western culture since the eighteenth century. He is sometimes referred to as the ‘Gay God.’ Antinous appears in the work of Oscar Wilde, The YoungKing, The Burden of Itys and The Sphinx. He also appears in the work of Fernando Pessoa, Antinous. Comparisons have also been drawn between Antinous and the characters of Dorian Gray (A Picture of Dorian Gray) and Enjolras (Les Miserables).