Portrait of Emperor Hadrian, 2nd century A.D. Roman. Marble; 36 x 27.5 x 27.3 cm (14 1/4 x 10 7/8 x 10 3/4 in.). The Art Institute of Chicago, Katherine K. Adler Memorial Fund, 1979.350.
Although Hadrian was married to Sabina, he appears to have shared a deeper relationship with Antinous, a handsome young man from the province of Bithynia (the northern part of modern Turkey). They likely met while Hadrian was traveling in the region and are thought to have shared an intimate relationship based on the earlier Greek aristocratic tradition of erotic love between a man and a male youth.
Nile at Aswan. iStockphoto: ©iStockphoto.com/oversnap
Antinous traveled with Hadrian for several years until their visit to Egypt in A.D. 130, during which Antinous drowned while sailing on the Nile River. Devastated by his companion’s untimely death, Hadrian had Antinous deified (celebrated as a god). This was an unusual act because deification was reserved for members of the imperial family. Hadrian also established a cult of Antinous and founded the city of Antinoupolis near the Nile as the god’s cult center.
Antinous (in Egyptian dress), from Hadrian's Villa, near Tivoli. Location: Museo Gregoriano Egizio, Vatican Museums, Vatican State. Photo Credit: Scala / Art Resource, NY
Following his deification, Antinous was depicted with the attributes of different divinities, particularly those associated with fertility and rebirth. According to ancient Egyptian custom, those who drowned in the Nile were assimilated with Osiris, the god of the dead and the afterlife. Consequently, Antinous was venerated as the compound god Osir-Antinous and was often shown in Egyptianizing dress. He was also frequently depicted as Bacchus (the Greek Dionysus), the god of wine and male fertility.