BELOVED AND GOD by Royston Lambert


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An affair to remember: the astonishing love, in life and death, of the Emperor Hadrian (76-138) for the beautiful Bithynian youth Antinous (ca. 110-12-130), masterfully reconstructed by a scholar whose infectious enthusiasm sometimes dips into numbing detail and lyrical excess. The late Dr. Lambert (d. 1982), an erstwhile fellow of King's College, Cambridge, succeeds admirably in shaping a coherent story out of the rich but often murky evidence. The pivotal mystery occurred in late October of the year 130, when Antinous drowned while accompanying Hadrian up the Nile. Was it murder, suicide, or an accident? (No marks were found on the flawless, muscular body.) In any case, the Emperor immediately proclaimed his dead lover a god, establishing a cult that spread all over the Empire and survived in parts of it ""until the final convulsions of classical civilisation."" Hadrian also built a splendid city in his memory, Antinoopolis, near the site of the drowning. Its ruins have now practically disappeared, but we still have a wealth of Antinous-material (some 115 sculpted images, innumerable coins and medallions, both pagan and Christian literature, celebrating or denigrating the imperial passion), and Lambert presents it in a way that experts will respect and amateurs enjoy. He concludes that Antinous' death was a voluntary sacrifice, either to preserve Hadrian from a deadly disease he had caught or from the political-mythical consequences of a famine then devastating Egypt, or both. The suicide, Lambert observes, took place appropriately just around the date of the festival glorifying Osiris, the dying and rising nature god. Lambert's long treatment of the iconography of Antinous will bore most readers, and he ends by giving the relationship more weight than it can bear. (""The protÉgÉ of the Emperor who brought Rome to its zenith of peace, stability, and prosperity, Antinous, both as a human being and as a god, represented a moment of balance between the forces of old and new, past and future, between Roman organization and Greek culture, classical religion and eastern faiths, traditional society and provincial blood."") Nonetheless, a vivid and enlightening study.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking