WE commemorate the solemn visit of a very grief-stricken Emperor Hadrian to Thebes and the Colossi of Memnon less than a month after the demise of his Beloved Antinous.
Antinous had drowned at the end of October and Hadrian had issued decrees establishing the CITY OF ANTINOOPOLIS at the spot on the shores of the Nile where his Beloved had died.
Hadrian probably left the body with priests before the Imperial Entourage continued its scheduled tour up the Nile to the historic city of Thebes.
The Colossi of Memnon stand at the entrance of what was a great temple for Amenophis III.
The Colossi of Memnon at Thebes were mistakenly identified as such by the Greeks. They were the giant statues of Amenhotep III at the entrance of his now destroyed Temple.
Memnon (left above) was actually the "brazen-crested Memnon, a comely man" according to Odysseus, King of the Ethiopians (Susa in the East not Africa) who came with a great force to help Troy against the Achaean invaders, and was killed by Achilles. At his death his soldiers turned into birds.
By the time Emperor Hadrian arrived, the statues were in a ruinous state and emitted a wailing sound at dawn when the rising sun heated the stone. Greeks and Romans traveled from afar to hear the statues "speak" to them. Hadrian left graffiti here.
Flamen ANTONIUS SUBIA writes:
"After the death of Antinous, the Imperial entourage visited the ancient city of Thebes in the Upper Nile, it was the furthest south that Hadrian ever journeyed. The court visited the two Colosoi of Memnon, which are monumental seated statues of Amenhotep III built in the 18th dynasty.
"It was said that a ringing sound was emitted by the statues in the early mourning, and that anyone who heard the statues speak was favored by the gods, as the belief was that the statues were of Memnon, the son of Aurora. Hadrian did not hear the sound, but the empress Sabina did.
"The God of Thebes was Amon, the ram-headed, who was equated with Jupiter. Julia Balbilla, poetess and companion of Sabina, who was with the court throughout the voyage and was present at the Death and Liberation of Antinous, wrote these words. These are the first words written after the death of Antinous. They were inscribed, like graffiti on the Colossus of Memnon.
"'I, Balbilla, when the rock spoke, heard the voice of the divine Memnon or Phamenoth. I came here with the lovely Empress Sabina. The course of the sun was in its first hour, in the fifteenth year of Hadrian's reign, on the twenty-fourth day of the month Hathor. I wrote this on the twenty-fifth day of the month Hathor'."
Rather more recently, in the 21st Century, while researching his novel about Antinous entitled THE LOVE GOD, author MARTIN CAMPBELL made a pilgrimage to the Colossi of Memnon in the footsteps of the Divine Hadrian. He filed this report via email from Thebes:
"The Nile is noiselessly rushing by my hotel only a hundred or so feet from where I am writing.
"I have stood at the Colossi of Memnon and seen where Sabina and Julia Balbilla wrote verses about Hadrian.
"I walked around Luxor temple where Hadrian would have officiated as pharaoh. I have looked at the ruins of the Roman barracks where he may have stayed while in Luxor (then Thebes). I have been to the Dendera temple where Trajan decorated a temple to childbirth which may later have been converted to a temple to Bes, possibly by Hadrian."
The truth is that we all follow in the footsteps of the Divine Hadrian as he attempts to work out his grief in the weeks following the death of his Beloved and just seven days before the Birthday of Antinous on November 27th.