IN mid-October we commemorate the Imperial entourage's arrival in the fabled Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus the city named for the fish which swallowed the Phallus of Osiris.
Forgotten by everyone except Egyptologists today, Oxyrhynchus was the third-largest city in Egypt (after Alexandria and Mennefer-Memphis) when Hadrian and Antinous visited it in October of the year 130 AD — only a matter of days before Antinous drowned a few kilometers upstream from this city.
For more than 1,000 years, the inhabitants of Oxyrhynchus dumped garbage at a series of sites out in the desert sands beyond the town limits. The fact that the town was built on a canal rather than on the Nile itself was important, because this meant that the area did not flood every year with the rising of the river, as did the districts along the riverbank.
When the canals dried up, the water table fell and never rose again. The area west of the Nile has virtually no rain, so the garbage dumps of Oxyrhynchus were gradually covered with sand and were forgotten for another 1,000 years — it is that phenomenon which meant that priceless documents came down to us virtually intact.
It is of course an irony of history that the documents which came down to us were the "cast offs" and "rejects" from the libraries in Oxyrhynchus — they were the documents which were thrown out to make room for more important documents — which presumably were put to the torch by Moslems in later centuries.
Antonius Subia writes:
Antinous entered the city of Oxyrhynchus, a Greek city founded by the Ptolemies, that has since become famous for the thousands of papyrus fragments unearthed in its buried libraries.
The people of Oxyrhynchus were highly literate and therefore made a welcome stop for the Greek-loving Emperor Hadrian. The visit of Antinous to this city is important because several fragments mention his name, and the sacred poem of the SACRED LION HUNT was found here.
We are reminded by Oxyrhynchus of the fragile nature of the written word and how easily knowledge can be lost, and therefore, we sanctify the memory of the city to the importance that these fragments confer about our God Antinous. The primary Goddess of Oxyrhynchus is Athena-Sophia, patroness of learning.
There were also Greek temples to Demeter, Dionysius, Hermes, Apollo, the goddess Fortune together with Roman temples to Jupiter Capitolinus and Mars.
Apparently, the city had many public buildings, as noted in the papyrii unearthed in the region, as well as places of worship.
Though only traces remain, archaeologists have identified a theater, which could seat 11,000, a hippodrome where the traditional chariot races took place, four public baths, important because there was no running water available in private homes, a gymnasium, which was an important center of cultural life during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, and two small ports on the Bahr Yusuf canal.
It is also likely that there were military buildings, such as barracks, since the city supported a military garrison on several occasions during the Roman period — a military installation which Hadrian no doubt visited.
Hadrian would have delighted in the city's libraries and temples.
Antinous, like adolescents of all ages, no doubt was intrigued by the fact that Oxyrhynchus (Greek for "pointy snout") takes its name from a phallic-shaped fish which was worshiped by the Egyptians because it had devoured the severed penis of Osiris.
There are several versions of the myth concerning the Travails of Isis and Osiris. The Nile is a very long river, and each region seems to have had a local version of the tale of the Death and Resurrection of Osiris.
People in Oxyrhynchus told a version in which Seth, God of Chaos, murdered his brother Osiris and dismembered his body, strewing the various body parts up and down the length of the Nile.
Grieving Isis went in search of her lover's limbs, collecting them and reassembling them.
She found every bit of him except for his penis, which had been imgested by the Oxyrhynchus fish, giving the creature a distinctly phallic shape.
To this day, some people in Egypt refuse to eat this fish, calling it unclean. Others, however, say its flesh lends potency and virility to men suffering from erectile dysfunction, or that women who eat of this fish will bear strong male children.
To search for the body parts, Isis enlisted the help of her sister Nephthys and Anubis (who is either the son of Nepththys and Seth or possibly the illegitimate son of Isis and Seth, depending on which version of the story you hear).
Then she used magical spells over life and death (which she had tricked Ra into entrusting to Thoth, who then passed the spells on to her) and magically restored Osiris to everlasting life.
But she wanted a son to avenge Osiris, and so Isis fashioned a magical erect penis of "electron" (a gold/silver alloy of special magical properties) and transplanted it onto the loins of Osiris.
Some say she transformed herself into a hawk and mated with the magical phallus. Others say her wiles were enough to cause a spontaneous ejaculation which sent semen gushing in great arcs.
Sacred Marionettes with enormous pricks were an important part of Egyptian sacred/magical ritual Passion Plays in Oxyrhynchus. Perhaps such a play was staged for the amusement of Hadrian and Antinous. The Greek historian Herodotus describes one such play about the Passion of Isis for her beloved Osiris. Herodotus uses the Greek name Dionysus in place of Osiris.
The rest of the festival of Dionysus is observed by the Egyptians much as it is by the Greeks, except for the dances; but in place of the phallus, they have invented the use of puppets one cubit high (two feet or 60 cms) moved by strings, the hinged male member nodding and nearly as big as the rest of the body, which are carried about the villages by women; a flute-player goes ahead, the women follow behind singing of Dionysus.
The semen with which Osiris sired Horus was no ordinary semen, of course. It was the "Semen of the First God".
Hadrian and Antinous would have heard a lot about the "Semen of the First God" during their travels through Egypt. A few days before they arrived in Oxyrhynchus, they had visited Heliopolis.
That is the town near Mennefer (Memphis/Cairo) where the Egyptian magician/priest Pancrates gave to Hadrian (or rather sold to him at an exorbitant price) a magical spell which could bind another man's affections to him forever ... when the spell was cast properly. If cast wrong, the spell would result in the death of the other man.
There was some speculation in ancient times as to whether the death of Antinous may have be related to this strange Egyptian spell.
Whether you or I believe in the efficacy of Ancient Egyptian Spellcasting Hadrian most certainly DID believe in magical spells (being the wise man that he was).
Let's assume Hadrian cast the spell a few days or weeks prior to the death of Antinous — well, that would certainly explain his inordinate grief at the Blessed Boy's death and his penance in declaring Antinous a god … perhaps out of a profound sense of guilt.
Historians have speculated on this point for centuries.
But back to the Phoenix of Heliopolis — the Bennu bird who "Comes into Being by Himself". Hadrian and Antinous visited Heliopolis and were no doubt shown the sacred shrine of the Bennu bird, who was said to have burst forth in a shower of radiant light from the heart of the First God.
This is the same First God who ejaculated into his own mouth to utter the words of creation at the moment of Sep Tepy, the Creation Moment. Other versions say he ejaculated in great arcs which created all the other deities and the entire universe.
Then in mid-October, a few days after visiting the Sacred Shrine of the Phoenix in Heliopolis (and acquiring that virulent bit of spellwork), Hadrian and Antinous visited Oxyrhynchus and heard of the fabled phallus of Osiris.
And a couple of weeks later, Hadrian cradled the limp body of Antinous on the shores of the Nile. The body was limp like a marionette whose strings had been cut.
Hadrian "wept like a woman" and refused to accept oblivion for his Beloved Boy. Instead, he proclaimed Antinous a god and set about making sure that the Religion of Antinous took root and blossomed.
The OBELISK OF ANTINOUS speaks of Antinous being full of the "Semen of the First God" which is the creative force of the universe. That means Antinous can assume "any form his heart desires" since he (like Osiris) is one with the First God — and one with the Bennu Bird.
Antinous IS the Phoenix.