Sunday, July 3, 2022


THIS  4th Century stele relief purportedly shows Antinous holding the grapes of Dionysus in one-hand and a Christian cross in the other. Presumably, originally it was a pine-cone staff ... but was reworked. The only give-away is the hair, which resembles Antinous hair.

The stele is from the Sacred City of Antinoopolis on the banks of the Nile where the Beauteous Boy drowned. It is now in Berlin.

However, there really is not much information about it, and although it is said to be a depiction of Antinous, there is no way to be sure. It is only an ambiguous identification.

While the relief was found in Antinoopolis, it is believed to date from the Late Roman Empire, or early Bizantine Period in the 4th Century, when Antinoopolis was a Christianized city. It could possibly be a transitional image from the time when Antinous and Jesus were perhaps worshipped simultaneously by the Antinoopolitans.

It has been suggested that the cross and the grape bunch represent a fusion in Antinous of Jesus and Dionysus. But there is of course no way to be sure if this was ever the case, or if this relief actually represents such a thing.

One piece of "evidence" that Antinous was worshipped alongside Jesus, or even as some kind of Jesu-Antinous god, comes primarily from the commentary of Origin of Alexandria, in his book "Contra Celsus."

Origin wrote a long treatise to refute what a pagan intellectual named Celsus had written about Christianity. The book by Celsus was burned by the Church long ago, so all that remains is what Origin had to say in response, so we do not really know exactly what Celsus said.

But the context seems to suggest that Celsus ridiculed Christianity by saying that Jesus was comparable to Antinous. Celsus, a Roman Pagan, did not approve of the Religion of Antinous, and in some sense compared the Christians to our early religion.

Some have taken that to mean that in some sense the worshipers of Antinous may have also worshipped Jesus.

But there is really no evidence to support this. Even the refutation of Origin is too ambiguous to generate anything more than a vague hint of possibility. It all rests on this one rough little relief sculpture, with its crude resemblance to Antinous. 

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