Thursday, February 1, 2024


THIS passage from Martin Campbell's brilliant novel THE LOVE GOD beautifully illustrates how Hadrian officiated at the "opening of the mouth" rites for Antinous (text edited for space):

"The little tomb was beside the Nile adjacent to where its occupant had died. Outside it was a very simple mastaba. Hadrian wanted no unscrupulous thieves to pay it any attention. Inside, however, it had been lavishly decorated with scenes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead ....

"Hadrian was immensely pleased with it but still couldn't really believe he was to leave part of his lovely Antinous in Egypt ....

"Despite the months since Antinous was lost, it still seemed perfectly conceivable to Hadrian that Antinous would skip into view with some quote or other from the latest scroll he'd been reading. Hadrian had to work hard, mentally, to shake these visions from his head and face his grandly dressed new priests with dignity.

"The mummy of Antinous was carried in on a boat-shaped bier. Three men carried it on each side with one behind to steady it. Hadrian walked in front - his head shrouded in a white hood. The preserved body was now placed on top of a sarcophagus. Hadrian now turned to address his seven pallbearers ....

"Hadrian stood before each man and dipped his thumb into a vial of liquid. It contained collected, salty liquid from his tears. To each man, he said, 'Accept Antinous as your God. Carry forward his name as our God with my blessing.' He then pressed his damp thumb onto the centre of their foreheads."

(Editor's note: This passage has been shortened for space. Afterwards, Hadrian and the newly ordained Antinous priests watched as Egyptian embalming priests of Anubis, while chanting the sacred words of the Book of the Dead, ritually opened the mouth of Antinous, thereby allowing his spirit to receive homage, which was the high ceremony that opened the way for the immortality of the body. Now we continue with Martin Campbell's narrative.)

"The next stage of the ceremony would normally have been to return the mummy to its sarcophagus and seal it with wax, further ceremony and chanting. Today, however, the mummy was gently carried back out of the tomb. It would accompany Hadrian back to the villa at Tibur.

"... Hadrian was soon outside supervising the final stage of today's event. Near to the tomb, Hadrian was watching as masons heaved an obelisk into place on its plinth .... on each of its four sides hieroglyphs had been carved with words written by Hadrian and the priests ....

"... Hadrian was satisfied. The tomb and the obelisk were effectively his foundation stones for the new city that would emerge triumphant from these barren sands. 

"Antinoopolis, Hadrian's great earthbound tribute to Antinous, was beginning to take shape"

Editor's note: This text has been greatly shortened for space considerations with kind permission of the author.

Martin Campbell's "The Love God" is available as paperback or Kindle:

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