Antinous for Everybody

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Archive for the tag “antinous dionysus”

An Invocation to Antinous Bakkheios

O Antinous Dionysus!

Your votaries call out to you, for we are tired.

We are weary. We are thirsty. Our limbs are heavy.

Our hearts are heavier. Our spirits sink.

We labor and we struggle, we sleep

and wake unrefreshed to labor and struggle more.

O Antinous Dionysus, Antinous Epiphanes,

Come to us now! Come to us, Antinous Bakkheios!

We are parched and in need of refreshment.

Come and bring us the wine of your joy,

The joy of living, the zest for life!

Come and loosen our limbs for the dance,

Straighten our backs that have been bent in our labors,

Widen our shoulders that have hunched over computers,

Free our hips and our asses that our minds may follow.

Come and dance with us, bring us the blessing

Of fellowship, the mood of the party,

The lubrication of intoxication. Join hands with us

That we may join hands with one another

And celebrate all that is good, all beauty

And pleasure, tastes and scents, the body

And the earth, that which grows and dies

And lives again, the tenacious vine and

The sleek, ravenous animal in ourselves

And in the world, all of your blessings,

Antinous, Antinous Dionysus, Antinous Bakkheios!


(Written for the Bakkheion in honor of Antinous at Many Gods West 2017, at the request of Jay Logan.)


Ben Whishaw with waist-length hair in a yellow frock

A fannish friend of mine just gave herself an enormous, enviable treat for her birthday: She went to London for a few days and, while she was there, she saw The Bakkhai at the Almeida Theatre, with Ben Whishaw as Dionysos and Bertie Carvel as Pentheus. 

I’ve only been a fan of Whishaw for a couple of years; after seeing him in the last Bond movie, Skyfall, as a youthful new Q, I was stunned by his work in the short-lived show The Hour and by his performance as Richard II for the BBC’s Hollow Crown series. Whishaw is a talented actor whose lithe, wispy, unpredictable character makes him a prime choice to play the god who won’t perform masculinity; I wish I could see this production myself.

But my relationship with the play goes back a lot further than my fondness for Whishaw or my identification as a polytheist. I was a precocious and voracious reader as a child, as I am now, the sort of person who cannot stay away from a display of books. Every time my grandmother’s senior citizens club held a bazaar as a fundraiser, I came home with armfuls of books, literally. It was at one of those bazaars that I picked up the “condensed” version of Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, a book which made a permanent impression on me; at another, I brought home three volumes of Norton anthologies, one prose, one poetry, and one drama.

I don’t remember anything I might have read in the poetry or essay volumes. But I was nine or ten years old, and I found The Bacchae, as it was spelled then, in the drama volume, and read it.

I’m not sure what I made of that play at such a young age. Looking back over four decades, I know now that being able to understand the words in some way and even explain a story does not mean grasping the meaning of it. Certainly there is much about Euripedes’ tragedy that I do not really comprehend even now. Yet the play made a deep impression on me, right next to Godden’s novel of cloistered nuns, reruns of Star Trek, my weekly exposure to the Prayer Book and the Hymnal. It was an encounter with Dionysus.

I encountered the god again as a teenager, browsing in a bookstore downtown that is long gone; I think the building itself might have recently been demolished to make room for something else. If memory serves, I ran into a rather odd acquaintance of mine, a priest of the Polish National Catholic Church who was a friend of my parish priest, and we had a strange stilted conversation. I went home that day with a book called The God of Ecstasy: Sex Roles and the Madness of Dionysus, by Arthur Evans.

Evans (not the same Arthur Evans who excavated the palace of Knossos on Crete) was writing primarily about same-sex, male-to-male relationships in Greek and Roman history, what was considered acceptable behavior and what was not. A goodly part of his argument was his own translation of The Bacchae, with photographs from a production he directed in San Francisco. The actor who played Dionysus was costumed as a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, which is how I first learned of that order.

Thirty years later, I still have that book on my shelves. I haven’t touched it in years, but I read that version of the play over and over, poring over the pics–Dionysus as the coy Sister in a traditional wimple and veil, Dionysus as the manifest god, his body painted gold, his face revealed as a massive bull mask crowned with ivy.

For years I’ve admired Dionysus from afar, so to speak. I’ve admired him in fictional men who don’t play by gender rules. I’ve come back over and over to the story of Ariadne, abandoned by a hero, chosen by a god; it stands alongside the story of Persephone as one of the myths most significant to me. I’ve watched him from the corner of my eye the way the nerd girl in the teen movie watches the bad boy in the leather jacket, the curly-haired guy who smokes where he shouldn’t and is always surrounded by girls.

In the past year, I’ve honored Antinous as syncretized with Dionysus, with Apollon, and with Hermes, among many other gods (and in the company of quite a few goddesses). As I’ve grown closer to Antinous and made connections with other deities, I’ve also realized I want to get closer to Dionysus. I’m working up my nerve to go chat up the cool weird guy standing out in the rain, petting a stray dog, the boy in the leather jacket surrounded by pierced and tattooed girls, the hot lead singer in the band, the god I met when I was only a child. I might be grown up enough now to be his friend.

Hymn XI: To Antinous Dionysus the Lover

Who but you is the Lover of all things, Antinous Dionysus?
Who but you has loved so many so intimately?
In mortal life you were the lover of Hadrian,
beloved of an emperor, and lover to your friends.
You have loved women, you who took Ariadne to be your bride;
you have loved men, you who boldly kept your promise to Prosymnus.
You have loved mortals, you who loved an emperor, a princess, a shepherd boy;
you have loved immortals, you who coupled with Aphrodite and Persephone.
Do you love any less the grape vine and the ivy
which you took for your own, or the leopard and the panther?
Did you not love even Pentheus and hope he would yield to your charms?
Shamelessly and without fear you have given and received the gift of Eros;
hopefully and without shame I praise you and pray you will share that gift with me.

Hymn X: To Antinous-Dionysus, Navigator

As you guided Theseus into the labyrinth and out
by the hand of Ariadne, guide me, Antinous Dionysus.
As you guided Ariadne to Naxos by the will
of Theseus, guide me also, Antinous Dionysus.
As you guided Ariadne into Olympus
and placed her crown in the north as proof,
so guide me, Antinous Dionysus.
As you went safely into Persephone’s realm
and guided out your mother, Semele,
so guide me, Antinous Dionysus.
Guide me out of the labyrinths in which I lose myself.
Guide me out of the underworlds in which I forget myself.
Guide me into the heavens I can barely imagine for myself.
May I also be your mother and your bride, a goddess
whose crown shines beyond the north wind, O Antinous Dionysus.

Hymn IX: To Antinous Dionysus, Liberator

As long as there’s music to dance to, he will come.
As long as there’s a bottle of wine or something else to share, he will come.
As long as lovers slip off and couple even when there’s no place or time for it,
he will come, Antinous Dionysus, Dionysus Lusios, Liberator.
As long as there’s sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, he will come.
As long as people march in peace and break windows in fury, he will come.
As long as people sit home in the darkness, afraid to get up and step out
into the light, he will come, Antinous Dionysus, the breaker, the loosener.
He will come and break the bonds of tyranny and oppression.
He will come and loosen the knots we tie ourselves up in, inside.
He will throw open the windows and doors, turn stairs into ramps,
water into wine, sorrow into joy, depression into weeping,
tears into laughter, He will come, Antinous Dionysus, Lusios,
Liberator, deliverer, he will come, he will come, if we call:
Evohe! Evohe! Evohe!

Hymn VI: To Antinous Dionysus

Come, Antinous Dionysus! Antinous Epiphanes, come!
Come crowned with ivy and bring surcease of sorrow.
Come shaking and stamping your thyrsus and bring the joy of dance.
Come with amphorai of wine, with sweet grapes sprouting
from your wild curls, and bring laughter, intoxication, and release into sleep.
Come let us see you, let us hear you, be near you,
let us get close enough to touch you, embrace you and kiss you,
taste the wine of your mouth and smell the perfume of your hair.
O Antinous Dionysus, you may be kindly, you may be cruel,
you may be severe, you may be mirthful, but what you never are
is distant, and in your intimate closeness is my ecstasy.

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