The following is an excerpt from A Little Gay History by Professor R B Parkinson, formerly Curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum.
The reign of the emperor Hadrian (ruled AD 117–138) was marked by military campaigns and imperial building projects, including the famous wall across the north of England at the edge of the Roman Empire. Hadrian had married into the imperial family, but in his late forties he met a Greek youth named Antinous from Bithynia, now in modern Turkey, possibly during a tour of that province in AD 123. The young man became the emperor’s lover. Hadrian founded a city named Antinooplis at the place where his lover died, and made him into a god – an honour usually reserved for members of the emperor’s family. Hadrian publicly commemorated Antinous in huge number of statues, figures, portraits and coins across the known Roman world, an almost unparalleled public memorial to a lost love.
The statues of Hadrian and Antinous can now be found together, side by side, in Room 70.
“Enjolras was a charming young man, who was capable of being terrible. He was angelically handsome. He was a savage Antinous.”
If you’ve seen any amount of Roman art, it’s likely you’ve come across this handsome fellow before:
Antinous is one of the best known faces (…and other parts) of the ancient world because there were so many statues of him made.
Antinous was the lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian, in the 2nd century CE. Hadrian was very public about his relationship with Antinous, and treated him as more like a spouse than a lover. However, what makes Antinous most famous is probably his early death and Hadrian’s public and intense mourning. Antinous drowned in the Nile river (under unknown circumstances) at the age of 19 when he and Hadrian were in Egypt together. Hadrian took it…badly. Very badly. He had Antinous deified - something that was practically unheard of for someone outside of the royal family and more than a little scandalous - and there was a fairly successful cult of Antinous for the next few decades. He also had a ridiculous number of statues made - I remember hearing once that there were dozens of statues of Antinous found just at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli. Because of the sheer number of statues many of them of been preserved, meaning we actually have a decent idea what he looked like!
So what the name “Antinous” would have meant to Hugo is beautiful young man who died very young, emperor’s male lover, and minor religious figure. I don’t think it’s hard to see why he’d like the comparison for Enjolras. Antinous has also functioned as an icon of male homosexuality, although I’m not 100% sure whether that would have been the case in the 1830s. I suspect it would have; it’s certainly a thing among the Victorians a few decades later.
A few more pictures under the cut! (including the obligatory butt photo)
when emperor hadrian’s boyfriend antinous died, hadrian was so distraught that he not only founded a city named after antinous, but he also created a cult to antinous and ordered tons of statues of antinous to be made, many of which featured antinous dressed up as another god such as osiris or dionysus
so basically hadrian made an antinous-land for his dead bf and also commissioned tons of postmortem cosplay fanart for everyone to look at, and if that isn’t true love, i don’t know what is
i know i’ve said it before but i absolutely love when museums put their hadrian bust next to their antinous bust because it means that even after their deaths they get to hang out being gay together and also it looks like they’re going on a museum date and if that isn’t the cutest thing i don’t know what is