April 21st has a number of interesting events and rituals associated with it. Some time around this date in the year 125CE the emperor Hadrian went on a bear hunt in Greece (note, I don’t suggest that hunting bears is something that should be done these days or is ethical in our overpopulated world). He offered the bearskin at a temple in Thespiae to the goddess Aphrodite Ourania, (and her son Eros), the aspect of the goddess who presided over homoerotic love. He offered this inscription to Her and her son (translation by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus):
To Eros the Archer-son of the sweet tongues Cyprian
dwelling at Heliconian Thespiae
besides Narcissus’ flowering garden:
I say be gracious, grant acceptance
of the best parts of this bear from Hadrian,
the very one killed by a blow from horseback.
Thou, of Thy own accord, in return for this, may kharis soberly
be breathed on him by Aphrodite-Urania.
Of course the prayer was eventually filled with the arrival of Antinous. I mark/celebrate this as a beginning of their love, even if this was purely conceptual on Hadrian’s at this point. The day is also called the Erotikon.
The Ekklesia Antinoou marks this day as the celebration of the Megala Antinoeia which manifest today in a contest of poems stories, artworks, and so on and some kind of physical activity, as the original Sacred Games of Antinous initiated by the grieving emperor in 131CE consisted of various athletic competitions as well as artistic and theatrical ones. Check out the Aedicula Antinoi for more about this.
Hadrian also moved the festival of the Veneralia, the feast of Venus to this date when he opened the Temple of Venus Roma Aeterna. A poem I wrote a few years ago is here shared:
“Venus Felix and Roma”
Hadrian set Venus to face the bloody
Coliseum, reinscribing martial Rome with amor,
Which, as the emperor via his temple
Architecturally ordained, is Roma backwards.
The temple where the two goddesses sat back to back
Was built on the site of Nero’s
Golden House and leaden crimes.
The shimmering green goddess,
The alluring one, cast her spell upon the city,
Backed by her sister; the cavalcade of history
Broke over the metropolis—churches and columns
Commingled, promiscuous in baroque subversions,
Bedecking a city no longer of empire but
Of La dolce vita, Fellini’s carnival.
O Venus Felix, your power, your seduction
Still washes over the city in perfumed waves,
Spins desire in elegance and glamour,
From the Spanish Steps to the Pincio, from
Santa Francesca Romana* to Castel Sant’ Angelo.
*The church of Santa Francesca Romana was built on the site of the temple.
Of further note, this is the traditional birthday of Numa Pompilius the wise king and giver of the sacred laws to the young city of Rome, the peaceful lawgiver who succeeded the warring sovereign Romulus (and said to be the birthday of the city itself). Dumezil saw these as the two sides of sovereignty in Religio Romana, the terrible magical sovereign and the reasoned juridical legislator, with the penchant for historicizing mythology in that culture. Too bad that Rome was not more often governed by wise and just leaders like Numa and Hadrian. Hail the love of Hadrian and Antinous!