Now I’ve taken those two straight off because what I’m suggesting is not necessarily giving total credence to the authenticity of the Lazio relief, nor saying that all great Antinous sculptures have to be an example of Antinous reception rather than an original Antinous, but proposing that that kind of dialectic – or that spread between types of example – is something which you already find in the reception of Antinous by John Addington Symonds in the nineteenth century. This figure of English letters, who was born in 1840 and died in 1893 – was relatively young at the age of 53 – was one who considered Antinous not just from one point of view, but in three quite different discursive contexts. It’s very interesting, I think, to put those in relation to one another, as I shall try to do this evening.
Just another point, though, before I launch into Symonds’s reception of Antinous, or the Antinous sculpture, and it’s a point about Antinous in general, a question which, in a way, came up implicitly and explicitly this afternoon. Why should this exhibition turn out to be so different from one that showed a row, a line, a collection of sculptures, busts of Apollo or Dionysius or say the huntsman Meleager, one of the figures so often confused with Antinous? The reason is, of course, that there was a historical Antinous, there was also a historical Hadrian and, as we learned again this afternoon, there are many, many busts of Hadrian we can reasonably take as being in some approximate way a representation of his original features. But in Antinous’s case there is both a particularity of features that we would associate with a portrait bust, and also a generalisation of features that we might associate with a type. And that is a consequence, in a sense, of his historical position, of that fact that he died, as we know, in 130 AD. This also leads me to link him in a certain way with another figure from the period of the cusp between late antiquity and the Christian era – a figure whom Julia Kristeva mentions in her wonderful series of essays, Histoires d’Amour, when she draws attention to the uniqueness, in her terms, of the figure of Narcissus. Narcissus does not occur in the Greek mythology of the earlier period, and the first full account of his death and metamorphosis occurs in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which in her view lends him the kind of increased, accentuated self-consciousness that is characteristic on another level of the beginning of the Christian era.
There is something significant about Antinous also being on that cusp between classical and Christian cultures… I was thinking this afternoon – we were talking about the role of the representation of the dead Antinous in Symonds and in other nineteenth-century contexts – that it’s not absolutely unusual to make some connection between Antinous and the figure of Christ. But, at the same time, another point about Narcissus and Antinous, comparing and contrasting them, which is very interesting really, is the almost total absence of Antinous from the literary tradition, until you get to the later nineteenth century. In the case of Narcissus, the fact that he was a major actor in the Metamorphoses means that he recurs in a regular fashion. He recurs in the Middle Ages, recurs of course in a pictorial tradition which is virtually uninterrupted throughout the course of modern Western culture. In the case of Antinous it’s very curious that, as far as I can see, there are virtually no references to Antinous that one can find in literary gazetteers and dictionaries. There is actually an Antinous in Browning, but that Antinous turns out to be one of the suitors of Penelope, so a completely different figure altogether. And there is just one key reference for Symonds, and as it turns out also for Marguerite Yourcenar, which is in a fragment by Shelley. I won’t speak very much about that, because I obviously want to move on to speaking about Symonds, but it’s interesting because it’s also a kind of face transplant. Shelley, in his little piece of writing called ‘The Colosseum. A Fragment’, imagines meeting somebody in the ruins of the Colosseum who’s a kind of image of the new age, and the lower part of this person’s face is like Antinous’, the other part is quite different. Shelley describes him as a type of strange composite – he’s built up, in other words. This composite figure, one ingredient of whom is Antinous, obviously relates to Shelley’s knowledge of the various Antinous figures in the Vatican collection and so on, but otherwise there is virtually nothing, until we start to get the writing in the English literary tradition of people like Symonds who have themselves read the German writers in the wake of Winckelmann.