It might sound strange, but it would not be wrong to call him a gay icon.
The effeminate, smooth body of Antinous, a favorite of Emperor Hadrian, was also a symbol of male beauty for Oscar Wilde.
Bishop Athanasius called him "that scandalous and shameless youth" because he believed it shameful for a boy to give himself to an older man.
But before Christianity, no one blamed Hadrian for his love of this young Greek. It is said that the emperor cried like a baby when Antinous died ("Muliebriter flevit", wrote Elio Sparziano).
The opportunity to re-examine this story is the exhibition entitled "Antinoo: il fascino della bellezza" (Antinous: beauty's spell), open until November 4 at Villa Adriana in Tivoli.
Here Hadrian cultivated the memory of his beloved who drowned in theNileat age 20 on October 24, 130 ad. Suicide? Murder? Voluntary sacrifice? Drowning in the Nile linked the youth to the god Osiris, victim of the same fate.
And it was also connected to the deification of Antinous that Hadrian obsessively practiced, disseminating throughout the empire statues in honor of his lover.
Obsessive passion or propaganda? Of course, when Antinous was compared to Ganymede, as a result Hadrian rose to the level of a Jove.
The exhibition is also a chance to re-think homosexuality. Ancient culture (especially Greek culture) thought it obvious to desire beauty, be it masculine or feminine.
But the modern myth which says that homosexuality was never condemned is false. The ancient did not permit men to play the part of women.
Julius Caesar, seducer of women but also, it is said, a passive homosexual, was snidely referred to as "the husband of all wives and the wife of all husbands".
For Hadrian, crying like a sissy was sufficient.