It’s the season of love, and in honor of that we’re taking a brief look at some of my favorite LGBTQIA+ pairings between the gods and the humans who loved them. This is a brief list constituting some of those sacred stories closest to my heart, and representing some of the truest depths and breadths of love I’ve ever heard of.
Hadrian/ Antinous: Emperor Hadrian had been the lover of Antinous (said to be exceedingly beautiful) for many years before the emperor became sick. His illness worsened as the pair travelled across the lands on a grand hunting tour, and were eventually joined by Lucius Ceionius Commodus, a youth who may have vied for the emperor’s affections. Under mysterious circumstances, Antinous was found drowned in the river, and rumors were wild that Lucius (who was eventually appointed the heir of Hadrian) had killed the beauty off to clear the way for himself. Whether that’s true or not, the emperor was in deep mourning over the death of his longtime love and ignored the Senate and tradition of the time (which decreed only emperors and their families could be deified) to start a cult devoted to Antinous. Seen as an avatar of Osiris, the worship of Antinous became quite popular, and much as he was a source of comfort the to ailing emperor, it was believed that his divine intervention could help heal illnesses to those who prayed to him.
Callisto/Artemis: Daughter of King Lycaon of Arcadia (famed for trying to serve Zeus human flesh to see if the king of the gods was truly all-knowing), Callisto sought to escape her human life. Her name means “most beautiful”, and it is perhaps because of this reason that she caught the eye of Artemis, goddess of the hunt. Callisto gave up her humanity to become a nymph and follow Artemis, and the two became companions and lovers. One day it was discovered that Callisto had been unfaithful, however, and she was pregnant by Zeus. Artemis, distraught, dismissed the nymph, who gave birth to a son, Arcas, and left him with her human family to grow up a princeling. But the life of a royal was no longer suitable for the wild Callisto, and she wandered the woods until Hera granted her the form of a bear. Years later, a young Arcas would inadvertently hunt his mother in the woods, only to be spared the horror of killing her by Zeus snatching Callisto up and placing her amongst the stars as Ursa Major, later to be joined by her son as Ursa Minor. There, she shines in the same brilliant sky as the moon, symbol of her beloved Artemis.
All of Humanity/Hestia: Hestia and her deep love for humanity is my favorite of all of these. She’s a goddess you might think should epitomize the married life … she’s guardian of the hearth, she oversees the home, and yeah, she had both Apollo and Poseidon vying for her hand. But Hestia was just not about that life. Beautiful, serene, and civic-minded, Hestia was far more interested in being a source of love in everyone’s home, sharing her fire that would be a source of cooking, warmth, and comradery. She refused to be paired with anyone, and because she didn’t take sides with her love, was offered place of prominence by being acknowledged first in every offering and ritual. Hestia wasn’t even insistent on this affection, however…if someone wanted her spot (even if it was suspected she might have to give up her high spot on Olympus for Dionysus), she didn’t care one bit. Sex, money, power … none of that mattered to Hestia. She was all about giving her love in the most caring, comforting, all-encompassing way she knew how.
Which pairings are your favorite? Do you have any personal theories about pairings that are not specifically mentioned in our sacred stories but which still ring true for you?
[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]