24 Frames: Sebastiane (Derek Jarman/Paul Humfress, 1976)

Ou feliz dia de São Sebastião.

Losing his religion: Saint Sebastian as contemporary gay martyr

‘My dear, I’ve done some pieces which will delight you… They’re a new departure, newish anyway, and rather religious and full of feeling. One’s a kind of sacra coversazione between Saint Sebastian and John the Baptist. The young man who modelled Sebastian was almost in tears when I showed it to him, it’s so lovely.’
‘How did you do the arrows?’ I interrupted, remembering Mishima’s arduous posing in a self-portrait as Sebastian.
“Oh, no arrows, dear; it’s before the martyrdom. He’s quite unpierced. But he looks ready for it, somehow, the way I’ve done it.’

(Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library 1988)

Set in a pre-AIDS idyll of casual amours and campy badinage, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming- Pool Library is the Pillow Book of urban homosexual life as played out in the clubs, cafés and homes of London in 1983. Saint Sebastian, the Roman martyr traditionally represented in Renaissance painting as a beautiful semi-nude youth pierced with arrows, is a recurring motif in Hollinghurst’s novel as a kind of kitsch homosexual totem, a subcultural artifact guaranteed to bring an immediate smile to the knowing reader. And as this playful exchange between the novel’s young hero William Beckwith and the elderly painter Ronald Staines suggests, even in the absence of the arrows that have so often defined Sebastian’s position as the ‘homosexual saint’, the martyr retains his almost mystical associations of gay identity. Pierced or unpierced, Saint Sebastian has endured in the popular imagination as the patron saint of homosexual men, a figure who winkingly seems to mock religious ecstasy as an erotic put-on. Despite the ease with which writers such as Hollinghurst have exploited Sebastian’s camp associations, however, it would be a mistake to see the martyr’s incarnations as comprising little beyond an inside joke for self-consciously homosexual men.
In the following pages, I want to explore a constellation of instances in the representation of Sebastian in contemporary writing, painting, photography, film and performance art, noting, as well, Sebastian’s nineteenth-century and fin-de-siècle ssociations, so decisive for subsequent perceptions of the Roman martyr. In addition to suggesting how the saint s history encompasses more than the role of aesthete’s camp trope, I hope to explore some historically grounded bases for Sebastian s position as the most frequently renewed and successfully deployed emblem of homosexual consciousness. Whether he has served as the focus of a feature-length movie by the director Derek Jarman, of a music video for the rock group R.E.M.’s ‘Losing My Religion’, or, most recently, of a contentiously fought-over activist performance piece by Ron Athey, Saint Sebastian has emerged as the very distillation in art of an emotionally and politically fraught homosexual persona. Today, with the AIDS epidemic reviving the martyr’s role in the Middle Ages as a ‘plague saint’, Sebastian’s symbolic importance has intensified, as he has solidified his reputation as an emblem of modern gay identity in extremis.
Just as each successive epoch has created an image for Jesus – rabbinical sage in the first century, ‘universal man’ in the early modern period, liberator of the people in the nineteenth century – many of the preoccupations of succeeding cultural eras may be linked to Sebastian’s various incarnations. A Christian saint invoked against illness throughout medieval times, exquisite, beardless youth of Apollonian beauty in the Renaissance, ‘decadent’ androgyne throughout the nineteenth century, and self-consciously homosexual emblem in the twentieth, Saint Sebastian today has sustained his role as a distinctly ‘perverse’ martyr. Owing partly to the medicalization of homosexuality as a distinctly feminizing illness at the fin de siècle, Sebastian has come to represent the formation – and self-formation – of the modern male homosexual. Refusing to take his place with the obsolete icons of earlier epochs, he has enhanced his position as the single most successfully deployed image of modern male gay identity.
That status is powerfully complicated, however, by the enigma attached to Sebastian’s solitariness of visual effect, in which, in a paradox essential to the martyr’s enduring appeal, Sebastian’s ‘homosexuality’ is assumed even as it is never explicitly articulated. Continually the focus of intense erotic fascination, Sebastian’s sexual predilections historically have remained alluringly ambiguous, for, strictly speaking, however sexually potent his archetypal pose, there is nothing necessarily homosexual in an image of a youthful, handsome male shot through with arrows. This may be one reason a number of twentieth-century artists have felt the need to embellish their images of Sebastian with details that are additionally coded as gay. (In a 1934 painting, for example, the French artist Albert Courmes dressed his half-nude Sebastian in a French sailor’s outfit, while the American painter Marsden Hartley’s 1939 Sustained Comedy – Portrait of An Object presents an evident figure of the saint, equipped with tank top and tattoos of a butterfly, muscleman and a sailor, in a portrait that was considered so provocative that Hartley was advised not to exhibit the work publicly.)
Nearly all of the martyr’s incarnations have emerged from a series of invented or embellished aspects of the myth of a saint who, in brave defence of his Christian faith and comrades, was said to have risked his life. Victorian religious thinkers sought to ‘muscularize’ Saint Sebastian along with a Jesus who they imagined had become, at the hands of Catholic fundamentalists, fecklessly effeminate. Later, mischief-minded ‘decadents’ discovered in the martyr Sebastian a semi-covert image of a homoerotic, boyish comeliness that often had been an unacknowledgeable component in Jesus’s own iconographic appeal. Yet, as a subordinate theological player who had nonetheless become a pervasive Renaissance effigy of male beauty, Sebastian was more vulnerable to wilful, homoerotic ‘misinterpretation’. Beginning in the twentieth century, Sebastian became, pre-eminently, the homosexual as beleaguered, existential hero. Far more problematically, he has come to stand for the supposedly sado-masochistic nature of male same-sex eroticism. While generations of men of homosexual inclinations have understood Sebastian as a homoeroticized icon, for others he has denoted a homosexual eros that is menacingly narcissistic and suicidal in kind. In a paradox that goes to the heart of the saint’s continuing resonance, contemporary gay men have seen in Sebastian at once a stunning advertisement for homosexual desire (indeed, a homoerotic ideal), and a prototypical portrait of tortured closet case.
This last conception confirms the common cultural dogma that sees the homosexual male as a death-tempting, Faustian experimenter in the fast lanes of contemporary erotic life. This evident paradox in the modern-day cult of Saint Sebastian (and one which a number of artists have continually sought to reconcile) indicates that the most salient emblem of homosexual identity is one with strong implications of compulsive sado-masochistic desire, erotic mayhem, and self-preening effeminacy. It is as if the most efficacious symbol of twentieth-century womanhood were Ophelia, or, that of Jewish identity, Shylock. Sebastian is (to borrow a term from the critic Bram Dijkstra) an ‘idol of perversity’ continually chosen by homosexually identified men, who discovered in the Roman saint a figure of secret, deathly glamour.5 In a nearly delirious 1983 tribute to Saint Sebastian, the French writer Michel del Castillo sees the ‘pleasure of dying’ as a key part of the appeal of the saint, a man ‘abandoned in delicious and lascivious agony’. Exulted Del Castillo: ‘Generations of smitten young men in the secret of their hearts, in their very being, have been caressed by the look and touch of his muscles.’
Sebastian’s complex cultural legacy suggests the ungovernable set of meanings generated by any given representation, a testament to the ways in which the offerings of high culture remain susceptible to popular appropriation as subcultural icons. Inadvertently having helped to spawn a figure of considerable homoerotic power, the mandarins of the Catholic church warily looked on as Sebastian escaped his legitimate theological role and became a trope for artists linked to the aestheticist movement such as Gustave Moreau, Odilon Redon, Wilde and Beardsley. In a failed attempt at recuperating Sebastian from those who would exploit him as a hero of perversity, the Catholic clergy condemned the 1911 Paris production of Claude Debussy’s and Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, starring the famed Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein. Rubinstein’s cries during her execution by arrows – ‘Encore! Encore!’ – marked a watershed year in Sebastian’s devolution into decadent icon. Images of Sebastian became a recurring source of irrepressible longing. ‘The Church, in fact, excited more sexual wonderment than it repressed’, the author Richard Rodriguez recalled of the religious icons dominating his Catholic Mexican-American boyhood. ‘I would study pictures of martyrs – white robed virgins fallen in death and the young, almost smiling St Sebastian, transfigured in pain.’ For Rodriguez, the saint ‘touched alive some very private sexual excitement’.
As either an emphatic or oblique symbol in the work of an astonishingly diverse range of modern artists – among them Pater, Wilde, Mann, Rilke, Kafka, Georg Trakl, Proust, Gabriele d’Annunzio, T.S.Eliot, Wallace Stevens, García Lorca, and Auden – Saint Sebastian has signalled sexuality beyond acceptable bounds. An attractive emblem for modernist poetics, Sebastian sometimes has been deliberately shorn of his homosexual affiliations in favour of a more generalized erotic ‘perversity’. Indeed, while it is Sebastian’s ‘queer’ dimension that has proven so crucial to his contemporary popularity, there have been attempts, not all of them homophobic in kind, to depict Sebastian as transcending associations of same-sex eroticism.9 Nonetheless, Sebastian’s fate in modern and contemporary representation is, above all else, the story of the mischievous appropriation of Christian symbolism and Renaissance imagery by homosexually identified men. More than any other figure of Christian iconography, Saint Sebastian has sustained a subculturally resonant homoerotic role. It is a reputation that was enhanced, long before deliberate appropriation became a benchmark of postmodernist representation, by continual borrowings from Italian Renaissance iconography.
Perhaps the most important question to ask in considering the figure of Saint Sebastian as a touchstone of distinctly homosexual implications is, why Sebastian? Precisely how, when and why did a relatively minor figure in Christian theology and the history of Christianity become such a significant marker of ‘degenerate’ eros and homosexual consciousness in the modern period? For Renaissance painters, for whom Sebastian was nearly as popular a subject as Jesus or Mary, the saint provided the occasion for a coherent accommodation of Christian and Hellenic strains in European culture, an enhancement of what the art historian Edgar Wind famously has termed the ‘pagan mysteries’ of the Italian Renaissance. The multiplicity of contemporary meanings generated by the martyr’s legend stem from this rich reservoir of Renaissance iconography but also from the murky, historically shifting nature of the details – nearly all of them apocryphal – concerning the circumstances of Sebastian’s life. For a myth to prove as resilient as a cultural narrative as that of Sebastian, it must generate broad, multiple, and even contradictory meanings. One obvious answer to the question of the martyrs continual appeal is suggested by the arrows that penetrate Sebastian in the classic renditions by painters such as Tintoretto, Titian, Guido Reni, Perugino, Botticelli and Bazzi (‘Il Sodoma’), to name only the more celebrated versions by Renaissance artists. The archetypal Renaissance image of the saint as ecstatically receptive to arrows suggests, of course, a desire for penetration and thus embraces associations of male homosexuality. The penetrated (and therefore feminized) male in the Renaissance paintings of Saint Sebastian is, significantly, a figure of visibly triumphant bliss.
Saint Sebastian’s homosexual status may by related, as well, to aspects of the saint’s life as they have been relayed through various historical sources. The earliest reference to the saint can be found in the Martyrology of AD 354, which refers to him as a young nobleman from either Milan or Narbonne, whose official capacity was as a commander of a company of archers in the imperial bodyguard. Predictably, the Catholic Church has never given its assent to the ‘homosexual myth’ of Saint Sebastian, although, as the art historian James Saslow has noted, the Church’s Acta Sanctorum does indicate an emotional bond between Sebastian and his commanding officers, noting that Sebastian ‘intatum caras erat Imperatoribus Diocletiano et Maximano’ – (‘was dearly beloved of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian). Equally important is a description in the Acta Sanctorum noting that Sebastian came to the rescue of the Christian soldiers Marcellinus and Mark and thereby confessed his own Christianity. Diocletian demanded that Sebastian be shot by his comrade-archers. When these orders were carried out, Sebastian was left for dead. Miraculously, according to legend, he survived, owing to the aid of a woman named Irene. Diocletian was obliged to order a second execution, and this time Sebastian was beaten to death in the Hippodrome. It is a testament to the extraordinary power of the figure of an arrow-pierced young man, to the concentrated force of what might be called an apocalyptic image, that this last detail of Sebastian’s allegorical narrative, the miracle necessary for official sainthood, is rarely exploited or even noted by artists taking up Sebastian’s legend. Yet it is exactly this spectacular survival that remains decisive to his homoerotic mythos as a masochistic figure whose actions, to quote the historian Edith Simon, demonstrated a ‘miraculous invulnerability, showing that the saint could save himself if he would, followed by submission to mortality at the next attempt to execute him’.
Another explanation for the correlations linking Sebastian with homosexual desire is related to developments in late-Victorian sexual theory. As a martyr with long-standing associations of disease (since classical times, arrows denoted divine wrath as expressed through plagues), Sebastian appears to have become a fitting embodiment of the transition whereby homosexual desire, once a theologically construed sin, was increasingly understood in the late-Victorian epoch as medical illness. The image of an eroticized religious hero – simultaneously sacred and heretical in meaning – embodies precisely this historical transition. The elucidation of the homosexual in late-Victorian scientific discourse began as an understanding of Saint Sebastian as an object lesson in homosexuality as inevitably linked to sado-masochistic desire. The prototypal Renaissance image of Sebastian – his body willingly exposed to view, semi-clad, face averted in a frontally visible pose – was isomorphic with turn-of-he-century scientific, medical and anthropological representation of the individual. Like the late nineteenthcentury representation of the hystericized female, who provided a dramatically visualized conception of medical illness for physicians such as Jean-Martin Charcot, the body of Saint Sebastian furnished a series of imagistically dynamic associations for the scientific conceptualization of the homosexual. As one who had endured near-death, Sebastian the survivor became a fitting visual embodiment of the psychological state of the psychiatry’s hysterical male and, with the arrival of the First World War, the shell-shocked soldier. During the years of the Great War, the imagery of military accoutrements associated with Saint Sebastian inspired a spate of homoerotic poems revelling in the soldier Sebastian’s aura of morbid sensuality.
The pioneering German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who had sought to locate a basis in biology for same-sex desire as a prerequisite for legislation favourable to homosexuals, placed ‘pictures of St Sebastian’, in the first rank of art works in which the ‘invert’ takes special delight. Hirschfeld’s observation forced a point that modern discourse surrounding the homosexual continually implied: it was not homosexual acts that constituted homosexual identity, but a desire or ‘taste’ in beautiful men, which might be understandable as a kind of homosexual aesthetic. In the absence of a ‘community’ of homosexual-identified men, Sebastian signified the possibility of a homosexual identity or, more abstractly, a homosexual sublime. Jean Cocteau, who as a young man had attended Rubinstein’s performance and written a poem entitled ‘Les Archers de Saint Sébastien’, recalled that Proust left the self-imposed exile of his Paris apartment only once or twice a year – not to visit his fellow Parisians, whose anti-Dreyfussard sentiments repelled him, but in order to view a Saint Sebastian by Gustave Moreau in a friend’s private collection or the version by Mantegna in the Louvre.
From the huge Calvin Klein advertisements of physically flawless models that periodically loom over New York’s Times Square, to their strapping male offspring in countless fashion magazines, from Victorian photographs of anthropological and medical subjects to the controversial ‘posture photos’ of American college students taken during the 1940s and 1950s, their torsos ‘pinned’ with rods and exposed for ‘clinical’ analysis, the imagery associated with Saint Sebastian has dominated the popular depiction of the human body. Affirming Sebastian’s position as a solitary subject, contemporary psychoanalysis has frequently turned to the myth of the martyr as a way of conceiving of the precarious, concealed, or divided psychic self. Sebastian’s titillatingly proffered promise of annunciatory revelation, a masculine fantasy of assuming a feminine role, has made the martyr an enduringly efficacious emblem of psychoanalytic self-revelation. Yet the saint signals his love of men only through his silent receptivity to arrows, as his ‘confession’ of homosexual eros is offered and withdrawn without the articulation of a sexual affiliation. In this sense, it is Sebastian’s apparent assumption of a feminine role that dictates his ‘perverse’ status. Julia Kristeva has argued, in a highly suggestive formulation arising from an exploration of primary narcissism, that Sebastian is a paradigmatically modern ‘soulosexual’, one who will ‘undergo martyrdom in order to maintain the fantasy that there exists a power, as well as its masochistic obverse–passivation, total “feminization”’. The saint’s role in the symbolic constitution of what might be characterized as the modern homosexual’s ‘subjective self renders him an ideal focus for Lacanian analysis. In announcing a 1990 international conference on ‘Traits de Perversions dans les structures cliniques’, a poster for France’s organization of Lacanian therapists, the Fondation du Champ Freudien, reproduced an image of Perugino’s Saint Sebastian, now in the Louvre, around whose waist is casually draped a silky scarf and whose eyes contemplate the heavens as two arrows pierce his expansive torso. Sebastian the modern ‘medical case’ has reached his apotheosis as a poster boy for a leading school of psycho-analytic thought.
The martyr’s self-absorbed detachment of visual effect is a fundamental aspect of his intricate mythology, for the archetypal image of an ecstatically self-preoccupied nude male would seem to grant erotic permission to nobody, and, yet, paradoxically, to every viewer. In rough psychoanalytic terms, then, the martyr provides the opportunity for an unobstructed, unmediated erotization, an opportunity notably diminished in, for example, an archetypal image of Ganymede, where a viewer (theoretically) would be required to ‘triangulate’ desire with the Greek god Zeus or (rather more awkwardly), the large eagle so characteristic in the Renaissance iconography of the myth of Ganymede. As with the solitary youth depicted in Michelangelo’s David or Hippolyte Flandrin’s Jeune homme nu assis au bord de la mer (both images that are frequently adopted as homosexual icons), Sebastian’s basic narcissism provides for what might be termed a polymorphously perverse response on the part of the viewer.
The martyr’s homoerotic associations also arise from his evident usefulness as a figure who replaced earlier, exhausted ‘homosexual legends’, particularly for those seeking appealing models of same-sex eros. As the English poet, author and religious eccentric Montague Summers declared in his 1907 volume Antinous and Other Poems (denounced on its publication as a ‘cesspool of depravity’), Antinous and Aloysius are worshipped as Saint Sebastian in the modern era. Summers rejoiced: ‘New gods arise, and antique alters fall’. In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912), Aschenbach, infatuated with an adolescent boy, embraces Sebastian as a ‘new type of hero’ of not ‘merely passive beauty’. The Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask (published in Japan in 1949 and in the United States in 1958) contains numerous allusions to homosexual figures in western culture (not only to Hadrian and Antinous but to Oscar Wilde), yet it is the figure of Sebastian that dominates Mishima’s novel of adolescent homosexual self-awakening. If earlier classical and biblical ‘homosexual myths’ (most conspicuously, the stories of Hadrian and Antinous, Corydon and Alexis, Damon and Pythias, Theseus and Perithous, Zeus and Ganymede, and David and Jonathan) allowed for easy sentimentalization, the isolated, besieged figure of Sebastian suggests, instead, a deracinated mode of being. Previous mythic tales of same-sex eroticism differ substantially from the Sebastian saga in that they are all largely reducible to narratives of love gloriously consummated (the myth of Ganymede) or else cruelly severed (Hadrian and Antinous, Damon and Pythias).
Sebastian’s narrative, however, unlike these earlier fables, stands as a romantic counter-myth; the bare details of his tale resist a too-lachrymose rendition. According to Michel Del Castillo, Sebastian’s essence is reducible to the pressing dilemma: ‘How to live without living, how to live without loving?’ Even the British director Derek Jarman’s embellishment of Saint Sebastian’s mythology in his film Sebastiane (1976) with a tale of Roman commander Severus’s love of Sebastian turns into a narrative of Sebastian’s obdurate refusal to reciprocate Severus’s affections. The crux of the saint’s mythic power for writers and artists of the last century comprises an evolving dynamic of the self in isolation, in which a young, accomplished soldier announces a ‘true’ self and is therefore punished for his self-incriminating candour. Sebastian thus could stand for homosexual self-revelation as opposed to homosexual affection, and as such he was a splendid vehicle for a new conception of same-sex desire, which, as numerous historians of sexuality have suggested, encompassed a shift from a stress on homosexual acts to an emphasis on homosexual identity. And in a polemical turn concomitant with the self-assertive stance of the contemporary gay rights movement, many homosexual men embraced Sebastian because of his potential unsuitability as an exemplary model, given that the martyr s obvious sado-masochistic connotations – his proudly perverse character – lend him charismatic power as a defiantly deviant figure.
Not least consequential among the elements in Sebastian’s twentieth-century cultural history is the martyr’s usefulness as a camp artist’s vengeance on the citadels of high culture and the upholders of religious hypocrisy. The self-cognizant homosexual retaliating against a Church that continues to forbid same-sex activity has continually found in Sebastian a formidable ally, for Sebastian’s presence in Christian iconography intimated at the Church’s knowing accommodation of an illicit, possibly pederastic, sexuality. ‘It was said that when Rome was most immoral’, mused the American novelist Glenway Wescott in his Calendar of Saints for Unbelievers (1932), ‘it became a convention for the popes and lesser ecclesiastical lords to have their boy-sweethearts painted as St Sebastian. Then, a good many immodest fantastic pictures must be regarded as portraits of personages of great consequence in church politics.’ However amusing it is to encounter such impish interpretations of sanctioned Church history (and they indirectly resonate as political gestures given the Catholic Church’s historic intolerance of homosexuality), the ‘camp tradition’ in Sebastian worship heralded by Beardsley comprised only one module of the twentieth-century ‘cult’ of Saint Sebastian.
An altogether different note is struck, for example, in a series of remarkable c. 1906 depictions of the martyr that were executed by the turn-of-the-century Massachusetts photographer and selffashioned aesthete Fred Holland Day, who was affiliated with the coterie of Whistler, Beardsley and other fin-de-siècle decadents. To the extent that the photograph is linked to the aesthetic developments engendered by modernity, these images are the earliest ‘modern’ representations of Saint Sebastian. By the time he turned to Saint Sebastian as a theme, Day had become notorious in Britain and the United States for his 1898 Crucifixion series, in which an emaciated Day had photographed himself as Jesus on the cross.
What is notable about Day’s images of Sebastian – some of a boy-saint, others of a Sebastian as an adolescent – is the extent to which they require the viewer to resist the familiar terms of camp aesthetics. Day’s photographs generally have been viewed as aesthetically regressive in their kitschy reliance on Renaissance iconography’s ‘sacred subjects’, yet, surprisingly, Day’s depiction of Sebastian intensifies a highly popular tendency of the photographic medium at its inception, one which involved photographing the recently deceased as a way of preserving the memories of the living. Such origins intimated that the morbidly voluptuous Sebastian, who apocryphally had survived his initial execution, would be especially fitting for photographic representation. Early in his career as a photographic ‘Pictorialist’, Day worked in silver prints but he soon turned to platinum, which he combined with gum bichromate techniques to give himself more direct control over highlights and design effects. Bathed in soft hues, Day’s images of Sebastian strive for a documentary-like verisimilitude, although the photographer delicately altered his finished images by, for example, adding in pencil the wounds that can be seen on his young models. Just as Day had fasted himself in executing his Christ series to achieve greater ‘accuracy’ of effect, for his Sebastian study he selected working-class models, one of whom had an actual scar.
Viewed together, where they operate in a kind of sequence which seems to anticipate filmic movement, these photographs represent Sebastian as a maturing, physically mobile, dramatically charged figure in the throes of a final ecstasy – the capturing of fleeting instants in the martyr’s protracted death-delirium. Day’s pseudo-documentary approach record a series of private reveries, a closed-off world voyeuristically intruded on by the camera. His face momentarily obscured, Day’s Hellenic ephebe is a spectral presence, but one whose homoeroticism must be projected onto an image by the viewer or else assumed as residing in an oblique code. In their seeming indulgence in isolated reveries, these Sebastians recall Narcissus, a time-honoured homosexual trope, but a Narcissus gone beyond simple self-love into masturbatory selfinfatuation. Day’s Saint Sebastians are poised on a historical precipice in which homosexual desire was entering public consciousness but was inexpressible except in highly coded terms. By the time Day photographed his Sebastian series, the Wilde trials already had put an end to the homoerotic imagery pervasive in the British academic painting of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Frederick Leighton.
Nonetheless, Day’s iconography of homoerotic ‘narcissism’ allowed for the accommodation of a visually isolated, erotically charged male in lieu of a more emphatic depiction of eroticism between men. Moreover, Day’s unique aesthetic of the camera, which held that the photographer must artfully invent rather than ‘capture’ a sensually available ‘real’ world, meant that each of his images had as much distinctiveness as a canvas by Perugino or Guido Reni. Yet, despite Day’s reputation as a ‘painterly’ photographer, in his rendering of Saint Sebastian as a mobile figure he also freed the Roman martyr from the domain of Renaissance iconography. (George Bernard Shaw noted the new component offered by Day’s work when, praising the ‘fine sympathy’ of the photographer’s images as displayed in a 1901 London exhibition, he remarked on Day’s avoidance of ‘sham brush and pencil’ effects in favour of an authentic ‘photographic technique’.) In addition to allowing Sebastian to enter the unruly age of mechanical reproduction, in which images of the physically resplendent Roman athlete became as everyday as baseball cards, Day’s ‘fictive’ depictions of Saint Sebastian went to the heart of the martyr’s deepening fascination at the beginning of the new century. Christian saints could be ‘invented’ as ‘homosexual martyrs’ just as the man of same-sex erotic preferences was being conjured up as a distinct category.
The caginess with which more than one artist characterized Sebastian’s sexual temperament is also related to an impulse to render the martyr as a manly, solitary athlete. In Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask, the hero pens an ‘unfinished prose poem’ on the life of Sebastian that includes the following speculations:

When one considers well, it seems likely that many a time, even in the midst of a sweet kiss, a foretaste of the agony of death must have furrowed his brow with a fleeting shadow of pain.
Also, he must have foreseen, if dimly, that it was nothing less than martyrdom which lay in wait for him along the way; that this brand which Fate had set upon him was precisely the token of his apartness from all the ordinary men of earth.
Now, on that particular morning, Sebastian kicked off his covers and sprang from bed at break of day, pressed with martial duties.

Mishima’s carefully calculated ambiguity as to whom Sebastian has kissed, the intimation of a deathly trance in that kiss, the author s doting on the image of the waking military man, all of these details build to an eroticization of a figure who is notably prevented from assuming a transparently homosexual personality. It would seem to be, rather, the imaginary readers desires that Mishima aims to shape in such passages, as the reader encounters the waking, brooding ‘bachelor’ Sebastian. Accentuating the bonds between the saint’s pictorial and novelistic incarnations, Mishima’s fantasy of Sebastian as a haunted ‘soulosexual’ replicates at the level of literary narrative the experience of viewing an image of a Saint Sebastian. Sexually aroused to masturbation by a Guido Reni Sebastian, Mishima’s hero both worships and identifies with the martyr because ‘In no way was his a pitiable fate. Rather was it proud and tragic, a fate that might even be called shining.’ Mishima’s narrator actually adopts Sebastian’s gestures as he has gleaned them from Reni’s painting:

Ever since becoming obsessed with the picture of St Sebastian, I had acquired the unconscious habit of crossing my hands over my head whenever I happened to be undressed. Mine was a frail body, without so much as a pale shadow of Sebastian’s abundant beauty. But now once more I spontaneously fell into the pose. As I did so my eyes went to my armpits. And a mysterious sexual desire boiled up within me…

(Mishima’s ellipses)

There could scarcely be a finer example of a suddenly self-aware homosexual male deriving his selfconception – at the most basic selfconstitutive level of unconsciously expressed behaviour – from the Renaissance iconography of Saint Sebastian. That the Japanese youth of Mishima’s novel, yearning for a suitable outlet for his homosexual and masturbatory impulses, finds himself reaching for an icon from western painting suggests Sebastian’s international symbolic resonance as a homosexual trope by the
beginning of the twentieth century. Beyond its direct allusions to Saint Sebastian, Confessions of a Mask is studded with arrow and piercing imagery, usually surrounding its hero’s increasingly violent sexual fantasies of stabbing a ravishing young man.
Mirroring the narrator’s personal obsessions is the suicidally militaristic drive of Japan itself, propelling itself towards a global war that its citizens are depicted as neither supporting nor understanding. Confessions of a Mask is set during the war years, where Saint Sebastian emerges as a touchstone of a larger national crisis in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Sebastian as representative of the generation confronting the Second World War recalls the doomed Sebastian Flyte of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1944), while the reliance on the martyr as the corporeal exemplum had its campy beginnings in Ronald Firbank’s The Flower Beneath the Foot (1923). Firbank’s dandyish hero enjoys a bath in which he lies ‘beneath the rhythmic sponge, perfumed with Kiki’, where ‘he was St Sebastian, and, as the water became cloudier, and the crystals evaporated amid the steam, he was Teresa…and he would have been, most likely, the Blessed Virgin herself but the bath grew gradually cold’. For a number of writers, imagining oneself as violently pierced suggests the traumatic crucible in which modern homosexual identity is forged. ‘Like glittering, vicious footballs of ice, the huge diamonds struck his head’, records the narrator Orvil of a ‘terrifying and wonderful’ dream in Denton Welch’s In Youth Is Pleasure (1950), ‘tearing the flesh till his eyes were filled with blood and he could feel the points of adamant ringing on white bone’.
The camp dimension so integral to Sebastian’s appeal stemmed from a comic view of the martyr’s classic poses of exquisite satisfaction and pained detachment. In a 1927 essay on Saint Sebastian, the Spanish artist Salvador Dalí saw the martyr as representing the concept of ‘Holy Objectivity’, by which Dalí meant the modern artist’s wry refusal to surrender to the cheaply sentimental. ‘Irony…is nakedness’, noted Dalí, ‘It is the gymnast who hides behind the pain of St Sebastian. And it is also this pain, because it can be recounted.’ Sebastian’s nakedness, for Dalí, is also a mask. That Dalí was attracted to the iconography of Saint Sebastian is appropriate given the convulsive and arguably surrealist nature of Sebastian’s image of deathin-life. Dalí’s friendship with the poet Federico García Lorca was animated by droll references to Saint Sebastian. In addition to embellishing a photograph of Dalí depicting the painter as a Sebastian, Lorca drew his own version of the saint. The wry spirit of Lorca’s sketch, in which a pained Sebastian – the Christian martyr as artist’s doodle – uneasily totters on his pedestal, exploits the ridiculousness of Sebastian’s celebrated role as upbear survivor. This image is less a study in suffering than in nervous anxiety: Saint Sebastian having a particularly bad day.
Even when deployed by homosexual artists or as a homoerotic trademark, however, Saint Sebastian was often represented as palpable evidence of the dangers inherent in same-sex erotic relations. Tennessee Williams’s 1958 play Suddenly Last Summer is best known in the celebrated film version directed by Joseph L.Mankiewicz starring Katherine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, with a screenplay by Williams and Gore Vidal. Mankiewicz’s movie details the decline of Sebastian Venable, a young poet who courts death on the Playa San Sebastian in Cabeza de Lobo by preying on local boys, using his cousin Catherine (her name suggests Saint Sebastian’s original saviour, Irene) as unknowing sexual bait. Here Sebastian signifies sexuality as unutterably beyond representation; Sebastian Venable is glimpsed only subliminally in a few frames. Viewed today, Suddenly Last Summer seems the apotheosis of Eisenhower-era camp sensibility.
Such kitschy affiliations endure in our own time in the work of the French artists Pierre and Gilles, who produced a 1987 image of Sebastian as a tanned young man whose bee-stung lips and glassy eyes evoke the Hollywood motion pictures of Douglas Sirk, the popular religious art of Latin America, and, with roses dangling from his head to his mid-torso, a Saint Sebastian in Carmen Miranda drag. His cherubic innocence suggests a pop fantasy of 1950s serenity, in which Sebastian has become a technicolour dreamboat. The British artist Matthew Stradling sustains Sebastian’s camp iconographic tradition in his 1991 The Weeping Flesh, which presents a red-haired, Firbankian Sebastian, accessorized with a pearl bracelet against a plush roseand gold-décor backdrop, whose wounds drip drops of pearly tears.
A number of poetic works, however, continued to emphasize a Saint Sebastian of palpably appealing sensuality. In one of his most memorable poems, written in 1960, the American poet Frank O’Hara offered a startling declaration to his beloved:

Having a Coke with You
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irun, Hendaye,
Biaritz, Bayonne…
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better,
happier St Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your
love for yoghurt…
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all,
just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and would rather look at you than all the portraits
in the world…

Ecstatically asserting the primacy of experience over aesthetic apprehension, Saint Sebastian for O’Hara represents the dead weight of art history, an inert and inadequate means of expressing the swiftly-moving consummation of homosexual amours. Recently, the African-American poet Reginald Shepherd devoted a poem evoking the Roman martyr that begins as an invocation of Reni’s Saint Sebastian but ends with a doting view of a boy shopping in a supermarket:

In the painting by Guido Reni of Saint Sebastian
in the Palazzo Rosso, which reproduction makes available
to those who travel only on the page, the saint to be
(he’s not yet assumed by artifice, encumbered
with perfections) endures continual martyrdom
with a visual sigh, gazing almost directly upward

as it to ask What now my love, or hum a chorus of
Is that all there is, the body always some song…
…One grasps that sainthood is an attribute of youth,
the wondrous fair, as in old ballads; they always end.

The boy in the Eagle Discount Supermarket,
for another, an apparition in a backwards baseball cap
appraising cuts of meat in artificial light,
deciding what he can afford

to buy, how much each cut costs. I love the ground
where he stands. His face? Unverifiable.

Like Frank O’Hara, Shepherd is drawn to Saint Sebastian not so much as the aesthetic embodiment of an ideal male but as a martyr who inspires thoughts of other, actual exquisite men, in this case a fashion-conscious ephebe in a grocery store. The bedazzled poet–customer is a veritable curator of desire, discovering in his lust-object a visage as ‘unverifiable’ as that painted by a Renaissance master. ‘Attribution’, of course, here suggests questions of the young man’s erotic predilections. For O’Hara and Shepherd, reproductions of Sebastian have become as banal as comic books, but real-life Saint Sebastians occupy hallowed ground.
How to render the intensely immovable figure of Sebastian in cinematic terms was a challenge facing the late British filmmaker Derek Jarman in Sebastiane (1976), which proved the director’s most controversial film. Scripted entirely in Latin and shot on a rickety budget, filmed on location in Sardinia, Sebastiane was greeted with a furor reminiscent of that which met the 1911 Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien. (At the film’s première at the Locarno Film Festival, shouting matches broke out among viewers.) Today, it is difficult to imagine how Jarman’s slow-paced, almost hallucinogenic movie might have inspired such violent reactions. Interestingly, the film is by no means the exercise in anachronistic theatricality one might have expected from the director who allowed Elizabeth Welch to sing ‘Stormy Weather’ in his film The Tempest and Annie Lennox her version of ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’ in Edward II. Although Jarman recorded his pleasure at finding in the actor Leonardo Treviglio a ‘Saint Sebastian out of GQ’, Treviglio’s martyr – bearded, unmuscular, and ascetic in appearance – suggests a more austere, primitivist saint typical of the medieval iconography of Sebastian. With the exception of several scenes in which Roman soldiers nostalgically recall their work in Cecil B.DeMille’s motion-picture extravaganzas, Jarman favours a sombre, funereal steadfastness of technique. Owing to Brian Eno’s eerily reedy score, a desolate desert locale and the general visual austerity, Sebastiane recalls the early films of Pasolini as well as Liliana Cavani’s 1966 directorial debut, St Francis of Assist.
The film narrates its subject’s banishment to a remote outpost of the Roman empire and his persecution as a pacifist Christian who refuses to fight when called upon to do so by his brutal commanding officer Severus. (Diocletian makes a brief appearance in the film’s prologue as a roué at a Bacchanalian orgy in which he orders the death of a young follower suspected of betrayal.) What sets off the call for Sebastian’s execution, however, is his refusal to respond to the romantic attentions of Severus, who attempts to rape Sebastian while declaring his love for the young man he pursues obsessively. In a time-honoured move, Sebastian’s own sexuality is left ambiguous. ‘You will never have me’, he tells Severus in Latin, leaving it unclear if others might. By turns kindly, high-minded, and ethereal, Jarman’s saint is a child of nature who listens to seashells and only inadvertently inspires a destructive lust in Severus. It is Severus – blond, obsessed, psychotic – who is the true tormented sado-masochist of Jarman’s movie. Rebuffed by his diffident charge, he arranges Sebastian’s execution and forces the future martyr’s fellow-archers to shoot their god-like leader. In its highlighting of Sebastian’s loyalty to his comrades in the face of Severus’s cruelty, Jarman’s film extricated a latent, underexplored political element of the martyr’s legend by emphasizing the bonds of class allegiance.
In the film’s slow-motion last sequence, Sebastian’s death-by-arrows is the symbolic acting out of an erotic penetration refused to Severus in life. The execution suggests a gang rape, in which a homosexual identity is forced on Sebastian metaphorically as Sebastian’s tormentors become the necessary instruments of the martyr’s homosexualization. In his memoirs At Your Own Risk: A Saint’s Testament, Jarman characterized the martyr as an unwilling but ultimately receptive target: ‘Sebastian, the doolally Christian who refused a good fuck, gets the arrows he deserves. Can one feel sorrow for this Catholic closet case? Stigmata who sports his wounds on a thousand altars like a debutante.’
Despite the studied lugubriousness of Jarman’s cinematic technique – a far cry from the subsequent, lushly realized style of Carravagio and Edward II – Sebastiane achieves moments of considerable mythic power. Jarman’s decision to render Sebastian as the object of homosexual lust rather than as a ‘homosexual martyr’ not only echoed a rich tradition in the representation of Sebastian, it renders his film curiously orthodox in its approach to its subject. Sebastiane is, notwithstanding the controversy the film initially aroused, a religious ‘life’ of Saint Sebastian as a devout Catholic of homosexual leanings might have conceived it. Jarman should not have been too astonished when, as he noted in an earlier volume of his memoirs, a Catholic priest stopped him on the street after the film’s première and told him how much he admired the film, its Latin dialogue in particular. The director credited the turmoil surrounding his film with having inspired the rumblings of a gay movement in Switzerland. Uneasy distributors, meanwhile, kept the film out of circulation for a decade.
Having crystallized as an explicitly gay symbol, Sebastian also increasingly signified the irreconcilability of disparate ideological tendencies vying for dominance in contemporary gay culture. However much homosexual aesthetes might embrace his image as an icon who struck masochistic chords while retaining the imprimatur of high art, for many the martyr continued to hold insupportable associations of a too-passive self-renunciation. The martyr’s suitability as homosexual symbol in a period of post-Stonewall political self-assurance became shaky. ‘Sebastian’s lost his appropriateness as the official gay patron after the Stonewall riots’, flatly noted one popular work of gay history. ‘Modern Sebastians, after all, shoot back.’
But with the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, Sebastian the historic soldier comes to represent the militant, newly politicized homosexual, beautifully exposed to his fate but non-passively, even militantly, contra mundum, a fantasy of the homosexual male as sexually appealing, manly activist. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, one witnesses a double transformation of Saint Sebastian: first, as a saint invoked to ward off the plague and thus of consoling value and, second, as a politically charged figure signifying not so much sado-masochism as government neglect and societal hostility. As such, Saint Sebastian symbolically encapsulates (and partly resolves) what the critic Douglas Crimp has identified as two vital, supposedly irreconcilable, components of gay culture in the age of AIDS: the labour of mourning and the work of political activism.
As he collapsed his role as medieval plague saint and that of the gay man exposed to the threat of AIDS, Sebastian became an irresistible subject for artists. For the hypertalkative transvestite narrator Odette O’Doyle of James McCourt’s 1993 ‘confessional’ novel Time Remaining, the connection between the plague martyr of the late Middle Ages and modern homosexual identity hits with ‘stunning force’. ‘Does that not add a new and utterly eerie dimension to the configuration?’ he asks. That configuration was further enhanced given the disease’s effect on intravenous drug users, whose needles and needle-marks symbolically resembled the arrows and arrow-marks of Sebastian. Nonetheless, ‘martyrdom’ seemed a rather troublesome term to characterize, even in metaphoric terms, the disease-besieged gay man or drug user in that the phrase seeks to designate as valiant those who may not be particularly heroic, but who are, no less sympathetically, simply sick. In Thorn Gunn’s 1992 elegy ‘Lament’, the poet invokes the state of martyrdom in tracing the evolution of disease in a friend yet finally eschews such terms in describing the ill:

Four nights, and on the fifth we drove you down
To the Emergency Room. That frown, that frown;
I’ve never seen such a rage in you before
As when they wheeled you through the swinging door.
For you knew, rightly, they conveyed you from
Those normal pleasures of the sun’s kingdom
The hedonistic body basks within
And takes for granted – summer on the skin,
Sleep without break, the moderate taste of tea
In a dry mouth. You had gone on
from me As if your body sought
out martyrdom In the far Canada
of a hospital room.

Resisting the banality of conferring ‘heroism’ on everyone (a staple of such tributes to the dead as the ‘AIDS Quilt’), ‘Lament’ instead addresses the desperation of sheer everyday survival, what Gunn calls ‘This difficult, tedious, painful exercise’ of illness. The sick crave health in ‘Lament’, not a martyr’s canonization.
Borrowing much of the visual vocabulary of Jarman’s Carravagio while appropriating the iconographic details of Russian Constructivism, the American rock group R.E.M. chose Saint Sebastian as the unifying figure in their 1991 award-winning video for the group’s song ‘Losing my Religion’, in which the lead singer Michael Stipe sings and performs a solitary dance amid an array of Saint Sebastians modelled on pop images vaguely adopted from Renaissance painting. This lyrically emotive video, shot by the Indian director Tarsem, was at once a mournful meditation on the difficulties of revealing an illness, a lament on the results of announcing one’s homosexuality, and a coyly knowing, autobiographical confession of gay self-identification at the heart of rock-music culture. With greater polemical intensity, the Los Angeles performance artist Ron Athey in his 1994 performance piece, ‘HIV/AIDS Odyssey’, part of his ‘Martyrs and Saints’ series, adopted the techniques of Artaud’s ‘theater of cruelty’, to a self-enactment as a tattooed Sebastian. While passively receptive to invading arrows, Athey’s body becomes a full-scale indictment of a neglectful public. In yet another reaction against government-funded gay art, Athey’s performance became the target of critics of the ‘new right’. One of the artist’s 1994 works at a Minneapolis museum involved the drawing of blood from a young man sitting on stage, the blotting of the man’s body with paper towels, and the hanging of those towels over the audience. Although the performance posed no dangers to members of the audience (the man was HIV negative), a Minneapolis newspaper implied as much, leading to an uproar in the US Congress given that a small portion of the performance was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Athey became the focus of attacks by cultural conservatives, yet, in a notable departure from the practice of the Reagan–Bush years, the head of the National Endowment for the Arts lent her support to Athey and his work, declaring it an invaluable ‘study of modern-day martyrdom as it relates to AIDS’. Apart from its polemical force, the originality of Athey’s conception lies in its aggressive renunciation of the martyr as impeccable Adonis. Several centuries of implied sado-masochism in the portrayal of Saint Sebastian are rendered overt in Athey’s ‘live’ performance, next to which Mishima’s self-portrait as an updated Sebastian by Guido Reni seems tamely stagy.
The vigorous politicization of Sebastian as contemporary plague saint assumed several forms throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A particularly compelling image utilizing Saint Sebastian is David Wojnarowicz’s 1989 collage Bad Moon Rising, one of several works by the artist employing Saint Sebastian. (The spray-painted 1983 montage Peter Hujar Dreaming: Yukio Mishima: St Sebastian, is a homage to the Japanese writer.) As with the Pop artists he admired, Wojnarowicz typically ‘uses borrowed imagery saturated with assumed meanings’ in his work, as the critic Adam Kury has noted. (The meanings of much Pop art may have been coded as homoerotic; Jaspar Johns’s celebrated target paintings, as Kenneth Silver has noted, are an oblique allusion to the imagery of Saint Sebastian, particularly as in the 1955 collage Target with Plaster Casts, in which pieces of a plaster male body are positioned above the target.) Wojnarowicz’s work, however, retains an expressive gravity that Andy Warhol and such Warhol-indebted artists as Keith Hating coolly avoided. In a pointed diminishment of Sebastian as idealized virile athlete, Bad Moon Rising depicts the torso of a Sebastian image in which the head and feet have been eliminated as the saint’s body is suspended horizontally against a tree and floats between four photographs pinned against a backdrop of US currency. Two of the photographs, pinned like snapshots at the bottom left and top left, depict what are evidently pornographic scenes. Another two images representing medical Petri dishes accentuate the saint’s associations with illness. These free-moving juxtapositions serve to unite several thematic concerns: Sebastian’s subcultural homosexual meaning as an erotic icon, the undiminished threat of the AIDS crisis, and the urgency of finding a medical cure represented by a floating timepiece that is partly a Petri dish. It is the sheet of currency, however, that dominates the visual scheme of Wojnarowicz’s montage, driving home the idea that a financial logic underlies and determines the fate of Sebastian and, by implication, that of the gay men he epitomizes. Bad Moon Rising registers the decomposition of an idolized queer icon before the effects of affliction and an inhumane money culture. It suggests, too, that a vigorously politicized art may borrow from a nuanced, recognizably homosexual iconography.
The multiplicity of examples of Saint Sebastian ‘worship’ I have discussed suggests not only the difficulty of assigning a single meaning to the Christian martyr but also the problem in viewing Sebastian as the symbolic property of any particular artist, individual or group. If the nineteenth century witnessed a battle over Saint Sebastian’s appropriate religious character, as fin-de-siècle aesthetes battled with theological fundamentalists over the character of a Christian hero, more recent tensions concerning Sebastian reveal the competing interpretations of the martyr on the part of those who would see him as camp token, political comrade, or patron saint offering comfort against a new plague. And as his varying associations have accumulated over time, Saint Sebastian’s homosexually inflected symbolism has come to suggest the intricate procedure through which is formed what we might call ‘homosexual experience’. For it is not simply that gay men saw in Sebastian an idealized likeness of themselves. Rather, the Roman martyr helped form the very foundation for a sense of self that encompassed homosexual desire. This point is encapsulated in a 1987 poem invoking Saint Sebastian by Richard Howard, in which Howard hints at the perils of a too-close identification with the saint’s aura of deathly ecstasy: ‘Who else? What other throes could be/so eagerly submissive, so thrilling, so lewd?’ Yet Howard went on to caution against a ‘morbid appetite for arrows’, noting that ‘The moral is: Don’t pose as a Saint or you may become one…’.
In an essay arguing against the historiographic tendency to see ‘experience’ as determining, in an unmediated fashion, the discrete identities of the subjects or groups neglected by traditional history, the historian Joan Wallach Scott has asserted that there is no foundational ‘experience’ that is without cultural mediation. There does not exist, Scott contends, a set of social or individual acts outside representation, which is to say, a discrete ‘realm of reality outside of discourse’. Scott’s point could not be better illustrated than by an understanding of the complex ways in which gay-identified men have shaped themselves through representations of Saint Sebastian. In order to imagine themselves as ‘homosexual subjects’, men of same-sex erotic impulses turned to Sebastian, not just as Mann’s ‘new kind of hero’ (that is, not just as a focus of hagiographic attention), but as a means of conceiving of the ‘homosexual self’. For many of his ardent devotees, Saint Sebastian simultaneously served as an object of lustful devotion and a projection of an idealized ‘homosexual self’ – the idealized self as ideal lover. Yet, as Mishima’s morbidly sensational identification with Sebastian indicates, such a relation to Sebastian did not always serve an enlightened conception of homosexual identity. Towards the end of his life, the Japanese novelist posed as Reni’s Sebastian in a celebrated 1966 photograph, eerily anticipating – or even, one might say, hinting at – his own 1970 suicide by seppuku. Venturing to find a dramatic means of expressing his sense of himself as a reactionary outsider in the new Japanese social order, Mishima discovered in Sebastian the ideal western emblem for Japanese ceremonial suicide. In a grotesque culmination of his attraction for the homosexual artist, Saint Sebastian had emerged as a sado-masochistic exemplar to be emulated at any cost.
With the deaths of David Wojnarowicz, Derek Jarman and other gay artists, Sebastian has assumed what is arguably his weightiest role in his entire history as a homosexual emblem. Intensifying his value as an aesthete’s token of perverse beauty and his usefulness as a politically freighted symbol, the martyred saint holds renewed emotional resonance for queer culture. In Sebastiane, Jarman had introduced a series of poems translated into Latin that summed up Sebastian’s unique mythos as an exemplary martyr for those deemed social anathema.

He leaves the dark hours of the world.
See the arrows’ wounds
His life blood drips in the sand
Marigolds spring up spreading their petals in the sun’s
rays, golden flowers of Apollo
Sebastian
Sebastian
Shower kisses on the young god with his golden eyes
Shower kisses on your beloved
And in the evening light
Remember this world of shadows.

Given the evidence of his complex cultural legacy, the likelihood is great that the patron saint of homosexual men will not only remember, but that he will return yet again.

Outlooks: Lesbian and gay sexualities and visual cultures – Richard A.Kaye

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