Will from DesignerBlog1 left a comment on one of my recent forays into the spirituality of sex:
[T]o observe sexual/religious extasis in art fully, check out St. Sebastian paintings and sculpture from the Renaissance and later. That is, after he ceased being a grizzled old Roman soldier and became an astonishingly beautiful boy transfixed at being penetrated by the arrows or, as in several famous versions, suggestively penis-length darts.
I pubesced jacking off to St.Sebastian, whose image I was encouraged to venerate in Catholic school. No further comment.
[I think the further comments pretty much write themselves, so perhaps I won't bother to say that nothing venerates a saint more than offering up to him what one of my readers calls your "precious man gunk." And I certainly won't be so profane as to regret that there exist no pictures of the teen-aged Will jerking off to images of St. Sebastian, nor will I allow myself to say -- however truthfully -- that a painting of a beautiful young man staring at a painting of St. Sebastian and mirroring his look of ecstatic submission while touching himself through his tighty whities is something that really needs to be on my bedroom wall.]
St. Sebastian is such a commonly referenced story that even I knew the general outlines: because he insisted on practicing Christianity, he ran afoul of the authorities, and when, by surviving the arrows -- if not, perhaps, the slings -- of outrageous fortune, he failed to achieve martyrdom the first time, he made like a harp seal and got himself clubbed to death.
There's a lot more to the story, of course, and I encourage you to read the account of his life in the Legenda Aurea here.
Since I know, however, that most of you won't follow the link and surrender yourselves to the intoxicating Middle English and laughable Catholic propaganda, let me at least quote a few of the choicer (by reason of language) bits:
[T]hat is to say he gat by poverty the kingdom, with sorrow joy, with labour rest, with trouble glory, and with death life.
But at these words was S. Sebastian as a knight; when he saw them thus travailed, and so amollished anon came to them and said: O right noble knights of Jesu Christ, wise and hardy, which be come to the victory and now go aback, and for a few blandishing words vain and miserable, ye will lose the victory permanable, lose ye not the everlasting life for the blandishing words of women, be ye example to other christian men for to be strong in the faith, address ye your hearts above the world, and lose ye not your crown for the weepings of your wives and your children.2
And the archers shot at him till he was as full of arrows as an urchin is full of pricks, and thus left him there for dead.
I took Will's advice and searched for images of St. Sebastian, and -- boy howdy -- Will was right: artists from all eras would have you believe that Sebastian spent a lot of time in the gym. I haven't researched this particular point, but my sense is that the actual historical record on Sebastian is pretty thin. This is usually the case for people who assume mythical proportions: the absence of contradictory historical information makes it easier to transmute them into something they weren't, to suit the purposes of the transmuters. Thus, "he ceased being a grizzled old Roman soldier and became an astonishingly beautiful boy." And thus, he became St. Sebastian. I can't imagine that anyone knows the real story, but the account in the Legenda Aurea so flies in the face of common sense and human nature that I'm pretty sure it's a huge, steaming load of excrement. (Not that I'm judging, if you're into that.)
But where would we be without mythology? So I don't begrudge the Catholics their gold-girdled martyr any more than I would have begrudged young Will his sacred soft-core porn. (I will say, though, that making St. Sebastian the patron saint of archers seems perverse. Perhaps, while were at it, we can make Actaeon the patron saint of hunting dogs.)
The great thing about myths is that people can continue to appropriate and tailor them to suit their own purposes, and contemporary artists still take Sebastian as a subject (you see some contemporary visual representations in this post). My very favorite contemporary reference to the St. Sebastian myth came in Painted Lady, a Helen Mirren vehicle that I saw on Masterpiece Theatre about ten years ago, when I was still married and still watched PBS. (The DVD is currently on its way to me via Amazon one-click, and I can hardly wait.) The story of St. Sebastian is included in Painted Lady in a very literal and very sexy way.
For this post, I had wanted to write a contemporary pornographic piece inspired by Sebastian: he takes Ecstasy and survives a prolonged and violent orgy (I think a bukkake scene, with "arrows of cum" is de rigueur), only to meet his demise when he shows up at the club. But I don't have the time just now, and I know nothing whatsoever about E (for instance, does one take it in pill form, or is it a liquid?), so if I'm going to write that piece (and I hope to, eventually), it must needs await both time and research.
Still, I have definite plans to use Sebastian for my own purposes. I don't think any of you was reading this site last December, but I mentioned some new party games that I'd developed for last year's holiday party. I think it will be a relatively simple matter to transform either Phallic Symbol Toss or Stick It into a St. Sebastian game. Instead of making magnets that bear images of bananas or torpedos or the Washington Monument, I'll make some sort of magnetic arrows. And instead of a hot boy in a Speedo, I'll have a hot boy in tighty whities in an appropriate position and with an appropriate expression.
Finding the right picture is the only tricky part. The boy must be beautiful, and he probably has to be smooth, and he has to look like he's nearing the sort of orgasm that redefines the universe. Also, the file has to be big enough to allow for enlargement to poster size. Here are some also-rans:
They're all good pictures and close to what I want, but each fails on one or more counts. If anyone can point me to a better candidate online, I'd be ever so grateful.
My other Sebastian-themed party game involves buying -- after a thorough survey of the possibilities, you understand -- a poster of my favorite artistic rendering of St. Sebastian and having my guests pose next to it. Each guest will attempt to imitate the ecstatic expression, and whoever comes closest wins. I suspect that some of them will have problems getting it just right, but I'll be standing by to help them along in whatever way seems appropriate.
By the way, if you're young (or youngish) and have a great body, you could do a lot worse on Halloween than to go out as St. Sebastian. Just remember that it was my idea, so sending me a picture of yourself in your (minimal) costume is really the least you can do. If you send me the pictures with the ecstatic expression but without the arrows, I can use it for my party game, and you'll have killed two birds with one stone. Or, if you will, two martyrs with one club.
1One of my intermediate-term ambitions is to persuade Will and Fritz to accompany me and b&c on a trip to Germany, where the opera queens will spend
2I was raised Southern Baptist, and I can very easily imagine these exact words emanating from one or other of the old school preachers who used to visit our church for a week-long series of revival meetings. Hellfire and brimstone and damnation, oh my!