In Ancient Greece there was a ritual known as the Dionysian Mysteries that involved drunken dancing and primal music to achieve a trance-like state until Dionysus possessed the worshippers. This ritual culminated in the rending (sparagmos) and consumption (omophagia) of live, raw flesh. The flesh was typically an animal sacrifice yet in Euripedes play The Bacchae the sacrifice was King Pentheus of Thebes; tricked by the God of Pleasure himself, Dionysus, based on Pentheus’ own temptations and desires. The parallel between Pentheus’ and Sebastian’s deaths is immediately apparent: both were victims of sparagmos and omophagia in a primal, ritualistic manner. However, Sebastian was more than victim in his demise, he was also a sacrifice “to a! – terrible sort of a-” god. Violet tells Dr. C of their experience in the Encantadas, where Sebastian claimed to see God in the cruel violence of nature as he watched predatory birds rip apart and eat baby sea turtles as they tried to flee to the sea. Sebastian became a sacrifice to the Dionysian god he spent his life searching for and claimed to see in the Encantadas and as a result he became a gay martyr.
In The Bacchae Dionysus appears in the kingdom of Thebes as a blond shaman driving the women of Thebes into religious frenzy. The king of Thebes, Pentheus, is Dionysus’ cousin, but he does not believe that Dionysus is a real god. Pentheus is concerned about the wild cult of women, the maenads, also known as the Bacchae, especially since his mother is one of the worshippers. However, Dionysus learns that Pentheus is more than just concerned; he has a lustful desire to see the maenads’ ritual. Dionysus preys on Pentheus’ desire and...
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... bewildering display of sparamagos and omophagia. The sight of these rituals is powerful enough to drive a person mad and indeed they do drive Catherine mad. However, Sebastian’s death can also be seen as liberation. Not only was he freed from a society that denied him as a human being; he was also delivered to his god as the ultimate gift. In Christianity Jesus sacrificed his life for mankind. Sebastian sacrificed his life for his own liberation.
In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film version of Suddenly, Last Summer we see a painting of the Christian Martyr St. Sebastian in Sebastian’s study. St. Sebastian is closely associated in modern literature as an icon for homosexuality; however, this distinction was taken from history and made true. Tennesee Williams invented his own gay martyr and appoints Sebastian Venable as the 20th century’s patron saint of homosexuality.
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