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BRIAN PARKER Tennessee Williams and the LegendsofStSebastian I One resultofTennesseeWilliams'scloseattachmentto the Reverend Walter Dakin and the formative years he spent inru.s grandfather's rectories is that his writing is saturated with religious imagery and echoes of Episcopalian liturgy (Hale, 'The Preacher's Boy/Stein, Adler, Fritscher, Boxill). These include frequent references to the saints (Debusscher), includingtwo major adaptations of the legend of St Sebastian. The first of these is a poem entitled 'San Sebastiana de [sic] Sodoma/ whichwasbeguninRomein1949,wentas usualthrough manyvariants and revisions, and was eventually published in 1954 in a collection called In the Winter ofCities. Afterthisitresurfaced inseveralearly drafts and atleastone laterrevision of Suddenly Last Summer (1958), either as a provocative hintby Catharine about her cousin's homosexuality or as his own final poem, writtenjustbefore his death (Parker, 306-'7). And though it was eventually dropped from the play text, understanding its implications considerably complicatesour reactions to SebastianVenable. The relationbetweenpoem and play is not a simple one. As published, the poem runs as follows (Williams, 1954, 112): - How did Saint Sebastian die? Arrows pierced his throat and thigh which only knew, before that time the dolors of a concubine. Near above him, hardly over, hovered his gold martyr's crown. EvenMary from Her tower of heavenleaned a little down and as She leaned, She raised a corner of a-cloud through which to spy. Acknowledgmentsaremade toNewDirectionsPublishingCorporationfor permissjontoreprint 'San Sebastiana de Sodoma'; to the Williams Estate and the University of the South at Sewanee for excerpts from the ms drafts of Suddenly Last Summer; and to the various owners identified in the captions for reproductions of the St Sebastian iconography. Unless otherwise noted, photographs are courtesy of Dorothy Parker. UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTER!.Y, VOLUME 69, NUMBER 3, SUMMER 2000 TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND ST SEBASTIAN 635 Sweetly troubled Mary murmured as'She watched the arrows fly. And as the cup that was profaned gave up its sweet, intemperate wine, all the golden bells ofheaven praised an emperor'5 concubine. In two of the variant drafts of this poem Sebastianis erroneously identified as I Hadrian's concubine':that is, the orientalyouthAntinous, whohad lived a hundred years earlier (and diedinfact ofdrowning); andinanother - with disconcerting humour - the Virgin Mary is represented as wondering whether it will be quite safe to introduce such a handsome boy among the cherubim: . Mary, leaning from her tower of heaven, dropped a tiny flower but, privately, she musthave wondered if it were indeed quite wise to [sic] let this boy in Paradise? (Texas 3: Parker, 322)1 II As usuat Williams is adapting tradition for his OWi1 quite heterodox purposes. Thereare, in fact, two legends aboutSebastian'smartyrdom, with WilliaIUS incorporating elements from both. According to such official Roman Catholic sources as Jacques de Voragine 's thirteenth-century LegendaAureaandAlbanButler'sLivesoftheSaints, Sebastianis supposed to have lived in the third century AD and tohavebeen shot full of arrows by order of the Roman emperor Diocletian (245-313 AD) for misusinghispositionas a captaininthePraetorianGuard to promulgate Christianity. Left for dead, he was rescued and nursed back to health by St Irene, the widow of another martyr, but on his recovery disrupted one of Diocletian's processions to denounce the persecutionof Christians; whereupon the emperorhad him cudgelle.d (or, in someversions, stoned) to death and his corpse thrown into the cloaca maxima, Rome's main sewer. From there the body was recovered and buried in the catacombs by another woman called Lucinda (Butler, 1: 128-30). These two women, Irene and Lucinda, correspond to aspects ofViolet and Catharinein the play (Debusscher ). Besides becoming patron saint of archers and third guardian of Rome (subordinate onlyto StsPeter andPaul), from the end ofthe seventhcentury onwards Sebastian was chiefly revered as a major intercessor against the Black Death, those devastating waves of bubonic plague that periodically 1 Williams's manuscripts are deSignated by reference to Parker'Sbibliographical stemma. 636 BRIAN PARKER ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These were interpreted as symptoms of God's wrath and traditionally symbolized by arrows (plate I), as in Psalm 7 (13-15), Psalm 91 (5-10), and the Book ofJob (6:4). Equally influential in St Sebastian's case perhaps was The Iliad 1:42ff, in...


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