I recently got a hold of a nice (and cheap!) reproduction of a book, The Songs of Bilitis by Pierre Louÿs. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it at present, and may have more to say on it when I finish. But, it strikes me that it may be an occasion for considering a further Sanctus for inclusion in our honors.
Pierre Louÿs was born on December 10, 1870, and died on June 6, 1925. He was a symbolist, and a pornographer, and a friend of Oscar Wilde, amongst others. He was also heterosexual. You can read more about him here.
His most famous (or even infamous) work was The Songs of Bilitis, which purported to be a series of poems written by a contemporary of Sappho, which (not surprisingly!) feature a number of lesbian encounters. It was soon determined that Bilitis was an invention of Louÿs, and the pseudo-scholarship on her origins and such ceased; but, he maintains this facade throughout his book, and subsequent translations of him (like the one I’m reading) sort of entertain it as well, despite knowing very well she never existed. Very interestingly, though, one of the first lesbian rights groups called itself the Daughters of Bilitis specifically in homage to this important work that put the themes of lesbian desire into an almost mainstream audience. In this fact of public-consciousness-shaping lesbianism being articulated by a heterosexual male, I’m somewhat reminded of the great Irish gothic/horror writer, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, who wrote Carmilla, one of the first lesbian vampire stories. While us post-feminist moderns certainly see how problematic lesbianism as heterosexual male fantasy happens to be for all sorts of reasons, it is nonetheless interesting and undeniable that these gentleman of the last century (and the previous one as well) ended up being as influential in this regard as they were for the early- and mid-twentieth centuries in this area of the development of lesbian political and social consciousness…
Thus, I wonder if he could be entertained as a potential candidate for being considered a Sanctus. What do you think?
In the meantime, I have a poem of Louÿs that I’d like to share, which I felt had a certain Antinoan resonance, even though subject-wise it cannot have been about him. (It most likely refers to Phaethon.) The English translation is by Alvah C. Bessie, and (like the entire volume I’m reading) is done more in prose than in poetry. See what you think…
Torti-tortue, what are you doing there? –I am winding wool and I spin Milesian thread. –Alas! alas! WHy don’t you come and dance? –I am so sad. I am so sad.
Torti-tortue, what are you doing there? –I cut a reed to make a funeral pipe. –Alas! alas! And tell me what has happened. –I’ll never tell. Oh, I shall never tell.
Torti-tortue, what are you doing there? –I am crushing olives to make a funeral oil. –Alas! alas! And who has died, mayhap? –How can you ask? Oh, say, how can you ask?
Torti-tortue, what are you doing there? –He fell into the sea… –Alas! alas! and tell me how was that? –From his white horses’ backs. From his white horses’ backs.