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The Bible  
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Likewise, Frederick Rolfe, the self-styled Baron Corvo (1860-1913), cited the Bible's description of David as the statement of his erotic ideal: "a large boy of sixteen to eighteen years clothed with 'most lovely pads of muscular sweet flesh,' whose skin was of a 'rosy satin fineness and softness.' Such a boy was at his prime before 'some great fat slow cow of a girl' had an opportunity to 'open herself wide and lie quite still & drain him dry,' before he had got 'hard and hairy' with a moustache, 'brushes in his milky armpits' and 'brooms on his splendid young thighs.'"

Rolfe's ideal approaches that of the Greek ephebe, and David--to judge from how he was frequently represented in Renaissance art--was the primary biblical justification for the Christian artist's sculpturally reclaiming that figure. Two statues in particular have seized the gay imagination.

Donatello's bronze David (around 1430-1440) might have modeled for Rolfe's fantasy; indeed, in "The Giant on Giant-Killing" (Fellow Feelings, 1976), Richard Howard pays "Homage to the bronze David of Donatello," asserting that the legendary giant was felled not by the stones launched from the boy's slingshot, but by the sight of his magnificent beauty ("No need for a stone! My eyes / were my only enemy"); any adult male viewer of Donatello's rendering of post-pubescent male beauty risks, by extension, suffering the same fate.

Even more significant has been Michelangelo's seventeen-foot tall sculpture of David in white marble (executed 1501-1504), epic in proportion yet incandescent in hue. As Harold Norse notes in "Meditations of the Guard at the Belle Arti Academy" (Carniverous Saint, 1977), the statue is "read" differently by gay viewers than by heterosexual ones.

In his "Unfinished Sculpture" (The Young Sailor and Other Poems, 1986), Luis Cernuda tries to imagine the relationship that existed between Michelangelo and his model that resulted in David's features being so lovingly drawn; the creation of the statue, the poem suggests, must have involved the model-speaker's being called to life in a love relationship with the sculptor simultaneous with the statue's form emerging from the block of stone.

So powerful is Michelangelo's image, in fact, that it has become the Western world's most pervasive symbol of male beauty and one of the staples of gay popular culture. Art critic Michael Bronski's recollection of the reproductions of Michelangelo's David that were displayed in many gay men's homes in the 1950s suggests how completely the image has been claimed by the gay community. "The Davids [sic] were not just erotically pleasing pieces of inexpensive art," he writes; "they were also signals to visitors in the know that the homeowners were homosexual, functioning as a kind of aesthetic morse code of sexual identity." That code operates even more effectively when signaling an invitation to engage in male eros.

In Alan Hollinghurst's Swimming-Pool Library (1988), the protagonist enters a theater whose front window had been "painted over white but with a stencil of Michelangelo's David stuck in the middle," an indication that homosexual activity was allowed on the premises; and, at one point in the late 1970s, Manhattan's David Cinema, a pornographic movie house, screened a film titled Michael, Angelo and David.

So completely has the gay community identified with the erotic element of Michelangelo's David that its image was used to market a brand of amyl nitrate in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and verbal reference to the statue has served as effective a purpose as its visual reproduction. Writing of his first visit to post-war Italy, for example, Tennessee Williams assessed the local "talent" for a friend in the United States, noting that "I have not been to bed with [Michelangelo's] David but with any number of his more delicate creations."

Richard Howard's intimation that Goliath was defeated, not by David's tactical prowess, but by the sight of his beauty represents a second major use of the David narrative in gay literature: as a means of exploring the psychology of homosexual relations. Three relations in particular--with Goliath, with Saul, and with Jonathan--have invited scrutiny.

The Bible's emphasis on the visual element in Goliath's encounter with David--"And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was a youth and ruddy, and of fair countenance" (1 Sam. 17:42)--led Drayton to describe how David's locks of hair, tossed by the breeze, "did with such pleasure move, / As they had been provocative for love" ("David and Goliath," 713-714). In Davideis (1656), Abraham Cowley summarizes the visual transaction with the curt but expressive "as he [Goliath] saw, he lov'd" (2:28-41).

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