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literature

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The Bible  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  

Donatello's statue significantly depicts on Goliath's helmet a scene of the Triumph of Love, the helmet's plume rising erotically up the inside of the naked boy's thigh toward his buttocks, suggesting iconographically that Goliath was killed by his desire for the beautiful boy.

Similarly, several writers who examine the reason for King Saul's obsessive persecution of young David conclude that David is so beautiful he leaves the older man sick with love. In both André Gide's Saul (1896) and Michael Mason's story of the same title (reprinted in Stephen Wright's anthology, Different, 1974), sexual frustration and fear of his own homosexual longing are responsible for Saul's alternating feelings of love and hate for the boy.

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And though Herman Melville allows the title character in Clarel (1876) to wonder about the possibility of enjoying a bond such "as David sings in strain / That dirges beauteous Jonathan, / Passing the love of woman fond," he suggests in Billy Budd (written in 1891), that Claggart's jealousy of Billy's "significant personal beauty" partook "of that streak of apprehensive jealousy that marred Saul's visage perturbedly brooding on the comely young David," thus raising the possibility that Claggart's designs on Billy are sexual.

But the most famous--and influential--of David's relationships is that with Jonathan. The legendary friendship between the two necessitated their inclusion--along with Damon and Pythias, Hercules and Hylas, Achilles and Patroclus, and Pylades and Orestes--on every list of male couples whose relationship is to be exalted. But as Cowley's praise of the friendship between David and Jonathan in the extraordinary "digression concerning the nature of Love" in Davideis suggests, it is difficult to specify the nature of the passion that animated that friendship.

Poetic renderings of David's lament for Jonathan seem particularly suited for expressing homoerotics under the guise of imitating the biblical praise of friendship. Thus, Peter Abelard (1079-1142) could extend the biblical verses to 110 lines in which grief-stricken David protests "to outlive you / Is to die at every moment: Half a soul is not / Enough for life" (trans. Thomas Stehling), without risking ecclesiastical censure, while German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) could write a highly eroticized "Klage um Jonathan" ("Lament for Jonathan").

In David: A Play (1926), D. H. Lawrence uses the biblical relationship to signal the erotically charged but supposedly nongenital "blood-brothership" he hoped to share with another man. But in Giovanni's Room (1956) James Baldwin uses the biblical relationship as a foil to the failed homosexual love relationship between David, an uptight American who cannot accept his homosexuality, and Giovanni (Italian for Jonathan), the younger man whose loss David must spend the remainder of his life lamenting. A verse from 2 Samuel 1 provides an ironic text for the chaplain's sermon in Michael Campbell's tragicomic portrait of boarding school love, Lord Dismiss Us (1967).

So provocative are the details of the Bible's description of David's relationship with Jonathan that allusion to it becomes a discreet way of suggesting homosexuality in a literary climate inhospitable to more explicit assertion. At his trial, Oscar Wilde described "the love that dare not speak its name" as "the noblest form of affection" that can exist between two men. "There is nothing unnatural about it," he asserted. "It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him." One example that he gives for such a love is the relationship of David and Jonathan.

Likewise, in "Twin Love" (1871) Bayard Taylor suggestively names the two boys who are "as unhappy as separated lovers" when living apart David and Jonathan. (Taylor's earlier collection of poems, Poet's Journal [1862], describes a relationship between two brothers likewise called David and Jonathan.)

In Theodore Winthrop's Cecil Dreeme (1861), narrator Robert Byng consciously evokes the Bible's description of David's love for Jonathan when he says of his relationship with the title character: "His friendship I deemed more precious than the love of women," and "him I love with a love passing the love of women." (Since Cecil is revealed finally to be a woman in disguise, such statements are ironic. Winthrop is able to raise the specter of homosexuality but lay it to rest without offending his more conservative readers.)

Ralph Waldo Emerson submerged his homoerotic attraction to Marvin Gay by creating in his journal the fiction of an author named "Froedmer" and a play called The Friends, which contains pointed allusions to love passing the love of women. Arna Bontemps's auditors presumably did not fail to understand what was intended by his description of poet Countee Cullen and Harlem schoolteacher Harold Jackson as the "Jonathan and David of the Harlem Renaissance." E. M. Forster alludes to the homosexual possibilities of Philip and Gino's relationship in Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) by suggesting that they might "become as David and Jonathan." And William Faulkner is able to suggest the homoerotic attraction of Charles Bon for Henry Sutpen by framing Absalom, Absalom! (1936) with the biblical narrative.

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