Jul 3, 2013

The Dandy and the Gay Cult: The Last Days of Pompeii

When I was a kid, my church didn't like anything "worldly," not even literature.  Novels were at best a waste of time, and more likely they would promote heresies like atheism, Catholicism, and witchcraft.

But they made an exception for historical dramas set in or around the time of Christ: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, The Robe, The Big Fisherman,  Barabbas, and even Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Last Days of Pompeii (1834).



Later I discovered that Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was gay, and a member of the Dandy movement, about well-sensitive, highly refined gentlemen who obsessed over fashion and grooming, swooned over opera arias, enjoyed hedonistic vices, and wrote poetry.  During last days of the Romantic Era (1770-1830) and the first days of the Victorian, "dandy" was code for "gay."

Most of the Dandys weren't great writers; in fact, Bulwer-Lytton gave his name to a contest every year to see who can write the worst opening for a novel.  I only got through a few pages of the purple-prosed Last Days of Pompeii. But apparently, if you slog through the romance between Roman citizen Glaucus and the "beautiful" Ione, you'll meet the evil Egyptian sorcerer Arbaces, who seduces and "destroys" Ione's brother Apaecides -- he sings a song of "love" and then leads him to "a curtain on the other side of the chamber."

Now Apaecides is a priest for the evil cult of Isis, which engages in all sorts of decadent activities.  Not to worry, he renounces Isis and converts to Christianity before Arbaces murders him.

At least the destruction of Pompeii is not caused by God's wrath against the sodomites.

There have been several film versions, mostly skipping the gay subplot.  In the 1959 peplum version, Glaucus (bodybuilder Steve Reeves) gets a gay subtext with his best friend Marcus (Mario Berriatua), but the character of Apaecides, renamed Antonius (Angel Aranda, left, from a Spanish movie) is insignificant.


In the 1984 tv miniseries, Nicholas Clay (left) plays Glaucus, Ernest Borgnine Marcus, and Benedict Taylor Antonius, in a minor plotline that gets him a girlfriend.  There's also a new hunk, the gladiator Lydon (Duncan Regehr, top photo, posing with phallic symbol).

See also: The Flowers of Evil