Mar 14, 2014

Benito Cereno: Master and Slave Become Lovers

Speaking of beefcake covers on classic novels, check out this cover to the new edition of Benito Cereno (1855), by Herman Melville, the gay author of Moby-Dick and Billy Budd.

Plus there's a nice gay subtext:

Captain Delano of the ship Bachelor's Delight is approached by a mysterious semi-derelict ship, with both white sailors and slaves begging for supplies.  The captain, Benito Cereno, has an oddly physical relationship with his slave, Babo.    Gradually Delano comes to realize that the slaves have rebelled, killed most of the crew, and ordered Cereno to sail them back to Africa.  Babo, the leader of the rebellion, is tried and executed.

But it's not just a matter of a master becoming a slave.  After Babo's death, Cereno is disconsolate.  He falls into a deep depression and dies soon thereafter.  Their bond had become not only physical but emotional.  They were lovers.

The story was made into a French movie in 1969, with Ruy Guerra as Benito Cereno and Tamour Diop as Babo.

Another, The Enigma of Benito Cereno, is due in 2014; it makes Babo bisexual, with a female lover.

In 1964, Robert Lowell staged a one-act adaptation with four speaking parts: Captain Delano, his mate John Perkins, Benito Cereno and Babo.

It has been performed often, most recently with Rafael de Mussa as Benito Cereno and Jaymes Jorsling as Babo.