“… He said, Well, now I’ve seen Him! – and he meant God…”
In Ancient Greece there was a ritual known as the Dionysian Mysteries that involved drunken dancing and primal music to achieve a trance-like state until Dionysus possessed the worshippers. This ritual culminated in the rending (sparagmos) and consumption (omophagia) of live, raw flesh. The flesh was typically an animal sacrifice yet in Euripedes play The Bacchae the sacrifice was King Pentheus of Thebes; tricked by the God of Pleasure himself, Dionysus, based on Pentheus’ own temptations and desires. The parallel between Pentheus’ and Sebastian’s deaths is immediately apparent: both were victims of sparagmos and omophagia in a primal, ritualistic manner. However, Sebastian was more than victim in his demise, he was also a sacrifice “to a! – terrible sort of a-” god. Violet tells Dr. C of their experience in the Encantadas, where Sebastian claimed to see God in the cruel violence of nature as he watched predatory birds rip apart and eat baby sea turtles as they tried to flee to the sea. Sebastian became a sacrifice to the Dionysian god he spent his life searching for and claimed to see in the Encantadas and as a result he became a gay martyr.
In The Bacchae Dionysus appears in the kingdom of Thebes as a blond shaman driving the women of Thebes into religious frenzy. The king of Thebes, Pentheus, is Dionysus’ cousin, but he does not believe that Dionysus is a real god. Pentheus is concerned about the wild cult of women, the maenads, also known as the Bacchae, especially since his mother is one of the worshippers. However, Dionysus learns that Pentheus is more than just concerned; he has a lustful desire to see the maenads’ ritual. Dionysus preys on Pentheus’ desire and disguises Pentheus as a woman so he can witness the Dioysian Mysteries first hand. Dionysus then exacts his vengeance on the disbelieving Pentheus by throwing him to the primal Bacchae who tear him to pieces and consume his raw flesh in an orgiastic display of sparagmos and omophagia. It is Pentheus’ own mother who tears his head from his body. Pentheus, like Sebastian, was victim to his own forbidden sexual longing. However, Pentheus’ destruction was tied to his lack of faith in the god Dionysus whereas Sebastian’s destruction came from his fierce belief in a similar sort of god.
Sebastian lived his life in Dionysian splendor. He spent his days fully engaged in a variety of pleasures. He and his mother attended grand elaborate parties, such as the masked balls in Cannes and Venice. He surrounded himself with beautiful people, as Violet says to Dr. C: “wherever he was, here in New Orleans or New York or on the Riviera or in Paris and Venice, he always had a little entourage of the beautiful and the talented and the young!” Violet was unaware of his sexual indulgences, yet those too were part of his Dionysian lifestyle. Sebastian was also a devourer; he preyed on those beautiful people he surrounded himself with....