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The French aristocrat Denis Sanguin de Saint-Pavin, wrote and circulated in manuscript sophisticated and witty poems that celebrated sodomy, especially with male partners.

Saint-Pavin was born to Marie du Mesnil and Jacques II Sanguin, Lord of Livry, who served three terms as Prévot des marchands (mayor) of Paris (1606-1612). The Sanguins served both King and Church in many illustrious capacities and were related by marriage to such powerful families as the Séguier and de Thou.

During Saint-Pavin's years at the Jesuit College La Flèche, he met René Descartes and Jacques La Vallée Des Barreaux, the latter of whom would become Théophile de Viau's lover and, subsequently, Saint-Pavin's. Shortly after leaving La Flèche, Saint-Pavin acquired the first of a series of religious benefices as commendatory abbot.

He also took his place among the generation of 1620, as Antoine Adam called the group of young aristocrats and poets gathered around Théophile de Viau in Paris. Théophile, reflecting the libertine, Epicurean thinking of the Italian philosopher Giulio Vanini, stated "We should follow Nature's dictates; her Empire is pleasant and her laws are not strict." This notion informs many of Saint-Pavin's poems as well.

A consummate gentleman and libertine, Saint-Pavin spurned the important secular and sacred posts that his family connections might have afforded him and instead devoted his time to poetry and to friendships.

The following partial list of his friends includes several whose homosexual escapades appear in contemporary memoirs: the illustrious general Louis, Prince de Condé; the musician Jean Baptiste Lully; the playwright François le Metel Boisrobert; and the poet Des Barreaux. Saint-Pavin's intimate friendship with the last is confirmed both by records of the Paris Parliament as well as by contemporary letters.

Saint-Pavin frequented the salons of his great friend, Madame de Sévigné, and those of the Marquise de Rambouillet, Madame des Houlières, and Ninon de Lenclos as well. This sophisticated audience for Saint-Pavin's primarily occasional, epigrammatic verse would have appreciated both its sly interweaving of literary allusions and its fundamental understanding of human psychology and social dynamics.

In the largest body of his verse, the gallant sonnets, Saint-Pavin explores the dynamics of heterosexual love by playing with and against traditional themes and tropes. The libertine sonnets and epigrams, however, though displaying similar textual strategies, posit the superiority of sodomy, especially with male partners.

The self-portrait that emerges from his work is that of a man who was acutely self-conscious and fully cognizant of his own homosexual identity. Only one untitled lyric poem and three verse letters discuss homosexual love and desire with a serious tone; more typically, Saint-Pavin treats this topic with a brittle wit calculated to provoke a male coterie audience to laughter.

In the epigrams of Martial, he finds topoi and structures that he seasons with contemporary elements. His brilliantly crafted poems reflect an aesthetics and sense of community not often recognized as part of the age of grandeur.

The following poem, "Cher Tircis tu tiens bonne table," with its sly wit and urbanity, is an excellent example of Saint-Pavin's conflation of social values and physical pleasure:

Dear Tircis, what a host you are!
The groaning board, the wine beyond compare!
But even better than all that
is the manner of your invitation. That
little messenger, this morning,
while performing his office,
calling me to the feast,
was such a delight!
Again and again, concoct for me such banquets,
Tircis. Or, by that same messenger,
just send a note and tell me not to come.

Both Saint-Pavin's lifestyle and his libertine verse won him the sobriquet, King of Sodom. Yet even in an age when many less flagrant sodomites were burnt at the stake, his rank and social connections guaranteed his safety. The audacity of his libertine poems was made palatable by their urbane language, literary sophistication, and finesse. Indeed, in 1668, Louis XIV appointed Saint-Pavin his honorary chaplain and advisor.

Since Saint-Pavin's status as gentleman precluded his publishing, his poetry circulated in manuscript. Although disparate manuscript collections contain examples of Saint-Pavin's verse, the most complete collection is that compiled by Valentin Conrart, held at the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal in Paris.

Saint-Pavin's gallant and occasional poems have been frequently anthologized since 1652, but the most frankly libertine poems were only first published in a separate, limited edition in 1911 by Frédéric Lachèvre. A decade later, Félix Gaiffe cited several sonnets about Louis XIV and his brother "Monsieur" (Phillipe of Orleans), the leading homosexual of the day, noting only their urbane sophistication, not their author.

In 1934, Louis Perceau reproduced fifty-nine "vers libres" according to their sequence in the Conrart manuscripts. Although this volume remains the major published source of Saint-Pavin's erotic poems, Perceau, like more recent editors of erotica, omits any discussion of the literary merit of the works.

Widely acknowledged as the last master of the French sonnet by literary critics, Saint-Pavin is representative of the age and class in which he flourished. His intellectual, witty verse, arguing for enjoying love and physical pleasure while satisfying those of the mind, plays on the eternal complexities of the social environment. Mirroring a specific moment in time as well as an unchanging human condition, his accessible poems continue to delight while they also express a particular homosexual sensibility.

Citation Information
Author: Collins-Clark, Kathleen
Entry Title: Saint-Pavin, Denis Sanguin de
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated January 2, 2003
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/saintpavin_ds.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date April 8, 2012
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present by Lillian Faderman
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (June 17, 1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0688133304
ISBN-13: 978-0688133306
Amazon: Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present

This classic cultural history draws on a rich variety of sources - from the writings of Casanova and Henry James to Ladies Home Journal and Adrienne Rich, along with trial records, love letters, pornography and more to explore 500 years of friendship and love between women. Lillian Faderman sheds new light on shifting theories of female sexuality and the changing status of women over the centuries. Surpassing the Love of Men demonstrates how nascent feminist values have always played a role in women's passions for one another and in men's reactions to them, from revulsion to ridicule to admiration.

Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton
Paperback: 648 pages
Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (October 31, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0674022335
ISBN-13: 978-0674022331
Amazon: Homosexuality and Civilization

How have major civilizations of the last two millennia treated people who were attracted to their own sex? In a narrative tour de force, Louis Crompton chronicles the lives and achievements of homosexual men and women alongside a darker history of persecution, as he compares the Christian West with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Arab Spain, imperial China, and pre-Meiji Japan.

Ancient Greek culture celebrated same-sex love in history, literature, and art, making high claims for its moral influence. By contrast, Jewish religious leaders in the sixth century B.C.E. branded male homosexuality as a capital offense and, later, blamed it for the destruction of the biblical city of Sodom. When these two traditions collided in Christian Rome during the late empire, the tragic repercussions were felt throughout Europe and the New World.

Louis Crompton traces Church-inspired mutilation, torture, and burning of "sodomites" in sixth-century Byzantium, medieval France, Renaissance Italy, and in Spain under the Inquisition. But Protestant authorities were equally committed to the execution of homosexuals in the Netherlands, Calvin's Geneva, and Georgian England. The root cause was religious superstition, abetted by political ambition and sheer greed. Yet from this cauldron of fears and desires, homoerotic themes surfaced in the art of the Renaissance masters--Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Sodoma, Cellini, and Caravaggio--often intertwined with Christian motifs. Homosexuality also flourished in the court intrigues of Henry III of France, Queen Christina of Sweden, James I and William III of England, Queen Anne, and Frederick the Great.

Anti-homosexual atrocities committed in the West contrast starkly with the more tolerant traditions of pre-modern China and Japan, as revealed in poetry, fiction, and art and in the lives of emperors, shoguns, Buddhist priests, scholars, and actors. In the samurai tradition of Japan, Crompton makes clear, the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greece.

Sweeping in scope, elegantly crafted, and lavishly illustrated, Homosexuality and Civilization is a stunning exploration of a rich and terrible past.

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