Image of two men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

For All Time

The Gay Love Letters of Paulinus of Nola to Ausonius

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

Paulinus of Nola, stained-glass window

Saint Paulinus (c. 353431) came from a wealthy family of Bordeaux, where he was a student of Ausonius (c. 310–c. 394), a teacher of rhetoric in Bordeaux from 334 to 364. Ausonius (c. 310–c. 394): is said to have possessed in his library a collection of homosexual literature which shocked even the Romans (unfortunately these works have never been identified). He is best noted for having translated a famous Greek riddle posing the question how three men could engage in four sexual positions. (The answer is: The one in the middle both gives and receives). Paulinus went to live near Barcelona, and later lived in Italy where he became bishop of Nola in 409. Ausonius retired to Bordeaux in 383, and in a letter to Paulinus imagines his friend travelling from Barcelona to Bordeaux, summoned by Ausonius' prayers: "Hurry while you are still a youth and while my old age, to please you, preserves its strength undrained." Paulinus replied from Barcelona that they would never be separated in spirit.


[c. 385]

You and me: for all time which is given
And destined to mortal men,
For as long as I am held in this confining, limping body,
No matter how far I am separated from you in the world,
You will be neither distant from me nor far from my eyes:
I will hold you, intermingled in my very sinews.
I will see you in my heart and with a loving spirit embrace you;
You will be with me everywhere.
And when released from this bodily prison
I fly from earth
To the spot in heaven where our universal Father places me,
There too I will keep you in my spirit;
Nor will the end which frees me from my body
Release me from your love.
For the mind, once it has survived loss of limbs,
Continues to grow out of its heavenly root,
And therefore must keep both its understanding and affections
Along with its life.
And just as it experiences no death, it will experience no loss of memory
But remain forever alive, forever mindful.
            Farewell noble master.



[c. 390 AD]

Come quickly, our glory, my greatest care,
Summoned by vows, by good omens, and by prayers.
Hurry while you are still a youth and while my old age,
To please you, preserves its strength undrained.
Will this message ever strike my ears?
"Look, your Paulinus is here: already he leaves the snowy
Towns of Spain, already reaches the fields of Tarbella,
Already approaches the houses of Hebromagus; now he enters
His brother's estates near here, now glides down the river's current,
And now he is in sight: even now his prow is turned on the stream.
And after coming through the crowded entrance of his own port,
He goes past the whole crowd of people come to meet him
And passing by his own door now, now knocks at yours."
Do we believe this or do those who love create dreams for themselves?

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.
SOURCE: Trans. Thomas Stehling, Medieval Latin Poems of Male Love and Friendship (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984).

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