This handsome fellow is Saint Genesius of Rome.
He is the patron saint of:
* comedians and comediennes
* stand-up comics
* torture victims
His story’s pretty interesting.
He was born either in Arles or the eastern fringes of the Roman empire to a lower class or perhaps even servile family. He rose to a position of modest success and wealth on the stage, to the point that he regularly performed for the amusement of the emperor Diocletian who was quite the theater buff.
The ars dramatica had fallen a long way since the days of Sophokles and Plautus; mostly it consisted of crude farces that the audience grudgingly sat through waiting for a nubile dancing girl to take the stage, shimmy out of her clothing and simulate a sex act. (And if they were really lucky, it wouldn’t be simulated at all!) Part of why Genesius’ troupe was so popular with the emperor was that most of their mimes lampooned Christianity.
One day Genesius is performing a skit in which he’s a man on his deathbed about to receive the sacrament of baptism. He’s in the middle of reciting his lines when all of a sudden he just stops, stares vacantly for a while (making his fellow actors more than a little concerned) and then finally comes back to himself and begins relaying what he saw: a pair of angels who descended from heaven in blinding glory with a book full of his sins written in blood. He begs for forgiveness and the angels then proceed to baptize him in the spirit so that he can become a true Christian. A fine example of the maxim, “Be careful what you pretend to be or you may just become it,” if ever there was one.
Having had his entertainment ruined Diocletian gets royally pissed and hands the actor over to Plautia, his prefect praetorian, who tortures Genesius in an effort to force him to renounce Jesus. Because this is hagiography Genesius endures increasingly horrifying and improbable punishments before finally being killed.
So … want to take one guess as to how he was martyred?
Ding! Ding! Ding! Give that (wo)man a prize.
That’s right. Decapitation.
(Here’s a gory picture of it if you’re interested.)
So, the patron saint of comedians had his head cut off. Because of course he did. I mean, the whole reason I got interested in the commedia dell’arte, holy fool stuff and Harlequin is because of all the stuff with severed heads that Spider was showing me and likewise my interest in Italian folk Catholicism began with her and Tarantism. And here again the two intersect.
It also amuses me that poor Genesius is one of the doubtful saints. In that it’s doubtful he ever existed. But that’s true of all the best saints such as Ursula the little bear with her 11,000 companions, Philomena who continued to work miracles even after it was discovered she had only ever been a badly translated inscription, Saint Christopher the Dog Head (not to be confused with Saint Guinefort who was an actual dog that was sanctified) and my personal favorite, Saint Margaret the Virgin who put in a memorable appearance in Radley Metzger’s Lickerish Quartet.
All the best people are artificial so I certainly won’t hold that against him.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” — Oscar Wilde