Joseph Péladan was born in Lyons, in 1858, into a milieu obsessed with occultism…In 1884 Péladan imposed himself on the Parisian public by publishing Le Vice Supreme, a fantastic mystico-erotic novel in which poetry alternates with a no less studied prose: ‘Faithful to your monstrous vice, O daughter of da Vinci, corrupting Muse of the aesthetics of evil, your smile may fade from the canvas, but it is engraved for ever in my heart.’
Péladan, who changed his name from Joseph to Joséphin, described himself as ‘the sandwich-man of the Beyond,’ exhumed a mystical society founded in Germany in the late Middle Ages, declared himself its leader, and crowned himself Sar Merodac, a title which enabled him to dress himself up in a costume reminiscent of Lohengrin and Nebuchadnezzar. He was a dark, handsome man, with bushy hair and a bushy beard, ready to swallow — and utter — all sorts of nonsense. In the despairing Paris of his day, which he convinced of its decadence, Barbey d’Aurevilly sang his praises, and young men such as Jean Lorrain and d’Annunzio copied him… Péladan obtained immediate fame, drawing on two sources from which all those who were disgusted with materialism would drink: occultism and aestheticism. His books came out in rapid succession, under the general title La Decadence Latine.