In 1468, on the final night of Carnival in Rome, Pope Paul II sat enthroned above the boisterous crowd, when a scuffle caught his eye. His guards had intercepted a mysterious stranger trying urgently to convey a warning—conspirators were lying in wait to slay the pontiff. Twenty humanist intellectuals were quickly arrested, tortured on the rack, and imprisoned in separate cells in the damp dungeon of Castel Sant’Angelo.
Anthony D’Elia offers a compelling, surprising story that reveals a Renaissance world that witnessed the rebirth of interest in the classics, a thriving homoerotic culture, the clash of Christian and pagan values, the contest between republicanism and a papal monarchy, and tensions separating Christian Europeans and Muslim Turks. Using newly discovered sources, he shows why the pope targeted the humanists, who were seen as dangerously pagan in their Epicurean morals and their Platonic beliefs about the soul and insurrectionist in their support of a more democratic Church. Their fascination with Sultan Mehmed II connected them to the Ottoman Turks, enemies of Christendom, and the love of the classical world tied them to recent rebellious attempts to replace papal rule with a republic harking back to the glorious days of Roman antiquity.
From the cosmetic-wearing, parrot-loving pontiff to the Turkish sultan, savage in war but obsessed with Italian culture, D’Elia brings to life a Renaissance world full of pageantry, mayhem, and conspiracy and offers a fresh interpretation of humanism as a dynamic communal movement.
A work of outstanding scholarship presented in a taut yet lively narrative. D'Elia brings to life the vibrant, cruel, and glitteringly public city of Renaissance Rome. A splendid achievement.
Although there is no conclusive evidence that a conspiracy to murder Paul II was afoot on the eve of Lent 1468, D'Elia painstakingly establishes the plausibility of such a conspiracy by deftly employing an array of distinct but related causes and showing how they could easily coalesce to bring down the Barbo pontificate. And in doing this he paints a portrait of mid 15th-century Rome that is illuminating and serves as a corrective to those who hold the jaundiced and indefensible view that the papacy is constitutionally irreformable and that things have never been worse in Rome than they are now.
D'Elia deserves a medal for producing such a satisfying study...Sex, papal politics, the excesses of carnival in Renaissance Rome, Christendom confronting the Ottoman empire, scholars joyfully and dangerously dreaming about the glories of ancient Greece: one couldn't really ask for anything more.
[A] commendable reconstruction of a Renaissance mystery.
- 256 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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