Part One provided some background on the two opposing sides: the "Heathen-Minded Humanists" of the Academy, who "despised the Christian religion and passionately inveighed against its adherents," versus the Pope and other representatives of "the genuine and noble Renaissance, which had grown up on Christian principles, and, while embracing classical studies with enthusiasm, had made them subordinate and subservient to Christian aims and ideas." The words in quotes are all from Ludwig von Pastor's "History of the Popes" (which ran to 16 volumes published between 1886 and 1930).
Part Two went into more detail about the unfolding of the "Crisis of 1468", as it is often called. The executive summary is that the Pope had the Heathens arrested on the trumped up charge of plotting to assassinate His Holiness (with the end goals of both the rebirth of the Roman Republic and the revival of Roman Paganism). I then jumped to Part Four, because I wished, at least for a while, to pass over the unhappy tale of our heroes' incarceration, and instead to move directly to the far more pleasant subject of the discoveries made by Giovanni Battista de Rossi (starting in 1852) of inscriptions that were found deep in the catacombs of the city of Rome. These were made by the Sodomite Republican Pagans in question after their release and exoneration, and they serve to demonstrate that the Heathenism of the Academicians went far beyond either delusional paranoia on the part of their accusers, or mere antiquarian affectation on the part of the accused. And Part Five told the story of the other Roman Academy and its illustrious ringleader, Cardinal Bessarion, in order to help provide a somewhat broader context concerning the "Heathen-Minded" Academies, plural, in Renaissance Italy.
It still remains to tell the middle part of the story, Part Three, for I can no longer put off dealing with the ill-treatment of the imprisoned Pagans. To that end I now turn to a modern, 21st century, source: Anthony F. D’Elia's 2009 A Sudden Terror: The Plot to Murder the Pope in Renaissance Rome. First, though, I think we should refresh our memories about the material already covered so far, or at least revisit those events from the perspective of Anthony F. D'Elia, who provides the following very lively account of how it all went down in 1468 in the following three excerpts:
But just how did these men of letters intend to carry out their grandiose plan to return Italy to its glorious Pagan Republican Sodomite past? Surely they must have powerful allies - but who? Among those who were mentioned as possible supporters of the Conspiracy were the King of Naples, the King of France and the Ottoman Turks. But was there any evidence to connect the accused to such illustrious confederates? In the end, nothing could be produced to substantiate anything of the sort (and moreover, the Christian princes named as unindicted co-conspirators loudly protested their innocence). Many other questions about the supposed plot, from the details of its planned execution to its ultimate motives and goals, were similarly without clear answers.excerpt 1. [from pages 1-2 of D'Elia 2009]
The year was 1468. On Fat Tuesday, the last and most extravagant night of carnival in Rome, Pope Paul II sat attentively watching the races from his throne high above the boisterous crowd, when suddenly a scuffle broke out. The papal guards had stopped someone who was loudly insisting on speaking with the pope urgently about a matter of life and death. The man, his beard and dark eyes barely discernible under his hood, was dressed like a philosopher. Seeing that had captured the pope's attention, the "philosopher" broke free of the guards and intoned: "Holy Father! You are in great danger!" The pope sat up, leaned forward, and beckoned the stranger to approach and explain. What he heard made him tremble and turn pale
The cloaked informant asserted that an organized gang of miscreants was circulating in the crowd, not with the intent of cutting the purses of hapless revelers, but with a far more sinister aim: to murder the pope. An army of four hundred to five hundred criminals, he said, lay hidden in the ancient Roman ruins next to the pope's family palace. There, they awaited the signal to rise up, overwhelm the papal guard, and kill the pontiff. The conspirators planned to overthrow papal rule and destroy the power of the priests. After issuing his warning, the stranger gave no further details that we know of, but slipped away. A sudden terror came over the pope. As he looked down at the crowds of drunken revelers, he saw assassins everywhere. The masks and grotesque faces now seemed malignant and menacing. Paul was convinced that his life was in danger.
excerpt 2. [fr0m pages 3-6 of D'Elia 2009]
Carnival ushered in a week of merriment and unbridled pleasure, the last gasp for gluttony and excess before the forty lean days of Lent, when everyone [by law] had to fast in preparation for Easter. Before Paul ascended the papal throne, carnival in Rome had consisted of little more than some bull fighting and subdued revelry on the outskirts of the city. This pope changed all that. He turned the Roman carnival into a real party. He hosted sumptuous banquets for civic magistrates and citizens, at which delicate fish, choice meat, and many kinds of wine were served. After each feast he showered coins on the crowds outside his window, to demonstrate his benevolence toward the Roman people. Like other Renaissance cities, Rome used primarily the florin as currency, for the Medici bank in Florence had a virtual monopoly over European finance in the fifteenth century. Each year from 1468 through 1470 Paul spent between 329 and 376 florins on carnival banquets and other acts of liberality.
To give some notion of the scale of the outlay, some comparisons will be helpful. In 1449 a slave wet nurse could be hired for seventeen florins a year. The Venetian artist Titian paid assistants in his work- shop four florins a month in 1514. An apprentice banker lived on twenty florins a year, and a school teacher in early sixteenth-century Rome made twenty-five to thirty florins a year. Paul’s expenditure of hundreds of florins on carnival celebrations was, therefore, extrava- gant. The purpose of such elaborate festivities was to win over the Roman people, as Paul made clear in two medals he issued for carnival. On one medal was inscribed, “A public banquet for the Roman peo- ple,” and on the other, “Public joy.” He did his utmost to make himself beloved by the Roman citizens and members of the papal government.
Paul II encouraged everyone to participate in the carnival celebrations. Gem-studded swords at their sides, cardinals in full military regalia rode on horseback through the streets, accompanied by an elaborate retinue. The cardinals’ palaces were converted into casinos. The nephew of the future Pope Innocent VIII lost fourteen thousand florins to Cardinal Riario at one sitting. Such a fortune could have bought eight palaces in Florence at the time. The Roman diarist Stefano Infessura was aghast at the cardinals’ behavior: “This year at carnival all the cardinals rode on sumptuous triumphal floats, accom- panied by trumpeters on horseback, and sent masked revelers through the city to the homes of other cardinals, accompanied by boys who sang and recited lascivious and pleasing verses and by clowns, actors, and others, dressed not in wool or linen, but in silk and gold and silver brocade. A great deal of money has been spent, and the mercy of God has been converted into luxury and the work of the Devil. There is no one who is not shocked by this.” Extravagance, especially during carnival, was a hallmark of Paul’s papacy.
A major feature of the entertainment he offered to the citizens consisted of the public humiliation of those living on the margins of Roman society. For the carnival celebrations of 1468 the pope sponsored eight races. First the Jews ran, then the prostitutes, the elderly, children, hunchbacks, dwarves, and finally donkeys and oxen. They had all been forced to take part in the contest; the jeers of the crowd, the lashing and cudgeling, the pelting with rocks, drove the runners through the awful gauntlet, down the slippery, torchlit cobblestone streets. Many of these wretches stumbled and fell to the ground, bruised and filthy. The sight elicited such mirth “that people could not stay on their feet but collapsed, breathless and exhausted.” Pope Paul II, having taken pains to move carnival to the center of Rome and greatly ex- pand the races, enjoyed watching the suffering and humiliation of these helpless contestants. It was his idea to force the Jews of Rome, among others, to run, and he personally gave a gold coin to the winner of each race. Before Paul’s pontificate, Jews had been forbidden to participate in the celebrations, but they were nevertheless compelled to pay a special tax to fund the festivities. Paul is often rightly seen as anti-Semitic. He did, however, lower the tax exacted from 1,230 florins to 555. By forcing the Jews to run in the races, Paul also provided the Roman people with an outlet for their aggression, by promoting a safe enemy, a scapegoat against which the Christian majority could bond together. Later in the sixteenth century, after the Jews had been isolated in ghettos, carnival became an especially dangerous time for Jews, almost as bad as Easter, when, in order to protect them from Christian rage, the authorities forbade them to leave the ghetto. Many Romans, some powerful, some powerless, had a motive to kill this eccentric and arrogant man.
excerpt 3. [from pages 9-11 of D'Elia 2009]
Pomponio Leto, Bartolomeo Platina, and Filippo Buonaccorsi (Callimachus) were singled out as the leaders of the conspiracy. They were the best of friends. With their classical knowledge and dedication to learning, they had much in common. In his popular cookbook Platina represents them joking merrily with each other, leaning over a bubbling pot of soup to be served at a dinner party. It was their friendship, perhaps, that attracted them to the teachings of the philosopher Epicurus, for whom the absence of pain was, along with a community of friends, the highest pleasure. But for the humanists the joys of social life included the sexual. Callimachus, a Tuscan who, like other humanists, had come to Rome to serve as secretary to a cardinal, wrote love poetry to younger members of the academy. He praised their beardless youthful beauty and described the pleasures of their embrace. Pomponio, the beloved mentor and head of the academy was similarly inclined. At the time of the conspiracy, he was under arrest in Venice on a charge of sodomy stemming from the love poetry he had written about two youths, students in his care. Back in Rome it was alleged that "unnatural" vice had driven the humanists to murder the pope.
Pomponio was a professor of rhetoric at the University of Rome who was known for his pagan beliefs and devotion to the genius of ancient Rome. At a time when everyone in Europe, apart from the oppressed minority of Jews and Muslims, was a Roman Catholic, the assertion that the humanists were pagans had serious repercussions [note that D'Elia has already previously mentioned the fact that "Among their many scandalous behaviors they performed secret pagan rites and mock religious ceremonies at which Pomponio was called Pontifex Maximus..." p. 7]. Pomponio tried to defend himself, but without success, especially after it came out that he had not fasted -- indeed, had even eaten meat -- during the forty days of Lent. Platina, who would later write a damning life of Pope Paul II, worked for Cardinal Gonzaga and had extensive contact with church government. He had started life as a mercenary and had served in two armies for four years before finding his true passion in classical literature. His love of Plato's philosophy was cited as clear evidence of pagan leanings.
The humanists had been suspected of harboring ill will toward the pope for some time before the mysterious philosopher’s revelation on Fat Tuesday. Platina had already been imprisoned once three years earlier for challenging the pope’s autocratic rule and for threatening to call a church council to depose him. Callimachus, who was overly fond of drink, often attacked the clergy in his drunken diatribes, and he had recently handed out fliers predicting the imminent death of the pope. An anonymous astrologer had similarly foretold that the pope would become ill and die within days. By some bizarre coincidence, Paul II was in fact seized shortly thereafter by a violent chill. Like most people of his time, Pope Paul took astrology very seriously.
The appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1456 prompted all manner of astrological predictions and calls for prayer to ward off the ill fortune that the flaming ball of fire might portend. With their expert knowledge of the stars and admittedly outlandish ideas about the movement of planets, astrologers were the necessary forerunners of modern astronomers. Most universities, in fact, had chairs of astrology until quite recently. The Church never regarded astrology and magic as nonsense, as modern skeptics do. These were deceptive sciences, effectual but demonic, for they tried to manipulate Nature for personal gain to reveal its secrets. Astrologers claimed to divulge knowledge that only God possessed; their belief that stars determined character threw into question the Christian doctrine of free will. The Magisterium of Mother Church alone could pronounce on the proper use of magic and had a monopoly on all things spiritual. Portents, horoscopes, witchcraft, and magical spells were taken very seriously in this world, where the reasons for even the simplest changes in weather were unfathomable.
Of course, the Holy Father had lost no time seeing to it that the conspirators were thoroughly and frequently tortured, and this naturally yielded results. But the stories that were extracted under torture were inconsistent with each other, as is so often the case, due to their being obvious fabrications produced only to satisfy the torturers.
Having arrested and savagely tortured many of the most distinguished, and well connected, intellectuals of Western Christendom, Paul II now found it difficult to justify his actions. No one dared, at least openly, to directly contradict the Pope. But even the most discrete and diplomatic inquiries about the affair proved to be an embarrassment. Now let us return to Dr. Ludwig von Pastor's narrative (here's a link to the full text at OpenLibrary.Org):
Pastor then gives us his own summary of the Milanese Ambassadors' notes, and the first several paragraphs of that summation (on pages 50-51) were already excerpted in Part Two of this series of posts. This goes on for several pages, and the interested reader is strongly encouraged to go to the full text, linked to above, and read the gory details for yourself. The executive summary is that while there was little room for doubt concerning the Academicians' hatred of Christianity and Papal authority in particular, or their love of all things Pagan and Roman Republicanism in particular, or their unbridled libertinage and their penchant for homoeroticism in particular, still there was no solid evidence to support the main charge of treasonous conspiracy.It was not easy for the Ambassadors of the [Italian] League, who were then in Rome, to obtain really authentic information regarding the events which had just taken place there, for the most varied and fantastic accounts were circulated. Many different statements were made as to the day fixed upon for carrying the plot into effect. Some said that Paul II was to have been murdered on Ash-Wednesday, at the Papal Mass, others that the crime was to have been perpetrated on Carnival Sunday, when all the people, and even the Papal Guards, would have gone to Monte Testaccio for the accustomed festivities. Others again declared Palm Sunday to be the day selected. It was further reported that the conspirators had, with a view to the accomplishment of their purpose, associated with themselves Luca de Tocio, who was a member of the Council at the Court of Ferrante I at Naples. This man was believed to be in league with other banished persons. Four or five hundred of them were to enter the city secretly, and to hide themselves in the ruins of the houses which had been pulled down in order to enlarge the Papal Palace. On the other side, forty or fifty partisans were to join the conspirators, and begin an attack on the attendants of the Cardinals and Prelates, who would be waiting in the Square in front of the Palace. By this means the Pope's small Guard would be occupied, and the conflict was to serve as a signal to the hidden outlaws, who would then make their way into the Church and murder the Pope and those about him. General pillage was to ensue, and Luca de Tocio was to establish a new Constitution. Even more alarming than the plot itself was the reported extent of its ramifications. The King of Naples was accused of taking part in it, and some were of the opinion that the King of France was also engaged, while others declared that Sigismondo Malatesta to be one of the conspirators. These varied accounts led the Ambassadors of the League to seek from the Pope himself more accurate information, and, at the same time, to express their sympathy and offer assistance on behalf of their several masters. An account of the Audience was drawn up by the Milanese Ambassadors personally, and in duplicate.
In the end, the Duke of Milan's Ambassador, Johannes Blanchus, concluded that, "Regarding the Conspiracy against the Pope's person, enquiries have been most carefully made, but as yet nothing has been discovered but some blustering talk." [Pastor, p. 58]
In the next installment (I have managed to split Part Three into two sub-parts!) we will return to D'Elia's narrative, which could prove quite interesting due to the fact that D'Elia is of the opinion that in addition to be Pagans, Republicans, and Sodomites, the Heathen-Minded Humanists really did conspire to murder the Pope!!