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A Sudden Terror: The Plot to Murder the Pope in Renaissance Rome
     

A Sudden Terror: The Plot to Murder the Pope in Renaissance Rome

by Anthony F. D
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Literary Review of Canada

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.
— Michael W. Higgins

Catholic Herald

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.
— Jonathan Wright

Booklist

[A] commendable reconstruction of a Renaissance mystery.
— Gilbert Taylor

Christopher S. Celenza
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.
Literary Review of Canada - Michael W. Higgins
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.
Catholic Herald - Jonathan Wright
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.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
[A] commendable reconstruction of a Renaissance mystery.
Library Journal
Not till his epilog does Renaissance historian D'Elia say that this book was inspired by his accidental encounter with letters that 15th-century Roman humanists wrote while imprisoned in the Castel Sant'Angelo for conspiracy to assassinate Pope Paul II. That explains a lot about the book. In 1668, informed of a plot against his life, Paul II rounded up the usual suspects, leading local humanists, and threw them in jail for a year where they exchanged Classically-inspired letters of apology, regret, and defiance. D'Elia details a half-century of prior challenges to the papacy that could make a pope uneasy. What D'Elia never explores is whether this particular plot existed or how it might have worked. Instead, the book considers the aspects of Roman humanism that bothered the church: homoeroticism, a taste for pre-Christian philosophy and flirtation with Islam. D'Elia closes with a numbing textual analysis of the letters that inspired his work. VERDICT Despite some interesting detail of the centuries-old love-hate relationship between the Romans and their pope, the book isn't for the general reader. It may have some interest for students of Roman humanism.—Stewart Desmond, New York

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674061811
Publisher:
Harvard
Publication date:
09/30/2011
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

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What People are Saying About This

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.
Christopher S. Celenza
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.
Christopher S. Celenza, author of The Lost Italian Renaissance

Meet the Author

Anthony F. D’Elia is Professor of History at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

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