Sunday, January 3, 2010

Anthony F. D'Elia's "A Sudden Terror"

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

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, A Sudden Terror: The Plot to Murder the Pope in Renaissance Rome, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book, A Sudden Terror: The Plot to Murder the Pope in Renaissance Rome, falls near the end of the fourth chapter, "A Pagan Renaissance: Sodomy and the Classical Tradition." On page 99, the reader can see some of the homoerotic verse of the leader of the conspiracy (Callimachus) and see how Renaissance intellectuals were influenced by ancient pagan authors in ways that clashed with Christian morality. The humanists wrote obscene and occasionally grotesque poems about each other. The Pope had condemned the ancient satirical poets Juvenal and Martial as being a corrupting influence on boys and the conspirators. The chapter shows how the rich homoerotic culture of pagan antiquity was received and imitated in the Christian Renaissance. At the time, many thought that the humanists had gone beyond an academic imitation of classical poetry and had themselves adopted pagan sexual morality - that they followed the ancients not only in their words but also in their bedrooms. Page 99, therefore, is representative of the book in that it exemplifies the strong relationship the humanists had with ancient texts, texts that they imitated in words and actions.

Page 99, however, is not typical of the rest of the book, in that the book narrates a compelling story - the so-called humanist conspiracy to murder the Pope in 1468 and what at the time were thought to be the motives that would inspire this group of effete intellectuals to attempt such a violent act. It paints a picture of the protagonists: the parrot loving, make-up wearing, macaroni eating pontiff and the humanists, who would wear togas, have classical banquets, and meet in the Roman Catacombs to perform pagan rites. The book discusses charges against the humanists, which included anti-papal republicanism, paganism and immorality, and a possible alliance with the much-feared Muslim Ottoman Turks. The humanists were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned in the cold damp dungeon of Castel Sant'Angelo for over a year - most never recovered fully. They wrote letters from prison, describing their ordeal, begging for release, and attempting to find consolation in ancient philosophy. In the end, classical literature failed to console these men, but their relationships with each other helped them to survive.
Read an excerpt from A Sudden Terror, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue