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The Borgias

On the 8th of April, 1492, in a bedroom of the Carneggi Palace, about three miles
from Florence, were three men grouped about a bed whereon a fourth lay dying.
The first of these three men, sitting at the foot of the bed, and half hidden, that he
might conceal his tears, in the gold-brocaded curtains, was Ermolao Barbaro,
author of the treatise 'On Celibacy', and of 'Studies in Pliny': the year before,
when he was at Rome in the capacity of ambassador of the Florentine Republic,
he had been appointed Patriarch of Aquileia by Innocent VIII.
The second, who was kneeling and holding one hand of the dying man between
his own, was Angelo Poliziano, the Catullus of the fifteenth century, a classic of
the lighter sort, who in his Latin verses might have been mistaken for a poet of
the Augustan age.
The third, who was standing up and leaning against one of the twisted columns
of the bed-head, following with profound sadness the progress of the malady
which he read in the face of his departing friend, was the famous Pico della
Mirandola, who at the age of twenty could speak twenty-two languages, and who
had offered to reply in each of these languages to any seven hundred questions
that might be put to him by the twenty most learned men in the whole world, if
they could be assembled at Florence.
The man on the bed was Lorenzo the Magnificent, who at the beginning of the
year had been attacked by a severe and deep-seated fever, to which was added
the gout, a hereditary ailment in his family. He had found at last that the draughts
containing dissolved pearls which the quack doctor, Leoni di Spoleto, prescribed
for him (as if he desired to adapt his remedies rather to the riches of his patient
than to his necessities) were useless and unavailing, and so he had come to
understand that he must part from those gentle-tongued women of his, those
sweet-voiced poets, his palaces and their rich hangings; therefore he had
summoned to give him absolution for his sins--in a man of less high place they
might perhaps have been called crimes-- the Dominican, Giralamo Francesco
It was not, however, without an inward fear, against which the praises of his
friends availed nothing, that the pleasure-seeker and usurper awaited that severe
and gloomy preacher by whose word's all Florence was stirred, and on whose
pardon henceforth depended all his hope far another world.
Indeed, Savonarola was one of those men of stone, coming, like the statue of the
Commandante, to knock at the door of a Don Giovanni, and in the midst of feast
and orgy to announce that it is even now the moment to begin to think of Heaven.
He had been born at Ferrara, whither his family, one of the most illustrious of
Padua, had been called by Niccolo, Marchese d'Este, and at the age of twenty-
three, summoned by an irresistible vocation, had fled from his father's house, and
had taken the vows in the cloister of Dominican monks at Florence. There, where
he was appointed by his superiors to give lessons in philosophy, the young
novice had from the first to battle against the defects of a voice that was both
harsh and weak, a defective pronunciation, and above all, the depression of his
physical powers, exhausted as they were by too severe abstinence.