Enjoy this post by Ankita Sen, one of our Special Collections Freshman Fellows for the 2020-2021 academic year!
In my first blogpost for my Freshman Fellows project, I introduced Pasquino, the famous marble ruin that served as a satiric signpost of sorts. For the second portion of my research, I want to look a bit more at the history of the statue itself, and then examine and translate the Latin of a couple of the more scathing Pasquinades against the Catholic Church that were published.
In the mid 16th century there was some argument about who or what Pasquino actually depicted. The first accepted answer was that the statue portrayed Hercules overcoming Geryon. Another suggestion can be found in the book Antiquarum statuarum urbis Romae … Liber (1574) by Giovanni Battista Cavalieri, celebrating the antique statues of Rome and, fortunately, held in our Special Collections department. Cavalieri thought the statue actually depicted a soldier of Alexander-the-Great supporting him while he was injured.
Here is the engraving of the statue with its Latin inscription reading: “Alexandri magni miles vulgo Pasquinus eum saucium detinens, ante aedes Alphonsi Carafae Car. Neapolotani.” This translates as: “A soldier of Alexander-the-Great holding him up, injured. To the common man (vulgo) he is known as Pasquinus and is located before the palace of Cardinal Alphonso Carafa of Naples.” One can see how with such an authoritative presentation: a fine engraving and legend beneath, found in an expensive book with other readily identifible statues and ruins, such an identification could certainly convince. It also reveals the excitement that must have come from every new discovery amid the ruins of Rome and elsewhere. Many other theories were passed around in subsequent years, but the above identification held sway until the late 18th Century when it was postulated that the statue was actually a depiction of the Greek hero Menelaus holding up Patroclus after he was killed by the Trojan warrior Hector as described in Homer’s Iliad, book 17. This has remained the most widely accepted proposal to date. A much more complete version of Pasquino was found in Florence that corroborated this identification. The debate goes on, however, and there is always the potential for new discoveries and new identifications.
Since we are most interested in the Latin pasquinades that were attached to the statue, let’s take a closer look at some of them. As a reminder, these Latin verses as they appear in our copy of Pasquillorum Tomi duo are thought to have been published by two Protestant editors, Celio Curione (1503-1569) and Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), and came in the heat of the sixteenth-century’s religious revolutions known as the Reformation. To grapple with this important history, we need to understand the context and gain a much deeper understanding by looking at the language directly. Therefore, while the translations are my own, (in keeping with sound historical and literary scholarship), the polemical views expressed are not.
The Pasquinades I chose to examine here are directed against the Pope and the Church, anonymous barbs, which meant arrest or even death if one was caught spreading these ideas. Pasquino gave the citizens of Rome a shelter from punishment and a place to express their thoughts anonymously. The first Pasquinade I translated contrasts, by repeated antitheses, the Pope and the figure of Christ:
Antithesis Christi et Pontificis per Pasquillum.
Christus regna fugit: sed vi Papa subiugat urbes.
Spinosam Christus: triplicem gerit ille coronam.
Abluit ille pedes: reges his oscula praebent.
Vectigal soluit: sed clerum hic eximit omnem.
Pavit oves Christus: luxum hic sectatur inertem.
Pauper erat Christus: regna hic petit omnia mundi.
Baiulat ille crucem: hic servis portatur avaris.
Spernit opes Christus: auri hic ardore tabescit.
Vendentes pepulit templo: quos suscipit iste.
Pace venit Christus: venit hic radiantibus armis.
Christus mansuetus venit: venit ille superbus.
Quas leges dedit hic, Praesul dissoluit iniquus.
Ascendit Christus: descendit ad infera Praesul.
The Antithesis of Christ and the Pope according to Pasquino
Christ flees royal power: but the Pope subjugates cities by force.
Christ wore the crown of thorns: he wears the Papal tiara.
While he washed feet: kings kiss his.
He ended the tribute tax: but this man banishes all of the clergy.
Christ grazed his sheep: this man pursues lazy luxury.
Christ was poor: this man seeks the entire world for his kingdom.
He bears the cross: this man is carried about by greedy servants.
Christ despises wealth: this one burns with his love of gold.
He drove the money-changers from the temple: he propped them up.
Christ comes in peace: this one comes with radiant weapons.
Christ comes as one meek: he comes as one arrogant.
The laws this one gave, the unjust Pope destroyed.
While Christ ascends: the Pope descends to Hell.
The person writing this poem directly compares the actions of Christ to the actions of the Pope by physically placing them side by side in the hopes of exposing the corruption and greed that the writer feels the Catholic Church perpetuated. I find this Pasquinade powerful specifically because of how the author used its physical space to convey their message. In juxtaposing Christ’s pacifism and poverty with the Pope’s militaristic grab for power and riches, the author plainly shows that the Church no more holds up the image of Christ than those who are not Christian at all.
Another Pasquinade criticizes the papacy as well, this time specifically Pope Alexander VI. He held his papacy from 1492 until his death in 1503. He was a Spanish pope and infamous for his corruption, mistresses, and nepotism.
Pasquillus in Alexandrum Pium VI.
Vendit Alexander claves, altaria, Christum,
emerat ille prius, vendere iure potest.
De vitio in vitium, de flamma crescit in ignem,
Roma sub Hispano deperit imperio.
Sextus Tarquinius, Sextus Nero, Sextus et iste,
semper sub sextis perdita Roma fuit.
Pasquino Against Alexander, Pius VI
Alexander has sold the keys, the altar, and Christ,
Since he brought earlier, he thinks he has the right to sell it.
Just as a flame grows into a fire, so vice grows into crime,
Rome perishes under Spanish rule.
Sextus Tarquinius, Sextus Nero, and this Sextus,
Rome has always perished under a Sextus.
This Pasquinade also mentions Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus. Sextus Tarquinius is known for raping Lucretia, a Roman noble woman. This narrative is perhaps most famously depicted by Titian, who produced three different versions during his career. Lucretia’s subsequent honorable suicide precipitated a revolution against the Tarquins led by Lucius Iunius Brutus that aided the transition of the Roman government from monarchy to republic. By comparing the Pope Alexander Pius Sextus (the Sixth) with disastrous ancient Roman leaders, such as Nero, and sharing the same name Sextus, the author of this Pasquinade shows how little respect his contemporaries ought to have for him. As one can see, these words are heavy and heretical. They surely would have resulted in capital punishment for those who expressed them publicly. It is interesting to think of Pasquino, himself a ruin dug up from the same Roman soil where earlier tragic crimes occurred, now serving as a silent, but satirical, locus for these criticisms of another would be monarch of the Church, Pope Alexander VI.