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Immortal Meals #7: Papal Orgies November 4, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

It has been a while since Beachcombing visited an immortal meal, one of those dinners past where the great ate and history crackled in the air. Still suffering from the Italian Renaissance bug and given that this is, after all, the season of the chestnut he thought that he would today lift the veil on the Ballet of the Chestnuts, perhaps the most memorable of the Papal Orgies of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (and that’s saying something).

The Borgias get a terrible press – essentially because they deserve it – and though there is some myth making here (see below) our primary source is unimpeachable. Beachcombing is speaking of Johann Burchard, the Pronotary Apostolic, a dry-as-dust sort who collected ecclesiastical benefices the way that modern movie buffs accumulate dvds.  Johann’s only real importance to posterity is that he scribbled down a diarium, setting out in a neutral, matter-of-fact way the activities of his holy lord, Alexander VI.

In sero fecerunt cenam cum duce Valentinense in camera sua, in palatio apostolico, quinquaginta meretrices honeste cortegiane nuncupate, que post cenam coreaverunt cum servitoribus et aliis ibidem existentibus, primo in vestibus suis, denique nude. Post cenam posita fuerunt candelabra communia mense in candelis ardentibus per terram, et projecte ante candelabra per terram castanee quas meretrices ipse super manibus et pedibus; unde, candelabra pertranseuntes, colligebant, Papa, duce et D. Lucretia sorore sua presentibus et aspicientibus. Tandem exposita dona ultima, diploides de serico, paria caligarum; bireta, et alia pro illis qui pluries dictas meretrices carnaliter agnoscerent; que fuerunt ibidem in aula publice carnaliter tractate arbitrio praesentium, dona distributa victoribus.

On the evening of the last day of October, 1501, Cesare Borgia arranged a banquet in his chambers in the Vatican with fifty honest prostitutes, called courtesans, who danced after the dinner with the attendants and the others who were present, at first in their garments, then naked. After the dinner the candelabra with the burning candles were taken from the tables and placed on the floor, and chestnuts were strewn around, which the naked courtesans picked up, creeping on hands and knees between the chandeliers, while the Pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucretia looked on. Finally prizes were announced for those who could perform the act most often with the courtesans, such as tunics of silk, shoes, barrets, and other things.

This is sandwiched in between a visit to Civita Castellana, and a fight involving some donkeys, as if it was fairly routine entertainment in the Renaissance Vatican. It was too much though for most nineteenth- and twentieth-century translators who have toned down the ballet. Indeed, an interesting study could be made in how different ages have failed to give the general public the details of what Lucrezia, Caesare and their father actually got up to. An equally interesting study could be given as to what the present age has made up about the banquet. In a brief search of the internet Beach has found Lucrezia making love with her father, the use of sex toys and tallies being kept of orgasms.

O tempora, O mores…

Then there are ‘rogue’ translations of JB. Take this, for example, that appears in Nigel Cawthorne’s Sex Lives of the Popes. Has NC got his sources mixed up: if memory serves correctly, three or four that describe or mention the meal?

This marriage has been celebrated with such unexpected orgies as were never before seen. His Holiness gave a supper to the cardinals and grandees of his court, placing at the side of each guest two courtesans, whose only dress consisted of a loose garment of gauze and garlands of flowers; and when  the meal was over, those women, more than fifty in number, performed lascivious dances – at first alone, afterwards with the guests. At last, at a signal given by Madam Lucrezia, the garments of the women fell down, and the dance went on to the applause of his Holiness. The afterwards proceeded to other sports. By order of the Pope, they were symmetrically placed in the ballroom, twelve rows of branched candelabras covered with lighted candles; Madam Lucrezia threw upon the floor some handfuls of chestnuts, after which those courtesans, entirely naked, ran on all fours, contending to gather the most, and the swifter and more successful obtained from his Holiness presents of jewels and silk dresses. At last, as there were prizes for sports, there were premiums for lust, and the women were carnally attacked at the pleasure of the guests; and this time Madam Lucrezia, who presided with the Pope on a platform, distributed the premiums to the victors.

Any other immortal meals? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com