Posts Tagged ‘Borgia’

Dishing with the Borgias

Posted in General on March 24th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

The following quote is from an actual ad, appearing in The New York Times. 

Chef Todd English prepares an original dish inspired by the Showtime original series The Borgias.

Todd will present his recipe for recipe for Cibreo, an original dish inspired by Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI. 

For ingredients, recipes and to learn more about The Borgias, visit

The Borgia cookbook–putting the morte in mortadella.  Borgia banquets were known for their surprise ingredients.  A particular favorite was cantarella, which was said to have a very sweet flavor.  Yet, no one ever asked for a second helping.  If it is in Chef English’s “original dish”, Macy’s may have more than plates to clean up.  However, that might inspire Macy’s to bring out the Sweeney Todd cookbook.

Showtime and Macy’s could have found a safer way to market “The Borgias”.  For instance, Pope Alexander had six children.  Why not bring out a line of Renaissance style Garianimals.  Don’t underestimate the popularity of codpieces.

And from the archives here….

The Borgia Bunch

Showtime, the television network that presented a scrawny, brunet Henry VIII, is planning a series on “The Borgias”. If you are not familiar with the notorious Renaissance family, imagine the Brady Bunch in the 15th century except that Dad is a syphilitic Pope and the children are sociopaths.  (In this case, both Mrs. Brady and Alice are the mothers of the brood.)  It is the kind of heartwarming family story that has such appeal on cable television. 

Of course, the historical sex and violence won’t be ample enough for Showtime, so expect a little–actually an avalanche–of additions.  No doubt the cable Pope Alexander VI will have a passionate affair with Joan of Arc.  (It is possible since he was 4 months old when she died, and he might have been very precocious.)    Queen Isabella of Castille probably will have nude scenes, too–with Lucretia!  You are also likely to see that Gutenberg was a pornographer.  (Leonardo must have invented the video camera 500 years sooner than we realized.) And yes, Leonardo will be in the series; he really was the Borgia’s handyman.  I predict that he will be hitting on Martin Luther.  Have I left anyone out of this menage a mille?  Don’t worry.  Anyone in Europe within 100 years of the 15th century can be part of the orgy! 

At least the casting is not a scandal.  I am relieved to say that the Pope and his boy Cesare will not be played by Jerry and Ben Stiller.  His most dubious Holiness will be portrayed by Jeremy Irons.  Irons has a sly, chilly persona and sepulchral voice that makes him one of the best villains on the screen today.  I can see him weaving plots and relishing his betrayals of less clever men.  Just for his performance, I will start to watch the series.  Perhaps the gratuitous nudity won’t be too much of a bore.

And now for the lecture….Alexander VI certainly is the most notorious Pope, but he was far from the worst.  In the tenth and eleventh centuries, many of the Popes were just Roman gangsters.  During the Dark Ages, it was difficult to distinguish nobles from criminals (We have the same problem with today’s MBAs), and bandit bands would vie for the Papacy.  Get your man on the throne and you’ve got control of Rome property and the relics racket.  One family/gang–the counts of Tusculum–held the Papacy for nearly a century.  A member of the dynasty murdered his predecessor.  Another attempted to sell the Papacy.  John XII–who became Pope at the age of 18–was killed by a justifiably enraged husband.  (Some forms of communion are unacceptable.)

So, why aren’t they the “stars” of a Showtime series?  They were unintentionally discreet, the advantage of obscurity.  However vile they were, who knew other than their Roman neighbors?  In the tenth and early eleventh centuries, the Pope just wasn’t that important.  By the time of Alexander VI, however, the Papacy was far significant than just Tiber property and the relics racket.  And thanks to Gutenberg, there now was a mass media that fed the public appetite for news and gossip.  Even if only one person in your village was literate, everyone else wanted to hear what he was reading.  Alexander VI was never less than interesting.

Furthermore, however scandalous he was, Alexander VI was not incompetent.  Unlike his Medici acquaintance and eventual successor Leo X, the Borgia Pope would not have ignored Professor Luther.  On the contrary, any dispute would have been quickly–if sadly–resolved.  “Young professor dies of food poisoning while falling out of a bell tower–twice.”  Of course, with a Borgia as Pope, Luther’s idea of Reformation might have been to limited to conducting Church bingo night in German rather than Latin.

And there is one more thing to be said in Alexander VI’s favor.  If he didn’t take religion seriously, he also wasn’t a bigot.  When Ferdinand and Isabella demonstrated their idea of Christian virtue by expelling Jews from Spain, Alexander offered the refugees sanctuary in Rome.  He wasn’t providing charity but if they could afford Italy they were welcome and protected.  Compare that to Pius XII, and remind me which of the two is a candidate for sainthood.

Machiavelli’s Role Model

Posted in General, On This Day on August 11th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 6 Comments

Donald Trump could have warned the College of Cardinals about cheap Hispanic labor. However, on this day in 1492, the College elected Roderigo Borja as Pope. Obviously, the Italian boys were not so eager to have the job. Their bribes were only half as much as Roderigo’s, and Roderigo was willing to assimilate. His mistresses were Italian, and he even adopted a more Italian pronunciation of his surname: Borgia. (But his green card would have identified him as Pope Alexander VI.)

But as Donald Trump could have warned them, you let one of them in….Yes, Roderigo had a big family; and with six children, a Pope can’t get by just from skimming the profits of bingo nights. His daughter Lucretia was attractive, so he had no trouble arranging three lucrative marriages for her–and he oversaw her becoming a widow in time for the next marriage. (Annulments took too long, even for a Pope’s daughter.) Then, there was the irrepressible Cesare. Dad made him a cardinal when Cesare was 17, but the boy showed secular interests: murder, pillage and conquering all of Italy. Well, Roderigo could hardly refuse his son (especially if the son might kill him), and the Pope actually liked the idea of Italy as a family heirloom.

Such a conquest was, however, a rather daunting goal. The Italian city states were always at war, but the wars barely amounted to misdemeanors. Ferrara would seize an acre from Rimini, and Rimini might retaliate by defacing a fresco. And the Papal States definitely were not supposed to attack anyone. But Roderigo was not much for etiquette. (For instance, he referred to his children as his children; every other pope pretended that his spawn were only nephews and nieces.) He invested Cesare with the full military resources of the Papal States (Stop laughing; you could buy a lot of mercenaries with purloined Church funds.) But, yes, that would not be enough to quickly conquer the peninsula.

Fortunately, the Pope was a man of faith: he fervently believed in his own craftiness and everyone else’s gullibility. So, Roderigo encouraged the King of France to invade Italy. Once the French invaded in 1494, the Pope then began encouraging Spain to defend its possessions in Southern Italy. Roderigo was even negotiating with the Ottoman Empire. Somehow, he expected to play everyone off against each other and end up with all of Italy. He might have even succeeded but for one miscalculation. Seventy-year-old men have a tendency to die, and in 1503 men usually died at 45. Roderigo had beaten the actuarial table but he couldn’t do it indefinitely. Without Dad, Cesare was without an empire and Lucretia was stuck in her third marriage.

Nonetheless, Roderigo definitely left an legacy. The name Borgia is still remembered. And Spain, allied with the Holy Roman Empire, would be fighting France over the control of Italy for another 30 years. In fact, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire were so preoccupied with Italian politics that when a German theology professor complained about the Church’s corruption, no one paid any attention to Martin Luther (except the population of Northern Europe).