The appalling publication, which is given in full in Burchard, was fictitiously dated from Gonzola de Cordoba's Spanish camp at Taranto on November 25. A copy of this anonymous pamphlet, which is the most violent attack on the Borgias ever penned, perhaps the most terrible indictment against any family ever published a pamphlet which Gregorovius does not hesitate to call " an authentic document of the state of Rome under the Borgias " fell into the hands of the Cardinal of Modena, who on the last day of the year carried it to the Pope.
Before considering that letter it is well to turn to the entries in Burchard's diary under the dates of October 27 and November 11 of that same year. You will find two statements which have no parallel in the rest of the entire diary, few parallels in any sober narrative of facts. The sane mind must recoil and close up before them, so impossible does it seem to accept them.
The first of these is the relation of the supper given by Cesare in the Vatican to fifty courtesans a relation which possibly suggested to the debauched Regent d'Orleans his fetes £ Adam, a couple of centuries later.
Burchard tells us how, for the amusement of Cesare, of the Pope, and of Lucrezia, these fifty courtesans were set to dance after supper with the servants and some others who were present, dressed at first and afterwards not so. He draws for us a picture of those fifty women on all fours, in all their plastic nudity, striving for the chestnuts flung to them in that chamber of the Apostolic Palace by Christ's Vicar an old man of seventy by his son and his daughter. Nor is that all by any means. There is much worse to follow matter which we dare not translate, but must leave more or less discreetly veiled in the decadent Latin of the Caerimoniarius :
" Tandem exposita dona ultima, diploides de serico, paria caligarum, bireta ed alia pro illis qui pluries dictas meretrices carnaliter agnoscerent; que fuerunt ibidem in aula publice carnaliter tractate arbitrio presentium, dona distributa victoribus."
Such is the monstrous story !
Gregorovius, in his defence of Lucrezia Borgia, refuses to believe that she was present; but he is reluctant to carry his incredulity any further.
" Some orgy of that nature," he writes, " or something similar may very well have taken place. But who will believe that Lucrezia, already the legal wife of Alfonso d'Este and on the eve of departure for Ferrara, can have been present as a smiling spectator ? "
Quite so. Gregorovius puts his finger at once upon one of the obvious weaknesses of the story. But where there is one falsehood there are usually others; and if we are not to believe that Lucrezia was present, why should we be asked to believe in the presence of the Pope ? If Burchard was mistaken in the one, why might he not be mistaken in the other ? But the question is not really one of whom you will believe to have been present at that unspeakable performance, but rather whether you can possibly bring yourself to believe that it ever took place as it is related in the Diarium.
Gregorovius says, you will observe, " Some orgy of that nature, or something similar, may very well have taken place." We could credit that Cesare held " some orgy of that nature." He had apartments in the Vatican, and if it shock you to think that it pleased him, with his gentlemen, to make merry by feasting a parcel of Roman harlots, you are if you value justice to be shocked at the times rather than the man. The sense of humour of the Cinquecento was primitive, and in primitive humour prurience plays ever an important part, as is discernible in the literature and comedies of that age. If you would appreciate this to the full, consider Burchard's details of the masks worn at Carnival by some merrymakers (" Venerunt ad plateam St. Petri larvati . . . habentes nasos lungos et grossos in forma priaporum ") and you must realize that in Cesare's conduct in this matter there would have been nothing so very abnormal considered from the point of view of the Cinquecento, even though it were to approach the details given by Burchard.
But even so, you will hesitate before you accept the story of that saturnalia in its entirety, and before you believe that an old man of seventy, a priest and Christ's Vicar, was present with Cesare and his friends. Burchard does not say that he himself was a witness of what he relates. But the matter shall presently be further considered.
Meanwhile, let us pass to the second of these entries in the diary, and (a not unimportant detail) on the very next page of it, under the date of November ii. In this it is related that certain peasants entered Rome by the Viridarian Gate, driving two mares laden with timber ; that, in crossing the Square of St. Peter's, some servants of the Pope's ran out and cut the cords so that the timber was loosened and the beasts relieved of their burden ; they were then led to a courtyard within the precincts of the palace, where four stallions were loosed upon them. " Ascenderunt equas et coierunt cum eis et eas graviter pistarunt et leserunt," whilst the Pope at a window above the doorway of the Palace, with Madonna Lucrezia, witnessed with great laughter and delight, the show which it is suggested was specially provided for their amusement.
The improbabilities of the saturnalia of the fifty courtesans pale before the almost utter impossibility of this narrative. To render it possible in the case of two chance animals as these must have been under the related circumstances, a biological coincidence is demanded so utterly unlikely and incredible that we are at once moved to treat the story with scorn, and reject it as a fiction. Yet not one of those many writers who have retailed that story from Burchard's Diarium as a truth incontestable as the Gospels, has paused to consider this so blinded are we when it is a case of accepting that which we desire to accept.