Reformation-era extremes, Alexander VI version

Pope Alexander VI really knew how to throw a party. Rodrigo Borgia became Alexander VI in 1492 and livened things up at the Vatican. As reported in William Manchester’s excellent A World Lit Only by Fire, p. 79:

‘Once he became Pope Alexander VI, Vatican parties, already wild, grew wilder. They were costly, but he could afford the lifestyle of a Renaissance prince; as vice-chancellor of the Roman Church, he had amassed enormous wealth.

‘As guests approached the papal palace, they were excited by the spectacle of living statues: naked, gilded young men and women in erotic poses. Flags bore the Borgia arms, which, appropriately, portrayed a red bull rampant on a field of gold. Every fete had a theme. One, known to Romans as the Ballet of the Chestnuts, was held on October 30, 1501. The indefatigable [Johann] Burchard describes it in his Diarium. After the banquet had been cleared away, the city’s fifty most beautiful whores danced with guests, “first clothed, then naked.” The dancing over, the “ballet” began, with the pope and two of his children in the best seats.

‘“Candelabra were set up on the floor; scattered among them were chestnuts, which,” Burchard writes, “the courtesans had to pick up, crawling between the candles.” Then the serious sex started. Guests stripped and ran out on the floor, where they mounted, or were mounted by, the prostitutes. “The coupling took place,” according to Burchard, “in front of everyone present.” Servants kept score of each man’s orgasms, for the pope greatly admired virility and measured a man’s machismo by his ejaculative capacity. After everyone was exhausted, His Holiness distributed prizes — cloaks, boots, caps, and fine silken tunics. The winners, the diarist wrote, were those “who made love with those courtesans the greatest number of times.”’

All of which sort-of makes understandable Reformation reactions to the other extreme, e.g., John Calvin’s Geneva.

[More on Alexander VI from Wikipedia and the Catholic Encyclopedia.]

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