Caesar or Nothing
Part 4 out of 7
_LEGEND AND HISTORY_
Caesar went out of the cabinet, leaving the German and Cortes seated on
the sofa, absorbed in the picture; he looked at various paintings in the
gallery, went back, and sat down, beside the artists.
"This portrait," he said presently, "is like history by the side of
legend. All the other paintings in the gallery are legend, 'folk-lore,'
as I believe one calls it. This one is history."
"That's what it is. It is truth," agreed Cortes.
"Yes, but there are people who do not like the truth, my friend. I tell
you: this is a man of flesh, somewhat enigmatic, like nature herself,
and with arteries in which blood flows; this is a man who breathes and
digests, and not merely a pleasant abstraction; you, who understand such
things, will tell me that the drawing is perfect, and the colour such
as it was in reality; but how about the person who doesn't ask for
"Stendhal, the writer, was affected that way by this picture," said
Cortes; "he was shocked at its being hung among masterpieces."
"He found it bad, no doubt."
"Was this Stendhal English?"
"Ah, then, you needn't be surprised. A Frenchman has no obligation to
understand anything that's not French."
"Nevertheless he was an intelligent man."
"Did he perhaps have a good deal of veneration?"
"No, he boasted of not having any."
"Doubtless he did have without suspecting it. With a man who had no
veneration, what difference would it make whether there was one bad
thing among a lot of good ones?"
The German with the green hat, who understood something of the
conversation, was indignant at Caesar's irreverent ideas. He asked him
if he understood Latin, and Caesar told him no, and then, in a strange
gibberish, half Latin and half Italian, he let loose a series of facts,
dates, and numbers. Then he asserted that all artistic things of great
merit were German: Greece. Rome, Gothic architecture, the Italian
Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, Velazquez, all German.
The snub-nosed young person, with his cape and his green hat with its
cock-feather, did not let a mouse escape from his German mouse-trap.
The data of the befeathered German were too much for Caesar, and he took
his leave of the painters.
Accompanied by Kennedy, Caesar called repeatedly on the most auspicious
members of the French clerical element living in Rome, and found persons
more cultivated than among the rough Spanish monks; but, as was natural,
nobody gave him any useful information offering the possibility of his
putting his financial talents to the proof.
"Something must turn up," he used to say to himself, "and at the least
opening we will dive into the work."
Caesar kept gathering notes about people who had connections in Spain
with the Black party in Rome; he called several times on Father
Herreros, despite his uncle's prohibition, and succeeded in getting the
monk to write to the Marquesa de Montsagro, asking if there were no
means of making Caesar Moneada, Cardinal Fort's nephew, Conservative
Deputy for her district.
The Marquesa wrote back that it was impossible; the Conservative Deputy
for the district was very popular and a man with large properties there.
When Holy Week was over, Laura and the Countess Brenda and her daughter
decided to spend a while at Florence, and invited Caesar to accompany
them; but he was quite out of harmony with the Brenda lady, and said
that he had to stay on in Rome.
A few days later Mme. Dawson and her daughters left, and the San
Martinos and the Marchesa Sciacca; and an avalanche of English people
and Germans, armed with their red Baedekers, took the hotel by storm.
Susanna Marchmont had gone to spend some days at Corfu.
In less than a week Caesar remained alone, knowing nobody in the hotel,
and despite his believing that he was going to be perfectly indifferent
about this, he felt deserted and sad. The influence of the springtime
also affected him. The deep blue sky, cloudless, dense, dark, made him
languish. Instead of entertaining himself with something or other, he
did scarcely anything all day long but walk.
_TWO ABSURD MEN_
"I have continually near me in the hotel," wrote Caesar to Alzugaray,
"two absurd fellows: one is one of those stout red Germans with a square
head; the other a fine slim Norwegian. The German, who is a captain in
some service or other, is a restless man, always busy about what the
devil I don't know. He is constantly carrying about trunks and boxes,
with the aid of a sorrowful valet, dressed in black, who appears to
detest his position. The captain must devote the morning to doing
gymnastics, for I hear him from my room, which is next to his, jumping
and dropping weights on the floor, each of which must weigh half a ton,
to judge by the noise they make.
"He does all this to vocal commands, and when some feat doesn't go right
he reprimands himself.
"This German isn't still a moment; he opens the salon door, crosses the
room, stands at the window, takes up a paper, puts it down. He is a type
that makes me nervous.
"The Norwegian at first appeared to be a reasonable man, somewhat
sullen. He looked frowningly at me, and I watched him equally
frowningly, and took him for a thinker, an Ibsenite whose imagination
was lost among the ice of his own country. Now and then I would see
him walking up and down the corridor, rubbing his hands together so
continuously and so frantically that they made a noise like bones.
"Suddenly, this gentleman is transformed as if by magic; he begins to
joke with the servants, he seizes a chair and dances with it, and the
other day I saw him alone in the salon marching around with a paper hat
on his head, like children playing soldiers, and blowing on a cornet,
also made of paper." I stared at him in amazement, he smiled like a
child, and asked if he was disturbing me.
"'No, no, not in the least,' I told him.
"I have asked in the hotel if this man is crazy, and they have told me
that he is not, but is a professor, a man of science, who is known to
have these strange fits of gaiety.
"Another of the Norwegian's doings has been to compose a serenade, with
a vulgar melody that would disgust you, and which he has dedicated '_A
la bella Italia_.' He wrote the Italian words himself, but as he knows
no music, he had a pianist come here and write out his serenade. What
he especially wants is that it should be full of sentiment; and so the
pianist arranged it with directions and many pauses, which satisfied
the Norwegian. Almost every night the serenade '_A la bella Italia_'
is sung. Somebody who wants to amuse himself goes to the piano, the
Norwegian strikes a languid attitude and chants his serenade. Sometimes
he goes in front of the piano, sometimes behind, but invariably he hears
the storm of applause when it ends, and he bows with great gusto.
"I don't know whether it's the other people who are laughing at him, or
he who is laughing at the others.
"The other day he said to me in his macaronic Italian:
"'Mr. Spaniard, I have good eyesight, good hearing, a good sense of
smell, and ... lots of sentiment.'
"I didn't exactly understand what he meant me to think, and I didn't pay
any attention to him.
"It seems that the Norwegian is going away soon, and as the day of his
departure approaches, he grows funereal."
_THE SADNESS OF LIFE_
"I don't know why I don't go away," Caesar wrote to his friend another
time. "When I go out in the evening and see the ochre-coloured houses on
both sides and the blue sky above, a horrible sadness takes me. These
spring days oppress me, make me want to weep; it seems to me it would
be better to be dead, leaving no tomb or name or other ridiculous and
disagreeable thing, but disappearing into the air or the sea. It
doesn't seem natural; but I have never been so happy as one time when I
was in Paris sick, alone and with a fever. I was in an hotel room and
my window looked into the garden of a fine house, where I could see the
tops of the trees; and I transformed them into a virgin forest, wherein
marvellous adventures happened to me.
"Since then I have often thought that things are probably neither good
nor bad, neither sad nor happy, in themselves; he who has sound, normal
nerves, and a brain equally sound, reflects the things around him like a
good mirror, and feels with comfort the impression of his conformity to
nature; nowadays we who have nerves all upset and brains probably upset
too, form deceptive reflections. And so, that time in Paris, sick and
shut in, I was happy; and here, sound and strong, when toward nightfall,
I look at the splendid skies, the palaces, the yellow walls that take an
extraordinary tone, I feel that I am one of the most miserable men on
_ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON_
His lack of tranquillity led Caesar to make absurd resolutions which he
didn't carry out.
One Sunday in the beginning of April, he went out into the street,
disposed to take a walk outside of Rome, following the road anywhere it
led. A hard, fine rain was falling, the sky was grey, the air mild, the
streets were full of puddles, the shops closed; a few flower merchants
were offering branches of almond in blossom.
Caesar was very depressed. He went into a church to get out of the rain.
The church was full; there were many people in the centre of it; he
didn't know what they were doing. Doubtless they were gathered there for
some reason, although Caesar didn't understand what. Caesar sat down on
a bench, worn out; he would have liked to listen to organ music, to a
boy choir. No ideas occurred to him but sentimental ones. Some time
passed, and a priest began to preach. Caesar got up and went into the
"I must get rid of these miserable impressions, get back to noble ideas.
I must fight this sentimental leprosy."
He started to walk with long strides through the sad, empty streets.
He went toward the river and met Kennedy, who was coming back, he told
him, from the studio of a sculptor friend of his.
"You look like desolation. What has happened to you?"
"Nothing, but I am in a perfectly hellish humour."
"I am melancholy too. It must be the weather. Let's take a walk."
They went along the bank of the Tiber. Full of clay, more turbid than
ever, and very high between the white embankments hemming it in, the
river looked like a big sewer.
"This is not the 'coeruleus Tibris' that Virgil speaks of in the
Aeneld, which presented itself to Aeneas in the form of an ancient man
with his head crowned with roses," said Kennedy.
"No. This is a horrible river," Caesar opined.
They followed the shore, passed the Castel Sant' Angelo and the bridge
with the statues.
From the embankment, to the right, they could now see narrow lanes, sunk
almost below the level of the river. On the other bank a new, white
edifice towered in the rain.
They went as far as the Piazza d'Armi, and then came back at nightfall
to Rome. The rain was gradually ceasing and the sky looked less
threatening. A file of greenish gaslights followed the river-wall and
then crossed over the bridge.
They walked to the Piazza del Popolo and through the Via Babuino to the
Piazza di Spagna.
"Would you like to go to a Benedictine abbey tomorrow?" asked Kennedy.
"And if you are still melancholy, we will leave you there."
The next day, after lunch, Kennedy and Caesar went to visit the abbey of
Sant' Anselmo on the Aventine. The abbot, Hildebrand, was a friend
of Kennedy's, and like him an Englishman.
They took a carriage and Kennedy told it to stop at the church of Santa
"It is still too early to go to the abbey. Let us look at this church,
which is the best preserved of all the old Roman ones."
They entered the church; but it was so cold there that Caesar went out
again directly and waited in the porch. There was a man there selling
rosaries and photographs who spoke scarcely any Italian or French, but
did speak Spanish. Probably he was a Jew.
Caesar asked him where they manufactured those religious toys, and the
pedlar told him in Westphalia.
Kennedy went to look at a picture by Sassoferrato, which is in one of
the chapels, and meanwhile the rosary-seller showed the church door to
Caesar and explained the different bas-reliefs, cut in cypress wood by
Greek artists of the V Century, and representing scenes from the Old and
Kennedy came back, they got into the carriage again, and they drove to
the Benedictine abbey.
"Is the abbot Hildebrandus here?" asked Kennedy.
Out came the abbot, a man of about fifty, with a gold cross on his
breast. They exchanged a few friendly words, and the superior showed
them the convent.
The refectory was clean and very spacious; the long table of shining
wood; the floor made of mosaic. The crypt held a statue, which Caesar
assumed must be of Sant' Anselmo. The church was severe, without
ornaments, without pictures; it had a primitive air, with its columns of
fine granite that looked like marble. A monk was playing the harmonium,
and in the opaque veiled light, the thin music gave a strange impression
of something quite outside this life.
Afterwards they crossed a large court with palm-trees. They went up to
the second story, and down a corridor with cells, each of which had on
the lintel the name of the patron saint of the respective monk. Each
door had a card with the name of the occupant of the room.
It looked more like a bath-house than a monastery. The cells were
comfortable inside, without any air of sadness; each held a bed, a
divan, and a small bookcase.
By a window at the end of the passage, one could see, far away, the
Alban Hills, looking like a blue mountain-range, half hidden in white
haze, and nearby one could see the trees in the Protestant cemetery and
the pyramid of Caius Cestius close to them.
Caesar felt a sort of deep repugnance for the people shut up here,
remote from life and protected from it by a lot of things.
"The man who is playing the harmonium in this church with its opaque
light, is a coward," he said to himself. "One must live and struggle in
the open air, among men, in the midst of their passions and hatreds,
even though one's miserable nerves quiver and tremble."
After showing them the monastery, the abbot Hildebrand took them to his
study, where he worked at revising ancient translations of the Bible. He
had photographic copies of all the Latin texts and he was collating them
with the original.
They talked of the progress of the Church, and the abbot commented with
some contempt on the worldly success of the Jesuit churches, with their
saints who serve as well to get husbands and rich wives as to bring
winning numbers in the lottery.
Before going out, they went to a window, at the other end of the
corridor from where they had looked out before. Below them they could
see the Tiber as far as the Ripa harbour; opposite, the heights of the
Janiculum, and further, Saint Peter's.
When they went out, Kennedy said to Caesar:
"What devilish effect has the abbey produced in you, that you are so
much gayer than when we went in?"
"It has confirmed me in my idea, which I had lost for a few days."
"What idea is that?"
"That we must not defend ourselves in this life, but attack, always
"And now you are contented at having found it again?"
"I am glad, because you have such a pitiable air when you are sad. Would
you like to go to the Priory of Malta, which is only a step from here?"
They went down in the carriage to the Priory of Malta. They knocked at
the gate and a woman came out who knew Kennedy, and who told them to
wait a moment and she would open the church.
"Here," said Kennedy, "you have all that remains of the famous Order of
Saint John of Jerusalem. That anti-historic man Bonaparte rooted it
out of Malta. The Order attempted to establish itself in Catania, and
afterwards at Ferrara, and finally took refuge here. Now it has no
property left, and all that remains are its memories and its archives."
"That is how our descendants will see our Holy Mother the Church. In
Chicago or Boston some traveller will find an abandoned chapel, and will
ask: 'What is this? 'And they will tell him: 'This is what remains of
the Catholic Church.'"
"Don't talk like an Homais," said Kennedy.
"I don't know who Homais is," retorted Caesar.
"An atheistical druggist in Flaubert's novel, _Madame Bovary. Haven't
you read it?"
"Yes; I have a vague idea that I have read it. A very heavy thing; yes,
... I think I have read it."
The woman opened the door and they went into the church. It was small,
overcharged with ornaments. They saw the tomb of Bishop Spinelli and
Giotto's Virgin, and then went into a hall gay with red flags with a
white cross, on whose walls they could read the names of the Grand
Masters of the Order of Malta. The majority of the names were French and
Polish. Two or three were Spanish, and among them that of Caesar Borgia.
"Your countryman and namesake was also a Grand Master of Malta," said
"So it seems," replied Caesar with indifference. "I see that you speak
with contempt of that extraordinary man. Is he not congenial to you?"
"The fact is I don't know his history."
"How strange! We must go tomorrow to the Borgia Apartment in the
They saw the model of an ancient galley which was in the same hall, and
went out through the church into the garden planned by Piranesi.
The woman showed them a very old palm, with a hole in it made by a
hand-grenade in the year '49. It had remained that way more than half
a century, and it was only a few days since the trunk of the palm had
From the garden they went, by a path between trees, to the bastion of
Paul III, a little terrace, from which they could see the Tiber at their
feet, and opposite the panorama of Rome and its environs, in the light
of a beautiful spring sunshine....
CAESAR BORGIA'S MOTTO, "AUT CAESAR, AUT NIHIL"
The next day was one of the days for visiting the Borgia Apartment.
Caesar and Kennedy met in the Piazza di San Pietro, went into the
Vatican museum, and walked by a series of stairs and passageways to the
Gallery of Inscriptions.
Then they went down to a hall, at whose door there were guards dressed
in slashed clothes, which were parti-coloured, red, yellow, and black.
Some of them carried lances and others swords.
"Why are the guards here dressed differently?" asked Caesar.
"Because this belongs to the Dominions of the Pope."
"And what kind of guards are these?"
"These are pontifical Swiss guards."
"They look comic-opera enough," said Caesar.
"My dear man, don't say that. This costume was designed by no one less
"All right. At that time they probably looked very well, but now they
have a theatrical effect."
"It is because you have no veneration. If you were reverential, they
would look wonderful to you."
"Very well, let us wait and see whether reverence will not spring up in
me. Now, you go on and explain what there is here."
"This first room, the Hall of Audience, or of the Popes, does not
contain anything notable, as you see," said Kennedy; "the five we are
coming to later, have been restored, but are still the same as at the
time when your countryman Alexander VI was Pope. All five were decorated
by Pinturicchio and his pupils, and all with reference to the Borgias.
The Borgias have their history, not well known in all its details, and
their legend, which is more extensive and more picturesque. Really, it
is not easy to distinguish one from the other."
"Let's have the history and the legend mixed."
"I will give you a resume in a few words. Alfonso Borja was a Valencian,
born at Jatiba; he was secretary to the King or Aragon; then Bishop of
Valencia, later Cardinal, and lastly Pope, by the name of Calixtus III.
While Calixtus lives, the Spaniards are all-powerful in Rome. Calixtus
protects his nephews, sons of his sister Isabel and a Valencian named
Lanzol or Lenzol. These nephews drop their original name and take their
mother's, Italianizing its spelling to Borgia. Their uncle, the Pope,
appoints the elder, Don Pedro Luis, Captain of the Church; the second,
"Don Rodriguez?" said Caesar. "In Spanish you can't say Don Rodriguez."
"Gregorovius calls him that."
"Then Gregorovius, no doubt, knew no Spanish."
"In Latin he is called Rodericus."
"Then it should be Don Rodrigo."
"All right, Rodrigo. Well, this Don Rodrigo, also from Jatiba, his uncle
makes a Cardinal, and at the death of Pedro Luis, he calls him to
Rome. Rodrigo has had several children before becoming a Cardinal, and
apparently he feels no great enthusiasm for ecclesiastical dignities;
but when he finds himself in Rome, the ambition to be Pope assails him,
and at the death of Innocent VIII, he buys the tiara? Is it legend or
history that he bought the tiara? That is not clear. Now we will go in
and see the portrait of Rodrigo Borgia, who in the series of Popes,
bears the name Alexander VI."
_ALEXANDER VI AND HIS BROTHER_
Kennedy and Caesar entered the first room, the Hall of the Mysteries,
and the Englishman stopped in front of a picture of the Resurrection.
"Here you have Alexander VI, on his knees, adoring Christ who is leaving
the tomb. He is the type of a Southerner; he has a hooked nose, a long
head, tonsured, a narrow forehead, thick lips, a heavy beard, a strong
neck, and small chubby hands. He wears a papal robe of gold, covered
with jewels; the tiara is on the ground beside him. Of the soldiers,
it is supposed that the one asleep by the sepulchre and the one who is
waking and rising up, pulling himself to his knees by the aid of his
lance, are two of the Pope's sons, Caesar and the Duke of Gandia. I
rather believe that the little soldier with the lance is a woman,
perhaps Lucrezia. How does your countryman strike you, my friend?"
"He is of Mediterranean race, a dolichocephalic Iberian; he has the
small melon-shaped head, the sensual features. He is leptorrhine. He
comes of an intriguing, commercial, lying, and charlatan race."
"To which you have the honour to belong," said Kennedy, laughing.
"They say this man was a great enthusiast about his countrymen and the
customs of his country. These tiles, which are remains of the original
floor, and the plates you see here, are Valencian. A Spanish painter
told me that several letters of Alexander VI's are preserved in the
archives of the cathedral at Valencia, one among them asking to have
Kennedy walked forward a little and planted himself before an Assumption
of the Virgin, and said:
"It is supposed that this gloomy man dressed in red, with a little
fringe of hair on his brow, is a brother of the Pope's."
"A bad type to encounter in the Tribunal of the Inquisition," said
Caesar; "imagine what this red-robed fellow would have done with that
Jew at the Excelsior, Senor Pereira, if he had happened to have him in
"In the soffits," Kennedy went on, "as you see, are repetitions of the
symbols of Iris, Osiris, and the bull Apis, doubtless because of their
resemblance to the Christian symbols, and also because the bull Apis
recalls the bull in the Borgia arms." "Their arms were a bull?"
"Yes; it was a 'scutcheon invented by some king-at-arms or other, a
symbol of ferocity and strength."
"Were they of a noble family, these Borgias?"
"No, probably not. Though I believe some people suppose that they
were descended from the Aragonese family of Atares. Now that we know
Alexander VI, let us take a glance at his court. It has often been said,
and is no doubt taken from Vasari's book, that in the Borgia Apartment
Pinturicchio painted Pope Alexander VI adoring the Virgin represented
under the likeness of his beloved, Julia Farnese. The critic must have
been confused, because none of these madonnas recalls the face of
_Giulia la bella_, whom people used to call the Bride of Christ. The
picture that Vasari refers to must be one in the museum at Valencia."
_THE HALL OF THE SAINTS_
They went into another room, the Hall of the Saints, and Kennedy took
Caesar in front of the fresco called, _The Dispute of Saint Catherine
with the Emperor Maximian.
"The place of this scene," said Kennedy, "Pinturicchio has set in front
of the Arch of Constantine. The artist has added the inscription _Pacis
Cultori_, and below he has embossed the Borgia bull. The subject is the
discussion between the Emperor and the saint. Maximian, seated on a
throne under a canopy, is listening to Saint Catherine, who counts on
her fingers the arguments she has been using in the dispute. Who was it
served as model for the figure of Maximian? At first they imagined it
was Caesar Borgia; but as you may observe, the appearance of the Emperor
is that of a man of twenty odd years, and when Pinturicchio painted
this, Caesar was about seventeen. So it is more logical to suppose that
the model must have been the Pope's eldest son, the Duke of Gandia. A
chronicler of the period says that this Duke of Gandia was good among
the great, as his brother Caesar was great among the wicked. Also,
legend or history, whichever it be, says that Caesar procured his
elder brother's murder in a corner of the Ghetto, and that the Pope on
learning of it, became as if crazy, and went into the full Consistory
with his garments torn and ashes on his head."
"What love for traditional symbolism!" said Caesar.
"Everybody is not so anti-traditional as you. I will go on with my
explanation," added Kennedy. "Saint Catherine has Lucrezia's features.
She is small and slender. She wears her hair down, a little cap with a
pearl cross which hangs on her forehead, and a collar also of pearls.
She has large eyes, a candid expression. Cagnolo da Parma will say of
her, when she goes to Ferrara, that she has '_il naso profilato e bello,
li capelli aurei, gli occhi bianchi, la bocea alquanto grande con li
denti candiaissimi._' Literature will portray this sweet-faced little
blond girl as a Messalina, a poisoner, and incestuous with her brothers
and her father. At this time Lucrezia had just married Giovanni Sforza,
although as a matter of fact the two never lived together. Giovanni
Sforza is the little young man who appears there in the back of the
picture riding a spirited horse. Sforza wears his hair like a woman, and
has a broad-brimmed hat and a red mantle. A little later Caesar Borgia
will try several times to assassinate him."
"What for?" asked Caesar.
"No doubt he found him in the way. The man who is in the foreground,
next to the Emperor's throne, is Andrew Paleologos," Kennedy continued.
"He is the one wearing a pale purple cloak and looking so melancholy. It
used to be supposed that he was Giovanni Borgia. Now they say that it is
Paleologos, whom the death of the Emperor Constantine XIII, about this
time, had caused to lose the crown of Byzance.
"Here at the right, riding a Barbary horse, is Prince Djem, second son
of Muhammad II, whom Alexander VI kept as a hostage. Djem, as you see,
has an expressive face, a prominent nose, lively eyes, a long pointed
beard, a shock of hair, and a big turban. He rides Moorish fashion, with
his stirrups very short, and wears a curved cutlass in his belt. He is a
great friend of Caesar Borgia's, which does not prevent Caesar and his
father, according to public rumour, from poisoning him at a farewell
banquet in Capua. And here is Giovanni Sforza again, on foot. Are those
two children the younger sons of Alexander VI? Or are they Lucrezia and
Caesar again? I don't know. Behind Paleologos are the Pope's domestic
retainers, and among them Pinturicchio himself."
_THE LIFE OF CAESAR BORGIA_
After explaining the picture in detail, Kennedy went into the next room,
followed by Caesar. This is called the Hall of the Liberal Arts, and is
adorned with a large marble mantel.
"Is there no portrait here of Caesar Borgia?" asked Caesar.
"No. Here I have a photograph of the one by Giorgione," said Kennedy,
showing a postal card.
"What sort of man was he? What did he do?"
Kennedy seated himself on a bench near the window and Caesar sat beside
"Caesar Borgia," said Kennedy, "came to Rome from the university of
Pisa, approximately at the time when they made his father Pope. He must
then have been about twenty, and was strong and active. He broke in
horses, was an expert fencer and shot, and killed bulls in the ring."
"He was a good Spaniard. In a court that cannot be seen from here, on
account of those thick panes, but on which these windows look, Caesar
Borgia fought bulls, and the Pope stood here to watch his son's
dexterity with the sword."
"What ruffians!" exclaimed Caesar, smiling.
The Englishman continued with the history of Borgia, his intrigues with
the King of France, the death of Lucrezia's husband, the assassinations
attributed to the Pope's son, the mysterious execution of Ramiro del
Orco, which made Machiavelli say that Caesar Borgia was the prince who
best knew how to make and unmake men, according to their merits; finally
the _coup d'etat_ at Sinigaglia with the _condottieri_.
By this time Caesar Moncada was very anxious to know more. These Borgias
interested him. His sympathies went out toward those great bandits who
dominated Rome and tried to get all Italy into their power, leaf by
leaf, like an artichoke. Their purpose struck him as a good one, almost
a moral one. The device, _Aut Caesar, aut nihil_, was worthy of a man of
energy and courage.
Kennedy seeing Caesar's interest, then recounted the scene at Cardinal
Adrian Corneto's country-house; Alexander's intention to give a supper
there to various Cardinals and poison them all with a wine that had
been put into three bottles, so as to inherit from them, the
superstitiousness of the Pope, who sent Cardinal Caraffa to the Vatican
for a golden box in which he kept his consecrated Host, from which he
was never separated; and the mistake of the chamberlain, who served the
poisoned wine to Caesar and his father.
"Here, to this very room, they brought the dying Pope," said Kennedy,
and pointed to a door, on whose marble lintel one may read: _Alexander
Borgia Valentin P. P._ "They say he passed eight days here between life
and death, before he did die, and that when his corpse was exposed, it
Then Kennedy related the story of Caesar's trying to cure himself by the
strange method of being put inside of a mule just dead; his flight from
Rome, sick on a litter, with his soldiers, as far as the Romagna; his
imprisonment in the Castel Sant' Angelo; his capture by the Great
Captain; his efforts to escape from his prison at Medina del Campo; and
his obscure death on the Mendavia road, near Viana in Navarre, through
one of the Count of Lerin's soldiers, named Garces, a native of Agreda,
who gave Borgia such a blow with a lance that it broke his armour and
passed all the way through his body.
Caesar was stirred up. Hearing the story of the people who had lived
there, in those very rooms, gave him an impression of complete reality.
When they went out again by the Gallery of Inscriptions, they looked
from a window.
"It must have been here that he fought bulls?" said Caesar.
The court was large, with a fountain of four streams in the middle.
"Life then must have been more intense than now," said Caesar.
"Who knows? Perhaps it was the same as now," replied Kennedy.
"And what does history, exact history, say of these Borgias?"
"Of Pope Alexander VI it says that he had his children in wedlock; that
he was a good administrator; that the people were content with him; that
the influence of Spain was justifiable, because he was Spanish; that the
story of the poisonings does not seem certain; and that he himself could
hardly have died of poison, but rather of a malarial fever."
"And about Lucrezia?"
"Of Lucrezia it says that she was a woman like those of her period; that
there are no proofs for belief in her incests and her poisonings; and
that her first marriages, which were never really consummated, were
nothing more than political moves of her father and her brother's."
"And about Caesar?"
"Caesar is the one member of the family who appears really terrible.
His device, _Aut Caesar, aut nihil_, was not a chance phrase, but the
irrevocable decision to be a king or to be nothing."
"That, at least, is not a mystification," murmured Caesar.
_IN FRONT OF THE CASTEL SANT' ANGELO_
They left the Vatican, crossed the Piazza di San Pietro, and drew near
As they passed in front of the Castel Sant' Angelo, Kennedy said:
"Alexander VI shut himself up in this castle to weep for the Duke of
Gandia. From one of those windows he watched the funeral procession of
his son, whom they were carrying to Santa Maria del Popolo. According to
old Italian custom they bore the corpse in an open casket. The funeral
was at night, and two hundred men with torches lighted the way. When the
cortege set foot on this bridge, the Pope's retinue saw him draw back
with horror, and cover his face, crying out sharply."
"I have had the curiosity," Caesar wrote to his friend Alzugaray, "to
inform myself about the life of the Borgias, and going on from one to
another, I reached Saint Francis Borgia; and from Saint Francis I have
gone backwards to Saint Ignatius Loyola.
"The parallelism between the doings of Caesar Borgia and of Inigo de
Loyola surprised me; what one tried to do in the sphere of action, the
other did in the sphere of thought. These twin Spanish figures, both
odious to the masses, have given its direction to the Church; one,
Loyola, through the impulse to spiritual power; the other, Caesar
Borgia, through the impulse to temporal power.
"One may say that Spain gave Papal Rome its thought and activity, as
it gave the Rome of the Caesars also its thought and activity, through
Seneca and Trajan.
"Really it is curious to see the traces that remain in Rome of
that Basque, Inigo. That half farceur, half ruffian, who had the
characteristics of a modern anarchist, was a genius for organization.
Bakunin and Mazzini are poor devils beside him. The Church still lives
through Loyola. He was her last reformer.
"The Society of Jesus is the knot of the whole Catholic scaffolding; the
Jesuits know that on the day when this knot, which their Society forms,
is cut or pulled open, the whole frame-work of out-of-date ideas and
lies, which defends the Vatican, will come down with a terrible noise.
"Rome lives on Jesuitism. Indubitably, without Loyola, Catholicism would
have rotted away much sooner. It is obvious that this would have been
better, but we are not talking about that. A good general is not one who
defends just causes, but one who wins battles.
"The Borgias, Luther, and Saint Ignatius, between them, killed the
predominance of the Latin race.
"The Borgias threw discredit on the free Renaissance life, before the
face of all nations; Luther removed the centre of spiritual life and
philosophy to Germany and England; Saint Ignatius prevented Roman
Catholicism from rotting away; he put iron braces on the body that was
doubling over with weakness, and inside his braces the body has gone on
decomposing and has poisoned the Latin countries.
"On hearing this opinion here, they asked me:
"'Then you think Catholicism is dead?'
"'No, no; as to having any civilizing effect, it is dead; but as to
having a sentimental effect, it is very much alive ... and it will still
unfortunately keep on being alive. All this business of the Virgin
del Pilar and the Virgin del Carmen, and saints, and processions, and
magnificent churches, is a terrible strength.... If there were an
emancipated bourgeoisie and a sensible working class, Catholicism would
not be a peril; but there are not, and Catholicism will have, not
perhaps an overpowering expansion, but at least moments of new growth.
While we have a lazy rich class and a brutalized poor class, Catholicism
will be strong.'
"Leaving the utilitarian and moral questions aside, and considering
merely the amount of influence and the traces left by this influence,
one can see that Rome is living on Loyola's work and still dreaming
of Borgia's. Those pilgrims in the Piazza di San Pietro who
enthusiastically yell, _Viva il Papa-re!_ are acclaiming the memory of
Caesar Borgia. Thus you have the absurd result, people who speak with
horror of an historic figure and still hold his work in admiration.
"This Spanish influence that our country gave to the Church in two ways,
spiritual and material,--to the Church which now is an institution not
merely foreign but contrary to our nature,--Spain ought today to try
to use in her own behalf. Spain's work ought to be to organize
"We are individualists; therefore what we need is an iron discipline,
"This discipline established, we ought to spread it through the
contiguous countries, especially through Africa. Democracy, the
Republic, Socialism, have not, essentially, any root in our land.
Families, cities, classes, can be united in a pact; isolated men, like
us, can be united only by discipline.
"Moreover, as for us, we do not recognize prestige, nor do we cheerfully
accept either kings or presidents or high priests or grand magi.
"The only thing that would suit us would be to have a chief ... for the
pleasure of eating him alive.
"A Loyola of the extra-religious individualism is what Spain needs.
Deeds, always deeds, and a cold philosophy, realistic, based on deeds,
and a morality based on action. Don't you agree?
"I think, and I am becoming more confirmed in my opinion, that the only
people who can give a direction, found a new civilization with its own
proper characteristics, for that old Iberian race, which probably sprang
from the shores of the Mediterranean ... is we Spaniards.
"'Why only you Spaniards?' my friend Kennedy asked me; and I told him:
"'To me it seems indubitable. France is leaning constantly more towards
the North. In Italy the same is true; Milan and Turin, where the Saxon
and the Gaul predominate, are the real capitals of Italy. In Spain,
however, this does not happen. We are separated from the rest of Europe
by the Pyrenees, and joined to Africa by the sea and climate. Our plan
ought to be to construct a great European Empire, to impose our ideas on
the peninsula, and then to spread them everywhere.'"
DON CALIXTO AT SAINT PETER'S
_DON CALIXTO UNDERSTANDS_
Kennedy was anxious that Caesar should turn into the good road. The good
road, for him, was art.
"At heart," the Englishman informed him, "I am one of those Brothers of
the Esthetic Doctrine who irritate you, and I must instruct you in the
"I am not opposed to your trying to instruct me."
The two went several times to see museums, especially the Vatican
One day, on leaving the Sistine Chapel, where they had had a long
discussion on the merits of Michelangelo, Caesar met the painter Cortes,
who came to speak to him.
"I am here with a gentleman from my town, who is a Senator," said
Cortes. "A boresome old boy. Shall I introduce him?"
"He is an old fool who knows nothing about anything and talks about
Cortes presented Caesar to Don Calixto Garcia Guerrero, a man of some
fifty-odd, Senator and boss of the province of Zamora.
Don Calixto invited Caesar and Kennedy to dine with him. The Englishman
expressed regrets, and Caesar said he would go. They took leave of
Cortes and Don Calixto, and went out to the Piazza di San Pietro.
"I imagine you are going to be bored tomorrow dining with that old
countryman of yours," said Kennedy. "Oh, surely. He has all the signs
of a soporific person; but who knows? a type like that sometimes has
"So you are dining with him with a more or less practical object?"
"Why, of course."
The next evening, Caesar, in his evening clothes, betook himself to an
hotel in the Piazza di Spagna, where Don Calixto Garcia Guerrero was
staying. Don Calixto received him very cordially. He doubtless knew that
Caesar was nephew to Cardinal Fort and brother to a marchioness, and
doubtless that flattered Don Calixto.
Don Calixto honoured Caesar with an excellent dinner, and during dessert
became candid with him. He had come to Rome to put through his obtaining
a Papal title. He was a friend of the Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican,
and it wouldn't have cost him any more to be made a prince, a duke, or
a marquis; but he preferred the title of count. He had a magnificent
estate called La Sauceda, and he wanted to be the Count de la Sauceda.
Caesar comprehended that this gentleman might be fortune coming in the
guise of chance, and he set himself to making good with him, to telling
him stories of aristocratic life in Rome, some of which he had read in
books, and some of which he had heard somewhere or other.
"What vices must exist here!" Don Calixto kept exclaiming. "That is why
they say: _'Roma veduta, fede perduta.'_"
Caesar noted that Don Calixto had a great enthusiasm for the
aristocracy; and so he took pains, every time he talked with him, to mix
the names of a few princes and marquises into the conversation; he also
gave him to understand that he lived among them, and went so far as to
hint the possibility of being of service to him in Rome, but in a
manner ambiguous enough to permit of withdrawing the offer in case of
necessity. Fortunately for Caesar, Don Calixto had his affairs all
completely arranged; the one thing he desired was that Caesar, whom he
supposed to be an expert on archeological questions, should go about
with him the three or four days he expected to remain in Rome. He had
spent a whole week making calls, and as yet had seen nothing.
Caesar had no other recourse but to buy a Baedeker and read it and learn
a lot of things quite devoid of interest for him.
The next day Don Calixto was waiting for him in a carriage at the door,
and they went to see the sights.
Don Calixto was a man that made phrases and ornamented them with many
adverbs ending in -ly.
"Verily," he said, after his first archeological walk in Rome, "verily,
it seems strange that after more than two thousand years have passed,
all these monuments should still remain."
"That is most true," replied Caesar, looking at him with his impassive
"I understand why Rome is the real school for learning, integrally, both
ancient and modern history."
"Most certainly," agreed Caesar.
Don Calixto, who knew neither Italian nor French, found a source of
help, for the days he was to spend in Rome, in Caesar's friendship,
and made him accompany him everywhere. Caesar was able to collect and
preserve, though not precisely cut in brass, the phrases Don Calixto
uttered in front of the principal monuments of Rome.
In front of the Colosseum, his first exclamation was: "What a lot of
stone!" Then recalling his role of orator, he exclaimed: "The spirits
are certainly daunted and the mind darkened on thinking how men could
have sunk to such abysses of evil."
"Don Calixto is referring to those holes," thought Caesar, looking at
the cellars of the Circo Romano.
From the Colosseum the carriage went to the Capitol, and then Don
Calixto asserted with energy:
"One cannot deny that, say what you will, Rome is one of the places most
fertile in memories."
Don Calixto was an easy traveller for his _cicerone_. He far preferred
talking to being given explanations; Caesar had said to him: "Don
Calixto, you understand everything, by intuition." And being thus
reassured, Don Calixto kept uttering terrible absurdities.
One day Don Calixto went to see the Pope, in evening clothes and
with his abdomen covered with decorations, and he asked Caesar if
a photographer couldn't take his picture in the act of leaving the
carriage, so that the photograph would have Saint Peter's as a
"Yes, I think so. Why not? The only thing will be that the photographer
will charge you more."
"I don't mind that. Could you arrange it for me?"
What Don Calixto desired was done.
"How did the Pope impress you?" Caesar asked him as he came out
"Very favourably, very favourably indeed."
"He has a stupid face, hasn't he?"
"No, man, not at all. He is like a nice country priest. His predecessor
was no doubt more of a diplomat, more intelligent."
"Yes, the other seemed more of a rogue," said Caesar, laughing at the
precautions Don Calixto took in giving his opinion.
The proofs of the photographs came in the evening, and Don Calixto was
enchanted with them. In one of them you could see the Swiss guard at
the door, with his lance. It was splendid. Don Calixto would not permit
Caesar to go to his hotel, but invited him for dinner; and after dinner
told him he was so indebted that he would be delighted to do anything
Caesar asked him.
"Why don't you make me a Deputy?" said Caesar, laughing.
"Do you want to be one?"
"I should think so."
"But you would have to live in Madrid."
"Would you leave here?"
"Yes, why not?"
"Then, not another word, we will say no more about it. When the time
comes, you will write to me and say: 'Don Calixto, the moment has
arrived for you to remember your promise: I want to be a Deputy.'"
"Very good. I will do it, and you shall present me as candidate for
Castro ... Castro ... what?"
"You will see me there then."
"All right. And now, another favour. There is a Canon from Zamora here,
a friend of mine, who came on the pilgrimage and who desires nothing
so much as to see Saint Peter's and the Catacombs rather thoroughly. I
could explain everything to him, but I am not sure about the dates. Will
you come with us?"
"With great pleasure."
"Then we shall expect you here at ten."
"That will be fine."
Sure enough, at ten Caesar was there. Don Calixto and his friend the
Canon Don Justo, who was a large gentleman, tall and fleshy and with a
long nose, were waiting. The three got into the carriage.
"I hope this priest isn't going to be one of those library rats who
know everything on earth," thought Caesar, but when he heard him make a
couple of mistakes in grammar, he became tranquil.
_THEODORA AND MAROZIA_
As they passed the Castel Sant' Angelo, Caesar began to tell the story
of Theodora and her daughter Marozia, the two women who lived there and
who, for forty odd years, changed the Popes as one changes cooks.
"You know the history of those women?" asked Caesar.
"I don't," said the Canon.
"Nor I," added Don Calixto.
"Then I will tell it to you before we get to Saint Peter's. Theodora, an
influential lady, fell in love with a young priest of Ravenna, and had
him elected Pope, by the name of John X. Her daughter Marozia, a young
girl and a virgin, gave herself to Pope Sergius III, a capricious,
fantastic man, who had once had the witty idea of digging up Pope
Formosus and subjecting him, putrefied as he was, to the judgment of
a Synod. By this eccentric man Marozia had a son, and afterwards was
married three times more. She exercised an omnipotent sway over the Holy
See. John X, her mother's lover, she deposed and sent to die in prison.
With his successor, Leo VI, whom she herself had appointed Pope, she
did the same. The following Pope, Stephen VII, died of illness, twenty
months after his reign began, and then Marozia gave the Papal crown to
the son she had had by Sergius III, who took the name of John XI. This
Pope and his brother Alberic, began to feel their mother's influence
rather heavy, and during a popular revolt they decided to get Marozia
into their power, and they seized her and buried her alive in the _in
pace_ of a convent."
"But is all this authentic?" asked the Canon, completely stupefied.
The Canon made a gesture of resignation and looked at Don Calixto in
While Caesar was telling the story, the carriage had passed down a
narrow and rather deserted street, called Borgo Vecchio, in whose
windows clothes were hanging out to dry, and then they came out in
the Piazza di San Pietro. They drove around one edge of this enormous
square. The sky was blue. A fountain was throwing water, which changed
to a cloud in the air and produced a brilliant rainbow.
"One certainly wonders," said Caesar, "if Saint Peter's is not one of
the buildings in the worst taste that exist in the world."
They got out in front of the steps.
"Your friend is probably well up on archeological matters?" asked
"Who? Don Justo? Not in the least."
Caesar began to laugh, went up the steps ahead of the others, lifted the
leather curtain, and they all three went into Saint Peter's. _THERE IS
Caesar began his explanations with the plan of the church. The Canon
passed his hand over all the stones and kept saying:
"This is marble too," and adding, "How expensive!"
"Do you like this, Don Calixto?" Caesar asked.
"What a question, man!"
"Well, it is obviously very rich and very sumptuous, but it must give a
fanatic coming here from far away the same feeling a person gets when
he has a cold and asks for a hot drink and is given a glass of iced
"Don't let Don Justo hear you," said Don Calixto, as if they ought to
keep the secret about the orgeat between the two of them.
They came to the statue of Saint Peter, and Caesar told them it is the
custom for strangers to kiss its foot. The Canon piously did so, but
Don Calixto, who was somewhat uneasy, rubbed the statue's worn foot
surreptitiously with his handkerchief and then kissed it.
Caesar abstained from kissing it, because he said the kiss was
efficacious principally for strangers.
Then they went along, looking at the tombs of the Popes. Caesar was
several times mistaken in his explanations, but his friends did not
notice his mistakes.
The thing that surprised the Canon most was the tomb of Alexander
VII, because there is a skeleton on it. Don Calixto stopped with most
curiosity before the tomb of Paul III, on which one sees two nude women.
Caesar told them that popular legend claims that one of these statues,
the one representing Justice, is Julia Farnese, sister of Pope Paul
III, and mistress of Pope Alexander VI; but such a supposition seems
"Entirely," insisted the Canon gravely; "those are things invented by
the Free Thinkers."
Don Calixto allowed himself to say that most of the Popes looked like
Don Justo continued appraising everything he saw like a contractor.
Caesar devoted himself to retailing his observations to Don Calixto,
while the Canon walked alone.
"I will inform you," he told him, "that on Saturday one may go up in
the dome, but only decently dressed people. So a placard on that door
informs us. If by any chance an apostle should re-arise and have a
fancy to do a little gymnastics and see Rome from a height, as he would
probably be dirty and badly dressed, he would get left, they wouldn't
let him go up. And then he could say: 'Invent a religion like the
Christian religion, so that after a while they won't let you go up in
"Yes, certainly, certainly," replied Don Calixto. "They are absurd. But
do not let the Canon hear you. To be sure, all this does not look very
religious, but it is magnificent."
"Yes, it is a beautiful stage-setting, but there is no performance,"
"What do you mean by that?" asked Don Calixto.
"That this is an empty place. It would have been well to build a temple
as large and light as this in honour of Science, which is humanity's
great creation. These statues, instead of being stupid or warlike Popes,
ought to be the inventor of vaccination or of chloroform. Then one could
understand the chilliness and the fairly menacing air that everything in
the place wears. Let people have confidence in the truth and in work,
that is good; but that a religion founded on mysteries, on obscurities,
should build a bright, challenging, flippant temple, is ridiculous."
"Yes, yes," said Don Calixto, always preoccupied in keeping the Canon
from hearing, "you talk like a modern man. I myself, down in my heart,
you know.... I believe you follow me, eh?"
"Well, I think that all this has no transcendency.... That is to say...."
"No, it has none. You may well say so, Don Calixto."
"But it did have it. That cannot be doubted, can it? And a great deal.
This is undeniable."
_IT IS A MAGNIFICENT BUSINESS CONCERN_
"It was really a magnificent business concern," said Caesar. "Think
of monopolizing heaven and hell, selling the shares here on earth and
paying the dividends in heaven! There's no guarantee trust company or
pawn-broker that pays an interest like that. And at its height, how many
branches it developed! Here, in this square, I have a friend, a Jewish
dealer in rosaries, who tells me his trade is flourishing. In three
weeks he has sold a hundred and fifty kilos of rosaries blessed by the
Pope, two hundred kilos of medals, and about half a square kilometre of
"What an exaggeration!" said Don Calixto.
"No, it is the truth. He is glad that these things, which he considers
accursed, sell, because after all, he is a liberal and a Jew; the only
thing he does, if he can, to ease his conscience, is to get ten per
cent. profit on everything, and he says to himself: 'Let the Catholics
"What tales! If the Canon should hear you!"
"No, but all this is true. As my friend says: Business is business. And
he has made me take notice that when the Garibaldini come here, they
spend the price of a few bottles of Chianti, and then they sleep in any
dog-kennel, and spend nothing more. On the contrary, the rich Catholics
buy and buy ... and off go his kilos of rosaries and of medals, his tons
of veils for visiting the Pope, his reams of indulgences for eating
meat, and for eating fish and meat, and even for blowing your nose on
pages of the Bible if you like."
"Do not be so disrespectful."
When the Canon had made sure of all the square metres of marble there
are in Saint Peter's they went out into the square again. Caesar
indicated the heap of irregular edifices that form the Vatican.
"That ought to be the Pope's room," said Caesar, pointing to a window,
at random. "You must have been there, Don Calixto?" "I don't know.
Really," he said, "I haven't much idea where I was."
"Nor has he any idea how he went," thought Caesar, and added: "That is
the Library; over there is the Secretary of State's apartment; there is
where the Holy Office meets"; and he said whatsoever occurred to him,
They took their carriage, and as they passed a shop for objects of
religion, Don Calixto said to the Canon:
"What do you say to this, Don Justo? According to Don Caesar, the
proprietors of the shops where they sell medals, are Jews."
"Bah! that cannot be so," replied the Canon roundly.
"Why should it shock you?" exclaimed Caesar. "If they sold Jesus Christ
alive, why are they not to sell him dead?"
"Well, I am glad to know it," Don Justo burst forth, "because I was
going to buy some medals for presents, and now I won't buy them."
Don Calixto smiled, and Caesar understood that the good Canon was taking
advantage of the information to save a penny.
DON CALIXTO IN THE CATACOMBS
Don Calixto and the Canon were very anxious to visit the Catacombs.
Caesar knew that the visit is not entirely agreeable, and attempted to
dissuade them from their intention.
"I don't know whether you gentlemen know that one has to spend the
entire day there."
"Without lunch?" asked the Canon.
"Oh, no; that is impossible."
"One has to sacrifice oneself for the sake of Christianity," said
"You haven't much desire to sacrifice yourself," retorted Don Calixto.
"Because I believe it is damp and unwholesome down there, and a
Christian bronchitis would not be wholly pleasant, despite its religious
origin. And besides, as you already know, one must go without food."
"We might eat something there," said Don Justo.
"Eat there!" exclaimed Caesar. "Eat a slice of ham, in front of the
niches of the Catacombs! It would make me sick."
"It wouldn't me," replied the Canon.
"In front of the tombs of martyrs and saints!"
"Even if they were saints, they ate too," replied the Canon, with his
excellent good sense.
Caesar had to agree that even if they were saints, they ate.
There was a French family at the hotel who were also thinking of going
to see the Catacombs, and Don Calixto and Don Justo decided to go the
same day with them. The French family consisted of a Breton gentleman,
tall and whiskered, who had been at sea; his wife, who looked like a
village woman; and the daughter, a slender, pale, sad young lady. They
had with them, half governess, half maid, a lean peasant-woman with a
The young lady confessed to Caesar that she had been dreaming of the
Catacombs for a long while. She knew the description Chateaubriand gives
of them in _Les Martyres_ by heart.
The next day the French family in one landau, and Don Calixto with the
Canon and Caesar in another, went to see the Catacombs.
The French family had brought a fat, smiling abbe as cicerone.
Five persons couldn't get inside the landau, and the Breton gentleman
had to sit by the driver. Don Calixto offered him a seat in his
carriage, but the Breton, who must have been obstinate as a mule, said
no, that from the driver's seat he enjoyed more of the panorama.
They halted a moment, on the abbe's advice, at the Baths of Caracalla,
and went through them. The cicerone explained where the different
bathing-rooms had been and the size of the pools. Those cyclopean
buildings, those high, high arches, those enormous walls, left Caesar
One couldn't understand a thing like this except in a town which had a
mania for the gigantic, the titanic.
They left the baths and started along. They followed the Via di Porta
San Sebastiano, between two walls. They left behind the imposing ruins
of the Baths of Caracalla and various establishments for archeological
reconstructions, and the carriage stopped at the gate of the Catacombs.
They went in, guided by the abbe, and arrived at a sort of office.
They each paid a lira for a taper which a friar was handing out, and
they joined a group of other people, without quite knowing what they
expected next. In the group there were two German Dominicans, a tall one
whose fiery red beard hung to his waist, and a slim one, with a nose
like a knife.
It was not long before another numerous group of tourists came out of a
hole in the floor, and among them was a Trappist brother who came over
to where Don Calixto and Caesar were. The Trappist carried a stick,
and a taper twisted in the end of the stick. He asked if everybody
understood French; any one that didn't could wait for another group.
"I don't understand it," said the Canon.
"I will translate what he says, to you," replied Caesar.
"All right," answered the Canon.
"_En avant, messieurs_," said the Trappist, lighting his taper, and
requesting them all to do the same.
They went around giving one another a light, and with their little
candles aflame they began to descend into the Catacombs.
They went in by a gallery as narrow as one in a mine, which once in a
while broadened into bigger spaces.
In certain spots there were openings in the roof.
Caesar had never thought about what the celebrated Catacombs would be
like, but he had not expected them so poor and so sinister.
The sensation they caused was disagreeable, a sensation of choking, of
suffocation, without one's really getting any impression of grandeur.
The place seemed like an abandoned ant-hill. The wide spaces that opened
out at the sides of the passage were chapels, the monk said.
The Trappist cicerone contributed to removing any serious feelings with
his chatter and his jokes. Being familiar with these tombs, he had lost
respect for them, as sacristans lose it for the saints they brush the
dust off of with a feather-duster. Moreover, he judged everything by an
esthetic criterion, completely devoid of respect; for him there were
only sepulchres with artistic character, or without it; of a good or
a poor period; and the latter sort he struck contemptuously with his
The marine Breton was irritated, and asked Caesar several times:
"Why is that permitted?" "I don't know," answered Caesar.
The monk made extraordinary remarks.
Explaining the life of the Christians in the earliest eras of
Christianity, he said:
"In this century the habits of the pontiffs were so lax that the
Pope had to go out accompanied by two persons to insure his modest
"Oh, oh!" said a young Frenchman, in a tone of vexation.
_"Ah! C'est L'histoire,"_ replied the monk.
Caesar translated what the Trappist had said, to Don Calixto and the
Canon, and they were both really perplexed.
They followed the long, narrow galleries. It was a strange effect,
seeing the procession of tourists with their burning candles. One didn't
notice the modern clothes and the ladies' hats, and from a distance the
procession lighted by the little flames of the candles, had a mysterious
At the tail of the crowd walked two men who spoke English. One was a
"gentleman" little versed in archeological questions; the other a tall
person with the face of a scholar. Caesar drew near them to listen. The
one was explaining to his companion everything they saw as they went
along, the signification of the emblems cut in the tablets, and the
funerary customs of the Christians.
"Didn't they put crosses?" asked the unlearned gentleman.
"No," said the other. "It is said that for the Romans the _crux_
represented the gallows! Thus the earliest representation of the
Crucified is a drawing in the Kirchnerian museum, which shows a
Christian kneeling before a man with a donkey's head, who is nailed to a
cross. In Greek letters one reads: 'Alexamenes adores his God.' They say
this drawing comes from the Palace of the Caesars, and it is considered
to be a caricature of Christ, drawn by a Roman soldier on a wall."
"Didn't they put up images of Christ, either?"
"No. You do not consider that they were at the height of the discussion
as to whether Christ was ugly or beautiful."
The tall gentleman got involved in a long dissertation as to what
motives they had had, some to insist that Christ's person was of great
beauty, others to affirm that it was of terrible ugliness.
Caesar would have liked to go on listening to what this gentleman said,
but Don Justo joined him. The Trappist was in front of two mummies,
explaining something, and he wanted Caesar to translate what he was
Caesar did this bit of interpreting for him. The candles were beginning
to burn out and it was necessary to leave.
The cicerone took them rapidly along a gallery at whose end there was a
stairway, and they issued into the sunlight. The monk extinguished the
taper on his stick, and began crying:
"Now, gentlemen, do you want any scapulars, medals, chocolate?"
Caesar looked over his companions in the expedition. The Canon
was indifferent. The old maritime Breton showed signs of profound
indignation, and his daughter, the little French mystic, had tears in
"That poor little French girl, who arrived here so full of enthusiasm,
has come out of these Catacombs like a rat out of a sewer," said Caesar.
"And why so?" asked Don Calixto.
"Because of the things the monk said. He was really scandalous."
"It is true," said the Canon gravely. "I never would have believed it."
_"Roma veduta, fede perduta,"_ said Don Calixto. "And as for you,
Caesar, hasn't this visit interested you?"
"Yes, I have been interested in trying to keep from catching cold."
The landau that the Breton family was in took the Appian, Way, and
Caesar and Don Calixto's carriage followed behind it.
They passed the tomb of Cecilia Metella, and were able to look ahead
along the old road, on whose sides one sees the remains of aqueducts,
which at evening-fall have a grandeur so imposing. Don Calixto and Don
Justo were discussing a question of home politics.
On them magnificently indifferent, the broken sepulchres, the abandoned
arches invaded by grass, the vestiges of a gigantic civilization, did
not produce the least impression.
The coachman pointed out Frascati on the slope of a mountain, Albano,
Grotta Ferrata, and Tivoli.
Caesar felt the grandeur of the landscape; the enormous sadness of the
remnants of aqueducts, which had the colour of rusty iron, beneath a sky
of pink clouds.
At dusk they turned back. Caesar felt a weight on his spirits. The
walls of the Baths of Caracalla looked threatening to him. Those great
towering thick walls, broken, brick-colour, burned by the sun, gave
him an impression of the strength of the past. There were no trees, no
houses near them; as if those imposing ruins precluded any life round
about. Only one humble almond-tree held out its white flowers.
Don Calixto and the Canon continued chatting.
SENTIMENTALITY AND ARCHEOLOGY
Don Calixto and the Canon went away to Spain. Caesar thought he was
wasting time in Rome and that he ought to get out, but he remained. He
kept wondering why Susanna Marchmont had left and never written him.
Twice he asked about her at the Hotel Excelsior, and was told that she
had not returned.
One evening at the beginning of May, when he had managed to decide to
pack up and go, he received a card from Susanna, telling him of her
arrival and inviting him to have tea at the _Ristorante del Castello dei
Caesar immediately left the hotel and took a cab, which carried him to
the top of the Aventine Hill.
He got out at the entrance to the garden of the _Ristorante_, went
across it, and out on a large terrace.
There were a number of Americans having tea, and in one group of them
"How late you come!" she said.
"I have just received your card. And what did you do in Corfu? How did
things go down there?"
"Very well indeed. It is all wonderful. And I have been in Epirus and
Susanna related her impressions of those countries, with many details,
which, surely, she had read in Baedeker.
She was very smart, and prettier than ever. She said her husband must be
in London; she had had no news from him for more than a month. "And how
did you know I was still here?" Caesar asked her.
"Through Kennedy. He wrote to me. He is a good friend. He talked a lot
about you in his letters."
Caesar thought he noticed that Susanna talked with more enthusiasm than
ordinarily. Perhaps distance had produced a similar effect on her
to what wondering about her had on him. Caesar looked at her almost
From the terrace one could see the tragic ruins of the Palace of the
Caesars; broken arcades covered with grass, remains of walls still
standing, the openings of arches and windows, and here and there a
pointed cypress or a stone pine among the great devastated walls.
Far away one could see the country, Frascati, and the blue mountains of
As it was already late, the group of Susanna's American friends decided
to return by carriage.
"I am going to walk," said Susanna in a low tone. "Would you like to
come with me?"
"With great pleasure."
They took leave of the others, went down the garden road, which was
decorated on both sides with ancient statues and tablets, and issued on
the Via di Santa Prisca, a street between two dark walls, with a lamp
every once in a while.
"What a sky!" she exclaimed.
"It is splendid."
It was of a blue with the lustre of mother-of-pearl; in the zenith a
stray star was imperceptibly shining; to the west floated golden and red
They went down the steep street, alongside a garden wall. In some
places, bunches of century plants showed their hard spikes, sharp as
daggers, over the low walls.
There was a great silence in this coming of night. Among the foliage of
the trees they heard the piping of sparrows. From far away there came,
from time to time, the puffing of a train.
They walked without speaking, mastered by the melancholy of their
surroundings. Now and again, a peasant, tanned by the sun, with his
little sack full of grass, came home from the fields, singing.
Caesar and Susanna passed alongside of the Jewish cemetery, and stopped
to look in through a grill. The wall hid the burning zone of twilight; a
greenish blue reigned in the zenith.
They went on again. A bell began to ring.
Caesar was depressed. Susanna was silent.
They crossed a street of new, dark houses; they passed by a little
square with a melancholy church. The street they took was named for
Saint Theodore. To the left, down the Via del Velabro, they saw an arch
with many niches on the sides of the single opening.
A band of black seminarians passed.
"Poor creatures!" murmured Caesar.
"Are you very sympathetic?" said Susanna, mockingly.
"Yes, those chaps rouse my pity."
Now, on the right, the furious ruins of the Palatine were piled up:
brick walls, ruined arches, decrepit partitions, and above, the terrace
of a garden with a balustrade. Over the terrace, against the sky, were
the silhouettes of high cypresses almost black, of ilexes with their
dense foliage, and a large palm with arching leaves.
From these so tragic ruins there seemed to exhale a great desolation,
beneath the deep, green sky.
Susanna and Caesar drew near the Forum.
In the opaque light of dusk the Forum had the air of a cemetery. Two
lighted windows were shining in the high dark wall of the Tabularium,
and sharp-toned bells were beginning to ring.
They went up the stairway that leads to the Capitol, and on a little
terrace they stopped to look at the Forum.
"What terrible desolation!" exclaimed Susanna.
"All the stones look like tombs," said Caesar. "Yes, that is true,"
"What are those three high open vaults that give so strange an
impression of immense size?" asked Caesar.
"That is what remains of Constantine's basilica."
For a long while they gazed at that abandoned space, with its melancholy
columns and white stones.
In a street running into the Forum, there began to shine two rows of
gaslights of a greenish colour.
As they passed down the slope leading to the Capitol, in a little street
to the left, the Via Monte Tarpea, they saw a funeral procession ready
to start. At that moment the corpse was being brought into the street.
Several women in black were waiting by the house door with lighted
The priest, in his white surplice and holding up his cross, gave the
order to start, and pushed to the front of the crowd; four men raised
the bier and took it on their shoulders, and the procession of women in
black, men, and children, followed behind. Bells with sharp voices began
again to sound in the air.
"Oh, isn't it sad!" said Susanna, lifting her hand to her breast.
They watched how the procession moved away, and then Caesar murmured,
"It is stupid."
"What?" asked Susanna.
"I say that it's stupid to take pleasure in feeling miserable. What we
are doing is absurd and unhealthy."
Susanna burst into laughter, and when she said good-night to Caesar she
squeezed his hand energetically.
THE 'SCUTCHEON OF A CHURCH
"Susanna Marchmont," Caesar wrote to his friend Alzugaray, "is a
beautiful woman, rich, and apparently intelligent. She has given me to
understand that she feels a certain inclination for me, and if I please
her well enough, she will get a divorce and marry me.
"I have discovered the reasons for her inclination, first in a desire to
revenge herself on her husband by marrying the brother of the woman he
has fallen in love with; secondly, in my not having made love to her,
like the majority of the men she has known.
"Really, Susanna is a beautiful woman; but whereas other women gain
by being looked at and listened to, with her it is not so. In this
beautiful woman there is something cold, utilitarian, which she does not
succeed in hiding by her artistic effusions. Besides she has a great
deal of vanity, but stupid vanity. She has asked me if I couldn't manage
to acquire a high-sounding, decorative title in Spain.
"If Susanna knew that in my heart I keep up her friendship only through
inertia, because I have no plans, and that her millions and her beauty
leave me cold, she would be dumfounded; I believe that perhaps she
would admire me.
"At present we devote ourselves to walking, talking, and telling each
other our impressions. Any one would say that we intentionally play a
game of being contrary; whatsoever she finds wonderful seems worthy
of contempt to me, and vice-versa. It is strange that such absolute
disagreement can exist. This Sunday afternoon we have been taking a
long walk, half sentimental, half archeological.
"I went to get her at her hotel; she came down, looking very smart, with
an unmarried friend, also an American and also very chic.
"The three of us walked toward the Forum. We passed under the arch of
Constantine. A small beggar-boy preceded us, getting ahead and turning
hand-springs. I gave him some pennies. Susanna laughed. This woman, who
pays bills of thousands of pesetas to her milliner, doesn't like to give
a copper to a ragamuffin.
"We turned off a bit from the avenue and went up on the right, toward
the Palatine. Among the ruins some women were pulling up plants and
putting them into sacks. At the end of the road, on the slope, there
were Stations of the Cross, and some boys from a school were playing,
guarded by priests with white rabbits.
"It was impossible to go further, and we went down the hill toward the
Piazza di San Gregorio. On the open place in front of the church that is
in this square, some vagabonds were stretched out on the ground; an old
man with a long hoary beard and a pipe with a chain, two dark youths
with shocks of black hair, and a red-headed woman with silver hoops in
her ears and a baby in her arms.
"The two young boys threw me a glance of hatred, and stared at Susanna
and her friend with extraordinary avidity.
"What very false ideas must have been going through their minds! I might
have approached them and said politely:
"'Do not imagine that these ladies are of different stuff from this red
woman who has the baby in her arms. They are all the same. There is no
more difference than what is caused by a little soap and some money.'
"'Let us go in and see the church,' said Susanna.
"'Good. Come along.'
"The church has a flight of stone steps and two cypresses to one side.
"We went into a court with graves in it, and stayed there a while,
reading the names of the people buried in them. Susanna's friend is a
sort of little devil with the instincts of a small boy, and she went
springing about in all the corners.
"When we came out of the church we found the square, deserted before,
now full of people. During the time we had stayed inside, a numerous
group of tourists had formed a circle, and a gentleman was explaining in
English what the Via Appia used to be.
"'These are the things that please you,' Susanna said to me, laughing.
"I answered with a joke. The truth is that no matter how many
explanations I am given, an ancient Roman always seems a cardboard
figure to me, or at most a marble figure. It is not possible to imagine
how bored I used to be reading _Les Martyres_ of Chateaubriand and that
famous _Quo Vadis_.
"From the Piazza di San Gregorio we took a steep street, the 'Via di
Santi Giovanni e Paolo,' which passes under an arch with several brick
"We came out in a little square, in an angle of which there is an
ancient arcaded tower, which has tiles set into the walls, some round
and others the shape of a Greek cross.
"The modern portico of the church has columns and a grated door, which
we found open. Over the door is a picture of Saint John and Saint Paul;
on the sides of it two shields with the mitre and the keys. On one, set
round about, are the Latin words: _Omnium rerum est vicisitudo;_ on the
other is written in Spanish: _Mi corazon arde en mucha llama._
"'Is it Spanish?' Susanna asked me.
"'What does it mean?'
"I translated the phrase into English: 'My heart burns with a great
flame'; and Susanna repeated it several times, and begged me to write it
in her card-case.
"Her friend skimmed some pages in Baedeker and said:
"'It seems that the house of two saints martyred by Julian the Apostate
is preserved here.'
"I assured them that that was an error. I happen to have been reading
just a few days ago a book about Julian the Apostate, and it turns out
that that Emperor was an admirable man, good, generous, brave, full of
virtues; but the Christians had reason for calumniating him and they
calumniated him. All Julian's persecutions of Christians are logical
repressions of people that were disturbing public order, and the phrase,
Vencisti, Galileo, is a pious fraud. Julian was a philosopher, he
loved science, hygiene, cleanliness, peace, in a world of hysterical
worshipers of corpses, who wanted to live in ignorance, filth, and
"But Christianity, always a religion of hallucinated persons, of
mystifiers, has never vacillated in singing the praises of parricides
like Constantine, and in calumniating the memory of great men like
"Susanna and her friend considered that the question of whether Julian
has been calumniated by history, or not, was of no importance.
"The truth is that I feel the same way.
"From the Via di Santi Giovanni e Paolo we came out into a small square
by a church, which has a little marble ship in front of its porch. We
saw that his street is named after the _Navicella._"
A ROYAL IDYLL
"By the side of the church of the Navicella, we passed the Villa Mattei,
and Susanna wished to go in. What a beautiful property! What splendid
terraces those in that garden are! What laurels! What lemon-trees! What
old statues! What heavy shade of pines and live-oaks!
"Kennedy, who has an admirable knowledge of every corner of Rome, has
told me that at the beginning of the XIX Century the Villa Mattei was
the property of Godoy. King Charles IV and his wife were in Rome, living
in the Barberini Palace, and they spent their days in the seclusion of
the Villa Mattei; and while the favourite and the Queen, who had now
become a harpy, walked in those poetical avenues, bordered with box
and laurel, the good Bourbon, now an old man, walked behind them, his
forehead ornamented like a faun's, enchanted to watch them; I don't know
whether he was playing the flute.
"Susanna's friend laughed at the thought of the good Charles IV, with
his waistcoat and his long coat, and his satyr's excrescences, and his
rural flute; but the allusion did not find favour with Susanna, whether
because she thought of her husband's infidelities, or because she
considered, that if her father gets to be the shoe-king, she will then
have a certain spiritual relationship to the Bourbons. In the Villa
Mattei we saw an _ediculo_, which rises at the edge of a terrace, amidst
climbing plants. There, as an inscription says, Saint Philip Neri talked
to his disciples of things divine. From the terrace one can see the
Baths of Caracalla, and part of the Roman Campagna behind them.
"We came out of the Villa Mattei and left the Piazza, della Navicella
and came down through a place where there is a wall with arches, under
which some beggars have built huts out of gasoline cans. There is an
eating-place thereabouts called the Osteria di Porta Metronia.
"Susanna's friend consulted her book, and the result was that we found
we were in the Vale of Egeria.
"From there we came out by a narrow road running along a wall, not a
very high one, over which green laurel branches projected. We saw an
obelisk at the end of the road, and the entablature of Saint John the
Lateran. The group of statues, reddish brown, silhouetted against the
sky, made a very strange effect.
"We started to go down by the Via di San Sisto Vecchio, which also runs
along by a wall. At the bottom of the slope there is a mill, with a deep
race. Susanna's friend said she would enjoy bathing there.
"We came out, at nightfall, almost opposite the Baths of Caracalla.
"'They ought to knock these ruins down altogether,' I said.
"'Why so?' asked Susanna.
"'Because they appear to be standing here to demonstrate the uselessness
of human energy.' Susanna was very little interested as to whether
human energy is useful or useless.
"I am, because my own energy forms a part of human energy, and for no
"We came back past the Forum, but today we did not come upon any
funerals. To demand that somebody should die every day and his corpse be
carried out at twilight to feed tourists' emotions, would, I think, be
demanding too much.
"When we reached her hotel, Susanna let her friend go up first; and as
soon as we were alone, she looked at me expressively, placing one hand
on her breast, and said to me, in nasal Spanish:
"_'Mi corazon arde en mucha llama.'_
"I don't believe it."
"Susanna said to me: 'I have some inclination for you, but I don't know
you well enough. If you feel the same way, come with me. Let us travel
together? I am with her, and nevertheless I am convinced that what I am
doing is a piece of stupidity.
"We spent this Sunday morning in the train. In the country we saw men at
work with great oxen that had long twisted horns. In a swampy field some
labourers were draining the ground with great effort. From the train we
saw the island of Elba, and Capraia, and the sea as blue as indigo.
"'Mare nostro,'_ said an elegant gentleman in a fluty voice, and
pointed out something on the horizon which he said was Corsica, and he
said that it can be seen from far away.
"While all we useless, unoccupied persons gathered in the dining-car,
the people in the fields kept on working, bent over in the mud, draining
"'What a lot of effort those poor devils have to make to keep us alive.'
"'We are not kept alive by them,' retorted Susanna.
"'No, we live off of other slaves, who work for us,' I answered her.
'Those out there serve to feed the officers, the effeminate priestlings,
all the people that take part in the theatrical performance of the
Vatican. Those unfortunates help to uphold the eight basilicas and the
three hundred odd churches of Rome.'
"Susanna shrugged her shoulders and smiled."
"Travelling with a woman one does not love, no matter how very pretty
she is, produces a series of disenchantments. It seems as if one kept
seeking defects and analysing them under the microscope. During these
days that I have been accompanying Susanna, I have discovered a lot of
physical and moral imperfections in her. There are moments in which she
cannot conceal an egoism and brutality which are truly disagreeable; and
besides, she is tyrannical, vain, and tries always to have her own way.
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