In 1432 emperor Sigismund visited Siena with a large entourage and stayed there for some time. This event must have had a great impact for the citizens and talk of the town for years. At that time the Italian Humanist Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (1405-1464) was secretary to the Bishop of Fermo and though a native of Siena, not there at the time Sigismund stayed there. In 1442 he was created Poet Laureate and free from daily business, he could compose even more literary works. One of these was the Historia de duobus amantibus, a remarkable piece of prose, as it uses letters written by the lovers to express their longings and inner thoughts and so was the first novel to use this literary device. The scene was set at Siena during the visit of Sigismund and the two protagonists are Euryalus, a German knight from the emperor’s staff and Lucretia, a beautiful high ranking and young lady with a deeply unhappy marriage. After an exchange of letters, there was finally an opportunity meet each other: Lucretia’s husband is away and disguised as a baiulus (day-labourer) Euryalus enters her house. The following scene describes their first meeting and is full of eroticism. Their love was not destined to have an happy ending. When it becomes clear that thaey will never see each other again, Lucretia dies from grief and the last sentence – also the motto of this story – is: quem qui legerint, periculum ex aliis faciant, quod sibi ex usu fiet, nec amatorium poculum bibere studeant, quod longe plus aloës habet quam mellis. `And may all who read it take a lesson from others that will be useful to themselves: let them beware to drink the cup of love, that holds far more of bitter than of sweet. (Grierson)
The book became an instant success, but when in 1458 Piccolomini was elected pope, he deeply regretted having written such explicit passages…
Erat Lucretia levi vestita palla quae membris absque ruga haerebant; nec vel pectus vel clunes mentiebantur; ut erant arctus sic se ostentabant. Gulae candor nivalis, oculorum lumen tamquam solis iubar. Intuitus laetus, facies alacris, genae veluti lilia, purpureis immixta rosis. Risus in ore suavis atque modestus. Pectus amplum, papillae quasi duo punica poma ex utroque latere tumescebant pruritumque palpitantens movebant.
Non potuit Euryalus ultra stimulum cohibere sed, oblitus timoris, modestiam quoque abs se repulit aggressusque feminam:
«Iam», inquit, «fructum sumamus amoris», remque verbis iungebat. Obstabat mulier curamque sibi honestatis et famae fore dicebat; nec aliud eius amorem quam verba et oscula poscere.
Ad quae subridens Euryalus:
«Aut scitum est», inquit, «me huc venisse aut nescitum. Si scitum, nemo est qui non cetera suspicetur et stultum est infamiam sine re subire. Si vero nescitum et hoc quoque sciet nullus. Hoc pignus amoris est, emoriar prius, quam hoc caream».
«Ah, scelus est!» inquit Lucretia.
«Scelus est», refert Euryalus, «bonis non uti cum possis. At ego occasionem mihi concessam, tam quaesitam, tam optatam, amitterem?». Acceptaque mulieris veste, pugnantem feminam, quae vincere nolebat, abs negotio vicit.
Nec Venus haec satietatem, ut Amnoni cognita Tamar, peperit sed maiorem sitim excitavit amoris. Memor tamen discriminis Euryalus, postquam vini cibique paulisper hausit, repugnante Lucretia, recessit; nec sinistre quisquam suspicatus est, quia unus ex baiulis putabatur.
levi palla: in a light garment
absque ruga: without a wrinkle
haero haesi (both with dat. and abl.): to stick to
clunis (f. and m.): buttock
mentior: (here) to conceal
arctus -us = artus –us (m.): limb
iubar iubaris (n.): radiance
intuitus –us (m.): look
pectus amplum: a full bosom
punica poma: pomegranates
pruritus -us (m.): longing
palpito: to tremble
cohibeo cohibui: to contain
oblitus (+gen.): forgetting
(dicebat) amorem poscere (posco poposci: to demand)
subrido subrisi subrisum: to smile
aut scitum est: either it is known
infamiam sine re subire: to let a bad reputation come without any ground
pignus pignoris (n.): token
careo carui (+abl.): to be deprived of
accepta veste: the cloth being grasped
abs negotio: without a problem
ut Amnoni cognita Tamar: Tamar was the daughter of king David and was raped by her half brother Ammon (2 Samuel 13, 1-14) The comparison is not that happy in my opinion.
satiatem peperit: did not extinguish their lust
sitis sitis (f.): thirst
memor tamen discriminis: mindful of the risk
paulisper: a little
haurio hausi haustum: to drink, take
repugno: to resist
Translation by Flora Grierson (London: Constable and Co., 1929).
LUCRETIA was wearing a light robe which clung to her body without a wrinkle, concealing neither her breasts nor her hips, and displayed her limbs exactly as they were. Her throat was snowy white, her eyes shone with the radiance of the sun; her glance was happy, her face animated, and her cheeks like lilies mixed with crimson roses. Laughter that was sweet and modest filled her mouth. She was deep-bosomed, and her breasts swelled out on either side like two pomegranates, so that one longed to touch them.
Euryalus could contain himself no longer, but forgot his fear and cast aside all modesty. Coming close to her, he said: ‘At last let us enjoy our love,’ and he matched his actions to his words. But she resisted and pleaded her honour and her reputation, saying their love demanded no more than words and kisses.
At this, Euryalus smiled, 'Is it known that I have come here, or is it not? If it is, there is no one will not suspect the worst, and it is stupid to lose one’s reputation for nothing. If indeed no one knows, then no one will know this either. This is the pledge of love, and I’ll die sooner than go without it.’
‘Oh, but it’s wrong,’ cried she, and he replied:
‘It is wrong not to use the good things we have got, and shall I let slip the opportunity accorded me, that I have sought so long, desired so ardently?’
He seized her dress, and while she resisted with no desire to win, he easily got the better of her.
Nor did their love bring satiety, as when Tamar gave herself to Amon, but roused in them a greater thirst for more. Yet they remembered their peril and, after they had eaten and drunk a little, Euryalus departed, much against Lucretia’s will. And no one suspected anything, for they thought he was one of the day-labourers.