When Rome was a hell of lust and greed | Culture

Portrait of Pope John XII.
Portrait of Pope John XII.The Print Collector / CORDON PRESS

There is a film genre known as road movie (road film). In this type of film, the protagonists – in cars, trucks or motorcycles – add kilometers and kilometers through the landscape while the viewer follows their past or present experiences. The Italian writer Santi Laganà (Calabria, 67 years old) has written a road movie medieval (Iron and Blood, Editorial Suma) about the stark struggles inside Rome in the 10th century, which produced a list of 23 popes in just under 100 years. In this case, the walk of the characters allows the author to describe a degradation and boundless horror in the Italian peninsula when the papal purple fell on Juan XII (937-964). The chronicler and contemporary Rodolfo the bald He thus described that environment of moral and human degradation: “Until then, no one had heard of so many incests, illicit matings between consanguines, shameful concubines, people who competed in the search for evil.

John XII, known as the Fornicator, he was elected pope when he was only 18 years old. The son of a nobleman, he lacked any kind of humanistic or religious training. He is considered one of the most nefarious vicars of Rome in the history of the Church, in a period called Pornocracia. His only concerns were lust and maximum enrichment, for which he did not hesitate to cause the death of thousands of people by starvation or war. Families forced to sell their children as sexual merchandise in order to survive, unlimited looting of the miserable towns in central Italy to fill the ecclesial coffers, nobles and unscrupulous noblemen who raped, killed or tortured innocents who only thought of dying soon to leave that hell. “Then something shocking happened: they shook hands [los dos ancianos] and, nodding feverishly, without even looking at each other, they stumbled over to the stranger and offered him their breast. An explicit, desperate invitation. After, [el extranjero] he closed his eyes and gave them two quick blows. “

And flying over everything, the power struggles in Europe. A nominal king of Italy, Berengario II, tries to wrest earthly power from John XII. He rebels and demands the military aid of the powerful Germanic emperor Otto I, Otto The big one. More death, more horror.

John XII is deposed. Organize an army and return to the chair of Saint Peter. A hammer blow to the head, while lying with a woman, ends his life. The author writes that the “10th century” – known as the Iron Age, being ‘iron’ synonymous with ‘barbarian’ – is, according to most historians, one of the least explored and documented periods in History, undoubtedly the least known from middle Ages”.

“It was a dark, brutal and cruel time in which men and nature were in charge of carrying out a ruthless selection, despising the slightest Christian piety.” And the novelist continues: “No more norms were recognized than violence, abuse, betrayal and lust. The latter was one of the most natural and widespread practices and it was considered natural along with simony, incest and other behaviors that we currently consider extremely immoral ”.

Cover of 'Iron and blood', by Santi Laganà.
Cover of ‘Iron and blood’, by Santi Laganà.

Since the author lacks a Hollywood-style Route 66 to recount the Italy of a thousand years ago, he uses the routes that the Republic of Rome traced through the peninsula in previous centuries to connect its cities and dominions. Thus, the protagonists of the book pass through the remains of the Cassia or the Flaminia routes, lost in the woods, without any direction and without the possibility of knowing where they were when they had to hide so as not to be discovered by the multiple gangs of criminals who rode looking for victims.

Still they arrive in Rome, where Laganà rebuilds a city of death and horror. Pestilence on every corner, cries of pain from sex slaves, inns offering rotten meat, infected litters to rest, buildings once imperial, turned into masses of stones … And also the decaying palaces and castles of nobles and ecclesiastics, where the Rotten wood replaced the marbles of antiquity, where drunken or corrupt soldiers allowed the passage in exchange for a few coins. “What had been the capital of the world for centuries”, Laganà traces, “a cosmopolitan metropolis inhabited by millions of people, had now been reduced to a city of twenty or thirty thousand souls, at most, who stubbornly survived among the ruins and the remains of an unrepeatable past, suffering constant outrages and humiliations, even inside the sacred Aurelian walls, in what had been the largest empire on Earth ”.

Iron and blood. Santi Laganà. Editorial Suma (2021). 623 pages. Price: 22.70 euros.

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