THE FOOD AND SUSTENANCE OF MY SOUL

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A love letter From Pietro Bembo to Lucrezia Borgia

Eight days have passed since I parted from f.f., and already it is as though I had been eight years away from her, although I can avow that not one hour has passed without her memory which has become such a close companion to my thoughts that now more than ever is it the food and sustenance of my soul; and if it should endure like this a few days more, as seems it must, I truly believe that in every way have assumed the office of my soul, and I shall then live and thrive on the memory as do other men upon their souls, and I shall have no life but in this single thought.

Let the God who so decrees do as he will, so long as in exchange I may have as much a part of her as shall suffice to prove the gospel of our affinity is founded on true prophecy. Often I find myself recalling, and with what ease, certain words spoken to me, some on the balcony with the moon as witness, others at that window I shall always look upon so gladly, with all the many endearing and gracious acts I have seen my gentle lady perform, for all are dancing about my heart with a tenderness so wondrous that they inflame me with a strong desire to beg her to test the quality of my love.

For I shall never rest content until I am certain she knows what she is able to enact in me and how great and strong is the fire that her great worth has kindled in my breast. The flame of true love is a mighty force, and most of all when two equally matched wills in two exalted minds contends to see which loves the most, each striving to give yet more vital proof.

It would be the greatest delight for me to see just two lines in f.f.`s hand, yet I dare not ask so much. May your Ladyship beseech her to perform whatever you feel is best for me. With my heart I kiss your Ladyship`s hand, since I cannot with my lips.

Pietro Bembo

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I think it`s true that the phrase “you couldn`t write it” applies fully to the life and times of Lucrezia Borgia; married at 13, indulging in sex with her father and jealous older brother, who killed her second husband in bed, then gives birth to a child some months later after being declared virgo intacta. From the conception of her soul to the moment she fled her past within the walls of a nunnery, her life was a spiraling carnival of moral and political degeneracy, forever at the beck and call of her powerful, utterly unscrupulous father, Rodrigo Borgia, and her scheming, murderous brother Cesare. She was a family pawn in the great game of Vatican and Italian politics to be used and abused as her father saw fit, and when he ascended to the throne of St Peter as Pope Alexander VI in 1492, her worth shot through the Sistine Chapel roof. The full story of what went on within the confines of this incredibly ambitious and ruthless family can only be imagined; it can be assumed that whatever ideas may occur are as nothing compared to the actual thoughts and deeds enacted in their unbridled pursuit of absolute power. In early 1502 Lucrezia had arrived in north Italy, having been married by proxy to Alfonso d`Este , heir to the duchy of Ferrara; carried in an opulent, canopied sedan chair, accompanied by her own ladies and retainers, and protected by 200 horsemen provided by her brother Cesare. Along with the court hangers on, buffoons, poets and musicians to keep her amused, ecclesiastical and Roman nobility with accompanying retinues, wagons, mules and a wedding escort of 510 horse, she must have passed through the countryside like a processional thunderbolt from the gods to the dumbstruck peasantry toiling in the fields. But in the tumultuous wake of her progress there circulated ugly rumours concerning her past, which were discretely put to one side by her obvious beauty, charm, intelligence, culture, linguistic ability, exquisite regal manners, dancing, singing and musical skill. At 22 years of age, she was at the height of her seductive powers and physical beauty, and knew it. Was this not the awesomely potent, weapon used by her family throughout her short, but eventful life? While in the north, a writer of humanist poetry, Pietro Bembo, came within her orbit and became transfixed and smitten. He showered her with his attention and love letters, not unlike a human equivalent of the sexual courtship of the physically puny male suitor to the far larger, and infinitely more deadly black widow spider. Whether it be truth or lie, Lucrezia had a sizzling reputation as a callous and murderous femme fatale who discarded lovers and husbands with ruthless efficiency. They began to exchange tender letters of love and affection. In June 1503 Lucrezia`s husband was away inspecting fortifications of other  Italian cities and Lucrezia wrote to Bembo in Spanish…

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Trusting in your skill which I appreciated these past days when considering certain designs for medallions, and having decided to have one made according to that most subtle and apt suggestion you gave me, I thought I would send it to you with this letter, and lest it be mixed with some other element that could detract from it`s value I thought to ask herewith kindly to take the trouble for love of me to think what text should be put upon it; and for both the one matter and the other I shall remain as obliged to you as you deserve and the work must be esteemed. I await your reply with great anticipation.

Prepared for your command

Lucretia de Borgia

Lucrezia`s marriage to Duke Alphono had initially been a loveless, political arrangement, because he had no desire to marry a papal bastard with a compromised reputation, and so she turned elsewhere for romantic stimulation, one of which was Bembo. He would prove to be nothing more than a distraction as her marriage to Alphonso blossomed and produced eight children; and when he was away from Ferrara she governed in his place. At her death he was beside himself with grief at having been deprived of “such a dear and sweet companion. For such her exemplary conduct and the tender love which existed between us made her to me.” Scarred by her terrible Roman past and the all pervasive control of her father and brother Cesare, she found much needed love and affection to heal her deep psychological wounds and was finally allowed to openly display a generous and tender heart. The people of Ferrara found her a saint, not a sinner, loving her greatly and genuinely mourning the loss of a gentle soul of great of worth. 
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