Not the man for it

John Bossy

  • Scourge and Fire: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy by Lauro Martines
    Cape, 368 pp, £20.00, March 2006, ISBN 0 224 07252 8
  • The Burning of the Vanities: Savonarola and the Borgia Pope by Desmond Seward
    Sutton, 320 pp, £20.00, March 2006, ISBN 0 7509 2981 2

Once I rebuked for bad taste a friend who described Savonarola, at his execution, as ‘serving as the pièce de résistance of a public bonfire’. Actually his taste was better than mine: I had ignorantly supposed that the friar had been burned alive, whereas he had been hanged first and his dead body then burned in what was indeed a public bonfire. His soul had gone aloft, as even his enemy Pope Alexander VI had conceded by sending him a plenary indulgence, but his body was not down below, since the Florentine authorities had taken steps to see that not even what might possibly be his ashes were left lying around for his dévots or dévotes to take home and put in a vase on the mantelpiece. They dumped them all in the Arno.

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