IX The death of a pope is not like the death of a king for there is no widowed queen to weep for him and preside over the mourning, no children, no recognised royal family and, in particular, no heir apparent, and when a pope dies there is great fear in the streets of Rome, very few tears are shed in the court, there is a huge vacuum of power as if the disappearance of each pope extinguishes a dynasty and another must urgently be found in a matter of days, or it is as if the ruling house was demolished every few years by death and, that very day, all the relations and followers of the old house were expelled from power to be mercilessly pursued through the streets, and this is the only happiness of the people of Rome between one pontificate and another, pursuing the family and followers of the dead man, sacking his houses, because they know that nobody has to defend them any more and because there is no public order or sovereign authority and the next one will probably be the enemy of the last one. No Christian kingdom could sustain such a transition as this every five or ten or fifteen years without being destroyed right down to the very roots of its foundations, yet the sovereigns of Rome have been withstanding it for centuries and centuries, which must be because our foundation is Peter's rock, otherwise nobody could understand why we have been trapped in the ruins of this impossible system for so long, perhaps because republics don't need dynasties, but even that isn't totally true, because look at the Medici of Florence, but the monarchies do, and the Church of Christ can never be republican, it will forever have a sovereign but always without legal progeny, and I don't know how to find the way out of this aporia, which is even more difficult than those dreamed up by the Ionian sophists, and nobody else will find it because the solution is not in the Roman pope's ceasing to be monarch of his estates, because if he wasn't king he'd have to be subject and if he wasn't sovereign prince himself, he'd have to be a vassal and servant, which is what has been happening for a thousand years with the patriarchs of the Orient who have only been shadows and acolytes of the emperors in Constantinople, but this would not be permitted by the primacy and dignity of the bishops of Rome who, though we might call ourselves servants of God, we do not serve any other master. The price the city and the Curia pays for this is that, when a pope dies, the only source of authority disappears too, for the Senior Cardinal Deacon is only there to receive ambassadors with words of no great significance, which I know very well because I've done it myself, and it is all the Cardinal Chamberlain can do to guard the treasure and the keys when the Sacred College does not unite to act resolutely, something that doesn't often happen so the only master of Rome is disorder, the guardian prudently locks himself in the castle, and for some days the streets know what this famous freedom is, every man for himself, the dead not counted or the looting either and if they set fire to some cardinal's palace it's a cause for huge celebration but meanwhile the Curia is paralysed, and full of rumours, what will happen with the next conclave, who will be the next dispenser of offices and honours, what prizes will be awarded and what revenges will be wrought? Between the death of Innocent VIII and my own election the interregnum was very short, only nine days of mourning and four for the conclave to sit, but it was too long for the two hundred and twenty who died violent deaths, falling in so few days into the dust of the streets or the waters of the Tiber, deaths I did have counted, while the Orsini on one side and the Colonna on the other menaced at the gates of Rome on behalf of Count Ferdinand of Naples, but also for themselves, to remind everybody that no papal election is carried out without the blessing of the barons, although that conclave didn't turn out the way the Roman gentlemen and the Aragonese court in Naples wanted, but rather it happened as Rodrigo Borgia had predicted and this is something we've never forgotten, neither them nor me, and I haven't forgotten either how Giuliano della Rovere prevented Pope Innocent from handing over to me command of the Sant'Angelo Castle, which was due to me as Senior Cardinal Deacon and is both guarantee and key of the city, whereupon we had a heated argument at the foot of the sick man's bed and I don't know what words I spoke but I do know what Della Rovere said, for he accused me of being an enemy of Italy and the Church, a foreigner and Jew and, when he called me Catalan swine, the dying pope opened his eyes and said no they shouldn't give me the keys to the castle. Then began the long final battle for the crown, the one I couldn't lose and if it's true that not all the tactics I used to fight were clean I must say they were no dirtier than those of my enemies, at least I didn't inflame the minds of the people for my own benefit like Cardinal Giuliano, who one of those nights lit and extinguished mysterious lights up on the terrace of his palace, like signs of fire come down from the heavens, or like the followers of the King of Naples who got people to believe that the day after the death of Innocent VII the sun had risen three times in the east, which was supposed to mean that the three-crowned tiara had to be subject to the will of one who already wore the crown of a king, and neither did I have a credit of three hundred thousand ducats in the bank like Della Rovere had, a hundred thousand from Genoa and two hundred thousand from Naples, and he combined the Italian cards better than anyone else so if he didn't win this game it wasn't for lack of money to play with. I know that a lot of people accuse me, saying that it was a bought election but that is giving explanations that are too simple for very complicated matters and, in any case, if I paid with all my accumulated possessions and income, the others would have paid in cash and it would always have been a more honest transaction to buy the tiara with one's own resources than with credit from the banks but this, however, wasn't the secret of the conclave, not a question of who staked the most bags of ducats in the game, or the most promises of bishoprics and tithes, the secret is that they played the eternal Italian game of north against south, Naples against Milan, with Rome as the pledge, while I played for myself alone. Italian alliances are more unfathomable and changing than a small child's caprices or a courtesan's whims and there's no lasting pact between families or between states, and someone who wants to destroy you today will, if it suits him, be your most useful friend tomorrow, so I counted on that because this is a land, like mine, of shifting loves and hates, of feeble wills and scant constancy in any endeavour and the Italian cardinals made my uncle pope because they needed a rest from the clashes of factions and parties and because they believed that they could play with a weak old foreigner as they liked, and they have elected me, for it was I who knew how to play their game, maybe because after so many years of looking and learning, I am more Italian than they are: I am the Italians' master.
(Borja papa [Borgia, Pope], 1996)
Translated from the Catalan by Julie Wark ©