Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Pasquin and Marforio.

All the world have heard of these statues: they have served as vehicles for the keenest satire in a land of the most uncontrolled despotism. The statue of Pasquin (from whence the word pasquinade) and that of Marforio are placed in Rome in two different quarters. Marforio is an ancient statue of Mars, found in the Forum, which the people have corrupted into Marforio. Pasquin is a marble statue, greatly mutilated, supposed to be the figure of a gladiator.1 To one or other of these statues, during the concealment of the night, are affixed those satires or lampoons which the authors wish should be dispersed about Rome without any danger to themselves. When Marforio is attacked, Pasquin comes to his succour; and when Pasquin is the sufferer, he finds in Marforio a constant defender. Thus, by a thrust and a parry, the most serious matters are disclosed: and the most illustrious personages are attacked by their enemies, and defended by their friends.

Misson, in his Travels in Italy, gives the following account of the origin of the name of the statue of Pasquin:—

A satirical tailor, who lived at Rome, and whose name was Pasquin, amused himself by severe raillery, liberally bestowed on those who passed by his shop; which in time became the lounge of the newsmongers. The tailor had precisely the talents to head a regiment of satirical wits; and had he had time to publish, he would have been the Peter Pindar of his day; but his genius seems to have been satisfied to rest cross-legged on his shopboard. When any lampoons or amusing bon-mots were current at Rome, they were usually called, from his shop, pasquinades. After his death, this statue of an ancient gladiator was found under the pavement of his shop. It was soon set up, and by universal consent was inscribed with his name; and they still attempt to raise him from the dead, and keep the caustic tailor alive, in the marble gladiator of wit.

There is a very rare work, with this title:—“Pasquillorum Tomi Duo;” the first containing the verse, and the second the prose pasquinades, published at Basle, 1544. The rarity of this collection of satirical pieces is entirely owing to the arts of suppression practised by the papal government. Sallengre, in his literary Memoirs, has given an account of this work; his own copy had formerly belonged to Daniel Heinsius, who, in verses written in his hand, describes its rarity and the price it too cost:—

Roma meos fratres igni dedit, unica Phœnix

Vivo, aureisque venio centum Heinsio.

“Rome gave my brothers to the flames, but I survive a solitary Phœnix. Heinsius bought me for a hundred golden ducats.”

This collection contains a great number of pieces composed at different times, against the popes, cardinals, &c. They are not, indeed, materials for the historian, and they must be taken with grains of allowance. We find sarcastic epigrams on Leo X., and the infamous Lucretia, daughter of Alexander VI.: even the corrupt Romans of the day were capable of expressing themselves with the utmost freedom. Of Alexander VI. we have an apology for his conduct:

Vendit Alexander claves, altaria, Christum;

Emerat ille prius, vendere jure potest.

“Alexander sells the keys, the altars, and Christ;

As he bought them first, he had a right to sell them!”

On Lucretia:—

Hoc tumulo dormit Lucretia nomine, sed re

Thais; Alexandri filia, sponsa, nurus!

“Beneath this stone sleeps Lucretia by name, but by nature Thais; the daughter, the wife, and the daughter-in-law of Alexander!”

Leo X. was a frequent butt for the arrows of Pasquin:—

Sacra sub extremâ, si forte requiritis, horâ

Cur Leo non potuit sumere; vendiderat.

“Do you ask why Leo did not take the sacrament on his death-bed? — How could he? He had sold it!”

Many of these satirical touches depend on puns. Urban VII., one of the Barberini family, pillaged the Pantheon of brass to make cannon,2 on which occasion Pasquin was made to say:—

Quod non fecerunt Barbari Romæ, fecit Barberini.

On Clement VII., whose death was said to be occasioned by the prescriptions of his physician:—

Curtius occidit Clementem; Curtius auro

Donandus, per quem publica parta salus.

“Dr. Curtius has killed the pope by his remedies; he ought to be remunerated as a man who has cured the state.”

The following, on Paul III., are singular conceptions:—

Papa Medusæum caput est, coma turba Nepotum;

Perseu cæde caput, Cæsaries periit.

“The pope is the head of Medusa; the horrid tresses are his nephews; Perseus, cut off the head, and then we shall be rid of these serpent-locks.”

Another is sarcastic —

Ut canerent data multa olim sunt Vatibus æra:

Ut taceam, quantum tu mihi, Paule, dabis?

“Heretofore money was given to poets that they might sing: how much will you give me, Paul, to be silent?”

This collection contains, among other classes, passages from the Scriptures which have been applied to the court of Rome; to different nations and persons; and one of ”Sortes Virgilianæ per Pasquillum collectæ,“— passages from Virgil frequently happily applied; and those who are curious in the history of those times will find this portion interesting. The work itself is not quite so rare as Daniel Heinsius imagined; the price might now reach from five to ten guineas.3

These satirical statues are placed at opposite ends of the town, so that there is always sufficient time to make Marforio reply to the gibes and jeers of Pasquin in walking from one to the other. They are an ingenious substitute for publishing to the world, what no Roman newspaper would dare to print.

1 The description of these two famous statues is not correctly given in the text. The statue called Marforio is the figure of a recumbent river god of colossal proportions, found near the arch of Septimius Severus. When the museum of the capitol was completed, the Pope moved the figure into the court-yard; there it is still to be seen. He also wished to move that of Pasquin, but the Duke de Braschi refused to allow it; and it still stands on its pedestal, at the angle of the Braschi Palace, in the small square that takes the name of Piazza del Pasquino from that circumstance. It is much mutilated, but is the ruin of a very fine work; Bernini expressed great admiration for it. It is considered by Count Maffei to represent Ajax supporting Menelaus. The torso of the latter figure only is left, the arms of the former are broken away; but enough remains of both to conjecture what the original might have been in design. The pose of both figures is similar to the fine group known as Ajax and Telamon, in the Loggia of the Pitti Palace at Florence.

2 The cannon were to supply the castle of St. Angelo, but a large portion of the metal (which formerly covered the roof of the temple) was used to construct the canopy and pillars which still stand over the tomb of St. Peter, in the great cathedral at Rome.

3 This vehicle for satire was introduced early into England; thus, in 1589, was published “The return of the renowned Cavaliero Pasquill to England from the other side of the seas, and his meeting with Marforio at London, upon the Royall Exchange.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37