PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Cover design: Marie Lane
Clementissime Domine, cuius inenarrabilis est virtus
This morning His Holiness summoned me to read to him from St Augustine, while the physician applied unguents and salves to his suppurating arse; one in particular, which was apparently concocted from virgin's piss (where did they find a virgin in Rome?) and a rare herb from the private hortus siccus of Bonet de Lattes, the pope's Jewish physician-in-chief, stank abominably. Still, it was no worse than the nauseating stench of the festering pustules and weeping ulcers adorning His Holiness's cilicious posterior. (Everybody refers to these repulsive afflictions as a 'fistula', but I am not constrained by the self-interest of tact.) With his alb pulled up over his hips, and his underdrawers down around his ankles, the most powerful man in the world lay sprawled on his bed like a catamite waiting to be well and truly buggered.
He has been buggered, plenty of times - hence the state of his arse. His Holiness prefers to play the womanly role, thrashing and squealing beneath some musclebound youth like a bride being penetrated for the first time. Not that I've any personal objection to such behaviour - Leo is the pope after all, and short of publicly declaring that God is a Mohammedan, he can do exactly as he pleases. Besides, I like to think of myself as a tolerant man. I find it easy to overlook weakness and vice in a field of human activity which holds no interest for me whatsoever. Even if it did, I imagine it would take someone with a very peculiar vice indeed to find anything sexually attractive about a crookback dwarf. Which is what I am.
Hence the title of these reminiscences of mine: Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf. I think this is an excellent title, since it is utterly honest: I am a Gnostic dwarf, and these are my memoirs. It occurs to me that there are a great number of books and manuscripts offered for sale these days whose claims are entirely meretricious, such as Being a True Account of a Monk's Secret Pleasure, or A Full and Satisfactory Explanation of the Practice of Greek Love - both of which I have seen in His Holiness's personal library, and neither of which are in any way true, full or satisfactory; you shall not likewise be misled in these pages. It is painfully evident to everyone that I am a dwarf, but my Gnostic proclivities remain my little secret and that of a certain private fraternity. Yes, there are more of us - Gnostics I mean, not dwarves. Later, I shall speak of the fraternity in detail.
His Holiness Leo X, Roman Pontiff, Vicar of Christ on Earth, Patriarch of the West, Successor to the Prince of the Apostles, Holder of the Keys of Peter and Servant of the Servants of God, does not usually call me to read to him while he is having his rump anointed with virgin's piss and rare herbs; on the contrary, he likes to be alone with his physician, and one can well understand why. I was therefore a little surprised to receive the summons. However, reflection on the matter suggests that he is disquieted by the latest news from Germany, where a choleric friar called Luther has been stirring up trouble, ranting and raving about the corruption of the papal court, and it may be that he finds the misanthropic rhapsodies of the holy bishop of Carthage distract him. To speak personally, I find them tedious in the extreme. The papal court is corrupt, but what of that? Everyone expects it to be. It's been corrupt for so long, no-one can remember a time when it wasn't, nor conceive of it ever not being so. To speculate on the whys and wherefores, as this Luther seems to be doing, is like asking why the sun is hot or why water is wet, and trying to make them otherwise. Futile. Vanitas vanitatum. The trouble with people like our fractious friar is that they think they're a cut above everyone else, and thus ideally qualified to put the world to rights; but the world never can and never will be put to rights, because it is hell. (Now there's a snippet of Gnostic wisdom for you.) That doesn't make me a misanthrope like our holy father St Augustine - on the contrary, if this world is hell, one can only have compassion for those who are obliged to live in it and breath its poisonous air. And - above all! - to teach them that there is a way out.
'I think this may call for a papal bull, Peppe,' His Holiness said to me (for Peppe is my name.)
'Lie still, Holiness,' admonished the physician, inserting a gnarled forefinger into the petrine rectum with mathematical care. He moved it around a bit, withdrew it, brought it up to his nose and sniffed cautiously.
'Not yet,' I answered, disgusted by the antics of this overpaid, underworked scryer of excreta, 'let our scripture-happy friend stew a while in his own juice. Besides, he may mean no harm.'
'No harm?' Leo squeaked. 'No harm? Have you heard what he's calling me?'
'Well, one tries not to listen to the latest court chronique scandaleuse, Holiness.'
'This isn't gossip, Peppe, it's common knowledge. He makes no bones about it. He calls me a usurer, a nepotist, Sodom's favourite catamite - '
'God's blood and the Virgin's milk, he'll be attacking the Mass next!'
'Perhaps you ought to make him a cardinal, Holiness.'
'Are you trying to be funny?'
'Of course. That's partly what you pay me for.'
Leo screamed just then - a long, wailing scream of genuine agony.
'Haven't you finished yet, you witless whore's cunny!' he roared to the unperturbed Bonet de Lattes; Leo's colourful language was well known and hence no-one took any offence at it except the pious - of whom, fortunately, there are but few at court.
'Very nearly, Holiness.'
He seemed to be examining a minute piece of shit that was adhering to a fingertip. Examining it for what, I could not imagine.
'You think I ought to wait a little, do you, Peppe?'
'Precisely, Holiness. Let him walk on thorns a little longer, then let him have it. A real broadside.'
'Exsurge Domine. How does that sound?'
'An excellent title, Holiness. But save it for later.'
'Your Holiness may re-attire,' the physician said pompously (in my experience, physicians are invariably pompous), rinsing his hands in a bowl of rosewater that stood on Leo's reading table.
'Well, what's the verdict?'
'The affliction is improved, naturally - ' (Note: read thanks to my skilful and therefore necessarily costly ministrations) ' - but the medication will have to continue. And perhaps an increase in bleedings. I will call again next calendar month.'
'I will summon you to call,' Leo said snappishly. 'Your fee is there. Now get out.'
'Thank you, Holiness. And - if I may suggest - you might for some period refrain from - '
Refrain from accommodating half the young stallions of Rome, I thought.
' - from all highly seasoned food. It would help. The blood must not become overheated.'
'Alright, alright. Now go.'
De Lattes walked backward toward the door, bowing and fawning, clutching his little bag of money and his Asklepian caduceus tightly to his fur-draped chest.
Leo hauled himself into a sitting position and glanced around the room with rheumy, vengeful eyes, as if searching for something or someone to strike.
'If my blood is not to become overheated,' he said, 'I must hear no more of that German friar.'
'Does Your Holiness wish me to continue reading from the saintly bishop of Carthage?'
'Luther's an Augustinian, isn't he?'
'So I believe, Holiness.'
'Then let Augustine go sodomize himself. I feel peckish after all that probing.'
Leo is a fairly tall, fattish (some, unkindly, might say bloated), swarthy man; he walks with a rapid waddle and rides side-saddle on account of his ulcerated arse; his face is full-fleshed, his eyes - always watchful and smouldering with suspicion - are heavily lidded, the caruncles thickly veined, and his lips sensuously ripe. Incongruously his speaking voice, although elegantly modulated, is somewhat high-pitched except when he is roused to anger (which is quite often, since he is of an irascible temperament), when it becomes a truly terrifying roar. I have already told you that he has a tendency to use somewhat flamboyant language. He is shortsighted, and when his vanity allows him to, he makes use of a small magnifying glass whilst reading. And as you now know, he is a devotee of Gannymede. He likes to be taken from behind by young men. I do not think he is interested in women in the slightest. Oddly enough, there is no public scandal attached to this predilection; either people take it for granted, or they just don't care. In any case, compared to the athletic antics of Leo's unillustrious predecessor but one (well, one and a bit really, since Pius III only reigned for twenty-six days), the pox-ridden and impious Alexander VI Borgia, Leo is a temperate man. Indeed, he is genuinely pious, and always hears Mass before going off to the hunt. He loves hunting.
His Holiness is not at all an unamiable man; in fact, when the occasion calls for it, he is capable of exercising a pungent sense of humour. Once, when I was helping him to unvest after a solemn High Mass, he turned and looked at me with curious eyes, and out of the earshot of the deacons and acolytes who were mincing and prancing all over the place, he said to me:
'Tell me, Peppe is it true what they say about dwarves?'
'Is what true, Holiness?' I said, pretending not to understand.
He put a pudgy, jewel-laden hand on my arm and drew me a little closer to the pontifical person.
'You know exactly what I'm talking about. Well, is it true or not?'
'See for yourself,' I said, and unfastening my hose and pulling down the linen-stuffed leather codpiece, I drew out my prick. All three inches of it.
Leo smiled and sighed.
'What a pity,' he said. Then he removed a ring from one of his fingers - a huge chrysoberyl bearing an Egyptian glyptic, encircled by tiny pearls and set in an intricate oval of gold filigree - and pressed it into the palm of my hand.
'Here,' he said. 'With a cock as small as the rest of you, you deserve some consolation.'
A gesture, I may say, that moved me profoundly. It was only later, during an audience with the unctuous and gasconading Venetian ambassador, wondering why I had suddenly become the cynosure of surprised and outraged glances as I stood beside the papal throne, that I realised I'd left my cock hanging out. Leo must have noticed, but decided to say nothing. Much to my chagrin, the ambassador had enough self-righteousness to complain about this incident, but he got his come-uppance at the banquet held in his honour that same evening: one of the delightful specialities served up by His Holiness's Neapolitan cook, consisted of larks' tongues basted in wild honey and cassia, each wrapped in a folio of gold-leaf and served on a bed of baby pine-cones with crushed emeralds; not having enough common sense to realise that the cones and emeralds weren't meant to be eaten, he shoved a great spoonful into his mouth and swallowed, before anyone could stop him. He spent the rest of the evening in one of the papal privies, retching up blood.
Leo almost laughed himself into a coma.
No. of pages: 336
Publication date: 30.11.2013
978 1 909232 75 4
978 1 907650 27 7
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