The Rise and Fall of Goritz's Feasts

Article excerpt

At his festival in 1513 the talking statue Pasquino took the character of Apollo to celebrate the election of Leo X and to predict a golden age of patronage and poetry.(1) "I used to be an exile," Pasquino/Apollo remarks, "But I'm back in Leo's reign. / So burn your midnight oil, boys, / And follow in my train, / For no one leaves my Leo / Without a handsome gain. / Bards will sing for prizes, / And they'll not sing in vain."(2) The new era lived up to Pasquino's expectations, for the Roman humanists were rewarded and entertained not only in the papal court but also, less formally, in the vigne of numerous Maecenases and fellow poets, where they came together in literary groups, or sodalities, to dine, exchange their poetry, and celebrate the shared ideals of the humanist community.(3)

The literary and convivial spirit of the age seemed to find its perfect expression in the hospitality of Johannes Goritz. Goritz had arrived in Rome from his native Luxembourg sometime during the reign of Alexander VI and soon became well established in the Curia, first as a registrar of supplications and later as a papal protonotary. Each year he celebrated the feast of Saint Anne (July 26) at the altar he had commissioned in her honor in the church of S. Agostino and feted the humanists with a poetry contest and an elaborate banquet in his vigna. The humanists called him Coricius or Coritius, in allusion both to the Corician cave of the Muses on Mount Parnassus and to the wonderful old gardener in the Fourth Georgic who "was first to pluck the rose of spring and the fruit of autumn" and, though tilling but a poor plot, "in his contentment equalled the wealth of kings."(4) Goritz's garden was magnificent (and his friends claimed that he worked in it himself), but he was not poor and obscure like the old man in Vergil.(5) He had grown wealthy in the Curia, and the fame of his celebration attracted poets from all over Europe.

For many years Goritz enjoyed extravagant popularity among the humanists of his adopted city, as Pierio Valeriano recalls in his notice in De litteratorum infelicitate:

He consecrated his delightful gardens at Trajan's forum to the whole academy and to all who were distinguished for letters. In addition, he established a celebration and a kind of literary contest every year on the feast of Saint Anne and celebrated it in a long succession of years. This won him so much good will that there was no one in our age of princes more celebrated in the poetry of all learned men than Coritius alone, and he was truly called the "father of all festivity and charm."(6)

All this generosity and "the piety of Corycius, attested by the witness of so many poets and rehearsed in the pages of so many scholars,"(7) as Valeriano tells us, were lost with Goritz himself in the sack of Rome in 1527.

Even before the sack, however, Goritz's feasts had lost much of their convivial savor, and Goritz himself was under attack by some of his former friends. Goritz's celebrations, as we shall argue, were rounded on the idea of Rome as the patria communis of the nations; they foundered on the realities of anti-German prejudice brought into the open when the humanists confronted the northerners Christophe Longueil and Pope Adrian VI. The changing attitudes can be charted in the remarks of Pasquino, in various writings of Pierio Valeriano, who both observed and participated in the principal events of the Roman humanist world, and in contemporary poems, some hitherto unpublished.

The Roman humanists took their festivities seriously, for they saw them not only as promoting and embodying their friendships but also as the modern counterparts of the gatherings of the ancient poets whom they so admired. Thus, when Valeriano lectured on Catullus at the University of Rome in 1522, he took the occasion to pronounce a little digression on the word sodalis in Cat. 12 in order to draw a parallel between ancient and modern sodalities. …