Pietro Bembo to Lucrezia Borgia

The Lovers
Pietro Bembo
was one of the most respected poets and scholars of his day. He was born into an aristocratic Venetian family, and had a brilliant career, achieving notable success in politics, the church, and the arts. His most important appointments were as secretary to Pope Leo X from 1513 to 1521, historiographer of Venice from 1529, and librarian of St. Mark's Cathedral beginning in approximately 1530. In 1539 he was made a cardinal, and for the remaining years of his life he devoted himself to theology and ancient history. In the field of the arts, he wrote a dialogue on love, Gl'Asoliani, dedicated to Lucrezia Borgia, and compiled one of the earliest Italian grammars. He also helped to establish Italian as a literary language, and was deeply involved in the development of the printing process.
Lucrezie Borgia
was the daughter of the Spanish cardinal, Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, and his mistress Vannozza Catanei. The Borgias were notorious for their ruthless pursuit of power in Renaissance Italy, and Lucrezia has often been represented as one of the most grasping of the family. However, in retrospect it seems that she was the pawn of her scheming father and bloodthirsty brother, Cesare. The most unsavory rumors began in 1501, surrounding Lucrezia's 3 year old son, Giovanni, who was recognized by two Papal bulls, first as the child of Alexander, and then as the child of Cesare. After the death of her father in 1503, Lucrezia had a calmer life with her third husband at the court of Ferrara, where she was a celebrated patron of the arts. In her 30's she became deeply religious. She died at age 39.

October 18, 1503

Eight days have passed since I parted from f.f., and already it is as though I had been eight years away from her, although I can avow that not one hour has passed without her memory which has become such a close companion to my thoughts that now more than ever is it the food and sustenance of my soul; and if it should endure like this a few days more, as seems it must, I truly believe it will in every way have assumed the office of my soul, and I shall then live and thrive on the memory of her as do other men upon their souls, and I shall have no life but in this single thought. Let the God who so decrees do as he will, so long as in exchange I may have as much a part of her as shall suffice to prove the gospel of our affinity is founded on true prophecy. Often I find myself recalling, and with what ease, certain words spoken to me, some on the balcony with the moon as witness, others at that window I shall always look upon so gladly, with all the many endearing and gracious acts I have seen my gentle lady perform--for all are dancing about my heart with a tenderness so wondrous that they inflame me with a strong desire to beg her to test the quality of my love. For I shall never rest content until I am certain she knows what she is able to enact in me and how great and strong is the fire that her great worth has kindled in my breast. The flame of true love is a mighty force, and most of all when two equally matched wills in two exalted minds contend to see which loves the most, each striving to give yet more vital proof...It would be the greatest delight for me to see just two lines in f.f.'s hand, yet I dare not ask so much. May your Ladyship beseech her to perform whatever you feel is best for me. With my heart I kiss your Ladyship's hand, since I cannot with my lips.

Their Story




Text from
Famous Love Letters
Messages of Intimacy and Passion
Edited by Ronald Tamplin