Less “Femme Fatale”, More Intriguing Human Being

“A Song for Lucrezia Borgia” / “Una canzone per Lucrezia Borgia”

Lucrezia, Lucrezia, Lucrezia

Your name sings and murmurs

from the pages of my history books,

set in a tapestry of popes, dukes, kings.

How shall I understand you, who you are?

Tiny curling vines

spiral up from the printed words,

thorny and bitter –

evil manipulator sluttish whore cursed murderer

or clinging, stifling and yet dry –

Pope’s daughter thrice-married political instrument.

Somewhere between these, your voice speaks.

“Neither saint nor demon,

a woman shaped by her times,

I made my own choices

when I saw the chance.

Yes, I was sister, daughter, mother,

but more than these as well,

for, like you, I have many human sides.”


you reach out,

and somehow, for a moment,

I am in your world –

Balla, Lucrezia, balla     Dance, Lucrezia, dance

tra gli sussurri dei maldicenti.     between the whispers of rumor-mongerers.

Vedo la fortezza      I see inner strength

e una mente astuta –      and an astute mind –

sono tue,     these are yours,

formano      they shape

il tuo destino.      your destiny.

Dici “Sì, Borgia sono, ma demone no –      You say, “Yes, I am a Borgia, but not a demon –

sono io, vivo,      I am myself, I live,

costruisco un mondo     I build a world

dove fiorisce l’arte,     in which art flowers,

amo chi e come voglio,     I love who and how I wish,

e questo basta.”     and that’s enough.”

Sto dalla parte tua, Lucrezia, Lucrezia Borgia,     I am on your side, Lucrezia, Lucrezia Borgia,

e, di ritorno nel mondo mio,     and when I return to my world,

rimani con me,     you remain with me,

guardandomi col sguardo sottile.      looking at me with keen eyes.

~ Marta Ziemelis.  Written in Dubai, copyright October 2013.

I first encountered Lucrezia Borgia in a university course about definitions of power and success in Renaissance Italy. She has a historically infamous family – so infamous, as I learned through reading for the course, that I wondered whether all the vitriol directed at them over hundreds of years is actually deserved. That’s a debate for another place (check the article hotlinked above for a partial reading list, if you’re interested.)  Of all the Borgias, Lucrezia seemed to me to be the one who gets the least amount of (relatively) unbiased historical discussion  – she seemed to be dealt with either as a detestable, negatively manipulative femme fatale, or a wholly passive instrument of her father Alessandro’s and brother Cesare’s political ambitions. This is, of course, up for discussion, but it got me to thinking what we might see, hear and consider if Lucrezia spoke for herself.

(I originally began writing this piece in English, and got stuck about how to go forward about halfway through. That’s why the second half of the piece is written in Italian, and glossed alongside in English-language italics to make it accessible to a wider audience.)


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