Cynthia Ricci was not very drunk, [...]
Cynthia Ricci introduced.
The chapter title "Fiorenza" refers to Florence, although the English version of the name is used throughout the chapter itself.
Lorenzo's nickname, "il Magnifico," is Italian for "the Magnificent."
"Ruler-without-portfolio" is an ironic alteration of "ambassador-without-portfolio," meaning "unofficial ambassador." The de' Medici family are businessmen, but they effectively control Florence.
For this was the last night of summer, [...]
A slightly tricky denotation. We reckon the seasons to begin at the solstices and equinoxes, which would put the date at September 20th. However, the ancient Roman calendar counted autumn to begin on September 1st, and it's possible that TDW's Byzantine Empire perpetuated this. And some countries (particularly in Europe) counted the summer solstice as the middle of summer (thus Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, the shortest night of the year). If that is the case here, then it is the first week of August.
Messer Lorenzo knew the specific for that disorder, however.
Cynthia is thinking in medical terms. This will be a repeated motif for her point of view.
[...] very shortly no one cared if the clothes were in their chests or on the floor (or on their backs or anyplace soft, said Luigi Pulci in a little extempore verse).
Presumably this rhymes in Italian. TODO: what is it in Italian?
Lorenzo's brother Giuliano [...] wore a doublet quartered with red and blue, with a lyon of England in gold on red above his heart: a gift from King Edward IV of England, who was king by right of arms and grace of Medici financial support.
This is consistent with our history, although Edward turned out to be a poor loan risk.
Francesco Sforza was the first Sforza Duke of Milan, and father of Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
John Hawkwood was an English mercenary who fought in France and Italy in the late 1300s. He eventually become commander-in-chief of the army of Florence, and defended the city-state against Milan.
John Hawkwood and his White Company were the inspiration for the Dorsai in Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle. Dickson planned, though never published, a historical novel which would cover Hawkwood's life.
Exiled, of course, because France is partitioned between England and the Byzantines. (The jacket is red-and-blue for the Anglo-French domain ruled by the King of England.)
Consistent with the Marsilio Ficino of our history.
This one [song] was about the planets in their courses around the sun...
Heliocentrism seems to be common knowledge, somewhat earlier than in surfaced in our history.
Copernicus began constructing his heliocentric theory early in the 1500s, and published it in 1543.
Cynthia's green velvet gown was conservatively slashed at the sleeves, showing a little silk lining dyed yellow with crocus.
Cynthia was twenty-two, and her hair was pure white: [...]
[...] a pendant crocus blossom in pure gold.
Again, the crocus symbol. This line might imply that the pendant is merely gold-plated, but it will turn out to be more interesting than that. See p79.
At the center was a colonnade of white marble, with marble benches, around a bronze fountain showing Venus rising from the Aegean. Ficino had created the image, Donatello cast it in metal, and Botticelli reinterpreted it in paint with his inevitable layers of symbol and allegory added.
The poet Arturo Poliziano and Alessandra Scala, the designer and stage manager for the Florence Grand Theater, sat together on a bench in wildly animated conversation.
Angelo Poliziano was a poet and one of Lorenzo's circle of artists.
Alessandra Scala is also a poet and scholar known in our history. Poliziano describes her as having acted in a salon performance of Sophocles's Electra, but I do not find any other association with theater.
"...Have you spoken with Leonardo lately?"
"The Archimedian? Not since winter."
"He brought me sketches for a machine -- a whole group of machines, really -- to move sceneries and actors about. Make the gods fly, that sort of thing."
It is not clear in what sense Leonardo is an "Archimedian." It may be a general term for a mathematical physicist, or it may refer to a particular fraternity of scientists.
(Possibly more of Archimedes' work survived in TDW history, allowing him to become more of an iconic engineer. In 1906 of our history, some of Archimedes' texts were recovered from a palimpsest, paper that had been reused for a 12th-century Christian liturgy. The TDW version of that codex might well have survived.)
Cynthia supposed that some presentation was coming, written by Lorenzo and staged by Alessandra; she well recalled the summer Lorenzo's Life of Julian had rehearsed here, going on to success in the city and, in translation, as far away as London and Byzantium.
Consistent with our history; Italy was a center of pyrotechnic development in the 14th and 15th centuries.
He was in his twenty-eighth year...
(Literally "in his 28th year" would imply 1476, but the rest of the book matches 1477 better.)
"I would like you to go to Pisa," Lorenzo said. [...]
"Pier Leone wants to stop teaching for a while. [...] That, however, leaves the professorship open. Do you want it?"
She put her own fingertips to her throat. Autumn crocus. Colchicum. Twice a day Lorenzo de' Medici took a measured spoonful of colchicum extract in brandy, an infusion prepared by the Riccis, and his gout did not afflict him; as simple as that.
The plant in question is Colchicum autumnale, and the extract contains colchicine.
Then the syncretist Ficino, sitting hunched with Lorenzo standing at his side, put all the ideas together, along with Lorenzo's new song: chariots blazing between the worlds as gods fought rebel gods, the destruction of a city -- a planet? -- by fire, beasts beyond imagining both to terrify and befriend the heroes.
"It needs a title," Signorina Scala said.
Pulci had his mouth open, but Ficino beat him to the pun.
The pun (from the characters' point of view) is that "Martis" means both "of Mars" and "of war." (Isis, as the Egyptian "Queen of Heaven," is associated with the stars.)
[...] she wondered if their horses knew the way to carry them home, and did not really care if they did.
Cynthia's feet knew the way from the Ricci house to the Palazzo Medici, and she did not care if they did not; crossing the Arno, she did not care if they carried her over the edge of the bridge to drown.
Some time has passed since the previous section (which was "the last day of summer," see p61.) It is the same year (see p72), certainly, but the interval may have been days or a few weeks, depending on how the seasons are reckoned.
Sassetti had this position in our history as well.
"I wish I knew why my good friend the Duke Sforza required so much gold on short notice. I only fear I do know. [...]"
In our history, this assassination attempt succeeded.
"My good friend" is irony, of course. Milan and Florence are rivals, and frequently outright enemies.
"Write to Portinari. Ask him the consequences of liquidating our branch in Milan."
Several members of the Portinari family were managers for the Medici bank. Accerrito Portinari was the general manager of the Milan branch.
"[Sforza] knows I once made a war over alum, which is worth much less in the pound than gold."
Alum was crucial for dyeing fabric, which made it crucial to the entire textile industry.
Dorothy Dunnett's Niccolò series whirls Nicolas through the political landscape of this era, beginning with the alum trade.
Lorenzo's grandfather Cosimo de' Medici was indeed a more successful banker than his descendants. And the credit risk of royalty was not news in his day, either; Edward III had defaulted on a bunch of Florentine loans in the mid-1300s, wiping out the (pre-Medici) banking dynasties of the Bardi and Peruzzi.
Note that all the Medici clients named here are opponents, or resisters, of the Byzantine Empire.
"You're what -- twenty-two?"
The same year as the first part of the chapter (see p64).
"There are only three states left in the North free of Byzantium, and now Milan wants war with us. I can hear that Imperial puppet della Rovere laughing himself sick in Rome."
"The North" of Italy, that is. Milan and Florence must be two of them. The third one is Urbino. (See p62, p89.) And the other third one is Genoa (see p293). This appears to be an inconsistency on the author's part.
Francesco della Rovere was Pope Sixtus IV in our history. In TDW, he is the (secular) ruler of Rome, and possibly other of Byzantium's possessions in Italy.
Instructions to destroy the current batch of colchicum (see p72).
The Latin phrase sub rosa, literally "beneath the rose," idiomatically means "in secret." Lorenzo may be giving an indirect instruction, or he may have an actual secret passage concealed underneath roses -- it would appeal to his sense of humor, no doubt.
"Who is Messer Reynardo?"
"But... what does he do?"
"Why, Dottorina, can't you guess? He spies for me, on my good friend the Duke of Milan."
Secret agents return to the story.
The taller of the two was Reynard, who wore a leather jacket over his doublet and hose, all very dusty, and a plain-hilted small sword. His face was very bland, smiling in a vague way.
The other person [...] was a boy, dark-haired, droop-shouldered, bow-legged. He was very pale, and stared vacantly at the floor.
"A halfwit?" Lorenzo said.
"Hardly," said Reynard. There was no French accent in his voice, nor any other sort of accent. "He could read Plato in Greek. What you're seeing now is the side effect of the spell; I didn't have time or energy to be subtle."
Reynard made a complicated motion with the fingers of his right hand, then swept them along his left arm. It seemed that he had pushed back the sleeve, though the jack was too heavy and stiff for that to be possible; still, his arm looked bare, the basilic veins showing large and blue on white skin.
The "jack" is Reynard's leather jacket (see p74). In fact it's the other way around: the word "jacket" means a small jack.
[The boy] inhaled, and his tongue flicked out. Then he seized the arm with both hands and sank his teeth into the inside of the wrist, biting like a wild animal, making wet sucking sounds. Saliva flowed freely.
"I believe [Sforza] was infected after those three young men attempted to kill him early last year; that he was not in fact wearing armor beneath his doublet, and was mortally wounded. There was a vampire in the dungeons -- an experiment of the Duke's -- and the Duchess Bona offered him his freedom if he would save the Duke's life."
In our history, this assassination attempt succeeded.
In contrast to the boy, this unnamed vampire prisoner is described as a rational being, capable of bargaining for his freedom.
"It required twenty months for you to discover this?"
Reynard displays no emotion at all, during this scene, despite the things he is reporting. (And despite his direct involvement in them.) This may be his nature or his training; but it underscores the theme of spies regarding others as objects, not humans.
She looked at the spy, or tried to; his face would not focus. Magic, she thought, an illusion like his naked arm had been. She wondered what he really looked like; if he could see his own face in a glass.
The traditional method of killing a vampire is here given as medical learning: destroy the heart and cut off the head.
"I have made the new infusion. It tastes precisely of the colchicum, and has twice the concentration of uric salts as the prior formula. I had not expected the salts to be so effective; we may not have to use the pure colchicum extract..." Vittorio looked again at the letter. "I do not know what we will do for Giuliano. But there are poisons enough for all."
These are the details of the plot. Gout is caused by a buildup of uric compounds in the body. Lorenzo de' Medici takes colchicum to alleviate this (see p67). Vittorio has replaced the colchicum extract with a mixture that has the opposite effect.
Apparently the original plan was to induce a severe gout attack, and then prescribe a fatal dose of colchicum. This would appear to be an accidental (and understandable) overdose, thus allowing Vittorio and Cynthia to escape suspicion.
She was indeed thinking about spies.
She went to the kitchen, got an egg, an orange, and a bit of lard in a bowl.
Next to the mirror was a pencil drawing, careful renderings of her by the artist from Vinci. It was a gift, in exchange for being allowed to watch her at dissections.
Leonardo da Vinci sketched many dissected corpses to understand human internal anatomy.
She picked up the necklace, put her fingers on the crocus-flower pendant, squeezed and twisted; the petals opened on tiny hinges, revealing a hollow space within.
The secret of the crocus pendant; see p64.
She took a tiny vial of blue crystals from her medical kit, filled the golden flower with the cyanide of potassium, then closed the petals.
(Prussian Blue is a blue cyanide-based pigment, from which the word "cyanide" is derived. But it is a more complex molecule, involving iron.)
[...] Brunelleschi's enormous Pantheon dome, the wonder of Fiorenza; [...]
Brunelleschi built the dome of the Cathedral of Florence.
[...] a small man looked out. He had dark eyes and a hooked nose, and wore a black robe of coarse stuff. He was physically young, but his expression held an ancient bitterness. "Good day, holy mother," he said, and made a bizarre gesture.
Girolamo Savonarola introduced.
The gesture is undescribed, but the fact that Cynthia sees it as "bizarre" indicates that Savonarola's religion is obscure, or else his practice of it is.
"You understand, brother," said the intense voice, gently now, "that only in the good Duke of Milan is the salvation of Italy; that once the Medicis have destroyed the valiant Sforza with their usurious practices, they will sell both Florence and Milan to the Eastern Empire, that Lorenzo Medici may rule as the detestable Francesco della Rovere defiles Rome..."
"O Maximin Daia, divine Emperor, aid thy servant in this his midnight hour; let Milan, city of the unholy Edict, where the godless Julian usurped the crown of Rome, now be thine instrument of destruction, first upon this city of aliens, then upon Milan itself, that the Empire that you once ruled may come once more into the holy light..." There was a sound like a handclap. "For women are worshipped here, and Jews walk in the streets..." Another clap. "Aid me, Daia. Aid me, Zeus Friend of Men..."
This is as much as we find out of Savonarola's true beliefs. He worships one of the deified Emperors of Rome, and he despises Julian the Wise. (The Edict of Milan was Julian's law of religious tolerance; see p33.)
It is tempting to infer from this that Savonarola is some variety of Christian. But he is praying to Zeus, and he spoke earlier (p81) of "the gods" plural. Yet again, he is not a devotee of the entire Greek pantheon, because he condemns the idea of "worshipping women." So, as best I can guess, he is some kind of schismatic follower of Zeus (and perhaps a few other masculine gods), who condemns the polytheism that Julian instituted.
Maximin Daia declared himself ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire, before Constantine I gained control of the whole. Therefore, Savonarola seems to be explicitly praying for the triumph of the Byzantine Empire.
Cynthia dreamed of her family: they were in a vindictive Hell of the sort she had never believed in [...] Yet no sensible god, none worthy of intelligent worship, would create a punishment that never ended; there must be some solution to the puzzle, some way out.
This rationalist and humanist viewpoint may be taken as a contrast with the Church teachings of our history. But humanist thought was strong in Lorenzo's Florence in our history as well, among philosophers like Ficino.
Furthermore, the very fact that Cynthia considers this contrast indicates that both strains of religious thought exist in TDW history. It is likely her background and her friends that dispose her to her beliefs, not any universal feature of TDW culture's worldview.
This melancholy temperament is noted in Giovanni Corsi's biography of Ficino:
"...although he always appeared cheerful and festive in company, yet it was thought that he sat long in solitude and became as if numb with melancholy." [The Life of Marsilio Ficino]
[Lorenzo's] skin was hot and very dry, and she knew he would be itching everywhere; his kidneys were beginning to fail, and if that went beyond a certain point there would be no way on earth to save him... except the treatment that had saved Galeazzo Maria Sforza.
That treatment being exposure to a vampire.
Ford suffered kidney problems throughout his life. These symptoms may come from personal experience.
Cynthia took the pendant from around her neck, opened it, emptied the yellow powder within into the liquid.
"And what is that?" Ficino said.
The improvisation was on p69.
They were all silent for fifteen minutes by the clock; then Lorenzo began to recite a poem. It was Dante Alighieri, from the Commedia dell'Uomo, the part where the poet has finally reached the correct exit from the corridors and courts of Pluto's kingdom. He had always loved Dante's puns on Pluto's cave, and Plato's.
Dante wrote the Divina Commedia ("Divine Comedy"), portraying a poet's journey through the (Christian) Hell and Heaven.
The TDW version is non-Christian, of course. More interestingly, it it is called Commedia dell'Uomo ("Comedy of Man"). This implies that the search for justification or meaning in life -- Dante's underlying theme -- is considered to be a study of mankind, not of the gods. This is a subtle but deeply humanist shift in perception from our world.
The most famous quotation from the Divine Comedy is the inscription on the gates of Hell: "Abandon all hope, you who enter here." But Lorenzo is quoting from the opposite end of that journey. Although we do not get his words, this mirroring of focus is striking.
"Plato's cave" is a reference to the allegory in Plato's Republic, in which humanity can only see shadows of reality on a cave wall.
Ficino took the lines of Virgil Magus, [...] When the poet reached the moon, she knew she was meant to smile at the lines about Luna, [...]
The poet's first guide in the Divina Commedia is Virgil. He is not portrayed as a wizard in the poem, but medieval legend does attribute magical powers to him.
After leaving Hell, the poet passes through Purgatory. When he reaches its summit, Virgil leaves him; as a virtuous pagan, Virgil can leave Hell, but not enter Heaven. The poet is now guided by Beatrice, his vision of divine beauty and love, who ascends with him through the spheres of Heaven. The moon is the first of these.
In Dante's allegory, Virgil represents knowledge and understanding; Beatrice is divine grace. Ford's version is not about the divine, and has no notion of relinquishing rationality.
"Daia. Maximin Daia."
"I do not recall that one. There are so many deified rulers. Probably me too, someday."
"Good. Federigo is the only chivalrous man left in Italy -- and also the best condottiere, gods know how that happened. [...] Tell him it is Byzantium coming. They've been trying to annex his duchy to the Roman states for years now, and he hates their bloody guts."
Condottiere means "mercenary" (from condotta, "contract").
The courier threw aside his cloak, showing the livery badge and wings of Mercury on his coat. There was no response. He reached to his belt and drew the Rienzi wand, the silver rod that assured his free passage anywhere in Italy. Nothing happened.
His cheeks white, with a vivid red bloom; Cynthia knew the condition.
A man with a patch over his right eye and a horribly broken nose took the horse's reins from her [...]
"I cannot break the condotta. But if this is more of the Romans' doing... it is a long march over the mountains to Florence. It might take a long time, that march, with winter so near."
(However, see p95.)
"My son thought you were a witch. Are you?"
"No, my lord."
This passage is suggestive, but I can find no clear interpretation.
Colchicine is associated with curing gout, and little else (see p67). In medieval times, crocus or saffron was used for many diseases, such as measles. However, this may merely have been the "if it's expensive, it must be good for you" theory of medicine.
"Consolidation, Federigo. Byzantium gets Florence, Milan gets Genoa and enough of Venice to make the borders straight. Urbino will be in the middle of things, but you're used to that, aren't you?"
Sforza turns out to be a gloater.
Sforza looked suddenly startled. "They... shared France with the English..."
Federigo is suddenly willing to break the contract, something he just said he would not do (p94). Apparently he is willing to work for a monster, but not for a moron. Or perhaps he is reacting to Sforza's statement that he hired Federigo for the sake of appearance, not because he needed his military force.
[Sforza] was not wearing armor beneath it this time, either. It was too bad, she thought, that those Milanese assassins had not known more anatomy.
This chapter reflects and rearranges the Pazzi Conspiracy. In our history, there were no hostages or attempted poisonings; armed men assaulted the Medicis during Mass. Giuliano was killed, and Lorenzo was not, but in our history he was wounded. Ficino was not involved.
Federigo da Montefeltro of Urbino secretly supported the conspirators; he had troops waiting outside Florence. However, when it became clear that Lorenzo was not dead, he broke off the attack. But note that Federigo's involvement was not known when TDW was written. He was implicated by an encrypted letter which was discovered in 2004.
I cannot find any indication of whether Ford learned of this letter in 2004, or how he reacted if he did.
"They found the house where the hostages had been. They found a limepit... There never were any hostages, Cynthia."
"And my father?"
"The fast poison. The blue salt. Now I am done hurting you."
A limepit contains quicklime, for disposing of bodies. The letter (see p78) that forced Cynthia and Vittorio Ricci into their attempted murder was a deception; their family was already dead when they got it.
"My lord, the Ten of War require your presence. There are cannon, the light Byzantine guns, ranging on the walls."
The Ten of War (or Council of Ten) were an elected body who governed the military and diplomatic affairs of Florence.
"The Archimedian -- what was his name?"
"Madonna Lucrezia used to say that the incubus who brought Arthur down, was Theodora of Byzantium, after she turned vampire to save herself from death. But surely not... surely they would not succeed in ruining a king, and then fail to take his country."
Lucrezia is Lorenzo's mother.
"Incubus" refers to a male demon in medieval (and modern) usage, but here is clearly feminine. The character in the Arthur legend would be Morgan le Fay. (Or Morgause, or some other version of that role. TDW history has a more precise notion of Arthur's story than we do, but we do not know its details. But see p277 for more on Morgaine.)
The body of TDW will concern Byzantium's attempt to take England, nearly a thousand years after Arthur's fall.
The cups were of red quartz, engraved in gold with LAUR. MED.
That is, "Lorenzo de' Medici" (in Latin).
Purple quartz is amethyst, which is a traditional material for wine cups; it is supposed to prevent drunkenness. (Why this is supposed to be a good quality for a wine cup...) Red quartz may be close enough to purple, or it may simply be intended to match the color of the wine.
[...] and wondered what would happen when finally she felt the pain.