This is no Chronicle of Saints. Nor yet is it a History of Devils. It is a record of certain very human, strenuous men in a very human, strenuous age; a lustful, flamboyant age; an age red with blood and pale with passion at white-heat; an age of steel and velvet, of vivid colour, dazzling light and impenetrable shadow; an age of swift movement, pitiless violence and high endeavour, of sharp antitheses and amazing contrasts.
To realize him as he was, you need but to bethink you that this was the age in which the Decamerone of Giovanni Boccaccio, the Facetiae of Poggio, the Satires of Filelfo, and the Hermaphroditus of Panormitano afforded reading-matter to both sexes. This was the age in which the learned and erudite Lorenzo Valla--of whom more anon--wrote his famous indictment of virginity, condemning it as against nature with arguments of a most insidious logic. This was the age in which Casa, Archbishop of Benevento, wrote a most singular work of erotic philosophy, which, coming from a churchman's pen, will leave you cold with horror should you chance to turn its pages. This was the age of the Discovery of Man; the pagan age which stripped Christ of His divinity to bestow it upon Plato, so that Marsilio Ficino actually burnt an altar-lamp before an image of the Greek by whose teachings--in common with so many scholars of his day--he sought to inform himself.
It was an age that had become unable to discriminate betwee
[modified from review of same book on Amazon]
Because I have enjoyed Sabatini's novels, I was intrigued to see what he would do with a nonfiction work. His colorful use of the language makes this an enjoyable read. With little prior knowledge of Italian history or geography, I learned much about the place and times. I enjoyed Sabatini's defense of the Borgia family, comparing their activities within others living in that relatively immoral time and also refuting accusations made against them by others (both contemporaries and later biographers).
However, the Amazon (free) digital version could be much improved. Non-English characters display as question marks (as in Citt? di Castello) - this does not make it impossible to read, but it is distracting. The Gutenberg version (I downloaded it from manybooks) displays the actual characters and does not indent each paragraph as does the version being reviewed. I finally switched to the manybooks/Gutenberg version and found it much easier to read.
Sabatini is reported to have been fluent in at least six languages, and he frequently includes quotations in French, Italian, and Latin. I would hope to find a version that includes translations of these sections, and one with a map showing the place names used throughout this book.
Sabatini's Life of Cesare Borgia is definitely worth a second read.
Added note: Both the Amazon (free) version and the manybooks version were downloaded in Kindle format at no cost.