Story of two lovers, the erotic novel that would make Pope Pius II famous

“Love conquers all; Let’s give in to love.” This beautiful phrase belongs to one of the most popular literary works of the fifteenth century, a whole bestseller of that time of change that was the transition from the Late Middle Ages to the Renaissance. I mean History of duobus amantibus either story of two loverswhich had no less than thirty-five editions before the year 1500 without counting the thousand handwritten copies.

But what is really curious about that text is not so much its success as its author; His name was Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini and would go down to posterity under the name of Pius IIafter being elected pope. Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini was born in 1405 in corsignanoa town in Tuscany renamed today as Pienza and which was then one of the strategic corners of that complex puzzle of alliances and enmities that was northern Italy.

His family took part in that game, his father fighting in the service of the Milanese Visconti. Thanks to this, he was able to buy some land with which to try to leave behind the economic problems that had gripped them for some time, something unworthy of his noble blood.

Aeneas was only one of many brothers (eighteen!), although most of them died and this allowed him to travel to Siena to study law, although he would later continue at the University of Florence. He had illustrious teachers who instilled in him an interest in humanitiesThese became his great hobby so that he became a great Latinist who even composed poems in that language and taught classes on his own.

In 1431 he was hired as secretary by Bishop Doménico Capranica, whom he accompanied to the Council of Basel and in many others travel through europe: Frankfurt, Burgundy, England, Scotland… always exercising diplomatic work on various issues; Among them was especially the conflict mediation, case of the Hundred Years War or the Schism of the East, although he also tried to encourage a Scottish uprising against the English for the benefit of France. Thanks to all this he obtained recognition and important gifts were granted.

After nearly dying of the plague in 1429, he went to Strasbourg in the service of the Antipope Felix V, whose legitimacy he had supported; in this city, as he had done before in Scotland, he fathered with a married woman a son who hardly survived more than a year.

He himself would recognize his many love affairsas intense as ephemeral since later “caused great annoyance” according to his own words, and we must not forget that he had directed his life towards a religious vocation.

In fact, he was later hired by the emperor Frederick III to negotiate his wedding with the Portuguese Eleanor, he mediated with the Hussites and was commissioned to try to reconcile the Sente Sede with the Holy Roman Empire, which finally earned him the priestly dignity; she was forty years old.

Pope Nicholas V, who had been his fellow student decades earlier, named him Bishop of Trieste in 1447 and of siena two years later. Then, in 1456, Calixto III promoted him to the cardinalate in what was a truly meteoric run.

Probably neither of them imagined that a little later, in 1458, Aeneas would be chosen new pontiff. True to his resume, he continued his conciliatory work with the endless Italian political conflicts while, logically, tempering his previous positions against the excess of authority of the Holy See.

On the throne of Saint Peter he developed a long legislative work with many shovelfuls of lime (canonization of San Vicente Ferrer, mediation between Federico III and the Hungarian king Matías Corvino, foundation of the University of Basel or the declaration of slavery as a crime) and some sand (favoring his relatives with positions and wealth, renaming his hometown as Pienza in his own honor or offering Sultan Mehmet II the Byzantine Empire in exchange for his conversion to Christianity, which offended the aforementioned and sparked a war).

Pius II fell ill with fever when visiting Ancona, where he had gone to encourage the Hungarians and Venetians, allies against the Turks, dying on August 14, 1464. His legacy is clear and visible in Corsignano, where he did not limit himself to changing the name but promoted the construction of numerous buildings in the Renaissance style.

For this, he hired the illustrious architects Bernardo Gambarelli and León Battista Alberti, who erected the duomo -consecrated by Pius II in person in 1462-, one of the main attractions of the place together with the Palazzo Piccolomini. Due to this urban embellishment, Pienza is part of the World Heritage UNESCO since 1994.

The Palazzo Piccolomino in Pienza/Photo: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

Now, what has made this pope earn a special place in history is his previous literary production. As a good humanist he touched various genres, from the historical chronicle (Historia rerum Federici III imperatoris, Historia Gothorum, Historia Bohemica) to the scientific (cosmography), going through the political-religious (Commentarii de gestis Basiliensis Concilii) and autobiography (Commentarii rerum memorabilium quae temporibus suis contigeruntwritten in the third person under the pseudonym Scribe Gobellinus and published twenty years after his death).

Also literature, of course, section in which he was highly applauded. He composed several comedies and not a few poems of erotic tone. The aforementioned Story of two lovers (also titled in Spain Very true story of two lovers) is also part of that line, something that a posteriori embarrassed the Pope, who said about it: «Do not give more importance to the layman than to the pontiff; reject Aeneas, welcome Pius».

However, the piece circulated from hand to hand and in 1467 the first printed version was made in Cologne, reaching our days full of modernity and translated into multiple languages (into Spanish in 1496 for the first time, clearly influencing some works such as the matchmaker).

Written in Vienna in 1444, inspired by the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta of Boccaccio, story of two lovers is a epistolary novel (that is, narrated in the form of letters) whose argument takes place in Siena, telling the love between Lucrecia and Euríalo, a married noblewoman and one of the men of the Duke of Austria.

Both are in love with each other without realizing that it is something reciprocal, trying to be honest through correspondence. Love is presented in a negative way, as a deceptive and uncontrollable force, characteristic of young people, and that consumes those who suffer from it; therefore the tone is didacticHence, it does not have a happy ending.

Curiously, some scholars -not all- believe that the protagonists were based on real characters: she would be a daughter of Mariano Sozzini (the law professor that the young Aeneas had at the University of Siena) and he Kaspar Schlick, chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire (during the mandate of Sigismund of Luxembourg), who had been a patron of the poet in 1442.


Sources

The very true story of two lovers and The Book of Fiametta (Mita Valvassori)/Theory and analysis of literary discourses (VVAA)/Stories and fictions. Colloquium on the literature of the fifteenth century (R. Beltrán, JL Canet and JL Sirera, eds.)/Cintia & Tale of two lovers (Aeneas Silvio Piccolomini; editing by José Manuel Ruiz Vila)/Wikipedia