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On April 27, 1462, Sigismondo Malatesta (1417-1468), the lord of Rimini, was damned to hell. For on that day, Pope Pius II (1405-1464) performed a most unusual canonization: not to create a blessed man or woman a saint but to enlist Sigismondo Malatesta among the ranks of the damned and condemn him to hell while he still lived. That evening three life-size effigies of Sigismondo were burned in three squares of Rome. Each carried a placard stating: “This is Sigismondo Malatesta, king of traitors, enemy of God and man, condemned to the fire by the decision of the sacred college.” Some Italian rulers were shocked and had tried to prevent it; others must have delighted in seeing a feared rival so utterly destroyed. One ambassador called the whole affair a “carnivalesque masquerade.” ... No previous pope had ever performed a reverse canonization, nor has any pope done so since.

Anthony F. D’Elia. Pagan Virtue in a Christian World. Sigismondo Malatesta and the Italian Renaissance 1.




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A string of calamities


Canto X tells the story of Sigismondo’s life between 1454 and 1462. It begins by throwing an anchor back to events already told in canto IX – the siege of the Rocca Sorano. Sigismondo was in the service of the commune of Siena: in December 1454, he raised the siege abruptly under suspicion of a secret agreement with the enemy, Count Pitigliano, with whom he had been corresponding.

Three years later, the war with the Kingdom of Naples erupted. Sigismondo owed money to the king, Alfonso de Aragon, who was now asking for significant sums on top of the old debt of 1447. The year 1458 would prove a turning point in Sigismondo’s fortunes: Alfonso died and his son Ferdinand, now King of Naples, waged his father's wars, including that with Rimini. Pope Calixtus died too and Enea Silvio Piccolomini, the bishop of Siena, succeeded him as Pius II. Pius intervened in the war between Rimini and Naples and was partial to the latter: at Mantua in 1459, he imposed a harsh peace on Malatesta. Sigismondo submitted at first, but not for long. Seeing that the Prince of Taranto and the House of Anjou started a rebellion against the Naples succession, Malatesta threw in his fate with the rebels. The Pope, enraged at his disobedience and seeing that Sigismondo was taking back territories he had ceded to the papacy at Mantua, excommunicated him and burnt him in effigy in Rome. Pius is relentless in wishing to destroy Sigismondo completely: take away everything he has and tarnish his reputation for ever. The war with the pope is the climax of Sigismondo’s misfortunes.

The canto ends on a positive note: Sigismondo’s speech before the battle with the papal forces at Nidastore (1461). He tells his soldiers that an eagle has alighted on his tent and that Roman generals considered that to be a good omen. He thus takes pride in being the “enemy,” trusts in his blood lineage from Scipio Africanus and is convinced that his men, animated by his pagan spirit, will rout the papal forces if they are obedient and follow his strategy.








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 Canto X title page and middle section. A Draft of XVI Cantos. Paris Three Mountains Press, 1925.

Designs by Henry Strater.


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canto 10




Canto X in A Draft of XVI Cantos.
Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1925.
Illustrations by Henry Strater.

Canto X in A Draft of XXX Cantos.
Paris: Hours Press, 1930.
Capitals by Dorothy Pound.

Note: The above images are not to scale. The 1925 edition is a folio, whereas the 1930 one is pocket-size.


The Fifth Decad

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Cantos LII - LXXI

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