The Life of Cola Di Rienzo

Translated by
John Wright

MST 18. 1975. 166 pp. ISBN 978–0–88844–267–3 • $14.95

The Life of Cola di Rienzo is an anonymous eye-witness biography of Cola di Rienzo, a romantic visionary who led a popular revolution against the rapacious and tyrannical barons of medieval Rome. It vividly describes Cola’s brief, tragi-comic reign as “Tribune” of a “restored Roman republic” in 1347, his subsequent pilgrimage to the imperial court at Prague and the papal court at Avignon, his return to Rome as Papal Senator in 1354, and his gruesome death at the hands of a Roman mob two months after his restoration.

The chronicler paints a memorable picture of the squalor, the degradation, and the unquenchable vainglory of medieval Rome, presenting us with a clear-eyed, though at times gleefully malicious, view of his protagonists, both noble and ignoble. The society he describes is wracked with poverty, violence and disease, and he is painfully aware of the great gulf separating it and the grandeur of ancient Rome; but he never abandons his high hopes for the possibilities of human heroism.

The chronicler writes in the vigorous Romanesco dialect of medieval Italian; the naive surface of his style only partly conceals an astonishingly artful technique of narration, description, and characterization. Especially striking are his accounts of Cola’s epic battle with the barons at the Tiburtine Gate, the execution of the Provençal adventurer Fra Morreale, and Cola’s horrifying death.

The Life of Cola di Rienzo, sometimes terrifying, sometimes hilariously obscene, always fascinating, is here offered for the first time in a complete translation for the English-speaking reader.

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