THE UNARMED PROPHET: Savonarola in Florence by Rachel Erlanger

THE UNARMED PROPHET: Savonarola in Florence

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Returning to the period of her well-received Lucrezia Borgia biography (1978), Erlanger here succeeds again with a carefully researched, riveting account of Girolamo Savonarola, the legendary 15th-century Dominican friar who for a brief period controlled the political destiny of Renaissance Florence. Erlanger examines the career of this quiet, unattractive friar who entered the Dominican order at age 38 to become an early, aggressive champion of Church reform--and a serious threat to Pope Alexander VI's hegemony over the Italian states. Although Savonarola initially admitted to being a poor public speaker, his abilities as a preacher improved in direct proportion to his conviction that he spoke with the authority of God; his knack for predicting disaster and his success in persuading King Charles of France not to sack Florence led many to believe that the friar was indeed a prophet. But while worldly intrusions into Alexander's office provided ample fodder for Savonarola's veiled barbs aimed at Rome, Alexander was far less concerned with criticism of his personal life than with Savonarola's insistence that Florence side with King Charles, whom Savonarola regarded as the ""scourge of God,"" rather than sign on with the alliance of Italian states headed up by Alexander. Savonarola wasn't the only one who could work a crowd, however. After building a loyal following to a feverish pitch, he suffered a series of setbacks that turned the tide of public approval against him--and fast maneuvering on the part of his enemies helped see him excommunicated, tortured, and finally executed with two followers in a grim echo of the crucifixion. Machiavelli considered Savonarola, like Moses, one of history's ""unarmed prophets,"" doomed by the realities of political process; Luther regarded the friar as a precursor and martyr of the Reformation; and long after his death, a Savonarola cult survived in France. Erlanger's more prosaic but nonetheless provocative view of Savonarola as a powerfully deluded individual makes for some very absorbing reading.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1987
Publisher: McGraw-Hill