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Dolet
cover art © Tamian Wood

 

 

Dolet depicts the life and times of Etienne Dolet. Etienne, who told the bald truth to friend and foe alike, angered the city authorities in sixteenth-century Toulouse, fled to Lyon, and became a publisher of innovative works on language, history, and theology. His foes framed him; he was persecuted, imprisoned, and ultimately executed by the Inquisition for daring to publish the Bible in French translation.

 

 

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Dolet
nonfiction novel

 

Florence Byham Weinberg

 

 

 

Chapter One

The procession appeared from the opposite side of the Place de Salins, carrying banners emblazoned with holy images, a golden crucifix held high. The escort followed with the prisoner, Jean de Caturce, an iron collar around his neck attached to chains held by the men walking beside him. Hands tied behind his back, he wore a short, white chemise that exposed his calves and bare feet. His feet left bloody tracks on the cobblestones, but he was not limping. Perhaps the pain seemed trivial after worse torture.

The prisoner paused for a second as they crossed the square, staring at the place where he would be sacrificed, the heaped-up bundles of kindling and logs, a stake surrounded by a little wooden platform that poked through like a fist with accusing finger upraised. They gave him no time, jerking him forward, goading him up the rough steps onto the platform that stood almost directly below Etienne Dolet's window.

Jean climbed doggedly, without hesitation, straining sidewise against the collar to see his way. He held his chin at a defiant angle as if he would have gone up to his death with no urging. The executioner followed him and lashed him to the stake, winding the rope around his body. Now Jean stood, looking around at the noisy crowd that swelled quickly as more witnesses trooped into the square. He was not allowed a chance to say a final word before the executioner stepped forward with the torch and touched it in several places to the fuel below. A wave of sound almost like a groan arose from the crowd as the first flames licked upward through the piled kindling. Silence as the flames spread eagerly, roaring when they caught the fat-soaked logs.

Etienne Dolet stood at his open window, unable to turn his eyes away. He knew Jean's voice when it came, a strong tenor singing: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it..." The singing broke off, and then, in a loud speaking voice, "Oh, God, my God, give me the strength to bear this... My God, help me!" The voice broke, the last syllables rising in volume and tone as if questioning the reality of God's Providence before ending in a distorted cry.

Flames mounted to the base of the platform, leaping beyond it to touch the hem of the white chemise, which began to blacken as it caught. The crown of Jean's tonsured head pressed back hard against the stake, his throat exposed to the heat. His face, clearly visible from the window, twisted beyond recognition, eyes staring and mouth wide open. His entire body writhed and convulsed, straining against the burning ropes that even now held him fast. Abruptly, he stopped moving and slumped against the pole. From then on, Etienne could no longer see him clearly, and for that, the young man gave silent thanks. Only an indistinct bundle remained among shimmering heat waves and the licking flames, a bulk that seemed ever blacker, appearing to shrink in upon itself, becoming more compact.

When the flames at last died away, workers, seeming indifferent to what had just happened, raked out the ashes and unburnt ends of logs, then loaded the debris onto carts and hauled it away. The ordeal had lasted over two hours, but Etienne still kept his vigil. He knew that Jean believed with great fervor in God, but had he believed in the end? What did he know when only the agony of the licking flames, not God, answered his cry for help? Or had He answered? Was Jean's soul abruptly transported to heaven so he would not suffer so cruelly?

But the present moment forced itself upon his consciousness. Below, a friar in a white and black habit strolled across the Place de Salins, giving instructions to the crews who were sweeping up the remains of the execution. He stood below Etienne's window. As he scanned the windows on that side of the square, his gaze paused, eyes riveted directly on Etienne. The young man instantly drew back into the shadows, his breathing quick and shallow, hoping that the waving ivy branch that grew halfway across the window had attracted the friar's eye, not his own pale face.

In Toulouse, you were in danger at any moment for the slightest imaginary fault. He had been seen yesterday, passing by the statue of the Blessed Virgin without genuflecting. He slumped into a chair and buried his face in his hands, fighting nausea. Jean de Caturce's execution would be forever imprinted upon his mind's eye, the sequence of images that had unrolled down there in the Place de Salins, Jean's final agony and the relief Etienne had felt despite himself when the writhing had ceased. He knew the man. Not well, but enough to respect him. Jean had been a popular young lecturer at the University of Toulouse where Etienne, a student of law, had heard him speak after that dinner on Twelfth Night.

He hadn't been one of the invited guests, and had come in only at the end of the meal to deliver a message to another professor, Jean de Boyssoné. But of course, they had seen Etienne and noticed he hadn't left before Caturce's after-dinner remarks, as so many others had done. If only Jean had confined his speech to his own field of jurisprudence. But having read Martin Luther's tracts-as who hadn't by now?-Caturce was captivated; he'd also dared to study the Scriptures and insisted on speaking about both those writings, telling his guests about Luther and his reading of the Bible.

Etienne had left the dinner that night feeling he had heard something powerful, doubly so because of the danger. As was to be expected, one of the guests denounced Caturce, along with everyone who had stayed in the room, to the Inquisition. Of that, Etienne had no doubt. Why else would that Dominican brother single out his window among all the windows on this side of the square?

The inquisitors gave Jean the chance to save himself if he would recant. But he had told them he couldn't deny the clear sense of the Word of God, a Word telling him that following the letter of their law would avail them nothing, would not prevent their damnation. Etienne had watched as they tore off Jean's ecclesiastical robe of office, degrading him from the tonsure and stripping him of his rank as professor at the university. Then they turned him over to the secular arm, the authority in charge of public executions, where the judge pronounced the death sentence.

The solemn procession had wound through Toulouse on its way here, to the Place de Salins, where public executions had been carried out since 1235 or so, when the Albigensians were burned in that same blackened circle. They were the first to be ferreted out by the newly created Inquisition, an office entrusted to the Dominican Order by Pope Gregory IX, created to stamp out that dangerous heresy. By now, the Inquisition's burnings in Toulouse had become a tradition "hallowed" by long and frequent exercise. And a new heresy had arisen, proclaiming that every baptized Christian was a priest before God and, as such, had a right to read the Scriptures for himself. But anyone who expressed such thoughts was in mortal danger.

Etienne had been warned to stay off the streets or risk immediate arrest. Some of his acquaintances were already taken. He'd made his way through winding back streets to his rooms overlooking the square, but he'd have been better off had he been arrested and imprisoned with his friends. At least, he'd not have to carry these images with him from now until his own death, for his imagination could never have substituted for the shock of experience. He stood again and approached the window, cautiously from the side so as not to be seen. But the square was swept clean and as empty as if nothing unusual had ever happened there.

* * *

Students spilled out of the room and into the hall outside. They clumped together in groups, arms across shoulders, some discussing a point of law or the latest books printed in Lyon or Geneva while others gossiped and laughed. The predominant colors were brown or gray-students could not afford colorful robes-and for Etienne the most interesting aspect of the scene was its constant movement. Students migrated from one group to another, shook hands or embraced, arms waved in the air as someone emphasized a weighty point of law or theology. Index fingers were raised on high or shaken under a neighbor's nose.

He paused briefly in the doorway, scanning the group for his closest friends, Jacques Bording, Arnoul le Ferron, Claude Cotereau, Simon Finet, and Jean Voulté. They were the cream of the "French Nation," a fraternity where elections would be held in a few minutes for the orator of the year. The chosen student would debate similarly elected orators of the other fraternities-the Gascon Nation, the Spanish, and the German-and the winner would gain great prestige among his fellows and perhaps win the patronage of some important jurist in the city. Etienne knew he was among the finalists and had dressed in his best: a white shirt, black doublet, and brown chausses with white silk stockings above his still-respectable black shoes. He'd added his brown student's robe not as an afterthought but to indicate that he was humble, on a par with the others, but he left it unbuttoned so that his finery could be seen and appreciated.

This was a night when all the societies met in comitiis centuriatis, representative groups of one hundred that would make the final choice of the man who would speak for the Nation. Jacques, Claude, and Jean were Etienne's rivals for the honored position. Etienne knew he was by far the best, but his sharp tongue might have lost him enough support to deny him the election. He knew his reputation as a razor-sharp wit, usually at the expense of the person standing nearest, and was both proud and constrained by it. He was proud because such wit implies superior intelligence, and he was pleased to have that reputation, but constrained because he must always be alert and ready-tongued, or that reputation would be called in question. A still more dominant constraint was his strict code of Christian moral standards. These often conflicted enough with his impulses to keep his witty remarks from actually wounding the target of his wit. Unless he considered that person an enemy.

"Sprezzatura" was a favorite word of his, an ideal touted by Baldassare Castiglione in his still-popular book The Courtier. Sprezzatura meant the mental agility and flexibility to turn any circumstance to one's own advantage, to make a witty remark, to reveal a new aspect, unveil an unknown fact that would transform what had gone before, to entertain, amaze, and keep everyone else off balance. In short, to be master and director of any situation-all with apparent ease and spontaneity. He succeeded only in part, for he was too abrasive. When reactions were negative, he would mutter to himself or say aloud to his close friends, "Cretini!" for he believed at least half of humanity too slow-witted to appreciate him properly.

He approached his close friend, Claude Cotereau. "Claude, bonsoir. I see you're here without your Lutheran mistress this evening. Perhaps I can introduce you to Madeleine Dupré; I hear she's the Inquisitor's niece. That would neutralize things for you, my friend, Luther on one arm, the Inquisition on the other."

Claude's face, marked by smallpox but still handsome, reflected exasperation, but then relaxed into a smile. "Always trying to shock and annoy, aren't you, Etienne? Well, you won't succeed in shocking me. Besides, you'd better keep a civil tongue if you intend to beat me and become our Nation's orator. You're late. We're almost ready to vote."

Etienne clutched the lapels of his doublet, his tone anxious. "Have you heard what's become of Jean de Boyssoné?"

Boyssoné had been arrested along with Jean de Caturce, and was tried soon after Caturce's condemnation. He was one of the most learned and popular of the professors of law, and one of the freest thinkers, a man who kept himself informed about all the literary and religious movements in Europe. Boyssoné had been convicted on ten counts of heresy: among others, the heretical notion that nothing should be held as a matter of faith but what was contained in or clearly implied by the Holy Scriptures, and that we are not justified by good works alone but mostly by faith in Jesus Christ. Both these opinions were declared to be irredeemably Lutheran. Unlike his unfortunate colleague Jean de Caturce, Boyssoné had chosen to abjure in a humiliating ceremony that was turned into a public circus.

"All his worldly goods were confiscated, weren't they, Claude?"

"Yes. If you can imagine the injustice: his house, his books, everything. I suppose they were all sold and the wealth absorbed by the local church. I hear he fled to Italy, first to your former university in Padua, and he's now in Venice. At least he's safe there. Even though he paid a heavy price, he did the right thing and came out alive. I only wish Caturce had been that flexible."

"He should have listened to his friend, François Rabelais, who said he'd hold to his opinions up to but excluding the stake." Etienne grinned briefly, but shook his head at the enormity of it all.

At that moment, Georges Langlois, the president of the French Nation, called them to order. They were to vote by voice, and if there were any doubt as to outcome, there would be a count of hands.

"Our first candidate is Jacques Bording. All those in favor say aye." Jacques shifted from foot to foot, giving Etienne and Claude a quick, apprehensive flash of brilliant green eyes that reminded Etienne of a cat.

There was a strong "aye" vote, but the "nays" audibly outweighed them. No need to count hands. Jean Voulté, short and slight, clutched the backrest of a chair with white-knuckled hands, his black eyes downcast. His vote garnered a large number of supporters, again outshouted by "nays." Claude Cotereau's "ayes" and "nays" were so close that a hand count was necessary. Standing next to Etienne, he,too, shifted from foot to foot as the votes were counted. Forty-eight votes in favor, fifty-two against.

"Good show, Claude!" Etienne squeezed his arm.

Then it was Etienne's turn. He waited, sweating a little, trying to appear unconcerned. But the result came at once with an overwhelming voice vote that left no doubt in anyone's mind. Claude, at his elbow, shook his hand with enthusiasm and a remarkable lack of envy.

"Congratulations, Etienne! I always knew you should represent us. Your Latin is impeccable, and you've practically memorized Cicero. You could give a ciceronian speech off the cuff that would take me a week to prepare."

Etienne's answering smile and handclasp expressed spontaneous gratitude for his friend's generosity better than the most eloquent words. Jean Voulté made his way with sinuous ease through the crowd now gathering around Etienne. His black eyes sparkled as he gripped Etienne's hand, clapping the winner on the back.

"Thank God I won't have to sweat over Latin speeches in front of the other Nations, especially the Gascons. I'll leave that 'pleasure' up to you. Truly, Etienne, I know you'll make us proud; you're a natural orator."

He draped his arm over Etienne's shoulders, and together they led Claude and Jacques, followed by Arnoul le Ferron and Simon Finet, through narrow, cobbled streets to the nearest tavern, the Chat Fourré. Soon joined by many other members of the French Nation, his comrades toasted Etienne. They were sure he, with his sharp tongue, would overwhelm any orator the Gascon Nation could produce.

Their two fraternities were the largest at the university and had been bitter rivals for some time, a rivalry that could break out in fights and the occasional riot. The Gascons now represented southwestern France, in earlier centuries a province called Gascony. They resented and scorned their northern rivals as "foreigners" and derided their inability to speak "la langue d'Oc." In their southern language, "oc" meant "yes." They were proud of their independent romance language, which, like northern French, descended from Latin. The Gascons also differed in their customs, cuisine, and view of the world. Their language and culture were under stress, however. They were no longer in favor ever since the royal house and retinue had decided to adopt Paris as the capital city. The northerners spoke "la langue d'Oui," which, in itself, set them apart.

Etienne leaped on a heavy oaken table and raised his beaker of wine, careful not to collide with the iron chandelier and its eight lighted candles. An imposing figure over six feet tall, his presence and voice dominated the room.

He began in Latin to demonstrate they'd made the right choice. "I'll do my best, my friends, to uphold the honor of our Nation, first of all to eulogize those of us who died during the past year, and then to review the most important events of the year just behind us. You may be certain that no person or organization that has slighted us, nay, not even the parliament and magistrates of this fair city who have recently questioned our right of assembly, will escape my notice. To the French Nation!"

He extended his arm and the beaker, threw back his head and drank his wine to thunderous applause and answering cries of "Hear! Hear! To the French Nation!"

 

Chapter Two

Etienne knew his close friends accepted him and respected his intellect but, given his humble beginnings, he never felt at ease among them. Now, alone in his room, the celebration over, he shed his fine clothes. He knew he'd been playacting, posing as a hero. Secretly, he felt like an escapee from his rightful place back in Orléans, selling cloth in the family shop as his father had done. One day, somehow, an invisible arm would reach out to drag him back.

He could see every detail of the gloomy little shop before his mind's eye. Ironic, he thought, that while it was the family business to sell cloth to make fine costumes for others, his father had always dressed in baggy and threadbare garments, the comfortable sort of thing Etienne wore by preference when he was not trying to make a special impression. It was his patron, the Bishop of Limoges, who had taught him the advantages of proper dress.

His father had not been slow in recognizing his son's avid intellect and had sent him to school early. Etienne earned few beatings from his preceptors. He learned everything they could teach as soon as they laid it before him. When he turned twelve, his father hitched the cart to their one aging mare, Josephine, and drove the two of them northward through the rolling countryside to Paris. Etienne remembered his first sight of the huge windmills close against the city walls, mills that ground grain to supply the city's ravenous appetite for bread.

A guard standing at the Porte Saint Jacques, one of the city gates most accessible from Orléans, stopped them. "And what might be your business?" The request was gruff and Etienne felt afraid.

His father remained calm. Perhaps he'd confronted such challenges before. "I'm taking my son to his tutor, sir. When that's done, I'll return to Orléans."

The man waved them through, since the only freight the cart carried was a frightened boy. Etienne's eyes widened at the chaotic jumble of houses and churches jammed together on streets so narrow that the cart could barely pass. Streets branched off and came together in no intelligible order, and crowds of people pressed themselves against the walls or house doors as they passed, cursing if the mare splattered them with the sewage trickling down the center of the street.

They halted before the door of a house his father seemed to know well. He began to search the pockets of his greatcoat, becoming increasingly agitated. "Damn! Your teachers back in Orléans gave me all the proper letters of introduction. I have the tuition money, too. Where the devil..." He worked his way to the inner pocket of his doublet, "Ah! Here they are."

Etienne had waited patiently, not overly concerned. He'd seen similar panics before. His mother usually made sure his father had the documents and money to conduct his business.

The door opened promptly to Monsieur Dolet's knock, and the father and son followed the valet into a book-lined office. The man seated behind a table cluttered with papers looked up.

"Yes?"

Monsieur Dolet pushed his boy forward and held him by the shoulders. "Th-this is my son, Etienne Dolet, Monsieur Bérauld. He knows his Latin well. His teachers vouch for him. I've written you about him."

Etienne felt ashamed of his father's timidity before this man. Surely, he was not that important. His Latin teacher had told him, "Monsieur Nicolas Bérauld is a scholar of Cicero who has been praised for his eloquence by none other than Erasmus of Rotterdam," whatever that meant. He drew his brows together and scowled at the floor.

Monsieur Bérauld rose to his feet. "Ah! Excuse me, Monsieur Dolet. Of course, I remember your letters and the recommendations you've already sent for your son."

There followed a confused blur of handclasps, letters of introduction and money offered and received, and then Etienne's father turned to him. "Farewell, my son. Monsieur Bérauld will take good care of you. He will teach you well. Obey him as you would me." With a final embrace, his father turned and left the house.

Etienne, shocked at the unexpected abandonment, stood rigid, facing Monsieur Bérauld's study table. His father had gone; the chill of being left alone in a strange city in the care of an unknown man froze every detail in his memory.

The master dipped his quill pen in an inkwell and began writing with complete concentration, ignoring the boy standing before him. Etienne didn't dare speak or stir. The pen-nib scratched along the paper until Bérauld had written an entire paragraph. Etienne read his own name at the top, written in capital letters, underscored twice. He examined the man before him: older than his father, balding in front, his dark hair forming a frame around the back of his skull. He might have been handsome once, long ago, with large brown eyes and regular features, but now deep furrows ran from the outer edges of his nostrils to the corners of his mouth, and deep lines scored his cheeks.

At last, Monsieur Bérauld stood up and skirted his desk to stand beside Etienne. "I keep a record of all my students. That's what I was writing, starting yours." He nodded and smiled. "After I've taught you boys for a time, I look back to see what I said about you in the beginning. Surprising how much I can see right off, but you transform yourselves over time. Come, I'll show you where you sleep. It's a room with four other boys. Are you hungry? How much Latin have you learned up to now?"

He had barely become accustomed to life at Bérauld's academy when there came a volley of blows on the entrance door. The boys, gathered around their master in the library on the ground floor, cried out in fear.

"It's all right, boys. I expect the Inquisition has sent some men to take me in for questioning. It has happened before. If I'm gone for more than a few hours, Madame Dupré, our cook and housekeeper, will take care of you."

The banging on the door restarted, and Monsieur Bérauld hurried to open. Etienne and the other boys peeked around the library door to watch.

A burly man holding a stout baton spoke for the group of four other armed men. "We arrest you under suspicion of heresy, Nicolas Bérauld."

"All right, gentlemen. Let's get this over with. Just don't frighten the boys, please."

They tied his hands behind his back and marched him down the street. The boys ran to the entrance to watch, the smaller boys crying.

Madame Dupré bustled in from the kitchen out back. "Boys, boys! This is nothing for you to worry about."

Etienne stared at her, trying hard to believe her words.

"It has happened before. Monsieur Bérauld always comes back."

He was absent for four days and came back looking tired, with dark circles under his eyes. But after Bérauld's explanation, life and lessons continued as usual.

"My young friends, I've been investigated for heresy-for holding ideas about Christianity that are considered anathema, odious to those men presently in control of the Church and its doctrines. I have friends who believe that our Church needs fixing. I belong to that group, but I'm not as radical as many. Noël Béda, a priest who is head of the Collège de Montaigu, the theological college, has great influence at the Sorbonne. He denounced me, and the authorities in the Church had me arrested and examined, but they let me go without a trial. You see, there's a man named Martin Luther, who has even split off from the Church and started one of his own. He has the authorities in the Church on edge. I, too, see his extremism as a great danger. I don't want our Church to be split into sects, only reformed."

Etienne raised his hand. "Reformed, Master? What sort of reforms?"

His master smiled down at him. "Where there is ignorance among priests, let there be learning. Where there are lax morals, let there be goodness and virtue. There's more, but you'll learn all that when you are older. You see, I think we should go back to the simplicity of the early Church, the one Jesus' disciples founded. That was before the hierarchy of priests, bishops, cardinals and so on and all the pomp and ceremony. We need to re-think those rituals that have nothing to do with Christ's actual teachings, those little sacramental acts like crossing yourself before saints' images and such. Genuine faith doesn't need all that, does it, boys? Well, that's what I think, and I still consider myself a good Catholic."

Etienne heard and understood. He learned all his lessons well.

After five years, Etienne became a tall, gangling youth, his long face illuminated by expressive brown eyes overshadowed by heavy black eyebrows that arched or drew together according to his mood. He also developed a strong baritone speaking voice and a passion for Cicero.

One evening Monsieur Bérauld and Etienne sat together in the library after the other boys had gone to bed. Their discussion centered upon a famous ciceronian dialog, The Tusculan Disputations.

Etienne, fascinated by the great orator's work, began with a question. "Master, why does Cicero begin this work with a discussion of death?"

Bérauld smiled. "Precisely because we normally avoid discussions of death. It is too near us, like those woodcuts that show a skeleton peering over the shoulder of a rich man or a beautiful courtesan. Besides, for Cicero, Socrates' acceptance of death was an ideal, much to be imitated. Cicero was a Stoic, you know. Death is a part of the natural process, therefore to be greeted with calm acquiescence."

"Even death in battle? Or if you are executed for a crime?"

"Yes, even so. Death comes inevitably, sooner or later. If sooner, the Stoics simply accept it as fate. It is still part of the natural cycle."

"And what about pain?"

"We humans are sentient beings, Etienne, like all living creatures. In order to continue living and not blunder into either extreme, our senses seek a balance between pleasure and pain. Too much pleasure becomes pain. Perhaps you have not yet experienced that. Balance is the key to happiness, according to Cicero and the Stoics. A happy medium in all things."

"We all suffer pain at times. I know I do. I try my best to avoid it."

"Precisely. You prove the Stoics right, don't you see?"

"Cicero says we must accept pain. Bear it. Isn't that really beyond human capacity?"

"The Stoics teach us to accept it, since it is part of nature's way. Circumstances sometimes inflict one extreme on us-pain-sometimes reward us with pleasure, the other extreme. But to seek pleasure as the purpose of life is to live an unbalanced life. Pleasure, too, must be enjoyed in moderation. That balance is what wise men seek. And wisdom makes a man insensible to sorrow."

Etienne nodded. "At the end of the Disputations, Cicero's speakers tell us that balance is virtue and virtue leads to happiness. They also say that wisdom banishes all mental disturbances. Have you found that to be true, Master?"

"Yes, Etienne, although I often find myself striving for wisdom and virtue rather than possessing them. Those are ideals only won with great effort."

"Did Cicero invent these ideas?"

"No, they were generally known since the time of Plato at least. Cicero filters such ideas and expresses them in the most beautiful language possible. That's why I choose him to teach to you boys."

After many more such discussions, Monsieur Bérauld decided that Etienne must move on. "With a mind like yours, I'd recommend the University of Padua. The most creative minds in Europe have congregated there, including my friend Simon Villanova. He's better known by the Latin version of his name, Villanovanus. He's young, but already an eminent scholar of Cicero and his rhetoric. You need a freer atmosphere than I can supply here in Paris. I'll write you a letter."

Etienne, a mature seventeen years old, crossed the Alps with Monsieur Bérauld's letter of introduction in his pocket. He found Padua, built on a level plain, looking to be about the size of his native Orléans. He crossed the River Bacchiglione and entered the center city. Intrigued by its air of antiquity, he later learned that it was founded over a thousand years before Christ. He delayed looking for the university-also revered for its great age-to wander like a tourist, crossing the many bridges over branches of the river and visiting the wide piazzas and their booths filled with colorful wares. Spending his last coins, he bought a meager meal at a tavern under one of the picturesque arcades. He had merely pointed to the bread and sausage he wished to buy, but now, his hunger half-satisfied, he needed to ask where to find the university.

He beckoned to the tavern-keeper. "Pardon, Monsieur, où se trouve l'université?"

The tavern-keeper shrugged and responded with a flood of Italian.

Etienne shook his head, raising his hands palms outward to stop the verbal flow. He spoke one word in Latin: "Universitas?"

"Ah! Università." The man took Etienne by the sleeve and pointed, moving his hands to indicate turns in the route.

Etienne thanked him in Latin and stopped two more people before finding the Via Febbraio. Following that street, he headed in the direction indicated, pausing to admire and walk around the Basilica of Sant'Antonio Padova. He reached his goal, arriving at the "Gimnasium Patavinum," the central university building. Once there, he found that his Latin was readily understood as he asked where to find Maestro Villanovanus. One of the students laughed at the French accent in his Latin but led Etienne to the door of the room where Villanovanus was teaching. He waited awkwardly in the hall until the lesson was over and then introduced himself, presenting the letter from Monsieur Bérauld.

Villanovanus, only a few years older than Etienne, nearly matched him in height. His light brown hair, cut in pageboy fashion, framed chiseled features lit by large, intelligent blue eyes. He peered at the prospective student with a skeptical moue, head to one side. "Loquerisne linguam latinam? Do you speak Latin?"

Etienne, conscious of his threadbare appearance, took a deep breath and replied volubly and correctly. "Monsieur Bérauld tells me you're the best Cicero scholar in Europe at the moment. He said I could learn all the secrets of Ciceronian rhetoric from you."

"Not all, Signore Dolet, but thanks to that pretty little compliment and Monsieur Bérauld's recommendation, I'll be happy to teach you all I know. I can see that my mentor taught you much, and that you were capable of learning it."

Simon devoted himself to Etienne as if he were his life's work-and, in a way, he was. Etienne loved his teacher and trusted him; he patterned his style and eloquence on Villanovanus, who, in turn, modeled himself upon Cicero. Often together, they strolled the streets of Padua, leaning on bridge railings, sitting under arcades, arguing and gesticulating-two young men of roughly the same height but opposite coloring.

One day, however, bad news interrupted their enjoyment of each other's intellects, their long conversations and probing interpretations of Cicero's works. A messenger approached Simon, the authoritative figure in the duo. "Are you Professor Villanovanus, Sir?"

Simon eyed the young man, dusty from his journey. "Yes, that is I. You have a message for me?"

"For one of your pupils, Sir."

"The name?"

"Etienne Dolet."

Simon nodded, produced a purse from his waistband and extracted a coin. "You're in luck, young man." He turned toward his companion, gesturing with both hands. "The person you seek is here. This is Etienne Dolet."

While the messenger accepted the coin, Etienne stood, tense with anxiety. "What message do you have? It must be urgent."

"I don't know, Sir." The boy handed Etienne a sealed letter.

Etienne tore open the seal, his hands trembling with foreboding. The letter, written by his family's parish priest, Father Athanase Guydon, confirmed his premonition.

I regret to bring you sad news, Etienne, but your mother, Claudette, requested that I let you know that your father passed away four days ago on Sunday, the twenty-third of this month of July in the year of our Lord 1528. I celebrated his funeral Mass myself and laid him to rest in the church graveyard this past Tuesday. He died of apoplexy, and nothing could be done to save him. Your brother Louis, although still of tender age, will maintain the tailor shop with the help of Jean-Charles, the servant man who has also learned the trade. Please do not interrupt your studies, my son. Your mother is reconciled to the loss, since your father had been in failing health for some time.

May you shelter under His wings, my son.

Yours in Christ,

Athanase Guydon.

Etienne had carried himself like a mature man during his travel from Paris to Italy and since then as a serious student of Ciceronian Latin, but the loss of his father broke down his manly mask. He covered his face, the letter still in his fingers, and wept. Simon saved the letter and, after scanning its contents, embraced his student, then led him to the nearest tavern for a quiet talk and a shot of brandy.

As time went on, Simon became paler, thinner, and his steps began to slow. Etienne, in his enthusiasm, hardly noticed. For him, those were three exquisite years of study, discussion, debate, and readings. He buried himself in analyses of Dante's Divine Comedy, Ficino's Commentaries on Plato's Dialogues, Machiavelli's The Prince, and Castiglione's The Courtier, a work Etienne adopted as a prescription for his future life. That work, he believed, along with a perfect mastery of Ciceronian style and rhetoric, would provide the keys to success.

The little world of study and freewheeling discussion, one he would later recall as a near-paradise, came to an abrupt end. Etienne began to worry about his mentor's weakness when he leaned on his pupil as they walked, more slowly now, through the streets. Their debates were no less intense, but they were interrupted by Simon's pauses when his face grew pale, he hunched his body, crossing his arms over his abdomen, fists clenched.

"I'm just concentrating," Simon would say.

The young man fretted, but his master assured him the symptoms were passing. Of course, he'd get over it.

Then one day at their usual meeting place, Simon greeted Etienne with a gesture toward a nearby chair. "Sit here on the veranda with me, my friend. We'll walk tomorrow."

The discussion was as fierce and lively as always, although interrupted several times by Simon's pale silences. Etienne, used to his master's habits, full of enthusiasm at the brilliance of their debate, leaped to his feet. "Come, Maestro! Let's have a glass at Gianino's to celebrate. I think you won the battle today."

Simon raised his face and shook his head with regret, "Not today, Etienne. I feel a bit indisposed."

Etienne knew by now that his master's plight was serious. "What's wrong, Maestro? Please, tell me!"

"Only a slight cold, but I've no energy today. Tomorrow we'll toast each other at Gianino's."

Etienne returned to the veranda the next day, waited an hour for his teacher and friend, then went home to read and study. That cold must have been worse than Simon thought. The following day, he again waited until he felt a stab of fear. "A slight cold" didn't keep a man from meeting his best friend day after day. He rushed to Simon's house and, after prolonged knocking, the doorkeeper appeared.

"Where's Maestro Simon? He was supposed to meet me yesterday and again today and he didn't come."

The doorman's face grew long. "Mi dispiace, Signore. I'm so sorry, Sir, but the professor died during the night."

Etienne, stunned, felt himself falling through the floor of a crystal palace of perfect intellectual architecture into the black and icy waters underneath. Submerged in cold darkness, rudderless, directionless, he returned to his room. He slumped on his bed where he stayed for hours, perhaps days-he couldn't remember. At last, he struggled up and out of the swamp of his depression by writing, rewriting, and finally producing three finished odes and a longer Latin poem in honor of his beloved professor and guide.

Later, in Toulouse, Etienne looked back on those three years as the best of his life, for he left at age twenty transformed by Padua, marked by his worshipful emulation of the dead Villanovanus, having absorbed his master's scholarly rigor along with his adventurous spirit and free-thinking theology that would soon prove intolerable to the French Church.

 

Chapter Three

After another week, Etienne packed his few clothes, his odes, the lengthy poem and his books, intending to leave for France. He stooped to pull the straps on his trunk tight and then straightened to survey his room for the last time, eyes lingering on the serried patterns of dust on the now-empty bookshelves and on his worktable where he'd spent many hours in contented concentration, preparing an essay or a translation for Simon.

A knock on his door startled him out of his reverie. After a moment's hesitation, he opened to find a valet smartly dressed in forest green velvet with gold trim, who handed him a folded sheet of paper sealed in red wax. Surprised by such unexpected attention, he broke the seal. The note inside summoned him to an interview with His Grace Jean de Langeac, upcoming Bishop of Limoges, at that moment completing his last year as French Ambassador to Venice and nearby towns.

Leaving his trunk in the room and locking the door behind him, Etienne followed the valet to the palace, only a short walk from the university, the temporary residence of Bishop de Langeac. The impressive, carved entrance door opened onto a long hall, ending in a lush interior garden. A blend of perfumes greeted Etienne from the geometrical plantings of clipped boxwood shrubs interspersed with rose bushes in full red and yellow bloom. A marble fish in the central fountain spouted water from its gaping mouth. They entered a spacious chamber on the opposite side, floored with black-and-white marble squares.

De Langeac, at work at an ornately carved desk, rose to welcome Etienne. A tall, clean-shaven man in his fifties, hair already iron gray, he was simply dressed in a black robe, a white collar gleaming at his neck. Etienne, impressed by the bishop's lack of ostentation, noticed that his only adornment was a small pectoral cross on a gold chain. He invited the student to sit facing him.

"Your teacher, Simon Villanovanus, was a friend of mine. He told me about you. He was aware that he was dying, and was concerned about your welfare."

Etienne, taken off guard, almost wept in surprise. "He knew he was dying?" he choked.

"Yes, some sort of growth in the intestines. But he impressed me with his account of a certain student with an exceptionally fine mind and asked if I could use an able and intelligent secretary who could handle some correspondence without my direct supervision."

Etienne pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and turned away to wipe his eyes. "Your Grace"-he paused to clear his throat-"your offer is like a godsend, coming through you from my teacher and friend Simon. Of course, I'd be happy to serve you in any way I can, if only to pay a small part of the debt I owe him."

"Then, we'll consider the decision made. I'll send a cart to your rooms to pick up your belongings."

The two men stood together, the bishop laying a hand on Etienne's shoulder. "I'm mourning him, too, Etienne. We'll work it out together, I hope."

Etienne accompanied the bishop to Venice, both men feeling the bond of friendship already forming. Etienne became an excellent secretary, eloquent and resourceful, writing letters to the Supreme Pontiff that de Langeac read and approved, and taking care of the more mundane correspondence by himself. The bishop paid Etienne well. He could even afford to buy his own books. But the priceless reward for his work was the warmth of the older man, who became a second father.

For the first time, Etienne was also able to afford elegant clothes. He learned to choose them well, thanks to the bishop's advice, and thanks to that elegance, he enjoyed an unforgettable amorous encounter.

Wearing his new finery, he could not fail to notice that he attracted feminine approval as he walked the streets of Venice, particularly in the evening. He had long known the dangers of consorting with these "ladies of the night" and he passed them by, not without enjoying their often bawdy compliments.

Carnevale in Venice-the two weeks leading up to Lent-was a period of madcap amusement for all classes of the city's citizens. Masqueraders wandered the city center, dressed in all manner of disguises. There were many versions of stock figures from the Commedia dell'arte such as Harlequin, Pierrot, Pierrette, Pantalone, Il Capitano, Pulcinella, Scaramouche, and Colombina, each with his or her recognizable costume. Members of the aristocracy often threw off their normal class restrictions and, in lavish and colorful disguises, sought exotic adventure.

Etienne, attracted by the display of colorful Venetian culture, joined the crowd at the piazza San Marco. He had left the bishop's apartments dressed in his finest: a white shirt with ruffles at the neck and puffed sleeves under a wine-colored velvet doublet, black hauts-de-chausses, white silk stockings and new black shoes with silver buckles. He added the tiniest black mask that covered only his eyes. Tall and slender, he overtopped most of the Venetian men in the crowd; many ladies spoke enticingly to him. One young woman in a bright green dress and a full-face mask covered with painted flowers took his arm and swung him around, then went on to swing with the next man.

The crush of bodies was greatest near the cathedral, so he made his way toward the canal. A gondola drew up as he reached the edge, and two more Commedia characters disembarked. First came Pierrot, dressed head to toe in immaculate white costume except for the black mask that covered his entire face. He was of medium height but graceful, moving like a dancer. He leaned to give his arm to Colombina, who stood in the boat and stretched her arms toward her Pierrot. He encircled her waist and lifted her bodily onto the paving stones of the shore. Etienne stood transfixed.

She held a golden full-face mask in one delicate hand, while with the other she caressed Pierrot's auburn hair. She was ethereal, lovely, her raven hair tied with rose-colored ribbons and crowned with a diamond tiara. Her low-cut rose-colored gown swept the ground; the tight-fitting bodice, its wide neckline trimmed with tiny white roses, pushed up her perfect, rounded white breasts. His eyes lingered there for a long moment and then followed a row of the tiny roses to the bottom of the bodice that came to a point below her narrow waist. The skirt billowed in gathers from the bodice, falling in graceful folds that moved as she turned. The sleeves, reaching to her elbows, opened with wide, white cuffs.

He couldn't move. The apparition of loveliness fitted her mask to her face, then turned to him.

"And who might you be, O handsome one? Clearly a prince, a great lord."

Startled by her boldness, he did not reply, but bowed, took her hand and kissed it. He cleared his throat and realized that he still had a voice. "My name is Etienne. I find you ravishingly beautiful, O Colombina. Never mind my rank and fortune."

"My real name is Elena, my handsome prince. Would you come with us to yon café to enjoy a glass of wine?"

Etienne turned to Pierrot, standing by, his arms akimbo. "And what do you say, friend Pierrot, to the lady's bold invitation?"

"We came here for adventure, friend Etienne, and it seems that Elena has already found one. Yes, by all means, we invite you to share a glass with us."

They made their way to a nearby elegant café, and, to avoid the masses, took their places around a small, black wrought-iron table in a quiet corner, curtained with wine-colored velvet hangings. Etienne noticed that the floor, unlike the taverns he was accustomed to, was spotless and paved with blue-and-white Portuguese tiles. The room was only half filled with the revelers that crowded other cafés, so Etienne knew that he could never afford to visit the place on his own. He was out of his league, but kept up the pretense as best he could.

Colombina-Elena laid a hand on his arm as they sipped from tall flutes of cold, sparkling Cortese di Gavi wine. "You've seen me without a mask, Signor Etienne. Now let me see you without yours."

Etienne obliged, untying the mask and gazing a bit bashfully at his beautiful companion. His large, dark brown eyes with golden glints clearly pleased her.

"Just as I thought. Soulful eyes. Long black lashes. Why do men always have the best eyelashes?"

They finished the bottle of Gavi, amusing themselves with small talk. Etienne hoped somehow to prolong the evening, but Pierrot stood and made excuses.

"We are expected at a private party, Signore. Mi dispiace, but we must be going."

Etienne also stood, as did Elena. Desperate to continue contact with her, he said, "May I see you again?"

She replied with a coquettish tilt to her head, "Perhaps next year at Carnevale."

Desperate, he blurted, "If you wish to see me, come to the bishop's palace."

"Oh! You're a priest, then?"

"No, only the bishop's secretary."

She removed the golden mask. "If we never meet again, at least I'll give you a parting favor. Come. Kiss me!"

She embraced him, closed her eyes and raised her face to his. He gave her a lingering but gentle kiss. She pulled away, tapping his cheek with a graceful forefinger. "You truly are a prince, Etienne."

She and Pierrot turned and quickly vanished in the swirling crowd. Etienne stood still for a long time. Finally, he sat again and ordered more wine, his feelings in a whirl. Later, mournful and tipsy, he sought out one of the ladies of the night who had spoken kindly to him a number of times. He made love to her while in his mind he caressed Elena.

Among the Latin poems he wrote in Venice were elegiac love poems addressed to Elena. She had died from an unidentified disease shortly after he met her.

On another occasion, Etienne showed the bishop his bundles of notes on the Latin language, material he'd collected since he was sixteen and a student in Paris. He confided, with almost comical self-assurance, that he was planning to write the definitive work that would prove Cicero's superiority over Caesar, Livy, Sallust, and Terence.

"If you intend to become the world's authority on Latin, you'd better continue your studies," de Langeac told him, smiling, after he leafed through the bundles of notes. "I'm impressed with what you've accumulated here. By comparison to this project, the correspondence for today is trivial. Why don't you go over to Aldus's printing shop and ask him where to find his friend Giovanni Baptista Egnazio. He's lecturing on Cicero's De officiis right now. He'll be lecturing on Lucretius as well, if I'm not wrong. It would do you good to get involved in some serious philosophical and literary study before you go stale."

Etienne accepted the bishop's offer of free time to study. He accumulated more erudition and more material for his future great work by the time de Langeac's ambassadorship was over. When Bishop de Langeac returned to Limoges, he took Etienne with him.

The warm August afternoon in Limoges affected the bishop's secretary like a drug. His head sank on his hands, and he dozed at his desk. His task for the afternoon was to draft a reply to a local priest's request for a transfer to a better curacy. The bishop had scribbled a note making his decision clear; it was up to Etienne to phrase it in the best language possible. He started awake when de Langeac's voice, speaking from the open door, brought him to attention. His Grace approached the desk, his silken slippers silent on the marble floor.

"Etienne, you're bored here, and I can't blame you. Your talents are far too fine to waste on trivial correspondence like this."

"Oh, no, Your Grace, I..."

"Don't try to protest; I understand. I know your ambition is to become a great literary authority. Too bad you have no vocation for the religious life, because earning your daily bread would be easier if you did. but in any case, you'd have to continue your studies. After all, you're only twenty-one. You need a profession, my young friend."

"Perhaps teaching, Your Grace?"

"Perhaps. But a professorship without personal wealth would never earn you enough to live in any sort of ease. I think you should study law at the University of Toulouse. With a law degree, I could help you find a lucrative position. You'd only have to postpone your literary aspirations for the moment." He provided Etienne with a letter of introduction to a good friend of his, Jean de Pins, Bishop of Rieux, near Toulouse.

"Don't fail to contact him. He's elderly but still influential. Besides, we think alike."

Etienne accepted the letter with thanks, but neglected to inquire more deeply about Langeac's clerical friend.

In 1532, Etienne came to Toulouse, at that moment the greatest law school in Europe, but at the same time, in matters of religion, one of Europe's most reactionary and medieval cities.

 

 

Dolet Copyright © 2015. Florence Byham Weinberg. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Born and raised in the high desert country in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Florence loved exploring the wilderness on foot and horseback. Those grand landscapes formed her sensibility. Hidden pockets of unexpected greenery tucked away near springs in folds of barren mountainsides spoke to her of gentleness and beauty in an otherwise harsh world. She published her first poem in a children's magazine shortly after she learned to read at age four, wrote her first 'novel' at age six, entitled Ywain, King of All Cats. She illustrated the 'book' herself.

She traveled extensively with her military family during World War II, later settling in San Antonio, Texas. With her husband, the brilliant scholar and teacher Kurt Weinberg, she worked and traveled in Canada, Germany, France, and Spain. After earning her PhD, she taught for twenty-two years at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, and for ten at Trinity University in San Antonio. She published four scholarly books, many articles and book reviews, doing research in the U.S. and abroad.

After retiring from academic life in 1999, she was free to devote herself to writing fiction. She has produced ten novels, ranging from fantasy to historical romance and mystery. Eight are currently in print: a historical romance about the French renaissance, published in France in French translation; two historical novels, one about the founding of San Antonio, the other about the second expedition up the Rio Grande in 1581, forty years after Coronado; and four historical mysteries, featuring the eighteenth-century Jesuit missionary Fr. Ignaz (Ygnacio) Pfefferkorn. Two of these are set in the Sonora Desert and one in an ancient monastery in Spain. Unrest in Eden is the fourth volume of the Pfefferkorn mystery series and recounts events in Fr. Ignaz' life after his release from imprisonment in the Spanish monastery. Three of the Pfefferkorn novels are available in Spanish translation. Dolet-Florence Byham Weinberg

A departure from her historical novels is the fantasy-thriller, Anselm, a Metamorphosis. In this novel, she takes seriously the philosopher René Descartes' proposition that mind and body are completely separable and works out possible consequences, producing a novel with philosophical, psychological and theological dimensions, while remaining a page-turner. Florence's favorite animals are horses-an intense love affair over many years-and cats, her constant companions. She enjoys music, travel, hiking, biking, gardening, riding and swimming. Most of all, she enjoys the friendship of like souls and their lively conversation.

TTB titles: Anselm: a Metamorphosis -- metaphysical suspense
Dolet -- nonfiction novel

Historical fiction

Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross
Seven Cities of Mud
Sonora Moonlight
Sonora Wind
The Storks of La Caridad
Unrest in Eden

Spanish translation

El jesuita y el brujo
El jesuita y la tormenta
El jesuita y La Caridad

Author web site.

 

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  Author News

Anselm: a Metamorphosis won the 2014 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and was a Finalist for the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award in Historical Fiction.

Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross by Florence Byham Weinberg has been selected as a 2006 WILLA Literary Award finalist in the category of historical fiction. The WILLA Literary Awards are chosen by a distinguished panel of twenty-one professional librarians.

Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross by Florence Byham Weinberg has also been selected as the featured book for the Las Misiones Capital Campaign. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Apache Lance, Franciscan Cross will be donated to the restoration and preservation of San Antonio's five historical Franciscan missions (established between 1718 and 1731). For more information, or to make a donation, please visit http://www.lasmisiones.com/.

Dolet is a Winner in the Literary Fiction category of the 2016 NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement award.

Seven Cities of Mud by Florence Byham Weinberg was an Award-Winning Finalist for the 2008 New Mexico Book Awards in the category of Best Historical Fiction.

Sonora Moonlight was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Literary Award in Historical Fiction for 2009.

Sonora Wind by Florence Weinberg was a winner in the 2010 New Mexico Book Awards in Historical Fiction and a finalist in the category of Mystery/Suspense and also was a finalist for the Next Generation Indy Book Award for 2010.

The Storks of La Caridad was a 2011 Global e-Book Award Nominee.

Unrest in Eden won the 2012 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and was a Finalist for the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Historical Fiction.

 

 

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