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Gwynne Abstract Hercules and the Holy Roman Empire

Paul Gwynne

Macte animis, Caesar, nostros imitare labores: Hercules and the Holy Roman Empire  

In late 1493 the itinerant poet Johannes Michael Nagonius travelled to the court of Maximilian Habsburg with a deluxe manuscript of Latin epic poetry. This gift was intended to encourage the future Holy Roman Emperor to hurry to Rome for his immediate coronation by Pope Alexander VI. Although it is difficult to extract a single, distinct policy from the complicated web of intrigue that distinguishes Borgia politics, it seems that in 1493 papal and imperial interests coincided, and that the manuscript was written in the tide of anxiety, rumour and speculation about King Charles VIII of France’s proposed invasion of Italy. Maximilian’s arrival in Rome would at least balance, if not deter, the threatened French invasion and thus allay the Pope’s fears that the advance of the French upon Rome would signal his own deposition. For Maximilian, by protecting his own interests, would, as Holy Roman Emperor, be duty-bound to defend the Pope.  In his verse the poet imagines Maximilian’s arrival in Rome. In a tour of the ancient sites Maximilian visits the ruined Ara Maxima. Saddened by its dilapidated condition, Maximilian promises to restore the altar to its former glory. Maximilian presents a small offering to the god at which Hercules himself appears and encourages Maximilian to imitate his own example: Macte animis, Caesar, nostros imitare labores (‘A blessing on your spirit, Caesar, imitate our labours’. Hercules’ labours and apotheosis are thus associated with papal expectations of Maximilian. This chapter will explore the role of Hercules in the creation of the image of a new world emperor in late fifteenth-century papal diplomatics.

The Exemplary Hercules - chapter 2