Anthony DiRenzo

Anthony DiRenzo

Professor, Department of Writing
Faculty, School of Humanities and Sciences

Sortilegio

Cola Rienzi, the 14th-century notary and usurper who briefly resurrected the Roman Republic during the Avignonian Papacy, is an important figure in the history of literacy. The son of an unlettered country innkeeper, Cola combined a passion for Classical history and literature with a genius for rhetoric and documentation to create and sustain a 20-year regime. By imitating Ancient Roman epistles and memos and Biblical prophecy in his written edicts, Cola convinced the people he was their tribune and savior. For the aristocrats and ecclesiastics chafing under Cola's authority, Rienzi’s documents were sortilegio, a kind of necromancy and blasphemy. Cola claimed Cicero and Livy spoke through his writing and aspired to Messiahship. Eventually, the magic wore off. Rienzi’s edicts become increasingly self-serving and grandiloquent, and the mob, sickened by his megalomania, tore him to pieces. After his death, Cola was declared anathema by the Church—for having invented the fountain pen.

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