DE PUELLA ROMAE REPERTA - A RENAISSANCE POEM INSPIRED BY A REMARKABLE FIND IN THE YEAR 1485 A.D.

A.V. Van Stekelenburg

Abstract


For the day of April 16, 1485, the secretary of the city of Rome (senatus populique
Romani scriba), Stephanus lnfessura, wrote the following lengthy entry in his diary: "On
this day the brethren of the monastery of S. Maria Nuova ordered an excavation on a piece
of ground belonging to them which is situated on the Via Appia approximately five or six
miles outside the Porta Appia. After they had totally destroyed a funeral monument 1 .
situated near the road, they found deep inside the foundations a marble coffin covered with
a marble lid and sealed with molten lead. When they had opened the coffin they found the
intact body of a woman""'coveredwith an aromatic substance, and wearing a kind of golden
cap or fillet on her head which was surrounded by blonde hair. Her cheeks had the rosy
colour of flesh as if she were still alive, the eyes and also the mouth were slightly opened
and one could pull the tongue out of the mouth and watch it return to its previous position.
The nails of the hands and feet were hard and white and the arms could be moved up and
down as if she had only just died. She was kept many days in the Palace of the
Conservatori2 where, as a result of exposure to the air, the colour of her face turned black.
Nevertheless neither the fat nor the flesh of the body putrefied. The Conservatori had
placed the body in its own sarcophagus on a place near the cistern3 in the cloister of the
building. Pope lnnocentius ordered them, however, to remove it by night and carry it to an
unknown place outside not far from the Porta Pinciana, where a pit had been dug, and to
bury it there. The body was believed to be that of lulia, daughter of Cicero. During those
first days when she had been found and transported to the Conservatori Palace, such a
large number of people anxious to see her converged on the Capitol that all over the square
on the top sellers of oils and other articles were plying their trade.4 According to what was
told the strongly smelling mixture with which she had been covered had been made of
myrrh and olive oil or, according to others, of aloe and oil of turpentine, which has a very
strong odour by which one can become slightly drugged.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/39-3-4-516

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