The Moron's Weekend Briefing

Aug. 9 - On August 9, 1492, Rodrigo Borgia allowed the Cardinals of Rome to inspect his genitals (a practice subsequently bequeathed to Bishops). Only after he had proved to the Cardinals' satisfaction that he was, indeed, a man, was Mr Borgia permitted to be Pope Alexander VI.

As the historian Orson Welles observed in The Third Man (1949): "In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Rodrigo Borgia had earned the papacy the old-fashioned way: through nepotism and bribery. Once he had it, he turned it into a family institution. His two legitimate children, Cesare and Lucrezia, were alternately married off to cement alliances, divorced or widowed to initiate hostilities, or dispatched with poison to conduct diplomacy.

When out of town on business, he left in Lucrezia in charge of the Papacy. In gratitude, she bore him a son.

(Many scholars repudiate this charge, insisting that the Pope could not possibly have fathered his own daughter's child. They assign paternity to Lucrezia's brother Cesare.)

By 1503 Alexander VI had expanded Rome's powers considerably and was therefore poisoned. Three years later Cesare died while fighting as a mercenary in Spain. Lucrezia died in 1514 from complications of pregnancy. That was more or less the end of the Borgias, and the Papacy has become less and less interesting with the passing of every year since.

It was on August 9, in the year 378, that Valens, the Roman Emperor of the East, led an army of 30,000 men against a horde of Visigoths outside Adrianople.

The Romans got off to a good start, but soon the Visigoth cavalry returned from its foraging mission. The Roman infantry was no match for the Visigoths on horseback and two-thirds of the Romans, incuding the Emperor, were slaughtered.

Military strategists were at last compelled to acknowledge that guys on horses were stronger than guys who weren't on horses. This was the most significant development in western warfare since the discovery of the big stick, and European warfare was permanently and irreversibly altered in favor of guys on horses.

August 9 is Flag Day in Gabon, Independence Day in Singapore, and National Women's Day in South Africa. August 10 is Independence Day in Ecuador. The 11th is Independence Day in Chad, King's Accession Day in Jordan, and Heroes Day in Zimbabwe.

Born on August 9: Christopher Cuomo (1970), Arion Salazar (1970), Gillian Anderson (1968), Deion Sanders (1967), Whitney Houston (1963), Melanie Griffith (1957), Sam Elliott (1944), Robert Shaw (1927), and Jean Piaget (1896). Born on August 10: Antonio Banderas (1960), Rosanna Arquette (1959), Ian Anderson (1947), Rocky Colavito (1933), Jimmy Dean (1928), Eddie Fisher (1928), Rhonda Fleming (1923), and Herbert Hoover (1874). Born on August 11: Terry "Hollywood" Hogan (1953), Rev. Jerry Falwell (1933), Mike Douglas (1925), and Alex Haley (1921).

Enjoy the weekend.

2002, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]