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That Riario trans- formed the banquet into a formidable political manoeuvre is confirmed by the successful achievement of his immediate objective: offering a public display of the pope's alliance with the Aragonese king and, of course, Duke Ercole, while simultaneously casting off the Orsini and Medici families.

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By astutely turning the political discourse into one of gastronomic seduction and, at the same time, by fusing the two into one ingenious triumph, Cardinal Riario gave new meaning to the Renaissance understanding of political strategizing. His deliberate substitution of a symbolically rich meal to a series of predictable political gestures demonstrated Riario's uncanny awareness of the possibilities offered by commensal diplomacy.

He showed, among other things, that to influence people of power, diplo- matic skilfulness must rely on, and permeate, every social activity in which those people took pleasure.

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At the same time, however, his act demon- strated that if on the one hand eating at his table signalled the renewal of papal-Aragonese diplomatic relations, it, on the other hand, also denoted the moral and ethical shortcomings of the parties partaking of the meal. The Cardinal's banquet, as a carefully conceived means to promote papal interests, served as a stage for the porous and ambivalent relationship between the pope's power and the fickle nature of his political alliances, but left no space for Christian ethical values.

The three-course menu included stags roasted whole in their skins, goats, hares, calves, herons, peacocks with their feathers, and a bear: osten- tatious dishes for a self-conscious group. Meats were served covered in sil- ver and innumerable sweets and confectionary shaped into artistic tableaux intended to stir and conquer the onlookers' imagination ensured the tri- umph of appearance. However, despite — or perhaps because of — its adher- — 22 — Banquets and Power enee to the aristocratic culinary code, the far-reaching political implica- tions of Riario's banquet served more as an attack on his enemies than as a praise of his new allies.

An illustration of this is the bear meat. Prized for its rarity rather than its nutritional qualities - because, according to the Galenic humoral theory, it "is not good for spleen or liver" and "generates all kinds of indigestible residue," as Platina's De Honesta voluptate et vale- tudine explains Platina, - this animal implicitly evokes not only the hunt for, but especially the overpowering of a fiercely untamed force.

The political message couched in the spectacle of a bear reduced to a meal could also call to mind the powerful Orsini family, 1 the pope's embittered rivals, linked by marriage to the Medici. Playing both on the homonymy and the meat's symbolic value, Riario insinuated the idea of the Orsini's subjugation and downfall so that his guests could foretaste, savour in fact, the political and economic results of such political a feat.

Platina's treatise emphasizes the weakness of the bear's head and contrasts it to the strength of the lion's. Accordingly, Riario's presentation of a "conquered" bear enhanced, by contrast, the leonine power that the Della Rovere, Aragonese, and Este families embodied. This bold act of gastronomic politics, sug- gesting that even untamed nature could be reduced to submissiveness through resolute forces, in fact literally and metaphorically swallowed, could hardly escape Riario's guests. In the Orlando Innamorato the interplay between power and banquets emerges in the very first canto of the poem.

As he presides over a Pentecost banquet surrounded by his knights, Charlemagne incarnates power. A truce he has declared for the occasion allows the Saracens to partake of the meal. The symbolism of Pentecost, recalling the Holy Spirit that — during a meal — emboldened and empowered the apostles to speak in foreign tongues and sway non-believers by proclaiming the new covenant, is here ostensibly retrieved through Charles' invitation to the Saracens.

The image of enemies sharing food infuses a symbolic value of sacredness into the scene and imbues it with the notion of power that transcends — and unites — warring factions. This power, which has the capacity to suspend momentarily the reality of war and gather enemies at the same table, effec- tively redraws the boundaries of Charles' authority and relegates the Saracens to a position of passive power. Although on the battlefield they personify the force that opposes Charles, at the banquet, as his guests, they temporarily if unwittingly recast themselves in the role of his deferential subjects while he, paradoxically, assumes that of their sovereign because of I am grateful to Giuseppe Mazzotta for first suggesting this possibility.

By temporarily turning into the "nourishing emper- or," fusing chivalric largesse with seeming Christian generosity, Charles, like Riario, forges a link between food and peace that conceals the chasm between the host's misleading generosity and the guests' indebtedness. As the gastronomic translation of his power, Charles' banquet brings the stranger, the "other," the adversary into the fold, transforming it into the familiar, friendly commensal. In their temporary transformation the Saracens are juxtaposed to the impermanence that food represents.

Ingredients blended together trans- form the "vivande" and produce gastronomic results that retain the flavours, but not the shapes, of original components. Culinary creations herald new and unforeseeable gastronomic reconfigurations. Unlike other transformations, however, food transforms the transformed and from dete- rioration reproduces dishes that in their transient quality mirror the con- sumer's impermanent nature, fixing, even wriggling it against the perma- nence of history.

The constructive process that food exemplifies suggests at first glance a correspondence with the new role the Saracens play at Charles' table. A rupture in this occurs, however, as the terse exchange between Rinaldo and King Balugante takes place. This reveals that despite the superficial display of kindness, deep-seated hostility is not appeased through hypocritical celebrations of religious feasts.

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The banquet displays Charles' power and the influence he has over his guests, suggesting that Saracens, like "finissime vivande," can be consumed, devoured, by French knights. Ridiculed by the Saracens for the modesty of his clothes, Rinaldo con- ceals the resentment that gnaws him and savours the thought of revenge he believes will be his the next day at the joust.

Balugante, however, detects his uneasiness and further humiliates Rinaldo by asking him whether the court honours him for his virtues or his possessions. Although the imme- diate goal is to deride the knight, Balugante's question implicitly casts doubt on his hosts' moral and ethical values. By raising the issue of appear- ance versus substance, hypocrisy versus sincerity, the pagan king unwit- tingly strips the veneer of hospitality the banquet seeks to sustain and exposes it as a banal ritual lacking the true spirit of the event it seeks to re- enact.

The contempt in which the Christians hold the Saracens and their customs transpires in the manner in which they are described at the ban- quet. Commensal hierarchy that places higher-ranking individuals at tables raised on platforms is rooted in court protocol governing the prac- tices and observances of ceremonial banquets. By consuming the meal on the floor, as they customarily do, the Saracens implicitly relinquish the position of power that seating at the table would afford them and further the onlookers' perception of their social and moral inferiority.

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But more than this, their custom dehumanizes them in the eyes of the Christians. The lower space the Saracens choose to occupy at the banquet makes it possible for the Christians to liken them to mastiffs, the aristocracy's dogs of choice that usually lie below the tables waiting to eat scraps tossed to them. This image of men eating below the tables, in front of Charlemagne, constructs a social vertical scale of commensal hierarchy that again places Saracens at the bottom and the French at the top of it.

Rinaldo is not any more sympathetic toward the Saracens for he calls them "gente asinina, maledetta razza" 1, His opinion is based on a construction of the "otherness" that excludes a priori the possibility of acceptance and inclusion because this would entail the acknowledgment and tolerance of cultural variables and, more importantly, the acceptance of the ambiguities and tensions that are inherent in human interactions among individuals from different belief systems.


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Rinaldo denigrates the Saracens for their lack of intelligence. His generalization is based solely on the affected construct of what he sees around him rather than on his direct experience. Still, more forcefully than Rinaldo's, Charles' remarks about his guests illustrate not just the cultural dichotomy between the two groups, but especially the contradictions undermining the meal's true meaning.

As he retrieves the biblical image of sand blown by forceful wind, Charles inverts the meaning of the Psalm 2 where man's vul- nerability is counterbalanced by God's compassion and discloses, instead, his misplaced sense of superiority toward men he perceives as weaker. Predictably, Rinaldo does not take kindly to being publicly mortified. His retort to Balugante, however, shows him in control of his simmering resentment and even able to maintain an ostensibly unaffected behaviour So the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

He remembers that we are dust Man's days are like those of grass The wind sweeps over him and he is gone, and his place knows him no more," Psalm , By explaining that Christians indulge gluttons at the tables, pamper whores in beds, and confer honour only according to courage, Rinaldo defines his cultural understanding of appearances and substance. According to this logic, gluttons who raven- ously devour and who are at the same time devoured by the rapacity of their desires are appeased and subjugated by the French according to their want. Prostitutes, like gluttons, are enslaved by and succumb to the per- version of desires that makes them vulnerable preys in the hands of shrewd pursuers.

Rinaldo's argument, pairing gluttons and prostitutes, hinges on the deep-rooted Christian belief that from Post-lapsarian times linked the seductiveness of eating to sexual seduction. But as it fuels tension by cast- ing the Saracens as voracious destroyers of traditions and conventions, will- ing to prostitute moral and ethical standards for material gains, Rinaldo's powerful indictment unveils the hypocrisy saturating his and the Christians' system of beliefs.

While he argues that honour at his court is a measure of one's courage, his argument exposes deeper chords that resonate with his and his people's failure to understand that courage cannot be gauged by using flawed models. The conscious, careful, and single-mind- ed depravity necessary to preying on gluttons and prostitutes' weaknesses discloses in fact the perpetrators' cowardice.

By depicting his fellow knights as men skilled at gratifying the wants of individuals incapable of self-con- trol in return for personal gains, Rinaldo ascribes to his faction the same deceitfulness and depravity for which he faults the Saracens. Accordingly, his rationale for honour fizzles out, leaving only the shell of his argument to prove the validity of the honour system that governs his camp.

The emptiness of Rinaldo's argument reflects the ostentatious celebration of Pentecost.


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Reduced to a display of mere aesthetic significance the celebra- tion of the Christian feast crumbles into a ritualization of forms that are disconnected from spiritual meaning. Christian beliefs paraded into spec- tacles of power to aggrandize Charles' power in the Saracens' eyes suggest only the prostitution of moral and ethical principles.

The evisceration of the very principles on which the Christian camp supposedly bases its foun- dations necessarily entails the exclusion of honour. Rinaldo's scathing but flawed remark with regard to honour shows both his unawareness of the subtle implications his own argument presents and his failure to recognize the facts as they present themselves at the banquet.

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Still, Balugante's insinuation juxtaposing wealth and courage indirect- ly exposes the moral inconsistencies cultivated by the sophisticated court culture. From this perspective the banquet's refined "vivande," transformed through intricate preparations of ingredients, is the symbolic correspon- — 26 — Banquets and Power dent of a mode of conduct that favours appearance over substance.

The banquets encoded meanings reveal only hypocritical interactions between Christian and Saracens. And, as the space where commensal politics take place to seduce the enemy, render it harmless, and even temporarily turn it into an obliging ally, Charles's banquet is the literary counterpart to Riario's Roman feast. Like the historical one, rather than marking the par- takers' moral and ethical integrity, this banquet denotes their unscrupulous practices. Or, to put it differently, under the veneer of conventional Judeo- Christian symbolism both banquets provide a view into the partakers' cov- etousness for power: power of possessions, power of wealth, and power to enforce particular perspectives.

In short, they provide images of material and carnal desires that the partakers yearn to gratify. The "finissime vivande" served at Charles' banquet do not reveal any specific content of the meal. Yet Boiardo's familiarity with the Este court and its customs, as well as the banquet's description, unequivocally sug- gests that Charles' meal hinges on the gastronomy of power. Still, it is sur- prising that the poet is not more precise because what may appear as a tri- fling non-issue becomes relevant when compared to the wider context of the Innamorato.

In other cantos the poet is very specific about the food his characters consume. In Canto XXV, for example, Angelica welcomes Rinaldo's cousin Orlando to a meal that specifically includes "frutti e con- fetti di molta ragione" 1, During the meal she seduces and ren- ders him harmless to the point that he becomes unable to achieve the goal that has set him on his journey: namely, possessing her. Angelica's confetti not only render Orlando powerless, but they also turn him into her pawn, a condition that can arguably be described as his becoming her food.