There exist moments, in the work of a historian, in which even the most detailed and exhaustive reconstruction of the past is not sufficiently satisfying". This is the opening sentence of Anna Foa's book. Usually the discovery of a document, besides being a meaningful piece of the historical puzzle one is trying to put together, represents an instance of true happiness for a historian. But then something starts gnawing away at this feeling of satisfaction. Even if the facts have been reconstructed, there always remains a doubt, a shadow: what did that person really think, how aware was he, did she love, was he sincere, did she feel guilty, was he paying attention? The eleven true stories contained in this book are an attempt to give a voice to the unsaid, to imagination. They share unity of place and time - they are all set in Rome, between the 15th and the 17th centuries, during the building of the Papal State and then the Counter-Reformation - and each involves the themes of power and repression: censorship, trials, prosecution and defence, executions, repentance. These tales also depict the culture and the politics of that era: the crucial choices made by the Society of the Jesuits and its general Muzio Vitelleschi, and those made by the Church in its relationships with the Jewish minority, as seen in the events involving Pope Marcellus II and Alessandro Farnese. Whoever made these choices, for good or ill, appears to have been quite aware of their consequences.
Anna Foa teaches Modern History at "La Sapienza" University in Rome.