Empire and Apocalypse in the Thought of Girolamo Savonarola
Giorgia studies New Testament and Byzantine Greek with interests in apocalypticism, millenarianism, lived religious experiences, mysticism, and demonology. She holds a BA in Humanities and an MA in Classic Philology and Literature and Ancient History from Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy. Giorgia is a PhD candidate in New Testament and Early Christianity on the Committee for the Study of Religion at Harvard University.
There remains much to learn about Girolamo Savonarola’s unlikely rise to power in 15thC Florence. As a well-trained humanist himself, he understood how the newfound sense of Florentine exceptionalism was modeled on Roman antiquity. Savonarola used the city’s fascination with antiquity to overturn the status quo by exploiting the anxieties of a Christian society whose identity had become dependent on pagan authorities. He managed to convince the city that other humanist religious reformers like Marsilio Ficino or Pico della Mirandola were overly reliant on pagan mythologies and that Florence should shift its enthusiasm away from the pagan texts of Classical antiquity towards the biblical texts of Christian antiquity. He was able to exchange the myth of Florence as the heirs to Classical Rome with a new myth of Florence as God’s elect. However, building a new mythology of Florentine exceptionalism on the authority of apocalyptic texts presented new problems. The anti-imperialism characteristic of ancient apocalyptic texts did not map onto the political realities of 15thC Italy. Savonarola had to modify the ancient version of apocalypticism in order to fit his aims, and it was especially his reworking of the Book of Revelation which was key to his success. This project aims to analyze the apocalyptic aspect of three of his main teachings: his representation of Charles VIII King of France as last king, his contempt for Rome, and his identification of Florence as the New Jerusalem.