In Rome in 1468 a monumental scandal broke when Pope Paul II arrested Pomponio Laeto, Bartolommeo Platina and their colleagues. Cast into the Castel Sant’Angelo and tortured, they were accused of plotting to overthrow the Curia to restore the Roman Republic. In this paper I would like to look at the hostility towards the revival of classical Antiquity during the Renaissance. This conspiracy provides a platform to consider the lack of sympathy certain powerful men felt for this humanist agenda.

Humanists in Rome in the mid-fifteenth century gravitated towards two academies: that of Pomponio and one established around the figure of Cardinal Bessarion. These were loose organisations in which scholarly men gathered to discuss classical literature and philosophy. Pomponio’s group became more extreme, adopting Roman names and appointing a Pontifex Maximus. They may have revived certain pagan practices.

Pomponio’s Roman academy was accused of immorality, in particular sodomy and blasphemy. The humanist model whereby classical literature provided the examples of a lifestyle and political ideal was viewed by some as morally depraved. These issues were being raised at the same time with regard to printing – critics of the new technology gave hysterical rants about the spread of corrupting texts such as works by Ovid.

Paul II represents the ambiguity of attitudes towards the revival of classical antiquity. He was very supportive of archaeological projects and his collection of classical medals was renowned. But his opposition to the humanist movement, and in particular the growth of neo-platonism, was more significant than mere personal preference. I will demonstrate in this paper that his conservatism and aggression masked a fear that the revival of Antiquity was a threat to the fundamental nature of the papacy and thus to Christianity. It was as much his duty to resist its incursions as it was to rescue Christendom from the Turkish infidel.