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Pope Joan [Paperback]

Lawrence Durrell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 1 1997
First published in the 1950s, this modern masterpiece is Lawrence Durrell's translation and adaptation of Emmanuel Royidis's classic Papissa Joanna--the story of history's only female pope. The story's source is a ninth-century legend: a girl disguised as a monk makes her way from Greece to Rome, is elevated to the throne of St. Peter, and rules over Christendom for a time as Pope John VIII.

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About the Author

Lawrence Durrell was born in India and spent most of his working life outside Britain, living in France, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Argentina, and Corfu. A writer of great versatility whose work included drama, poetry, and travel literature, he is probably best known for The Alexandria Quartet, which has become one of the most widely read and influential works of the century.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
"Pope Joan" or "Papissa Joanna" was originally written and published in 1886 by the Greek author Emmanuel Royidis. The book tells the story of Pope John VIII, the purported female Pope who ruled Christendom for a period of two years, five months and four days in the middle of the ninth century. "Pope Joan" is a comic masterpiece of irreverence towards the medieval Church and the accepted pieties of its revisionist historians. Indeed, insofar as Royidis continued to propagate the legend of Pope Joan, to claim that the work contained only "facts and events proved beyond discussion", the text itself ingeniously combines history and legend, as well as brilliant wit, to subvert claims of authority. As Lawrence Durrell notes in his Preface to his brilliant English translation and adaptation, "the authorities of the Orthodox Church were horrified by what seemed to them to be the impious irony of its author-and no less by the gallery of maggot-ridden church fathers which he described so lovingly." Not suprisingly, Royidis was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church and his book was banned in Greece.
The first three parts of "Pope Joan" tell the story of Joanna prior to her arrival in Rome, before she became an historical personage. Set in the ninth century, the narrative captures the European world in disarray after the death of Charlemagne, captures a time when civilization was tenuous and the Church provided one of the few viable social structures. It is this part of the narrative that is unambiguously fictional, the imagined story of Joanna's life in Germany and then in Greece. After her parents die, Joanna clandestinely enters a monastery where she meets the monk Frumentius and develops a romantic relationship with him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The story is false Nov. 15 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
'Pope Joan' supposedly reigned between the pontificates of LeoIV and BenedictIII. In fact, there was no significant gap between these popes, that is, the often-cited 25 mos did not occur. 'Pope Joan' was the invention of Stephen of Bourbon, a 13th century Dominican friar. At this time in history, friars who espoused poverty were in conflict with the opulence of the papacy. Evidently, what Stephen composed was a piece of anti-papist propaganda. In his version, the mythical female pope had no name, and was elected in about 1100. The version we have today was created by various accretions and mutations, and grew so elaborate that it was even accepted by the Council of Constance in 1415. The story is found in the works of Boccaccio and Petrarch, and in various chronicles, but that does not make it true. Ironically, it was a Calvinist, David Blondel, who debunked the myth in a work of 1647 entitled 'Familiar Enlightenment of the Question: Whether a Woman Had Been Seated on the Papal Throne in Rome'. As always, truth is infinitely more interesting than fiction. In the early tenth century, two women of the house of Theophylact, Theodora and her daughter Marozia, wielded such influence in Rome that they were able to place whomever they pleased on the papal throne. Their exploits are related scandalously by Luitprand of Cremona, whose works have not yet been translated into English. The power of these women probably stimulated the creation of the Pope Joan myth.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Droll and Delightful June 6 2004
By GHT
Format:Paperback
This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is well crafted and expertly translated, the final product is rich, dense, and wonderfully funny writing that requires and rewards the full attention of the reader.
Don't read this book if you are looking for the history of Pope Joan, you won't find it here - this book is historical fiction, and Royidis weaves the myth - legend - facts - whatever about the story of a female pope into a satirical 9th century romp through Christendom, from England to Athens and finally to Rome. Royidis's backdrop is tribal Europe, Europe before modern science, where Christianity was just another form of supersitition having to compete with all sorts of paganism and witchery for the hearts and minds of the less than faithful.
Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular has always had a problem with human sexuality and female sexuality in particular, and Royidis uses the story of Joan to poke all sorts of fun and ribaldry at Catholicism and Christianity - and unctuous hypocritical Catholic and Christian leaders. It is almost like shooting fish in a barrel, but Royidis manages to do it imaginatively each and every time. His observations of the 9th century from the 19th century resonate well here in the 21st, it seems we are as slave to superstition and hypocrisy as our forebearers were.
This is a fun to read, funny book, about a bellylaugh per page. I recommend highly!
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By A Customer
Format:Paperback
People that buy the Cross version are buying the wrong book. Look instead to the beautifully written, gleefully and irreverently funny version by Emmanuel Rhodes, written over a 100 years ago, translated from the Greek by famed author Laurence Durrell.
Truly, there is no comparison between the Cross and Durrell versions. Jane Austen chided her gullible heroine in "Northanger Abbey" for indulging in pulp Gothic novels that were "all plot and no reflection". The Cross book is all plot and no reflection. Or even worse, it is all agenda and no reflection. It is unabashedly, tediously revisionistic, hell-bent on making Pope Joan an idealized, religiously progressive proto-feminist. Cross projects all our late-twentieth century values onto her, time and place be damned. And it bludgeons you with its purpose for hundreds upon hundreds of pages. Joan never emerges as a character, just a cause. This is a book that in 50 years we will be able to look back upon and say, "Oh, how '90s". Plus, the writing is cliched and really rises no higher than that of "genre" level prose.
The Durrell translation of the Emmanuel Rhodes book is everything the Cross book is not. The prose simply sings, even in translation -- there were passages that were so beautiful, they gave me a palpable headrush. It is filled with gleeful black humor, the plot is tight and well-constructed, and the book, though irreverent, is filled with respect and affection for the character of Joan. Rhodes has no agenda for Joan, he depicts everything with honesty and clarity.
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