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'Blood and Beauty' brings readers more of the Borgias

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(Read caption) 'Blood & Beauty' author Sarah Dunant says that much of what we think we know about the Borgias is actually based on the lies of their enemies. "The mud stuck,” says Dunant.

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As author Sarah Dunant put it in an interview with the Washington Post: “if you spend any time in the Renaissance, the Borgias are tapping on your shoulder.”

Almost everyone knows – or thinks they know – something about the Borgia family, a powerful group which maneuvered for power in Renaissance Italy and are perhaps today best known for their apparent skill at poisoning, their determination to promote their own, and their overall corruption.

Among the best-known Borgias are Rodrigo Borgia, who became pope as Alexander VI; his son Cesare, who was named a cardinal by his father; and Lucrezia, Rodrigo’s daughter who was married three times and – according to legend, anyway – was particularly notorious for poisoning people.

The newest examination of the family comes in Dunant’s novel “Blood & Beauty: The Borgias,” which was released July 16. In it, Dunant tells the story of the group in a fiction format but separates the facts about the Borgias from the myths.

“Quite a lot of what we think we know about them is gossip and rumor put about by their enemies,” Dunant said during her Post interview. “The mud stuck.”

However, the Borgias weren’t innocent, either. Dunant notes that “the Borgias are as badly behaved as a lot of other people, possibly in some cases worse.” Rodrigo Borgia did use his papal role to try to put his children in positions of power. 

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