LOPEZ: Her childhood ended early. We talk today of attacks on innocence, but are we that much worse off than in ages past?
LEV: Childhood is a fairly modern notion. The laws that protect children from forced labor, early marriage, or simply being sold like merchandise were only implemented in the last century and not even universally.
Caterina was married at age ten to a man three times her age. That this was wrong (insofar as the consummation was concerned) was acknowledged by most of the people involved, but first and foremost her duty was to her family and its interests. She never expressed resentment toward the father who gave her away or toward the stepmother who didn’t intervene; she just got on with her life. This era spent less time justifying present failures through past wrongs than our age does.
At the same time, our society has an oddly contradictory outlook toward childhood. We created all these protective laws so no child has to be forced into marriage, yet we spur them to become sexualized at an equally early age and encourage them incessantly toward behavior that will damage their sense of self-worth, cause physical and moral harm, and end that “treasured” age of innocence just as much as being married at ten would. Children also are encouraged to become consumers very early on and learn to depend on material goods for happiness, which also curtails their childhood. We expose children to the same “adult” themes as the past, but we don’t give them the sense of responsibility and duty that the earlier ages did.
LOPEZ: What was your most surprising discovery about Caterina?
LEV: Frankly, her crimes. It seems that while many a man in history has been known to let power go to his head, women are not immune from this weakness either. The amazing thing was her ability to deal with her past wrongs and turn them to good, with the power of God’s grace.
LOPEZ: What was your most frustrating discovery?
LEV: Trying to figure out the endless shifting political alliances and the hows and whys of Renaissance statecraft. Trying to understand why Caterina did what she did, reacted as she did, and the factors that went into her decisions was long and difficult, but also rewarding.
LEV: Seeing her come back from utter disaster: personal, spiritual, and political. She never gave up, and she was never shamed into submission.
LOPEZ: Can you, personally, go anywhere in Rome without seeing her? What’s your favorite Caterina spot to take tourists, students, and friends?
LEV: I say hello to her practically daily in the Sistine Chapel and often visit the Castel Sant’Angelo, where I can talk about the site of her first rousing triumph and her last devastating defeat.