. Pope Sylvester II and Meridiana Pope Sylvester II, born Gerbert de Aurillac (946-1003), is said to have had a demonic succubus named Meridiana who not only satisfied his sexual needs but also served as his counselor and advisor in many political and ecclesiasticalmatters. An account of this strange relationship is given in the De Nugis Curialium of Walter Map, a twelfth-century Welsh courtier and minor cleric. Sylvester is buried in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. His bones are said to rattle in their tomb, while the sarcophagus sweats moisture,whenever a Pope is about to die. She comes to me not every night, but whenThe rainfall patters on the gabled roof.She slips between the sheets, and in a flashI find myself atop her yielding limbs.If you ask me to describe her faceI’m at a loss to answer, even thoughOur eyes are close, our lips and tongues entwine.How nearer could I be to her? And yetAs we match each pelvic thrust for thrustShe seems a total stranger. I cannotFind the words to tell you her appearance.And should I see her on the street, I’d failTo recognize her as my bed-companion. She seems to me the womanly quintessence:Smooth skin and perfect breasts and la belle choseAs tight and silken as a faery-knot.My pleasure’s so intense it borders pain—The ecstasy might be a kind of hell,A penitential act of intercourseTaken from me like a hated tax:The grim exaction of Meridiana. Until she came to me I had no luckIn worldly matters, or in my career.I owed her all my posts: the bishopricsOf Rheims, Ravenna, and my friendship withThree German emperors and the lords of France.She never steered me in a wrong directionWhen status, wealth, or power was at stake.She got for me the triple Papal crown;All that I learned and wrote of in my books On mathematics, logic (and those artsThat it behooves no cleric to discuss)Meridiana taught me, step by step—My praeceptrix and concubine from hell. And now here in this tomb she rests with me: Still my bed-wench in the foetid darkWhere—even fleshless—my concupiscence Rages in a fierce, tumescent flameFor the beauty of Meridiana. And from that heat my coffin-stone will sweat And priests will tremble—terrified, aghast To hear the rattle of my rutting bones. . . The Nature of the Dramatic Monologue In the English tradition, the dramatic monologue bases its name on those lengthy speeches that one finds in Renaissance and post-Renaissance English drama. These speeches might be soliloquies spoken by one character alone to himself (as in Hamlet’s soliloquy on death and suicide), or speeches made before others (such as Marc Antony’s inflammatory speech at the funeral of Caesar, or Portia’s courtroom speech on mercy in The Merchant of Venice). The difference in these two situations has a bearing on poetic dramatic monologues that are not part of the larger context of a play. If a dramatic monologue is imagined as being spoken by one person to himself, then it is merely a convenient device for telling the reader what that character is thinking or planning—and certainly this was often the case in Renaissance plays, where it was necessary for the audience to understand certain motivations or plans that did not reveal themselves in normal dialogue between characters. So, for example, Richard III’s opening speech in the eponymous Shakespeare play is designed to reveal his character, his motives, and his evil passions to the audience before any dramatic interaction with others is shown. On the other hand, Henry V’s address to his soldiers before the battle of Agincourt has as its purpose the strengthening of military morale, and is for that reason open and public. In a modern dramatic monologue (which is just a printed poem on a page), since there are no other characters present with whom the speaker can openly converse or argue, this distinction can only be discerned by the reader. He must decide, from context or tone or language, whether the speaker of the poem is merely thinking out loud, or addressing a silent interlocutor. Therefore understanding modern dramatic monologues (such as those of Robert Browning) depends upon the reader divining something about the non-speaking interlocutor: first, whether he exists or not; and second, why the speaker is addressing him. Most of the time it is quite easy. The speaker of the poem will usually talk in such a way as to make it obvious that there are some listening people present with him (as Browning does in “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s”) by asking them questions, or responding to their reactions. If he talks in a generalized way, as if musing to himself, or debating something in his mind, we can be pretty sure that there is no silent interlocutor, and we are just getting the speaker’s thoughts. The speaker in the poem can, of course, be either conscious of his interlocutors, or unconscious of them. This also has to be divined by the reader. But there is another possibility. In some dramatic monologues, the silent interlocutor is the reader himself. The poet is directing the speech of his speaker right to the reader, as one person to another. In such situations the dramatic monologue is either hortatory (it urges something) or denunciatory (it attacks something) or explanatory (it clarifies something) or apologetic (it defends something) or narrative (it recounts something). Browning’s dramatic monologue “Caliban upon Setebos” gives us a monstrous and animalistic subhuman thinking to himself about the powers that control the universe, and what those powers must be like, and in the course of doing that, revealing to us the readers the depth of his own vulgarity, ignorance, and carnality. An expert dramatic monologue might do all of these things if it is artfully complex. One of the best examples of this kind of complex dramatic monologue is Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto,” in which the speaker is talking to his beloved but unfaithful wife Lucrezia, explaining his own background, recounting family history, defending his past actions, discussing his aesthetic principles, while at the same time unwittingly painting a portrait of himself as a foolish old cuckold whose hopes have been blasted by time and chance. Here there actually is a “silent interlocutor” (his wife) but the more important addressee is the reader, who sees this amazing picture of a great painter who has, by his evil choices, condemned himself to an embittered old age. In my above poem on Pope Sylvester II, I make use of the legend of Sylvester’s connection with the succubus Meridiana, and how that alleged link was the source of the Pope’s scholarly, political and ecclesiastical success. The poem is addressed solely to the reader, as silent interlocutor, but with an implied twist. Since the speaker (a non-fictional historical character) has been dead for many centuries, how can this be? The problem is resolved only by paying attention to the tense shifts in the text. In the first two stanzas (13 lines and 8 lines), the character speaks only in the present tense, as if we were all back in the tenth century. In the next stanza of 13 lines, he switches to the past tense, as if he were a speaking ghost. But in the last stanza of 8 lines Sylvester switches to the present, and then the future tenses, and he speaks from the tomb where he is buried. And this introduces the final surprise conceit of the poem—namely, that Sylvester is still having passionate and unrepentant sex with his devilish concubine Meridiana in his sepulcher at St. John Lateran, an act which accounts for the rattling bones and sweating stone that presage the death of a Pope. The tense shifts tease the reader with the questions “Is he alive? Is he dead? What’s happening in that tomb? Normally a conceit is developed for the full length of a poem, but in this case I have tried to lure the reader by feigning (in the beginning of the piece) that its conceit is simply the notion of a Pope having sex with a demonic succubus, and what such a liaison would be like. But ending the poem with the image of the long-dead bones of this same Pope “rutting” in a sarcophagus with the same female demon supercharges the conceit in an unexpected way. To use sexual imagery, one might call it a “delayed-climax” conceit. —Joseph S. Salemi . . Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide. He is the editor of the literary magazine TRINACRIA and writes for Expansive Poetry On-line. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.