Pope Joan

Joan is said to have been succeeding Leo IV on the "Chair of Peter" as John VIII, in A.D. 855, for two years, five months, and four days.

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Spanheim: La Papesse


Hartmann Schedel Bartolomeo Platina, originally named Sacchi, was born at Piadena (Platina in Latin), near Mantua, in 1421; died at Rome, 1481. Under Sixtus IV he became librarian to the Vatican, and in 1479 published his Lives of the Popes.

Platina decided to include Joan in the canon of the Popes, as John VIII. He offered his manuscript to Sixtus IV, who accepted it, probably unaware of the contents.

In 1685 an English translation of Platina's work was published by Sir Paul Rycaut. This translation is now mostly known by W. Benham's edition of 1888 (London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh). Unfortunately, the Rev. W. Benham ("B.D., F.S.A., Rector of St. Andrews, Lonard Street") deemed it necessary to censor parts of this passage. He hints at it (without being specific) in his preface:

In the following edition his [=Sir Paul Rycaut] text has been left unaltered with two exceptions. One passage has been omitted, as containing matter coarser than meets our present ideas of good taste. It does not bear on the history at all. And manifest clerical errors and misprints have been corrected. [...]

Even Lawrence Durrell, in the preface of his translation of Rhoïdis' Pope Joan, used the Benham edition, and didn't bother to check the original text.

Below the Rycaut/Benham translation, with the missing part in italic. You can decide for yourself if it 'does bear on the history'...

Historia B. Platinae de Vitis Pontificum Romanorum
(Venice 1479)


John, of English extraction, was born at Mentz [=Mainz] and is said to have arrived at Popedom by evil arts; for disguising herself like a man, whereas she was a woman, she went when young with her paramour, a learned man, to Athens, and made such progress in learning under the professors there that, coming to Rome, she met with few that could equal, much less go beyond her, even in the knowledge of the Scriptures; and by her learned and ingenious readings and disputations, she acquired so great respect and authority that upon the death of Leo (as Martin says), by common consent she was chosen Pope in his room. As she was going to the Lateran Church, between the Colossean Theatre (so called from Nero's Colossus) and St. Clement's, her travail came upon her, and she died upon the place, having sat two years, one month, and four days, and was buried there without any pomp. They write that, because of this, the Pope avoids going through this street to the Lateran Church, and that, to avoid the same error, when he is first placed on the seat of Peter, that has a hole for this purpose, his genitals are felt by the youngest deacon. The first, I can't rule out, on the latter I think it might be prepared for the great magistracy, to make him understand he is a man, not God; and exposed to the necessities of nature, and that he has the possibility of discharge, for this reason the seat is called Stercoria. This story is vulgarly told, but by very uncertain and obscure authors, and therefore I have related it barely and in short, lest I should seem obstinate and pertinacious if I had admitted what is so generally talked; I had better mistake with the rest of the world; though it be certain, that what I have related may be thought not altogether incredible. Some say that at this time the body of St Vincent was brought by a monk from Valentia, in Spain, to a village in Albigeois, in France. They say, too, that Lotharius, being now aged, taking on him a monastic habit, left the empire to his son Louis, who passing into Germany, by his precense composed matters there which otherwise threatened a war.


Historia B. Platinae de Vitis Pontificum Romanorum.
(Ed. Cholinus, 1600)


Papissa Ioanna by the Greek Emmanuel Rhoïdis (1835/6-1904, also spelled as Royidis) was first published in 1865 in Athens. The Orthodox Church was not amused, and Rhoïdis was excommunicated and the book banned. Despite that, the book brought him fame in Athens, and it was translated in many European languages. Especially the French edition by Alfred Jarry was very popular.

The books consists of two parts: a Historial Study on he life of Joan, as an introduction to the Romance. Most translations only contain the latter.

Rhoïdis' book has been translated in English multiple times (for an overview see below). Lawrence Durrell's translation is by far the most common. In the Digital Library you can find Charles Hastings Collette's translation of the historical study (1886), and J.H. Freese's translation of the novel (1900). Unfortunately, Freese omitted a lot of material, probably becayse it was too obscene in his view...

  • Pope Joan, the Female Pope: A Historical Study. Translated from the Greek of Emmanuel Rhoidis, with preface by Charles Hastings Collette. London: George Redway, 1886. 102 p. A translation of the introduction to the novel.
  • Pope Joan. An Historical Romance by Emmanuel Roides. J.H. Freese, tr. London: H.J. Cook, 1900. 171 p.
  • Rhoidis, Emmanouel. Papissa Joanna. T.D. Kriton, tr. Athenai: Govostis, [1935]. 179 p.
  • Durrell, Lawrence. Pope Joan. Translated and adapted from the Greek of Emmanuel Royidis. Woodstock, N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 1960. 157 p. Reprinted 1984. Also a revised edition: New York: Dutton, 1961. 157 p.
  • Pope Joan: A Romantic Biography by Emmanuel Royidis. Lawrence Durrell tr. London: Derek Verschoyle, 1954. 163 p. Also a revised edition: London: André Deutsch, 1960. 163 p. London: World Distributors, 1962. London: Mayflower, 1965. London: Sphere, 1971. London: Owen, 1981. Reissued, London: Overlook Press, 1984.
[CENSUS of Modern Greek Literature: Check-list of English Language Sources
Useful in the Study of Modern Greek Literature (1824-1987).]


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