As the nation argues about super-delegates, it’s worth remembering that the powerful have never ceded power voluntarily.
From Charlemagne to the Reformation, the primus inter pares of the European nobility was the Holy Roman Emperor, securely Catholic and crowned by the Pope. Along came Martin Luther and his pesky ideas, which percolated among the German nobility while the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V concentrated on problems elsewhere. The Council of Trent in 1545 marked the start of the Counter-Reformation and Charles’ attention to the German problem. In 1547, his troops decisively defeated the rebelling German princes at the Battle of Mühlberg. It was a temporary high point in a war that would last a century.
Enter Charles V’s sister, Mary of Hungary, with her checkbook. She commissioned the versatile Venetian painter Titian to memorialize the downfall of the rebel German princes in a set of allegorical paintings. Mary intended the paintings as a caution to future rebels.
In the mythological style so popular at the time, the Furias depicted four fallen rebels who would forever inhabit Hades as a punishment for defying the gods. Tityus’ liver was constantly pecked by a vulture for attempting to rape one of Zeus’s lovers. Tantalus was condemned to vainly search for food and water after serving up his son to a banquet of the gods. Sisyphus was condemned to endlessly roll an enormous rock uphill for revealing Zeus’s infidelities. Ixion was obliged to turn forever on a wheel for trying to seduce Hera. (Only two of these paintings still survive.)
While the Furies themselves were actually the female figures who enforced punishment in Hades, the title Furias became associated with paintings of Titian’s mythical four. For the next century, they became popular icons, painted by many artists and taking on further meaning from their original, narrowly political one.
Alas, all the money in politics these days goes to the media, not painters. But the business of associating current enemies with past criminals is as old as political machination itself.