Cesare Borgia is still a powerful presence, so the story takes place no later than 1503 when Cesare lost his father and the support of the papacy. Furthermore, Cesare is referred to by the conspirators as the "Duke of Valentinois"; he was so created in 1498, which is therefore the earliest possible year.
We make further progress by considering the "bright May morning" [Chapter XXV] of Corpus Christi, which is celebrated eight weeks and four days after Easter and hence usually falls in June. During the period in question, Corpus Christi occurred in May only in 1499 and 1502.
So which of these is it? The history of Borgia's campaign certainly makes 1502 more likely. And we have the following unambiguous confirmation: In Chapter VII the Duke of Urbino is described as "scarce thirty". Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, was born on January 24, 1472.
(Some references to this novel erroneously declare it to take place in "late 15th-Century Italy." Alas.)
We therefore know the starting date precisely. The ending date would be equally well established except for a slight problem: The text repeatedly puts Corpus Christi on Wednesday, but Corpus Christi is invariably Thursday. I have assumed that the final day of the story is the day before Corpus Christi, which would be called the vigil of Corpus Christi and may be the intended day.
The intermediate dates are much more difficult to nail down. If we count up references to passing time ("for a week all went well", "next morning", and so forth) we can account for only about six weeks instead of the actual nine, though there are several places where extra days may be hiding.
The epigram is from the "Orlando Furioso" of Ludovico Ariosto, published April 21 1516, Canto 1, Stanza I:
Of loves and ladies, knights and arms, I sing,
Of courtesies, and many a daring feat;
I have no idea what a "minguant moon" is [Chapter II].
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Copyright © 2007 Larry Denenberg