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“So you’re saying maybe Galileo considered English la lingua pura because it was the one language the Vatican did not control?”

  “Yes. Or maybe by putting the clue in English, Galileo was subtly restricting the readership away from the Vatican.”

  “But it’s not even a clue,” Vittoria argued. “The path of light is laid, the sacred test? What the hell does that mean?”

  She’s right, Langdon thought. The line didn’t help in any way. But as he spoke the phrase again in his mind, a strange fact hit him. Now that’s odd, he thought. What are the chances of that?

  “We need to get out of here,” Vittoria said, sounding hoarse.

  Langdon wasn’t listening. The path of light is laid, the sacred test. “It’s a damn line of iambic pentameter,” he said suddenly, counting the syllables again. “Five couplets of alternating stressed and unstressed syllables.”

  Vittoria looked lost. “Iambic who?”

  For an instant Langdon was back at Phillips Exeter Academy sitting in a Saturday morning English class. Hell on earth. The school baseball star, Peter Greer, was having trouble remembering the number of couplets necessary for a line of Shakespearean iambic pentameter. Their professor, an animated schoolmaster named Bissell, leapt onto the table and bellowed, “Penta-meter, Greer! Think of home plate! A penta-gon! Five sides! Penta! Penta! Penta! Jeeeesh!”

  Five couplets, Langdon thought. Each couplet, by definition, having two syllables. He could not believe in his entire career he had never made the connection. Iambic pentameter was a symmetrical meter based on the sacred Illuminati numbers of 5 and 2!

  You’re reaching! Langdon told himself, trying to push it from his mind. A meaningless coincidence! But the thought stuck. Five… for Pythagoras and the pentagram. Two… for the duality of all things.

  A moment later, another realization sent a numbing sensation down his legs. Iambic pentameter, on account of its simplicity, was often called “pure verse” or “pure meter.” La lingua pura? Could this have been the pure language the Illuminati had been referring to? The path of light is laid, the sacred test…

  “Uh oh,” Vittoria said.

  Langdon wheeled to see her rotating the folio upside down. He felt a knot in his gut. Not again. “There’s no way that line is an ambigram!”

  “No, it’s not an ambigram… but it’s…” She kept turning the document, 90 degrees at every turn.

  “It’s what?”

  Vittoria looked up. “It’s not the only line.”

  “There’s another?”

  “There’s a different line on every margin. Top, bottom, left, and right. I think it’s a poem.”

  “Four lines?” Langdon bristled with excitement. Galileo was a poet? “Let me see!”

  Vittoria did not relinquish the page. She kept turning the page in quarter turns. “I didn’t see the lines before because they’re on the edges.” She cocked her head over the last line. “Huh. You know what? Galileo didn’t even write this.”

  “What!”

  “The poem is signed John Milton.”

  “John Milton?” The influential English poet who wrote Paradise Lost was a contemporary of Galileo’s and a savant who conspiracy buffs put at the top of their list of Illuminati suspects. Milton’s alleged affiliation with Galileo’s Illuminati was one legend Langdon suspected was true. Not only had Milton made a well-documented 1638 pilgrimage to Rome to “commune with enlightened men,” but he had held meetings with Galileo during the scientist’s house arrest, meetings portrayed in many Renaissance paintings, including Annibale Gatti’s famous Galileo and Milton, which hung even now in the IMSS Museum in Florence.

  “Milton knew Galileo, didn’t he?” Vittoria said, finally pushing the folio over to Langdon. “Maybe he wrote the poem as a favor?”

  Langdon clenched his teeth as he took the sheathed document. Leaving it flat on the table, he read the line at the top. Then he rotated the page 90 degrees, reading the line in the right margin. Another twist, and he read the bottom. Another twist, the left. A final twist completed the circle. There were four lines in all. The first line Vittoria had found was actually the third line of the poem. Utterly agape, he read the four lines again, clockwise in sequence: top, right, bottom, left. When he was done, he exhaled. There was no doubt in his mind. “You found it, Ms. Vetra.”

  She smiled tightly. “Good, now can we get the hell out of here?”

  “I have to copy these lines down. I need to find a pencil and paper.”

  Vittoria shook her head. “Forget it, professor. No time to play scribe. Mickey’s ticking.” She took the page from him and headed for the door.

  Langdon stood up. “You can’t take that outside! It’s a—”

  But Vittoria was already gone.

  55

  Langdon and Vittoria exploded onto the courtyard outside the Secret Archives. The fresh air felt like a drug as it flowed into Langdon’s lungs. The purple spots in his vision quickly faded. The guilt, however, did not. He had just been accomplice to stealing a priceless relic from the world’s most private vault. The camerlegno had said, I am giving you my trust.

  “Hurry,” Vittoria said, still holding the folio in her hand and striding at a half-jog across Via Borgia in the direction of Olivetti’s office.

  “If any water gets on that papyrus—”

  “Calm down. When we decipher this thing, we can return their sacred Folio 5.”

  Langdon accelerated to keep up. Beyond feeling like a criminal, he was still dazed over the document’s spellbinding implications. John Milton was an Illuminatus. He composed the poem for Galileo to publish in Folio 5… far from the eyes of the Vatican.

  As they left the courtyard, Vittoria held out the folio for Langdon. “You think you can decipher this thing? Or did we just kill all those brain cells for kicks?”

  Langdon took the document carefully in his hands. Without hesitation he slipped it into one of the breast pockets of his tweed jacket, out of the sunlight and dangers of moisture. “I deciphered it already.”

  Vittoria stopped short. “You what?”

  Langdon kept moving.

  Vittoria hustled to catch up. “You read it once! I thought it was supposed to be hard!”

  Langdon knew she was right, and yet he had deciphered the segno in a single reading. A perfect stanza of iambic pentameter, and the first altar of science had revealed itself in pristine clarity. Admittedly, the ease with which he had accomplished the task left him with a nagging disquietude. He was a child of the Puritan work ethic. He could still hear his father speaking the old New England aphorism: If it wasn’t painfully difficult, you did it wrong. Langdon hoped the saying was false. “I deciphered it,” he said, moving faster now. “I know where the first killing is going to happen. We need to warn Olivetti.”

  Vittoria closed in on him. “How could you already know? Let me see that thing again.” With the sleight of a boxer, she slipped a lissome hand into his pocket and pulled out the folio again.

  “Careful!” Langdon said. “You can’t—”

  Vittoria ignored him. Folio in hand, she floated beside him, holding the document up to the evening light, examining the margins. As she began reading aloud, Langdon moved to retrieve the folio but instead found himself bewitched by Vittoria’s accented alto speaking the syllables in perfect rhythm with her gait.

  For a moment, hearing the verse aloud, Langdon felt transported in time… as though he were one of Galileo’s contemporaries, listening to the poem for the first time… knowing it was a test, a map, a clue unveiling the four altars of science… the four markers that blazed a secret path across Rome. The verse flowed from Vittoria’s lips like a song.

  From Santi’s earthly tomb with demon’s hole,

  ‘Cross Rome the mystic elements unfold.

  The path of light is laid, the sacred test,

  Let angels guide you on your lofty quest.

  Vittoria read it twice and then fell silent, as if letting the ancient words resonate on their own.

  From Santi’s earthly tomb, Langdon repeated in his mind. The poem was crystal clear about that. The Path of Illumination began at Santi’s tomb. From there, across Rome, the markers blazed the trail.

  From Santi’s earthly tomb with demon’s hole,

  ‘Cross Rome the mystic elements unfold.

  Mystic elements. Also clear. Earth, Air, Fire, Water. Elements of science, the four Illuminati markers disguised as religious sculpture.

  “The first marker,” Vittoria said, “sounds like it’s at Santi’s tomb.”

  Langdon smiled. “I told you it wasn’t that tough.”

  “So who is Santi?” she asked, sounding suddenly excited. “And where’s his tomb?”

  Langdon chuckled to himself. He was amazed how few people knew Santi, the last name of one of the most famous Renaissance artists ever to live. His first name was world renowned… the child prodigy who at the age of twenty-five was already doing commissions for Pope Julius II, and when he died at only thirty-eight, left behind the greatest collection of frescoes the world had ever seen. Santi was a behemoth in the art world, and being known solely by one’s first name was a level of fame achieved only by an elite few… people like Napoleon, Galileo, and Jesus… and, of course, the demigods Langdon now heard blaring from Harvard dormitories—Sting, Madonna, Jewel, and the artist formerly known as Prince, who had changed his name to the symbol

  causing Langdon to dub him “The Tau Cross With Intersecting Hermaphroditic Ankh.”

  “Santi,” Langdon said, “is the last name of the great Renaissance master, Raphael.”

  Vittoria looked surprised. “Raphael? As in the Raphael?”

  “The one and only.” Langdon pushed on toward the Office of the Swiss Guard.

  “So the path starts at Raphael’s tomb?”

  “It actually makes perfect sense,” Langdon said as they rushed on. “The Illuminati often considered great artists and sculptors honorary brothers in enlightenment. The Illuminati could have chosen Raphael’s tomb as a kind of tribute.” Langdon also knew that Raphael, like many other religious artists, was a suspected closet atheist.

  Vittoria slipped the folio carefully back in Langdon’s pocket. “So where is he buried?”

  Langdon took a deep breath. “Believe it or not, Raphael’s buried in the Pantheon.”

  Vittoria looked skeptical. “The Pantheon?”

  “The Raphael at the Pantheon.” Langdon had to admit, the Pantheon was not what he had expected for the placement of the first marker. He would have guessed the first altar of science to be at some quiet, out of the way church, something subtle. Even in the 1600s, the Pantheon, with its tremendous, holed dome, was one of the best known sites in Rome.

  “Is the Pantheon even a church?” Vittoria asked.

  “Oldest Catholic church in Rome.”

  Vittoria shook her head. “But do you really think the first cardinal could be killed at the Pantheon? That’s got to be one of the busiest tourist spots in Rome.”

  Langdon shrugged. “The Illuminati said they wanted the whole world watching. Killing a cardinal at the Pantheon would certainly open some eyes.”

  “But how does this guy expect to kill someone at the Pantheon and get away unnoticed? It would be impossible.”

  “As impossible as kidnapping four cardinals from Vatican City? The poem is precise.”

  “And you’re certain Raphael is buried inside the Pantheon?”

  “I’ve seen his tomb many times.”

  Vittoria nodded, still looking troubled. “What time is it?”

  Langdon checked. “Seven-thirty.”

  “Is the Pantheon far?”

  “A mile maybe. We’ve got time.”

  “The poem said Santi’s earthly tomb. Does that mean anything to you?”

  Langdon hastened diagonally across the Courtyard of the Sentinel. “Earthly? Actually, there’s probably no more earthly place in Rome than the Pantheon. It got its name from the original religion practiced there—Pantheism—the worship of all gods, specifically the pagan gods of Mother Earth.”

  As a student of architecture, Langdon had been amazed to learn that the dimensions of the Pantheon’s main chamber were a tribute to Gaea—the goddess of the Earth. The proportions were so exact that a giant spherical globe could fit perfectly inside the building with less than a millimeter to spare.

  “Okay,” Vittoria said, sounding more convinced. “And demon’s hole? From Santi’s earthly tomb with demon’s hole?”

  Langdon was not quite as sure about this. “Demon’s hole must mean the oculus,” he said, making a logical guess. “The famous circular opening in the Pantheon’s roof.”

  “But it’s a church,” Vittoria said, moving effortlessly beside him. “Why would they call the opening a demon’s hole?”

  Langdon had actually been wondering that himself. He had never heard the term “demon’s hole,” but he did recall a famous sixth-century critique of the Pantheon whose words seemed oddly appropriate now. The Venerable Bede had once written that the hole in the Pantheon’s roof had been bored by demons trying to escape the building when it was consecrated by Boniface IV.

  “And why,” Vittoria added as they entered a smaller courtyard, “why would the Illuminati use the name Santi if he was really known as Raphael?”

  “You ask a lot of questions.”

  “My dad used to say that.”

  “Two possible reasons. One, the word Raphael has too many syllables. It would have destroyed the poem’s iambic pentameter.”

  “Sounds like a stretch.”

  Langdon agreed. “Okay, then maybe using ‘Santi’ was to make the clue more obscure, so only very enlightened men would recognize the reference to Raphael.”

  Vittoria didn’t appear to buy this either. “I’m sure Raphael’s last name was very well known when he was alive.”

  “Surprisingly not. Single name recognition was a status symbol. Raphael shunned his last name much like pop stars do today. Take Madonna, for example. She never uses her surname, Ciccone.”

  Vittoria looked amused. “You know Madonna’s last name?”

  Langdon regretted the example. It was amazing the kind of garbage a mind picked up living with 10,000 adolescents.

  As he and Vittoria passed the final gate toward the Office of the Swiss Guard, their progress was halted without warning.

  “Para!” a voice bellowed behind them.

  Langdon and Vittoria wheeled to find themselves looking into the barrel of a rifle.

  “Attento!” Vittoria exclaimed, jumping back. “Watch it with—”

  “Non sportarti!” the guard snapped, cocking the weapon.

  “Soldato!” a voice commanded from across the courtyard. Olivetti was emerging from the security center. “Let them go!”

  The guard looked bewildered. “Ma, signore, è una donna–”

  “Inside!” he yelled at the guard.

  “Signore, non posso–”

  “Now! You have new orders. Captain Rocher will be briefing the corps in two minutes. We will be organizing a search.”

  Looking bewildered, the guard hurried into the security center. Olivetti marched toward Langdon, rigid and steaming. “Our most secret archives? I’ll want an explanation.”

  “We have good news,” Langdon said.

  Olivetti’s eyes narrowed. “It better be damn good.”

  56

  The four unmarked Alpha Romeo 155 T-Sparks roared down Via dei Coronari like fighter jets off a runway. The vehicles carried twelve plainclothed Swiss Guards armed with Cherchi-Pardini semiautomatics, local-radius nerve gas canisters, and long-range stun guns. The three sharpshooters carried laser-sighted rifles.

  Sitting in the passenger seat of the lead car, Olivetti turned backward toward Langdon and Vittoria. His eyes were filled with rage. “You assured me a sound explanation, and this is what I get?”

  Langdon felt cramped in the small car. “I understand your—”

  “No, you don’t understand!” Olivetti never raised his voice, but his intensity tripled. “I have just removed a dozen of my best men from Vatican City on the eve of conclave. And I have done this to stake out the Pantheon based on the testimony of some American I have never met who has just interpreted a four-hundred-year-old poem. I have also just left the search for this antimatter weapon in the hands of secondary officers.”

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