The email read:
Somewhere I have a book with an essay an art historian whose name I can't remember wrote as an indulgence after he retired, in which he set out his mad theory that Piero's Flagellation of Christ is in fact a Dream of St Jerome.
As I recall the story, God came to Jerome in a dream and said, 'Oi! Stop reading those dirty pagan cunts or you'll get whipped for all eternity, motherfucker.' When he awoke, Jerome thought 'Bullshit! I really like reading those pagan cunts. It's what I've dedicated my life to. But God doesn't want me to, damnit. What shall I do?'
So he went off to the desert, hung out with a lion, and beat himself with a rock instead.
So I thought I'd rip off Piero's pupil Luca Signorelli and do a picture of it.
It doesn't matter that it's Dante. People are always mixing the two up anyway cos their attributes are the same.
Far be it from me to spoil your fun, but Jerome was no idiot. You should read his letters, which are copious and translated into English. He had a circle of women friends in Rome, all high-born Roman ladies, and one in particular, called Paula (herself now also a saint), was one of the women he wrote letters to. I remember specially the letter of condolence he sent her -- or maybe it was to another Roman lady called Fabiola -- when one of her children, I think a son, died. Yes, grief is all right, he told the grieving mother, but you mustn't overdo it, you mustn't abandon yourself to excessive grief and mustn't let your grieving go on for too long. (I'm relying on memory here, and hope I've got it more or less right.)
The fables about Jerome aren't to be taken seriously. Yes, he did withdraw to the wilderness. No, he probably didn't pull a thorn out of a lion's paw: that story was transferred to him from some other saint. But the story of his dream is his own account, and probably true enough. His life changed after it.
He is a splendidly human saint, given to wrath and impatience, and with an excellent command of invective against his heretical opponents.