- "These lost people... warring kingdoms... I would have ended their suffering."
- ―Ercole's final words.[src]
Ercole Massimo (1474 – 1506) was a Roman nobleman and member of the Massimo family, one of Rome's wealthiest and most ancient families. He was also the leader of the covert Cult of Hermes until his death.
At a young age, Ercole participated in the formation of a Roman library, partnering with the wealthy banker, Agostino Chigi, to help fund the arts. He also succeeded in convincing Pope Julius II to invite the painter Pietro Perugino to the Vatican to help decorate the papal apartments.
At the age of thirty, Ercole became heavily invested in the teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, whose writings had recently been translated by Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino. Ercole joined a Hermetic society in Rome, and devoted significant time to his activities there. He eventually met Leonardo da Vinci, who had become a frequent visitor of the Massimo palazzo library, due to his search for the Temple of Pythagoras.
Search for the Entrance
In 1506, Ercole ordered a party of several Hermeticists to distract Salaì, Leonardo da Vinci's assistant, in order to allow a second group to kidnap the inventor, as Leonardo knew the location of the entrance to the Temple of Pythagoras.
Upon discovering that the map to the temple was hidden in several of Leonardo's paintings, Ercole sent his disciples out to retrieve them; some of these caused paranoia in Lucrezia Borgia, making her place her husband's palazzo under full alert.
Ercole himself later met up with Patrizio in the Vaticano district of Rome to negotiate the sale of Portrait of a Musician. However, Patrizio changed his mind in the middle of discussing the purchase, and declared that since the painting had been given to him by his former lover, who had later abandoned him, it should not be possessed by anyone.
As he attempted to destroy the painting, Ercole beckoned one of his Hermeticists to silence Patrizio with his dagger. As Patrizio died, Ercole handed the painting to the Hermeticist, telling him to handle it with care, in order to respect the mind of the one who had created it.
The Temple of Pythagoras
After losing all five of the paintings, Ercole returned to the catacombs under Rome to interrogate Leonardo himself. Despite much pressure and physical punishment, Leonardo refused to cooperate, and shortly afterwards his old friend Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Mentor of the Italian Assassins, arrived.
Ercole halted his Hermeticists from attacking the Assassin, and greeted Ezio as an ally. Speaking approvingly of how Ezio had stopped the ignorance Cesare Borgia had been spreading across Rome, he requested him to help persuade Leonardo to talk. However, Ezio only sarcastically asked if Ercole would rather he used his fists or his knife.
Ercole replied that he only wished for a civil solution, and attempted to convince Ezio to join him so that they could "remake humanity together." The Assassin refused, prompting Ercole to send several of his disciples to kill him, but none were able to touch him, all being killed by Ezio. Realizing the danger to his life, the panicked Ercole threw another Hermeticist towards Ezio, but only succeeded in knocking a chunk of rubble off the ledge he had been standing on, allowing Ezio to climb up and confront Ercole.
Faced with his inevitable end, Ercole desperately pleaded with Ezio, saying that they were alike, but Ezio ignored him, stabbing him with his Hidden Blade. As he lay dying in Ezio's arms, Ercole voiced his shock that an Assassin like Ezio was an "enemy of knowledge." Ezio retorted that one must be free to find the truth for themselves, rather than be forced into it. Ercole reasoned that he had only wanted to free and protect the people from dictation and war, through knowledge. As Ercole closed his eyes, Ezio simply said that he wished Ercole would realize the truth in death.