The Berlusconi show
Each day Italian politics blends with reality TV with participants discussing their sex lives.
So Karima El Mayroug, an 18-year-old dancer, appears on primetime TV to explain that the Italian prime minister had never "put a finger on me".
The accusation is that he had sex with Karima when she was 17 and then, when she got into trouble with the police, he intervened to get her released.
The threat lies in the wire-taps that the Milanese prosecutors have been collecting for months. "A significant number of women" are said to have been recorded describing orgies at Mr Berlusconi's villa at Arcore.
Karima, also known as "Ruby the heart-stealer", remains the key. Crucially she denies she has ever been a prostitute. If that is true, half the case falls away because whereas sex with a 17-year-old prostitute is an offence, sex with a 17-year-old isn't.
Ruby herself says that "I meet him, he gives me 7000 euros and he doesn't put a finger on me". The Italian public may need some convincing that such payments were for an evening of conversation. Later reports said she was angling for much larger sums.
The picture that emerges from the dossier sent by the magistrates to a parliamentary committee is of various women using the prime minister as a kind of cash machine in exchange for coming to his parties.
Ultimately this is less a battle over sex and more about power and accountability.
So he declines their summons to appear before them. "I would like to go on trial immediately," he said last night, "but with impartial judges, not with prosecutors who want to use this case as a means of a political fight".
In explaining his defiance he goes further. He is proposing new laws to prevent magistrates from pursuing elected officials.
In his long-standing row with the judges he presents himself as victim. A recent poll suggests a significant number of people - although not a majority - have some sympathy with that.
So will Mr Berlusconi survive this latest storm? Obviously if details emerged that disproved the prime minister's version of events that could prove fatal to him.
He and his lawyers know how to prolong and to side-track an investigation with legal arguments. He will laugh off the suggestion there was a ring of prostitutes and show-girls put up in apartments at his expense. "I'd be better than Superman if I'd had parties with 24 girls," he quipped.
There has been a chorus of calls for his resignation but mainly from opposition figures. His own party continues to back him, however increasingly there are voices claiming that this entire episode is damaging Italy and its reputation. The Catholic Church, through one of its papers, has described the scandal as like a "damaging tornado". The Italian president has called for the investigation to be settled quickly.
Mr Berlusconi was able to shrug off the Wikileaks revelation that an American diplomat had found him weary due to all his partying.
But, internationally, stories of embarrassment do the circuit. In Brussels officials recount how at a council meeting in the past year-and-a-half, Mr Berlusconi spoke to the German Chancellor and said: "Angela you should do like I do. Have a girlfriend in Brussels. Don't do a press conference and then you'll have a popularity rating of 64%."
It was obviously intended as a joke but the exchange is remembered.
I hear the word "shame" used much more often. Many Italians are clearly embarrassed by this harlequinade of allegations.
Shame may weaken him but so too might scorn. Two young women who went to his parties are heard saying "he's fatter than before, more dead than alive...". Even Ruby detected a vein of sadness.
"I don't think he can be very happy," she said. "I think he suffers a lot of loneliness." And some of the papers are painting him as an old fool who was being used as an ATM machine. One headline referred to the "tragedy of a ridiculous man."
Some of these articles are written by Berlusconi's opponents but a politician who becomes a figure of fun is rarely re-elected. As recently as last Friday I was speaking to a woman in the Italian government. She maintained, like others, that despite all these scandals, he remained the only person to run Italy. The opposition was weak and divided. But slowly - in the face of drip by drip revelation - that claim to be an efficient reforming leader is being undermined.
When I was in Rome in December I walked with a man who knows Rome, its history and its secrets well.
Our route took us from the parliament in Piazza Montecitorio, past the column of Marcus Aurelius to Via del Corso.
He said to me that I had to remember that the city had seen it all. It took a great deal to surprise the populace. He spoke about the Emperor Tiberius who moved to Capri and held "dinner parties to which he invited prostitutes".
He was a leader of whom it was said that "he would have sex with people of all ages and sexes. " Suetonius saw him as a man powerful enough to go beyond "good and evil."
The Italians - with their rich history - have a great facility to understand power and human weakness. But shame and mockery can be as dangerous to a leader as the long arm of the Italian magistracy.