Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE PLAGUE went dragging on for many months, but I had as yet managed to keep it at bay; for though several of my comrades were dead, I survived in health and freedom. Now it chanced one evening that an intimate comrade of mine brought home to supper a Bolognese prostitute named Faustina. She was a very fine woman, but about thirty years of age; and she had with her a little serving-girl of thirteen or fourteen. Faustina belonging to my friend, I would not have touched her for all the gold in the world; and though she declared she was madly in love with me, I remained steadfast in my loyalty. But after they had gone to bed, I stole away the little serving-girl, who was quite a fresh maid, and woe to her if her mistress had known of it! The result was that I enjoyed a very pleasant night, far more to my satisfaction than if I had passed it with Faustina. I rose upon the hour of breaking fast, and felt tired, for I had travelled many miles that night, and was wanting to take food, when a crushing headache seized me; several boils appeared on my left arm, together with a carbuncle which showed itself just beyond the palm of the left hand where it joins the wrist. Everybody in the house was in a panic; my friend, the cow and the calf, all fled. Left alone there with my poor little prentice, who refused to abandon me, I felt stifled at the heart, and made up my mind for certain I was a dead man.
Just then the father of the lad went by, who was physician to the Cardinal Iacoacci,1 and lived as member of that prelates household.2 The boy called out: Come, father, and see Benvenuto; he is in bed with some trifling indisposition. Without thinking what my complaint might be, the doctor came up at once, and when he had felt my pulse, he saw and felt what was very contrary to his own wishes. Turning round to his son, he said: O traitor of a child, youve ruined me; how can I venture now into the Cardinals presence? His son made answer: Why, father, this man my master is worth far more than all the cardinals in Rome. Then the doctor turned to me and said: Since I am here, I will consent to treat you. But of one thing only I warn you, that if you have enjoyed a woman, you are doomed. To this I replied: I did so this very night. He answered: With whom, and to what extent?3 I said: Last night, and with a girl in her earliest maturity. Upon this, perceiving that he had spoken foolishly, he made haste to add: Well, considering the sores are so new, and have not yet begun to stink, and that the remedies will be taken in time, you need not be too much afraid, for I have good hopes of curing you. When he had prescribed for me and gone away, a very dear friend of mine, called Giovanni Rigogli, came in, who fell to commiserating my great suffering and also my desertion by my comrade, and said: Be of good cheer, my Benvenuto, for I will never leave your side until I see you restored to health. I told him not to come too close, since it was all over with me. Only I besought him to be so kind as to take a considerable quantity of crowns, which were lying in a little box near my bed, and when God had thought fit to remove me from this world, to send them to my poor father, writing pleasantly to him, in the way I too had done, so far as that appalling season of the plague permitted.4 My beloved friend declared that he had no intention whatsoever of leaving me, and that come what might, in life or death, he knew very well what was his duty toward a friend. And so we went on by the help of God: and the admirable remedies which I had used began to work a great improvement, and I soon came well out of that dreadful sickness.
The sore was still open, with a plug of lint inside it and a plaster above, when I went out riding on a little wild pony. He was covered with hair four fingers long, and was exactly as big as a well-grown bear; indeed he looked just like a bear. I rode out on him to visit the painter Rosso, who was then living in the country, toward Civita Vecchia, at a place of Count Anguillaras called Cervetera. I found my friend, and he was very glad to see me; whereupon I said: I am come to do to you that which you did to me so many months ago. He burst out laughing, embraced and kissed me, and begged me for the Counts sake to keep quiet. I stayed in that place about a month, with much content and gladness, enjoying good wines and excellent food, and treated with the greatest kindness by the Count; every day I used to ride out alone along the seashore, where I dismounted, and filled my pockets with all sorts of pebbles, snail shells, and sea shells of great rarity and beauty.
On the last day (for after this I went there no more) I was attacked by a band of men, who had disguised themselves, and disembarked from a Moorish privateer. When they thought that they had run me into a certain passage, where it seemed impossible that I should escape from their hands, I suddenly mounted my pony, resolved to be roasted or boiled alive at that pass perilous, seeing I had little hope to evade one or the other of these fates;5 but, as God willed, my pony, who was the same I have described above, took an incredibly wide jump, and brought me off in safety, for which I heartily thanked God. I told the story to the Count; he ran to arms; but we saw the galleys setting out to sea. The next day following I went back sound and with good cheer to Rome.
Note 1. Probably Domenico Iacobacci, who obtained the hat in 1517. [back]
Note 2. A sua provisione stava, i. e., he was in the Cardinals regular pay. [back]
Note 3. Quanto. Perhaps we ought to read quandowhen? [back]
Note 4. Come ancora io avevo fatto secondo lusanza che promettava quell arrabbiata stagione. I am not sure that I have given the right sense in the text above. Leclanché interprets the words thus: that I too had fared according to the wont of that appalling season, i. e., had died of the plague. But I think the version in my sense is more true both to Italian and to Cellinis special style. [back]
Note 5. I. e., to escape either being drowned or shot. [back]