Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
DURING the following night there appeared to me in dreams a marvellous being in the form of a most lovely youth, who cried, as though he wanted to reprove me: Knowest thou who lent thee that body, which thou wouldst have spoiled before its time? I seemed to answer that I recognized all things pertaining to me as gifts from the God of nature. So, then, he said, thou hast contempt for His handiwork, through this thy will to spoil it? Commit thyself unto His guidance, and lose not hope in His great goodness! Much more he added, in words of marvellous efficacy, the thousandth part of which I cannot now remember.
I began to consider that the angel of my vision spoke the truth. So I cast my eyes around the prison, and saw some scraps of rotten brick, with the fragments of which, rubbing one against the other, I composed a paste. Then, creeping on all fours, as I was compelled to go, I crawled up to an angle of my dungeon door, and gnawed a splinter from it with my teeth. Having achieved this feat, I waited till the light came on my prison; that was from the hour of twenty and a half to twenty-one and a half. When it arrived, I began to write, the best I could, on some blank pages in my Bible, and rebuked the regents of my intellectual self for being too impatient to endure this life; they replied to my body with excuses drawn from all that they had suffered; and the body gave them hope of better fortune. To this effect, then, by way of dialogue, I wrote as follows:
Benvenuto in the body.
Afflicted regents of my soul!
Ah, cruel ye! have ye such hate of life?
The Spirits of his soul.
If Heaven against you roll,
Who stands for us? who saves us in the strife?
Let us, O let us go toward better life!
Nay, go not yet awhile!
Ye shall be happier and lighter far
Heaven gives this hopethan ye were ever yet!
We will remain some little while,
If only by great God you promised are
Such grace that no worse woes on us be set.
After this I recovered strength; and when I had heartened up myself, I continued reading in the Bible, and my eyes became so used to that darkness that I could now read for three hours instead of the bare hour and a half I was able to employ before.
With profound astonishment I dwelt upon the force of Gods Spirit in those men of great simplicity, who believed so fervently that He would bring all their hearts desire to pass. I then proceeded to reckon in my own case too on Gods assistance, both because of His divine power and mercy, and also because of my own innocence; and at all hours, sometimes in prayer and sometimes in communion with God, I abode in those high thoughts of Him. There flowed into my soul so powerful a delight from these reflections upon God, that I took no further thought for all the anguish I had suffered, but rather spent the day in singing psalms and divers other compositions on the theme of His divinity.
I was greatly troubled, however, by one particular annoyance: my nails had grown so long that I could not touch my body without wounding it; I could not dress myself but what they turned inside or out, to my great torment. Moreover, my teeth began to perish in my mouth. I became aware of this because the dead teeth being pushed out by the living ones, my gums were gradually perforated, and the points of the roots pierced through the tops of their cases. When I was aware of this, I used to pull one out, as though it were a weapon from a scabbard, without any pain or loss of blood. Very many of them did I lose in this way. Nevertheless, I accommodated myself to these new troubles also; at times I sang, at times I prayed, and at times I wrote by means of the paste of brick-dust I have described above. At this time I began composing a Capitolo in praise of my prison, relating in it all the accidents which had befallen me.1 This poem I mean to insert in its proper place.
Note 1. Capitolo is the technical name for a copy of verses in terza rima on a chosen theme. Poems of this kind, mostly burlesque or satirical, were very popular in Cellinis age. They used to be written on trifling or obscene subjects in a mock-heroic style. Berni stamped the character of high art upon the species, which had long been in use among the unlettered vulgar. See for further particulars Symonds Renaissance in Italy, vol. v. chap. xiv. [back]