Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THE GOOD castellan used frequently to send messengers to find out secretly what I was doing. So it happened on the last day of July that I was rejoicing greatly by myself alone while I bethought me of the festival they keep in Rome upon the 1st of August; and I was saying to myself: In former years I kept the feast among the pleasures and the frailties of the world; this year I shall keep it in communion with God. Oh, how far more happy am I thus than I was then! The persons who heard me speak these words reported them to the castellan. He was greatly annoyed, and exclaimed: Ah, God! that fellow lives and triumphs in his infinite distress, while I lack all things in the midst of comfort, and am dying only on account of him! Go quickly, and fling him into that deepest of the subterranean dungeons where the preacher Foiano was starved to death.1 Perhaps when he finds himself in such ill plight he will begin to droop his crest.
Captain Sandrino Monaldi came at once into my prison with about twenty of the castellans servants. They found me on my knees; and I did not turn at their approach, but went on paying my orisons before a God the Father, surrounded with angels, and a Christ arising victorious from the grave, which I had sketched upon the wall with a little piece of charcoal I had found covered up with earth. This was after I had lain four months upon my back in bed with my leg broken, and had so often dreamed that angels came and ministered to me, that at the end of those four months the limb became as sound as though it never had been fractured. So then these fellows entered, all in armour, as fearful of me as though I were a poison-breathing dragon. The captain spoke as follows: You must be aware that there are many of us here, and our entrance has made a tumult in this place, yet you do not turn round. When I heard these words, I was well able to conceive what greater harm might happen to me, but being used and hardened to misfortune, I said to them: Unto this God who supports me, to Him in heaven I have turned my soul, my contemplation, and all my vital spirits; to you I have turned precisely what belongs to you. What there is of good in me, you are not worthy to behold, nor can you touch it. Do then to that which is under your control all the evil you are able. The captain, in some alarm, and not knowing what I might be on the point of doing, said to four of his tallest fellows: Put all your arms aside. When they had done so, he added: Now upon the instant leap on him, and secure him well. Do you think he is the devil, that so many of us should be afraid of him? Hold him tight now, that he may not escape you. Seized by them with force and roughly handled, and anticipating something far worse than what afterwards happened, I lifted my eyes to Christ and said: Oh, just God, Thou paidest all our debts upon that high-raised cross of Thine; wherefore then must my innocence be made to pay the debts of whom I do not even know? Nevertheless, Thy will be done. Meanwhile the men were carrying me away with a great lighted torch; and I thought that they were about to throw me down the oubliette of Sammabo. This was the name given to a fearful place which had swallowed many men alive; for when they are cast into it, the fall to the bottom of a deep pit in the foundation of the castle. This did not, however, happen to me; wherefore I thought that I had made a very good bargain when they placed me in that hideous dungeon I have spoken of, where Fra Foiano died of hunger, and left me there without doing me further injury.
When I was alone, I began to sing a De profundis clamavi, a Miserere, and In te Domine speravi. During the whole of that first day of August I kept festival with God, my heart rejoicing ever in the strength of hope and faith. On the second day they drew me from that hole, and took me back again to the prison where I had drawn those representations of God. On arriving there, the sight of them filled me with such sweetness and such gladness that I wept abundantly. On every day that followed, the castellan sent to know what I was doing and saying. The Pope, who had heard the whole history (and I must add that the doctors had already given the castellan over), spoke as follows: Before my castellan dies I will let him put that Benvenuto to death in any way he likes, for he is the cause of his death, and so the good man shall not die unrevenged. On hearing these words from the mouth of Duke Pier Luigi, the castellan replied: So, then, the Pope has given me Benvenuto, and wishes me to take my vengeance on him? Dismiss the matter from your mind, and leave me to act. If the heart of the Pope was ill-disposed against me, that of the castellan was now at the commencement savage and cruel in the extreme. At this juncture the invisible being who had diverted me from my intention of suicide, came to me, being still invisible, but with a clear voice, and shook me, and made me rise, and said to me: Ah me! my Benvenuto, quick, quick, betake thyself to God with thy accustomed prayers, and cry out loudly, loudly! In a sudden consternation I fell upon my knees, and recited several of my prayers in a loud voice; after this I said Qui habitat in adjutorio; then I communed a space with God; and in an instant the same clear and open voice said to me: Go to rest, and have no further fear! The meaning of this was, that the castellan, after giving the most cruel orders for my death, suddenly countermanded them, and said: Is not this Benvenuto the man whom I have so warmly defended, whom I know of a surety to be innocent, and who has been so greatly wronged? Oh, how will God have mercy on me and my sins if I do not pardon those who have done me the greatest injuries? Oh, why should I injure a man both worthy and innocent, who has only done me services and honour? Go to! instead of killing him, I give him life and liberty: and in my will Ill have it written that none shall demand of him the heavy debt for his expenses here which he would elsewise have to pay. This the Pope heard, and took it very ill indeed.
Note 1. Fra Benedetto da Foiano had incurred the wrath of Pope Clement VII. by preaching against the Medici in Florence. He was sent to Rome and imprisoned in a noisome dungeon of S. Angelo in the year 1530, where Clement made him perish miserably by diminishing his food and water daily till he died. See Varchis Storia Fiorentina, lib. xii. chap. 4. [back]