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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
In the Garden
By Agnolo Firenzuola (1493–1545)
 
From ‘Of the Beauty of Women’: Translation of Clara Bell

CELSO SELVAGGIO is a great friend of mine, and so much at my service that I make bold to say he is in truth as my second self. Hence, when I now set forth these his discourses, albeit indeed he hath forbidden it, he will have patience with me, inasmuch as that the love he bears me constrains him to make my will his own, and all the more, since that which constraineth him constraineth me. Now he, besides being a man skilled in learning, is of no small judgment, and great courtesy and highly accommodating to the desires of his friends; and for all these reasons, being assured that he will make no difficulties, I have set them forth as you see.  1
  He found himself last summer in the garden of the Abbey of Grignano, kept at that time by Vanazzo de Rochi, whither several youths and maidens had betaken themselves for air, ladies distinguished no less for their beauty and high degree than for their many virtues; among them Madonna Lampiada, Madonnas Amororrisca, Selvaggia, and Verdespina. They had withdrawn to the summit of the hillock in the midst of that garden, overgrown with cypress and laurel, where they tarried, disputing of Madonna Amelia della Torrenuova, who likewise was in the pleasaunce; and this one would have it that she was of the greatest beauty, and that other that she was not even well favored, when Celso came up the mount with certain other youths of Prato, the kindred of these ladies. And they, being thus taken by surprise, were silent on a sudden. Then Celso making excuse for having done them such discourtesy, the ladies graciously replied that their coming hither was most pleasing to them, and they bid these gentlemen be seated on a bank over against them; yet were they again silent.  2
  Whereupon Celso spoke, saying:—“Fair ladies, either proceed in your discourse, or dismiss us from your company, to the end that we may not disturb your sport, but hit the ball as it bounds.”  3
  Then said Madonna Lampiada:—“Messer Celso, our discourse was of women, wherefore it did not appear to us to be seemly to continue it in your presence. This one said that Amelia was not comely; I say that she is: thus we were disputing, after the manner of ladies.”  4
  To whom Celso replied:—“Madonna Selvaggia is in error, but indeed she loves her not. In truth, that lady must ever be accounted fair by all, nay, and most beautiful; and if she is not to be deemed beautiful, I cannot see one in Prato who may be called fair.”  5
  On this Selvaggia, somewhat wroth rather than pleased, replied:—“Small judgment is needed in such a matter, since each is of a different mind, and a brown skin is pleasing to one and a white skin to another; and it is with us women as in a draper’s shop, where cloth from the Romagnuola finds a purchaser no less than satin from Banello.”  6
  “Well and good,” quoth Celso; “but when we speak of a beautiful woman we mean one whom all alike admire, and not this one or that one only: thus Nora, so ill-favored as she is, appears most pleasing in the sight of her Tomaso, albeit she is as uncomely as she possibly can be; and my gossip, who was passing fair, her husband could not suffer. Peradventure it is that certain complexions suit or suit not: but a lady fair in all points, like yourself, must necessarily be pleasing to all, as you are; albeit few are pleasing to you, as I know full well. It is indeed the truth, that to be of perfect beauty many things are needed, so that one is rarely found who possesseth the half of them.”  7
  Selvaggia then said:—“There are some among you men whom the world itself would not satisfy. And I once heard it said that one Momus, unable to find any fault in the beauty of Venus, blamed some trifle in the fashion of her sandals.”  8
  Then said Verdespina:—“Thus you see how he beheld her.”  9
  And Celso, laughing, went on:—“Again, Stesichoros, a most noble poet of Sicily, spoke evil of that Helen who by her exceeding great beauty moved a thousand Greek ships to go forth against the great kingdom of Troy.”  10
  Then said Madonna Lampiada in haste:—“Ay, truly; but you know that he thereupon lost his sight, and had it not again till he denied his words.”  11
  “And so had his desert,” added Celso, “inasmuch as that beauty and fair women, and fair women and beauty, ought to be lauded and held precious by all; seeing that a fair woman is the fairest object that may be seen, and beauty the highest gift bestowed by God on mankind; since its virtue is to invite the soul to contemplation, and through contemplation to the desire of heavenly things. Hence it hath been given us as a foretaste and as an earnest; and it is of such power and worth that it hath been accounted by sages as the first and most excellent of all things to be loved; nay, they have called it the very seat, the nest, the abode of love; of love, I say, which is the source and fount of all human joys. For it we see a man forget himself; and on beholding a face graced with this celestial gift, his limbs will quake, his hair stand on end, and he will sweat and shiver at the same time; just as one who, seeing on a sudden some heavenly vision, is possessed by the divine frenzy; and when he is come to himself worships it in his heart, and acknowledging it as it were a god, gives himself up as a victim and a sacrifice on the altar of that fair lady’s heart.”  12
  Whereupon said Madonna Lampiada:—“Ah, Messer Celso, if it will not weary you, do us a pleasure: tell us somewhat of this beauty, and what should be the form of such a fair woman; whereas these damsels have for some time urged me to entreat this of you, and I have delayed to do it. But since you of your own motion have begun to discourse of it, having increased my desire you likewise have raised my courage; all the more since it hath been told me that during the evening assembly held by my sister last Carnival season, you spoke of the matter with those ladies at such length that Madonna Agnoletta could talk of nothing else for many days. So we pray you do us this favor, for we have naught else to be busy about; and in this light wind the heat of the day will be more delightfully spent by us than by those below who are sporting or walking in the pleasaunce.”  13
  Then answered Celso:—“Ay! To the end that Selvaggia, if she hear aught said which is not to her mind, or if I omit aught, may cry out that I am speaking ill of women; in which I never take so great pleasure as I do in praising them, as she has often known by experience, and yet hath never thanked me for it.”  14
 
 
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