Autobiography

Author: Benvenuto Cellini  | Date: 1900

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Benvenuto Cellini O. Bacci Florence 1900

Gang Warfare in Rome

[1529]

At this time my brother was also in Rome in the service of Duke Alessandro, on whom the Pope had recently conferred the Duchy of Penna. The prince kept in his service a number of soldiers, all good fellows, who learned their courage in the school of that famous general Giovanni de’ Medici; and among these was my brother, deemed by the Duke the bravest of his followers.

My brother and three young fellows, all four of them without beard, dashed off and came up with the guard of the Bargello—upwards of fifty constables, counting pikes, arquebuses1, and two-handed swords. My poor brother rushed ahead and threw himself with all his dash and vigor into the middle of the band. Before his man could guard himself, he ran him through the guts, and with the sword’s hilt pushed him to the ground, Then he turned upon the rest with such zeal and courage, that he was on the point of putting the whole band to flight with his one arm, had it not been that, while turning to strike an arquebusier, this man fired in self-defense, and the daring young fellow was hit above the knee of his right leg. As he lay stretched on the ground, the constables hurried away as quickly as they were able, lest they meet a twin of this bold fellow.

My brother recognized me first as I came to the scene, and said: "Dearest brother, do not worry about my grave accident; it must be expected in my profession. Get me away immediately, inasmuch as I have but a few hours to live" . . . I answered: "Brother, this is the greatest sorrow and the greatest trial that could have happened to me in my whole life. But be of good cheer. Before you lose sight of him who did this, you shall see yourself revenged by my hand."

I had my brother conveyed at once to a house. The doctors who were called treated him with medicines, but could not reach a decision to amputate the leg, which might possibly have saved him. He lost blood so copiously that nothing could be done to stop it. He went off his head and kept raving all through the following night. He lapsed into delirious ravings, uttering a torrent of the most terrible frenzies and imprecations that one could imagine.

When the sun appeared above the horizon, he turned to me and said: "Brother, I do not desire to stay here longer, for these fellows will make me do something tremendous, which might make them repent the annoyance they have caused me." He kicked out both his legs—the injured one we had encased in a very heavy box—as though he would throw them across a horse’s back. He turned his face to me, called out three times—"Farewell, farewell!" and with the last word that most courageous spirit passed away.

At the proper hour, at nightfall, I had him buried with due ceremonies in the church of the Florentines.

I took to watching the arquebusier who shot my brother, as though he was the girl I loved. This man had at one time been in the light cavalry, but afterwards he had joined the arquebusiers as one of the sheriff’s corporals. What especially increased my rage was his boast: "If it had not been for me, who killed that brave young fellow, the least delay would have resulted in his putting us all to flight with disaster to us." When I finally realized that the fever caused by seeing him around began to deprive me of sleep and appetite, and was slowly undermining my constitution, I overcame my repugnance to a low and perhaps unpraiseworthy enterprise, and made up my mind to rid myself of the torment.

The fellow lived in a house near a place called Torte Sanguigua, next to the lodging of one of the most fashionable courtesans of Rome, a woman named Signora Antea. The clock had just struck midnight, and he was standing at the house-door, with his sword in hand, having just finished supper. I carefully stole up to him, holding in my hand a large dagger, and dealt him a back-handed stroke, with which I meant to cut his head off. But as he turned very suddenly, the blow struck him upon the point of his left shoulder and broke the bone. He jumped up, dropped his weapon, and half-stunned with pain, took to flight. I followed, and caught him within a few steps. I lifted my dagger above his head, which he held very low, and hit him in the back exactly at the juncture of the nape-bone and the neck. The poniard entered so deep into the bone, that, even though I used all my strength to pull it out, I was not able to do so. Just at this moment four soldiers with drawn swords sprang out from Antea’s home, and I was forced to defend my life. Leaving the poniard, I made off.

Fearing that I might be recognized, I took refuge in the palace of Duke Alessandro. On my arrival, I asked to see the Duke, who advised me to keep quiet and not worry, but to go on working on the jewel which the Pope had set his heart on, and remain indoors for eight days. He gave this advice the more confidently, because the soldiers had now arrived who had interrupted me and kept me from completing my mission. Holding the dagger, they related how the thing had happened, and the great difficulty they had had in pulling the weapon from the neck and head-bone of the man, whose name they did not know. At this moment Giovan Bandini came up and said to them:

"Why that poniard is mine, and I lent it to Benvenuto, who was determined to revenge his brother." The soldiers then expressed deep regret at having interrupted me, but my vengeance had been amply satisfied.

More than eight days had elapsed, but the Pope did not send for me according to his custom. Afterwards he summoned me through his chamberlain. When we reached the presence, the Pope cast so menacing a glance towards me that even the look of his eyes made me tremble. Later, upon examining my work his countenance cleared, and he commenced to praise me highly, stating that I had really accomplished a great amount in a short time. Then he looked me straight in the face and said:

"Now that you are cured, Benvenuto, take heed in what manner you live."

Since I fully understood what he was driving at I promised that I most certainly would.

1Hand-guns, resembling muskets, fired from a forked rest, sometimes cocked by a wheel, and carrying a ball weighing nearly two ounces.

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Chicago: Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography, ed. Benvenuto Cellini in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 18, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3TDWD7FWLRJ326.

MLA: Cellini, Benvenuto. Autobiography, edited by Benvenuto Cellini, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 18 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3TDWD7FWLRJ326.

Harvard: Cellini, B, Autobiography, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 18 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=N3TDWD7FWLRJ326.