Benvenuto Cellini (15001571). Autobiography. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
IT chanced one day that I was leaning against a shop of one of these men, who called out to me, and began partly reproaching, partly bullying. I answered that had they done their duty by me, I should have spoken of them what one speaks of good and worthy men; but as they had done the contrary, they ought to complain of themselves and not of me. While I was standing there and talking, one of them, named Gherardo Guasconti, their cousin, having perhaps been put up to it by them, lay in wait till a beast of burden went by.1 It was a load of bricks. When the load reached me, Gherardo pushed it so violently on my body that I was very much hurt. Turning suddenly round and seeing him laughing, I struck him such a blow on the temple that he fell down, stunned, like one dead. Then I faced round to his cousins, and said: Thats the way to treat cowardly thieves of your sort; and when they wanted to make a move upon me, trusting to their numbers, I, whose blood was now well up, laid hands to a little knife I had, and cried: If one of you comes out of the shop, let the other run for the confessor, because the doctor will have nothing to do here. These words so frightened them that not one stirred to help their cousin. As soon as I had gone, the fathers and sons ran to the Eight, and declared that I had assaulted them in their shops with sword in hand, a thing which had never yet been seen in Florence. The magistrates had me summoned. I appeared before them; and they began to upbraid and cry out upon mepartly, I think, because they saw me in my cloak, while the others were dressed like citizens in mantle and hood;2 but also because my adversaries had been to the houses of those magistrates, and had talked with all of them in private, while I, inexperienced in such matters, had not spoken to any of them, trusting in the goodness of my cause. I said that, having received such outrage and insult from Gherardo, and in my fury having only given him a box on the ear, I did not think I deserved such a vehement reprimand. I had hardly time to finish the word box, before Prinzivalle della Stufa,3 who was one of the Eight, interrupted me by saying: You gave him a blow, and not a box, on the ear. The bell was rung and we were all ordered out, when Prinzivalle spoke thus in my defence to his brother judges: Mark, sirs, the simplicity of this poor young man, who has accused himself of having given a box on the ear, under the impression that this is of less importance than a blow; whereas a box on the ear in the New Market carries a fine of twenty-five crowns, while a blow costs little or nothing. He is a young man of admirable talents, and supports his poor family by his labour in great abundance; I would to God that our city had plenty of this sort, instead of the present dearth of them.
Note 1. The Italian is appostò che passassi una soma. The verb appostare has the double meaning of lying in wait and arranging something on purpose. Cellinis words may mean, caused a beast of burden to pass by. [back]
Note 2. Varchi says that a man who went about with only his cloak or cape by daytime, if he were not a soldier, was reputed an ill-liver. The Florentine citizens at this time still wore their ancient civil dress of the long gown and hood called lucco. [back]
Note 3. This man was an ardent supporter of the Medici, and in 1510 organized a conspiracy in their favour against the Gonfalonier Soderini. [back]