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Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). Autobiography.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.


WHEN I heard these words, I could not hold from bursting into a great roar of laughter; then, having laughed a while, I said: “Thanks be to that God on this first occasion, when it has pleased His Divine Majesty to imprison me, I should not be imprisoned for some folly, as the wont is usually with young men. If what you say were the truth, I run no risk of having to submit to corporal punishment, since the authority of the law was suspended during that season. Indeed, I could excuse myself by saying that, like a faithful servant, I had kept back treasure to that amount for the sacred and Holy Apostolic Church, waiting till I could restore it to a good Pope, or else to those who might require it of me; as, for instance, you might, if this were verily the case.” When I had spoken so far, the furious Governor would not let me conclude my argument, but exclaimed in a burst of rage: “Interpret the affair as you like best, Benvenuto; it is enough for us to have found the property which we had lost; be quick about it, if you do not want us to use other measures than words.” Then they began to rise and leave the chamber; but I stopped them, crying out: “My lords, my examination is not over; bring that to an end, and go then where you choose.” They resumed their seats in a very angry temper, making as though they did not mean to listen to a word I said, and at the same time half relieved, as though they had discovered all they wanted to know. I then began my speech, to this effect: “You are to know, my lords, that it is now some twenty years since I first came to Rome, and I have never been sent to prison here or elsewhere.” On this that catchpole of a Governor called out: “And yet you have killed men enough here!” I replied: “It is you that say it, and not I; but if some one came to kill you, priest as you are, you would defend yourself, and if you killed him, the sanctity of law would hold you justified. Therefore let me continue my defence, if you wish to report the case to the Pope, and to judge me fairly. Once more I tell you that I have been a sojourner in this marvellous city Rome for nigh on twenty years, and here I have exercised my art in matters of vast importance. Knowing that this is the seat of Christ, I entertained the reasonable belief that when some temporal prince sought to inflict on me a mortal injury, I might have recourse to this holy chair and to this Vicar of Christ, in confidence that he would surely uphold my cause. Ah me! whither am I now to go? What prince is there who will protect me from this infamous assassination? Was it not your business, before you took me up, to find out what I had done with those eighty thousand ducats? Was it not your duty to inspect the record of the jewels, which have been carefully inscribed by this Apostolic Camera through the last five hundred years? If you had discovered anything missing on that record, then you ought to have seized all my books together with myself. I tell you for a certainty that the registers, on which are written all the jewels of the Pope and the regalia, must be perfectly in order; you will not find there missing a single article of value which belonged to Pope Clement that has not been minutely noted. The one thing of the kind which occurs to me is this: When that poor man Pope Clement wanted to make terms with those thieves of the Imperial army, who had robbed Rome and insulted the Church, a certain Cesare Iscatinaro, if I rightly remember his name, came to negotiate with him; and having nearly concluded the agreement, the Pope in his extremity, to show the man some mark of favour, let fall a diamond from his finger, which was worth about four thousand crowns, and when Iscatinaro stooped to pick it up, the Pope told him to keep it for his sake. I was present at these transactions: and if the diamond of which I speak be missing, I have told you where it went; but I have the firmest conviction that you will find even this noted upon the register. After this you may blush at your leisure for having done such cruel injustice to a man like me, who has performed so many honourable services for the apostolic chair. I would have you know that, but for me, the morning when the Imperial troops entered the Borgo, they would without let or hindrance have forced their way into the castle. It was I who, unrewarded for this act, betook myself with vigour to the guns which had been abandoned by the cannoneers and soldiers of the ordnance. I put spirit into my comrade Raffaello da Montelupo, the sculptor, who had also left his post and hid himself all frightened in a corner, without stirring foot or finger; I woke his courage up, and he and I alone together slew so many of the enemies that the soldiers took another road. I it was who shot at Iscatinaro when I saw him talking to Pope Clement without the slightest mark of reverence, nay, with the most revolting insolence, like the Lutheran and infidel he was. Pope Clement upon this had the castle searched to find and hang the man who did it. I it was who wounded the Prince of Orange in the head down there below the trenches of the castle. Then, too, how many ornaments of silver, gold, and jewels, how many models and coins, so beautiful and so esteemed, have I not made for Holy Church! Is this then the presumptuous priestly recompense you give a man who has served and loved you with such loyalty, with such mastery of art? Oh, go and report the whole that I have spoken to the Pope; go and tell him that his jewels are all in his possession; that I never received from the Church anything but wounds and stonings at that epoch of the sack; that I never reckoned upon any gain beyond some small remuneration from Pope Paolo, which he had promised me. Now at last I know what to think of his Holiness and you his Ministers.”

While I was delivering this speech, they sat and listened in astonishment. Then exchanging glances one with the other, and making signs of much surprise, they left me. All three went together to report what I had spoken to the Pope. The Pope felt some shame, and gave orders that all the records of the jewels should be diligently searched. When they had ascertained that none were missing, they left me in the castle without saying a word more about it. Signor Pier Luigi felt also that he had acted ill; and to end the affair, they set about to contrive my death.