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


AFTER we had supped, a barge-man appeared, and offered to take us to Venice. I asked if he would let us have the boat to ourselves; he was willing, and so we made our bargain. In the morning we rose early, and mounted our horses for the port, which is a few miles distant from Ferrara. On arriving there, we found Niccolò Benintendi’s brother, with three comrades, waiting for me. They had among them two lances, and I had bought a stout pike in Ferrara. Being very well armed to boot, I was not at all frightened, as Tribolo was, who cried: “God help us! those fellows are waiting here to murder us.” Lamentone turned to me and said: “The best that you can do is to go back to Ferrara, for I see that the affair is likely to be ugly; for Heaven’s sake, Benvenuto, do not risk the fury of these mad beasts.” To which I replied: “Let us go forward, for God helps those who have the right on their side; and you shall see how I will help myself. Is not this boat engaged for us?” “Yes,” said Lamentone. “Then we will stay in it without them, unless my manhood has deserted me.” I put spurs to my horse, and when I was within fifty paces, dismounted and marched boldly forward with my pike. Tribolo stopped behind, all huddled up upon his horse, looking the very image of frost. Lamentone, the courier, meanwhile, was swelling and snorting like the wind. That was his usual habit; but now he did so more than he was wont, being in doubt how this devilish affair would terminate. When I reached the boat, the master presented himself and said that those Florentine gentlemen wanted to embark in it with us, if I was willing. I answered: “The boat is engaged for us and no one else, and it grieves me to the heart that I am not able to have their company.” At these words a brave young man of the Magalotti family spoke out: “Benvenuto, we will make you able to have it.” To which I answered: “If God and my good cause, together with my own strength of body and mind, possess the will and the power, you shall not make me able to have what you say.” So saying I leapt into the boat, and turning my pike’s point against them, added: “I’ll show you with this weapon that I am not able.” Wishing to prove he was in earnest, Magalotti then seized his own and came toward me. I sprang upon the gunwale and hit him such a blow, that, if he had not tumbled backward, I must have pierced his body. His comrades, in lieu of helping him, turned to fly; and when I saw that I could kill him, instead of striking, I said: “Get up, brother; take your arms and go away. I have shown you that I cannot do what I do not want, and what I had the power to do I have not chosen to do.” Then I called for Tribolo, the boatman, and Lamentone to embark; and so we got under way for Venice. When we had gone ten miles on the Po, we sighted those young men, who had got into a skiff and caught us up; and when they were alongside, that idiot Piero Benintendi sang out to me: “Go thy ways this time, Benvenuto; we shall meet in Venice.” “Set out betimes then,” I shouted, “for I am coming, and any man can meet me where he lists.” In due course we arrived at Venice, when I applied to a brother of Cardinal Cornaro, begging him to procure for me the favour of being allowed to carry arms. He advised me to do so without hesitation, saying that the worst risk I ran was that I might lose my sword.