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


WE mounted, and rode rapidly toward Rome; and when we had reached a certain gently rising ground—night had already fallen—looking in the direction of Florence, both with one breath exclaimed in the utmost astonishment: “O God of heaven! what is that great thing one sees there over Florence?” It resembled a huge beam of fire, which sparkled and gave out extraordinary lustre.

I said to Felice: “Assuredly we shall hear to-morrow that something of vast importance has happened in Florence.” As we rode into Rome, the darkness was extreme; and when we came near the Banchi and our own house, my little horse was going in an amble at a furious speed. Now that day they had thrown a heap of plaster and broken tiles in the middle of the road, which neither my horse nor myself perceived. In his fiery pace the beast ran up it; but on coming down upon the other side he turned a complete somersault. He had his head between his legs, and it was only through the power of God himself that I escaped unhurt. The noise we made brought the neighbours out with lights; but I had already jumped to my feet; and so, without remounting, I ran home, laughing to have come unhurt out of an accident enough to break my neck.

On entering the house, I found some friends of mine there, to whom, while we were supping together, I related the adventures of the day’s chase and the diabolical apparition of the fiery beam which we had seen. They exclaimed: “What shall we hear to-morrow which this portent has announced?” I answered: “Some revolution must certainly have occurred in Florence.” So we supped agreeably; and late the next day there came the news to Rome of Duke Alessandro’s death. Upon this many of my acquaintances came to me and said: “You were right in conjecturing that something of great importance had happened at Florence.” Just then Francesco Soderini appeared jogging along upon a wretched mule he had, and laughing all the way like a madman. He said to me: “This is the reverse of that vile tyrant’s medal which your Lorenzino de’ Medici promised you.” Then he added: “You wanted to immortalise the dukes for us; but we mean to have no more dukes;” and thereupon he jeered me, as though I had been the captain of the factions which make dukes. Meanwhile a certain Baccio Bettini, who had an ugly big head like a bushel, came up and began to banter me in the same way about dukes, calling out: “We have dis-duked them, and won’t have any more of them; and you were for making them immortal for us!” with many other tiresome quips of the same kind. I lost my patience at this nonsense, and said to them: “You blockheads! I am a poor goldsmith, who serve whoever pays me; and you are jeering me as though I were a party-leader. However, this shall not make me cast in your teeth the insatiable greediness, idiotcy, and good-for-nothingness of your predecessors. But this one answer I will make to all your silly railleries; that before two or three days at the longest have passed by, you will have another duke, much worse perhaps than he who now has left you.”

The following day Bettini came to my shop and said: “There is no need to spend money in couriers, for you know things before they happen. What spirit tells them to you?” Then he informed me that Cosimo de’ Medici, the son of Signor Giovanni, was made Duke; but that certain conditions had been imposed at his election, which would hold him back from kicking up his heels at his own pleasure. I now had my opportunity for laughing at them, and saying: “Those men of Florence have set a young man upon a mettlesome horse; next they have buckled spurs upon his heels, and put the bridle freely in his hands, and turned him out upon a magnificent field, full of flowers and fruits and all delightful things; next they have bidden him not to cross certain indicated limits: now tell me, you, who there is that can hold him back, whenever he has but the mind to cross them? Laws cannot be imposed on him who is the master of the law.” So they left me alone, and gave me no further annoyance.