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


THERE was on guard at the gate of Prato a certain Lombard captain; he was a truculent and stalwart fellow, of incredibly coarse speech, whose presumption matched his utter ignorance. This man began at once to ask me what I was about there. I politely exhibited my drawings, and took infinite pains to make him understand my purpose. The rude brute kept rolling his head, and turning first to one side and then to the other, shifting himself upon his legs, and twirling his enormous moustachios; then he drew his cap down over his eyes and roared out: “Zounds! deuce take it! I can make nothing of this rigmarole.” At last the animal became so tiresome that I said: “Leave it then to me, who do understand it,” and turned my shoulders to go about my business. At this he began to threaten me with his head, and, setting his left hand on the pommel of his sword, tilted the point up, and exclaimed: “Hullo, my master! you want perhaps to make me cross blades with you?” I faced round in great fury, for the man had stirred my blood, and cried out: “It would be less trouble to run you through the body than to build the bastion of this gate.” In an instant we both set hands to our swords, without quite drawing; for a number of honest folk, citizens of Florence, and others of them courtiers, came running up. The greater part of them rated the captain, telling him that he was in the wrong, that I was a man to give him back as good as I got, and that if this came to the Duke’s ears, it would be the worse for him. Accordingly he went off on his own business, and I began with my bastion.

After setting things in order there, I proceeded to the other little gate of Arno, where I found a captain from Cesena, the most polite, well-mannered man I ever knew in that profession. He had the air of a gentle young lady, but at need he could prove himself one of the boldest and bloodiest fighters in the world. This agreeable gentleman observed me so attentively that he made me bashful and self-conscious; and seeing that he wanted to understand what I was doing, I courteously explained my plans. Suffice it to say, that we vied with each other in civilities, which made me do far better with this bastion than with the other.

I had nearly finished the two bastions when an inroad of Piero Strozzi’s people struck such terror into the countryfolk of Prato that they began to leave it in a body, and all their carts, laden with the household goods of each family, came crowding into the city. The number of them was so enormous, cart jostling with cart, and the confusion was so great, that I told the guards to look out lest the same misadventure should happen at this gate as had occurred at the gates of Turin; for if we had once cause to lower the portcullis, it would not be able to perform its functions, but must inevitably stick suspended upon one of the waggons. When that big brute of a captain heard these words, he replied with insults, and I retorted in the same tone. We were on the point of coming to a far worse quarrel than before. However, the folk kept us asunder; and when I had finished my bastions, I touched some score of crowns, which I had not expected, and which were uncommonly welcome. So I returned with a blithe heart to finish my Perseus.