From The Works of Aretino, Translated into English from the original Italian, with a Critical and Biographical Essay by Samuel Putnam, Illustrations by The Marquis de Bayros in Two Volumes, Volume I., Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1926; pp. 133-146.
THE BETRAYALS OF MEN
Treacherous men, lying men, false men —
The Second Day of the Pleasing Dialogues of Aretino, in which Nanna recounts to Pippa the manner in which men betray the wretched women who trust in them.
THE SACK OF ROME1
The people who, to gain ten ducats, were destroyed.
NANNA: A certain Romanian baron, not a Roman, who had escaped through a hole, like a rat, from the sack of Rome, having taken to ship, was cast up with many of his company on the shores of a certain great city, the mistress of which was a Signora, whose name I am not able to tell you. She went down to see the poor man who had been tossed up on the land and who was drenched, broken, pale as death and disheveled, more like the image of fear than the courts of today are like that of knavery. Treacherous men, lying men, false men — these were the burden of his tale. Her ladyship was intoxicated with the speech and the gallantry of her guest, until it seemed to her that she only lived while listening to his charming conversation. And then they commenced to speak of Popes and of Cardinals. At this, she begged him please to tell her in what manner priestly astuteness had come to fall into the claws of the evil ones. Thereupon the baron, desirous of obeying the commands of his fair suppliant, giving vent to one of those highwayman sighs which come from the liver of a prostitute who sees an empty purse, said: “Since your Highness, Signora, wishes me to remember what makes me hate my memory, I will tell you how the empress of the world became the servant of the Spaniards, and I will also tell you all the wretched sights I saw. But what boor, what German, what Jew could be so cruel as to tell these things to another without bursting into tears?” And then he added: “Signora, 136 it is the hour for sleep, and the stars are already scattering;2 but if it is your will to know our misfortunes, although I am merely renewing my griefs, I shall begin to tell them.” Saying this he began speaking of the people who, to gain ten ducats, were destroyed. Then he spoke of the news which Rome heard, of the German foot-soldiers and the oaths they swore, who had come with flying banners to make her the coda mundi.
“Thereupon everyone said to another: ‘Gather up your things and fly.’ And certainly everyone would have looked upon it as magic if that traitorous band had not come with an ’a pena de le forche.”3 He told how, after this news, the debased people devoted themselves to hiding their money and all things of value. He told of the little groups and circles of men, gathered here and there, speaking of that which caused their fear and talking of what it seemed to them was likely to happen. “In the meanwhile, the wards and boroughs and the paths that joined them began swarming with a file of foot-soldiers; and surely, if valor had been a matter of fine coats, of fine stockings or of gilded swords, the Spaniards and the Germans would have been out of luck.” Then the baron told how a hermit ran crying through the streets. “Do penance, priest; do penance, thieves, and ask mercy of God, for the hour of your punishment is at hand; it is here; it has sounded.”
But their pride had no ears, and by this time the Scribes and the Pharisees were appearing at the cross of Montemari; and when the sun struck their arms, the bestial light made the blackbirds tremble on the wall more than thunderbolts would have done. It had now come to such a point that no one any longer thought of 137 resistance, but was only looking for some place to hide himself. At this point an uproar arose on the Monte di Santo Spirito, and our fine fellows in the piazza put up at first a gallant resistance. The enemy having gained I do no know how many weather vanes brought them to the palazzo with a ‘viva, viva!’ which deafened heaven and earth; and while it appeared that they had won the day, behold, the bars of the Monte, were broken and, having made a slaughtering of many who had no fault of war, the enemy ran on to the Borgo. Then a few of them passed over the ponte and went on to the Banchi, but soon came back; and it was said that the good Castello had not bombarded them for two reasons, one because it would have been a pity to throw away balls and powder; the other because they did not wish to make the enemy angrier than they were; and so they merely waited to let down ropes, lowering the old coach-boys to sacred ground. And then night came, the Ponte Sisto was fortified and from the Trastevere an army swept over Rome. What cries were heard then; gates crashed to the ground, everyone fled, everyone hid himself, everyone wailed. Blood bathed the streets, massacre was everywhere, tortured ones shrieked, prisoners prayed, women tore their hair, old men trembled, the city was topsy-turvy, and he was happy who died at once or who, in his agony found someone to dispatch him. But who can tell all the evils of such a night as that? Friars, monks, chaplains and other rabble, armed or disarmed, hid themselves in the sepulchres, more dead than alive, nor was there a hole or a cave or a well or a bell tower or a wine cellar or a secret place anywhere that was not suddenly filled with all sorts of persons. Respectable men were mocked and, with their clothes torn off their backs, were searched and spit upon. There was no church, no hospital, no house nor any other place that was 138 respected; and even into those places where men do not enter, they entered, and out of spite they chased the women into those places where any woman is excommunicated for going. But the pity was to see the fire in the loggias and in the painted palaces; the pity was to hear husbands, red with the blood which streamed from their wounds, calling for their lost wives in a voice that would have made the solid block of marble in the Coliseum weep.”
The baron told the Signora this which I have told you, and she wanted to weep when she heard of the Pope in the Castello, cursing those who had broken the faith; and she shed such tears that she almost choked and, unable to utter any more words, she remained as one mute.
1 A famous description.
2 Cf. Aeneas and Dido:
Et iam nox umida caelo
Praecipitat, suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.
3 Pain of the gallows, pain of death.
THE THIRTY AND ONE
A fine one, but not for the one that it’s about.
NANNA: And now I’m going to tell you a fine one, but not, as it turned out, for the one that it’s about. There was, on the other side of the Popolo, a certain lady — a female, I rather should say — of goodly size, goodly looks, as sweet as possible; and if ever a whore might be said to be good-natured, it was she. Pleasant and entertaining in her ways, she laughed and jested with all, with that very pleasing grace which was hers from the cradle. This one was invited to a dinner in a vineyard, and those who invited her did not have to urge her much, because she was always ready for a good time, and they seemed to her good fellows enough. They took here there — it was a two hours’ trip — on the crupper of a mule; and arrived at the vineyard, they found a fine dinner awaiting them: young kids, milk-fed calves, beef, partridges, tarts, ragoûts, and every pleasing kind of fruit; but it turned out to be an unfortunate dinner for the too fervent lady.
PIPPA: Did they cut her to pieces?
NANNA: Not to pieces, but in quarters, in the manner that you shall hear. The first stroke of the ave maria had barely sounded when she asked permission of her hosts to go back and sleep with him who kept her. The drunken, foolish and wicked fellows replied to her with cruel jests: “Signora, tonight you are under obligations to us and to our brother-grooms of the stable; you may as well make up your mind to stay here, for there are thirty other young birds coming. 140 For your sake, they shall be called the arch-thirty, since there is between us and them the same difference that there is between Bishops and Archbishops; and if you are not treated according to your deserts, you will have to excuse us and blame it on the place.” And then, one of them began singing:
With the little widow who sleeps alone
I should like to pick a bone.
The poor girl, betrayed by her own kindness and the malice of others, when she heard this, was like one who, on the wooded mountain of Fiascone, just before the dawn of day, strikes his shoulder against the breast of some hanged man. She was so overcome with grief that she was not able to speak a word. In the meanwhile, the big pig dragged her to the trunk of an almond tree and, bending her head down there, drew her clothes above her head and did what seemed best to him, thanking her for the service with two cruel and resounding slaps on the rump. This was a signal for the second one who, treating her in his own good fashion, took a great pleasure in the points of jagged wood which pricked her behind; when she attempted to push him away, he, in completing his pleasure, bent her head down monkey-fashion; and the screams she gave were the signal for the third tilter, but the sport he took was gentle by comparison. It was the very death to her to see a throng of overgrown grooms, under-cooks and hostlers, coming out of the casa of the vineyard with the same uproar which starved dogs make when they are released from the chain and turned loose on a full meal, or the Friars when they see their soup. . . .
PIPPA: I am amazed.
NANNA: When morning came, there were hisses, cries and kicks and more of an uproar than countrymen cause when they catch sight of a fox or a wolf. And then she, 141 beside herself, with the sweetest and most pitiful words that were ever heard, begged them to let her be. With her inflamed eyes, her pulpous cheeks, her rumpled hair, her dry lips and her torn clothes, she was like one of those unfortunate Sisters abandoned by their Babbo and their Mamma in the path of the Germans, when the latter came to Rome.
PIPPA: I have great pity for all such.
NANNA: The end was even worse than the beginning. They sent her home at the hour of the Banchi, on the back of a pack horse, like one of those saddle mares that bear hucksters to the grain market. She never recovered from the shame she had and, feeling that she had lost fortune and reputation, she was no longer herself but died of grief and want.
In which she heard more praise than at the laudamus.
NANNA: A certain Monna Quinimina, an unlikely bit of flesh, to whom Nature had given a little figure and very little face, was breaking her neck to be literary, and this proved her undoing. Like one who knows only enough about gambling to lose, she knew only enough about letters to understand one sent her by some loafer or other. Oh my Lord, where the devil does Cupid keep himself, who snares us all in the dark; and how is it possible that a little dung-dropper like him should be able to draw a bow and wound hearts? Yet he is to blame for those pestilential tumors which come to us women when we believe his beeswax. He makes us believe that we have eyes like the sun, hair of gold, cheeks of cochineal, lips like rubies, teeth like pearls, a serene air, a divine mouth and an angelic tongue; and we women let ourselves be blinded by the letters he sends us, just as that foolish female was I am telling you about. She, to set the crowd to talking about the fact that she knew how to read, would steal every minute she could and plant herself at the window, book in hand. It was here that a certain jackdaw of a rhymester saw her and conceived the idea that it would be good sport to get up some idle contraption to deceive her. And so, taking a piece of paper and dipping it in the juice of red violets, and dipping his pen in fig-milk, he wrote to her how desperate he was over her beauty, which was like that of the angels. He went on to tell her that gold took lustre from her hair and Spring its 143 flowers from her cheeks, making her more than believe that milk got its whiteness from being washed in her bosom and her hands. Now you may imagine whether she was vainglorious or not, hearing herself praised in this fashion.
PIPPA: The silly girl.
NANNA: When she had finished reading this letter, which was to be her undoing, in which she heard more praise than is to be heard at the laudamus, she became a bigger softy than ever; and when urged for a reply, she threw herself into the deceiver’s arms, directing him to come the day after next, for at that time her husband would be going to the country and she would be in waiting.
PIPPA: She had a husband, then?
NANNA: Yes, unfortunately.
PIPPA: Unfortunate for him.
NANNA: Now this fellow had found some sonnet-maker or other, some spoil-paper, some rhyme-stretcher, and had said to him: “I want to serenade a certain little married lady, with whom I expect to have sport very soon, and so that she won’t know the difference, here is my own hand-writing.” He showed the other a few lines written by himself, and after they had laughed over it for a while, they took a lute and, in a jiffy, they had strung together some silly thing which was crude enough. Then, with an “ah, ah” for the benefit of the lady, he took up his place under the window of her bedroom (for she lived in suburb where some one passed only once in a year). Leaning against the wall and striking a pose with his instrument, he turned his face upward and, while she leaned over from above, repeated the following:
For all the gold of all the world,
Lady, I would not tell a lie,
Even in praising you to the sky.
144 By God, I would not say your mouth
Smells like India or the perfumed South,
Or that your hair, when all is told,
Is finer than the finest gold;
Your eyes may be the Inns of Love,
But they are not the Sun above;
Your lips and teeth, I’d hardly say,
Were pearls or rubies by the light of day;
And the charming costumes that you wear
Will never drive me to despair.
You are a pretty little thing,
Though I wouldn’t say a lady;
Your ways are very promising;
They’d lure a Hermit maybe.
In short, you’re not divine, I fear,
Since you don’t pass orange water dear.
PIPPA: I would have thrown the mortar on his head; I would, for a fact.
NANNA: She was not so rude as that, as you would not have been, either. She took it all as very fine and grand and could scarcely wait for her husband to leave the next day before she fled with this fellow to the house of a baker, a friend of he whippersnapper in question. There, she gave him for safekeeping one of those ornaments which women wear around their waists. When the young jackanapes saw it, he at once said to himself: “This bit of ambergris will make a fine bracelet for my arm, while these gold nuggets will fill my purse.” Saying this, he went to the mint and transformed the uncoined into coined metal. Seven and thirty ducats he had for his pater nosters, for that was what the ambergirs brought; and these he at once proceeded to gamble away, returning to the baker’s house in one of those rages which take those who find themselves in the hole on account of an ace. Thereupon, he took that little bunch of petrosello (or parsley, as the wise 145 Sibyls call it) who had tried to be an hepatica and gave her a good beating with his cane; in fact, he almost broke her bones. And then, with a certain precision of fists, he threw her down stairs.
PIPPA: Which served her quite right, I should say.
Here ends the Second Day
Pleasing Dialogues of M. Pietro Aretino.