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[Permission to use this text has been kindly granted by Dr. Hilary Putnam — with profound thanks]

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; Pascal Covici: Chicago; 1926; Volume II., pp. 43-81.



Letters I-XIX



Dedication of the First Book of Letters1

Since your merits are the stars of the heaven of glory, they have inclined, as it were, the planet of my genius to trace with my style in words the image of the mind, in order that the true face of your virtues, desired by all the world, may be visible in every part. But my powers, advanced as they are by the altitude of the subject, notwithstanding the fact that they are moved by so great an influence, are not able to express the manner in which goodness, clemency and strength, in equal concord, have conceded to you by fatal decree the true name of prince. And so I, who am not able to praise you as I ought, spurred by necessity to do what I can, am sending you here a few letters, by leave of that fame of yours, in the attempt to express which words grow cold and hoarse. And if any reproach me with audacity by saying that the benignity of my idol is diminished in giving audience to such chatterings as these, I am sure that you will still be able to pardon the error committed by my presumption against your nobility. I, who am disenamoured with my condition in the severity of my own judgment, which makes it clear to me that I am like the noise which two countrymen make when they call to each other across the market-place, hasten to dedicate this work to you, hoping that I shall be as the relics of an antique column, which, covered with mud, are yet put up on high out of reverence for the subject. Certainly, vile things become prized when they are placed in temples. And so, this whole book will be preserved, when 44 men read in the front the inscription: “Francesco Maria,” whose generosity climbs the stairs of the heavens to the stupefaction of the peoples, while the greatness of his fortune even in the ascent, in him alone becomes the will and the power to aid others. As it is, neither my inclination upward nor the election which my temerity makes nor the grace of your gentleness is apt to deter me, not even the dram of fear that is in me, from dedicating such a volume as this to you; for your only goddess is the one called “eloquence,” who moves from the nature of your intellect with so much fecundity that the tongue which profits by her, the concepts in which she is embodied and the ears which hear her remain dumfounded with wonder. And so, my writing sought to succeed by passing under the censorship of so great a duke and so great a judge. And yet, I must revere you in your rank and fear you in your judgment. Nor am I alone in this case, but all Italy, because with the one you have enlarged the boundaries of honor, and with the other the confines of genius. Two distinctions has nature placed in the collection of your virtues: leisure and velocity; the former stabilizes the sense, and the latter incites to valor, so that we always know where you are and where, of necessity, you must be. Happy was the gift which Jesus made of you to Mark, his evangelist;2 beautiful also was the present which he with his arms has made to you, and most beautiful of all, the reward of gratitude shown to you for the inviolability of your faith. Truly, you are the subject of the republic of Venice, and she is the object of those qualities with which you assure her against dangers and resolve her doubts. Does not Charles V., our Caesar, in seeing and hearing you, honor the sight of you and prize the sound of your voice? Since in your countenance one perceives fidelity to the truth and in your words the spirit of deeds. Whoever has viewed the superb works of the temple and the theatre, begun by that greatest of Popes, Julius II., to whose eternal memory 45 you are heir, has seen at the same time the ruins of the Orient restored to their original form through the providence of your courageous efforts; and as the church does not give its solemn sanction to such wrongs, so the leaving of these works unperfected is an offense against baptism. As God, to destroy the Amorites, gave to Joshua the privilege of stopping the sun and moon, so ought not the vicar of Christ, since the Turks have been dispersed, receive into his grace Urbino, the fame of Italy, the glory of Italians and the hope of religion? For such divine qualities as these, more than human demonstrations are required. States, ranks and honors in any other are like the head of a lion suspended above the door of a palace, which is looked upon by all as the remains of a terrible wild beast; but the sources and the fine web and woof of the boldness of your counsels are the limits of immortality viewed from the sun over the gates of the universe. And so it is, God and the mind of Your Excellency are outraged when there is any perturbation in that order which they have established by taking from Solimano,3 in the service of Christianity, the mind from the soul, the soul from the body, the body from his arms, his arms from their praises, his praises from his name, his name from memory, and his memory from history’s pages.

From Venice, the 10th of December, 1537.


1  This letter is a splendid example of Aretino’s style at its worst, that style which de Sanctis condemns so severely.

2  Reference is to St. Mark’s, Venice.

3  Referring to the Duke's part in the Turkish wars.



Concerning the captivity in which Charles V. held him.

I do not know, Most Christian Sire, since your loss is an example of another’s gain, who merits the greater praise, the vanquished or the conqueror: for Francis, in the sport which fate has made of him, has freed his mind from the doubt that she could make a prisoner of a king; and Charles, in the gift which has been conceded to him by chance, has become her servant by thinking that the same thing could happen to an 46 emperor. Certainly, you are free by seeing how fragile a thing felicity is and how you should contemn her; and he has been put in servitude by learning how variable she is and how much to be feared; and so, His Majesty is robed in cares, of which Yours has been despoiled. Do not grieve for fortune since, having no more to do, she has done all she can to you, by placing you in the state in which you are; for, by her doing this, the virtues which adorn you have become enfranchised, so resplendent are you in the most moderate temperance and the firmest constancy in the world, and by consenting that such virtues as these should administer to your heart and mind, you have made her turn woman who, by the laments of men, is a goddess. For my own part, I believe that Fortune, perceiving that others lose by winning and you by losing, holds it too cheap to triumph over you, who have triumphed over her, since the necessity which guides you, in the endeavor to cast you down into the abyss, has lifted you up to heaven. All this is evident in the manner in which you support her, as you learn to look upon her and to know that her contrarieties are the lamps of life to him who is not lost so long as he has himself. Look you: victory does not make Caesar happy when it appears, for the reason that its appearance, not having a certain end, is but the shadow of the image of felicity; and not only he, but his stars and those virtues to which he owes so much well-being, are unhappy through having overridden the will of God. Whence, I would propose you as a model to every conqueror, since you cast down with your prudence the one who casts you down by force. The great fact is that Augustus, in whose power you are, has but one life in which to show himself generous to you, while you have so many in which to show yourself magnanimous to him! I speak of clemency, but if it is lacking, he remains subjugated by your wisdom in suffering his lack of clemency, you conquering by patience, which is always victorious; for, among all the virtues, it is the truest and none other can be found more 47 worthy of a man. But when a king like you bedecks himself with it, does it not then become an invention of the gods, not to say of “God”? They merit more praise who know how to suffer misery than those who temper themselves in contentment. A high heart ought to bear calamities and not flee them, since in bearing them appears the grandeur of the mind and in fleeing them the cowardice of the heart. But who ever heard of so great a king, in the sudden fortunes of the day, having to do, by himself alone, the work which his captains, knights and foot-soldiers ought to do? Your title was committed, by your own deliberation, to ensigns and coats of mail, but you kept your dignity when, your sword warm with the enemy’s blood, you made Fortune confess that she was facing one who fought, not one who had others do his fighting for him, affirming thereby that human events are not governed without reason, but by a knotty aggregation of causes which are most secret to us, and predestined, before they occur, by immutable laws. Victories are the ruin of the one who wins and the salvation of the one who loses; for the victors, blinded by the insolence of pride, are out of harmony with God and think only of themselves; while the losers, reilluminated with the modesty of humility, forget themselves and think of God. Who does not know that Fortune favors those who sleep in her lap, by taking them to her bosom? Do not be ashamed, then, of the jar she has given you, since you would be deserving of any evil if you blushed for your fate. Collect your mind, which has been dispersed by your annoyances, leaning with all your mind’s gifts against the pillar of your strength, keeping always awake that vivacious spirit which burns continually in the heart of valor, virtues which inspire no less fear when they are collected than when they are scattered. And may misfortune, whenever you come upon it, be a bridle which will keep you from running away by thinking of or too much considering your lot; and may it leave upon you the impress of temerity, since you shall surely see the time when the sweet 48 remembrance of present things will be useful to you. For no other reason has it pleased Christ that Your Majesty should be judged by your adversary than that you might be a man, even as He was before you. And if you measure the shadow cast by your body, you will find it neither greater nor less than it was before you became the vanquished and he victorious.

From Rome, the 24th of April, 1525.



On the Death of Giovanni delle Bande Nere.

As the hour drew near which the fates, with the consent of God, had prescribed as the end of our lord, His Highness moved, with that terrible fierceness of his, against Governo, around which the enemy had fortified themselves, and attacking them in the neighborhood of some furnaces, alas! a musket ball struck him in the leg which had already been wounded by an arquebus. And no sooner had he felt the blow than fear and depression fell upon the army, and ardor and joy died in the hearts of all. And every one, forgetting his own duty, began to weep, reproaching fate for having senselessly slain so noble and, beyond the memory of any century, so altogether excellent a leader, and this at the very beginning of so many superhuman undertakings and in Italy’s greatest need. The captains who, out of love and veneration, had followed him blamed Fortune and their commander’s own temerity for their loss, speaking, as they lamented him, of his age, which was ripe for enterprise, sufficient in any pinch and capable of overcoming any obstacle. They sighed for the grandeur of his thoughts and the fierceness of his valor. They could not refrain from recalling with what homely comradeship he had shared with them everything, even to his cloak, nor could they keep from mentioning the providential acuteness of his genius nor the astuteness of his mind. With the fiery ardor of their lamentations, 49 they warmed the snows, which lay everywhere as far as the eyes could see. Meanwhile, they had put him on a bed and taken him to Mantua, to the house of the signor Luigi Gonzaga. Here, that very evening, the Duke of Urbino came to visit him, for the duke loved him and adored him to such an extent that he was even afraid to speak in his presence, which was to his credit. And as soon as he saw the duke, he gave signs of being greatly consoled; and the duke, very sincerely, seeing the state he was in, said; “It is not enough for you to be bright and glorious in the trade of arms, if you do not support your name with the observances of the religion under which you were born.” And he, understanding that the other had reference to confession, replied: “As in all things I have always done my duty at need, I will do the same now.” And as the duke left, he began to talk with me, speaking of Lucantonio with extreme affection; and so, I said: “We will send for him.” “Would you have him,” he replied, “leave the war to come see a sick man?” He remembered the Count of San Secondo, remarking: “If only he were here, he would be able to take my place.” Sometimes, he would scratch his head with his fingers; then he would put his fingers to his mouth and say: “what is going to happen?” — answering the question himself: “I’ve never done any wrong.” But I, on the exhortation of the physicians, came to him and told him: “I should be wronging your mind if, with painted words, I endeavored to persuade you that death is the cure for all evils and more feared than to be feared. But since it is the greatest happiness to do everything freely, let them cut away the effects of this horrible gunshot wound, and in eight days you will make Italy queen who is now a slave; and if you are a bit lame, you can take orders from your limp, instead of from the king whose collar you have never been willing to wear about your neck, since wounds and the loss of limbs are the collars and the medals of the familiars of Mars.” “Let it all be done,” he replied. At this, the physicians came in and, extolling the bravery of 50 his decision, finished by evening the things they had to do; and then, having made him take a little medicine, they went to put in order the instruments which they needed. It was now the dinner hour, when vomiting assailed him, and he said to me: “The signs of Caesar! It is time now to think of something else besides life.” And when he had said this, with joined hands, he made a vow to go to the Apostle of Galizia. But, the time having come, the valorous men returned with instruments suited to their task, and said that eight or ten persons could be found to hold him, while the agony of the sawing lasted — “Not twenty men,” he said with a smile, “would be able to hold me.” And recovering possession of himself, with a face as firm as could be, he took the candle in his hands to give light to the doctors. Whereupon, I fled and, stopping my ears, I heard two groans only, and then I heard him calling me. And when I came to him, he said: “I am cured!” and, turning himself this way and that, he made a great rejoicing. And if it had not been that the Duke of Urbino restrained him, he would have made us bring him his foot, with the piece of leg still clinging to it, laughing at us because we were not able to bear the sight of what he had suffered. And his sufferings were worse than those of Alexander or of Trajan, who kept a cheerful face while he pulled out the tiny arrow-head and cut the nerve. The pain, which had left him for a while, two hours before dawn returned upon him with every kind of torment; and hearing him beat upon the wall in a frenzy, I was stabbed to the heart, and dressing in a moment, I ran to him. He, as soon as he saw me, began speaking, saying that the pain he had from thinking about poltroons4 was worse than his wound. And so, he chatted on with me, in the effort, by not giving any heed to his misfortune, to free his spirit, which was already given over to the ambuscade of death. When day dawned, things became so much worse that he made his will, in which he dispensed many thousands of scudi, in money 51 and in goods, among those who had served him, leaving four giuli for his sepulture, and of this, the duke was made executor. He came then to confession, most Christianly, and when he saw the friar, said to him: “Father, since I have followed the profession of arms, I have lived according to the custom of soldiers, even as I should have lived according to religion, if I had put on the habit that you wear; and if it were not forbidden, I would confess myself in the presence of everybody, for I have not done anything unworthy of myself.” The evening passed, when the marquis, moved by his own innate benignity and my prayers, came to him, kissed him tenderly on the head and spoke words which I never would have believed any prince, except Francesco Maria, could utter. And with these proper sayings, His Excellency concluded: “Since your fierce nature has never deigned to make use of anything that belonged to me, ask me one favor that is suited to your quality and to mine.” “Love me when I am dead,” he replied. “The virtues by which you have acquired so much glory,” said the Marquis, “will make you not loved, but adored by me and others.” At the end, he turned to me and asked me to have madonna Maria bring Cosimo.5 At this, death, which was already summoning him below, renewed his agonies. And now, the whole household, without observing longer the modesty of respect, surged about him, the servants mingling with their betters about the bed and, overshadowed by a great depression, weeping for the bread, the hopes and the service which they were losing with their master, each striving to catch the dying man’s eyes with his own, in order to show the depth of his affliction. In such surroundings as these, he took the hand of His Excellency, saying: “You are losing today the greatest friend and best servant that you ever had.” And His Most Illustrious Highness, putting on a false tongue and face, on which he had feigned the semblance of joy, tried to make him believe that he would be cured; and he, 52 whom the thought of death did not frighten, although he was sure he was going to die, began to speak of the successful conduct of the war: things which would have been stupendous, had we felt that he was now alive, and not half-dead already. And so, he continued fighting till the ninth hour of the night, which was the vigil of St. Andrew. And because his torments had become so unbearable, he begged me to put him to sleep by reading to him; and as I did so, he seemed to go from sleep to sleep. Finally, having slept, it may have been, a quarter of an hour, he awoke and said: “I thought I was making my will, and here I am cured and did not know it. If I keep on getting better like this, I’ll show the Germans how to fight and how I revenge myself.” When he had said this, the light failed, and he yielded to the perpetual darkness. Then, having himself asked for extreme unction, he received the sacrament by saying: “I don’t want to die among all these bandages.” And so, they brought a camp bed and placed him on it, and while his mind slept, he was taken by death.6

Such was the end of the great Giovanni de’ Medici, who was gifted from his cradle with as much generosity as ever was. The vigor of his mind was incredible. Liberality in him was a greater force than power, and he gave more to his soldiers than he left for himself, a soldier also. He always endured labor with the grace of patience, and anger never dominated him for long; he had transformed his actions before he was through speaking. He prized brave men more than riches, which he only desired as a reward for his followers. He was difficult to know, by one who did not know him, either in the skirmish or the camp. When he fought, he always appeared in the character of a private in the ranks, and in times of peace, he made no difference between himself and others; the cheapness of the clothes with which he disordered his person was a testimony of the love he bore the army, only decorating his legs, arms and chest with the 53 insignia that he bore on his shoulders. He was very eager for praise and glory and, while pretending to despise it, longed for it. But the thing which, above all, won the hearts of his men was his habit of saying: “Follow me, don’t precede me.” There is no doubt that his virtues were a part of his nature and his vices the faults of youth. And would to God we could see his like today! and that every one might have known the goodness of the man as I knew it. He excelled, in affability, the most affable. His aim was fame and not profit; and his possessions, sold to his son in order to supply him with means to pay his men, are a sign that my boasts of him are due to his merits and not to my own adulations. He was always the first to mount his horse and the last to dismount, and in fighting, he rejoiced in the ardor of his own audacity. He proposed and executed plans, and in council, he did not put on a high and lofty air, as though to say: “Enterprises are governed by reputations.” But he always saw to it that the plans of those who had made a trade of the sword were followed. He was so expert in the art of war that, at night, he would place the escorts back upon the right road when they had lost their way. He was marvelous in preserving peace among his soldiers, overcoming everything with love, with fear, with punishment or with rewards. Never was there a man who knew better how to employ cunning and force in an assault on the enemy; nor did he arm his heart with a false bravery, but rather thundered with a natural ardor against the fear-stricken. Idleness was his capital enemy. No one before him employed Turkish horses. He introduced a comfortable attire into military fashions. He delighted in an abundance of good food, but not for himself; he satisfied his own thirst with a little water, tinged with wine. In short, every one might envy him; no one could imitate him. And Florence and Rome (would to God I were lying!) upon hearing all this will hold that it is none of their affair. I can hear already the growls of 54 the Pope, who will believe that he is better off in having lost such a man.

From Mantua, the 10th of December, 1526.


4  This is the passage which De Sanctis misinterprets.

5  Giovanni’s son.

6  e . . . mentre il suo animo dormiva, fu occupato da la morte.



Consoling Her for the Death of Giovanni delle Bande Nere, Her Husband.

I have no desire, Signora, to contend with you in your grief. Not that I might not be successful, for I mourned the death of your husband more than any person living; but my efforts in overcoming your sorrow would be lost, for you are his wife, and all griefs in want of comfort are added to yours. And it is not to be assumed, therefore, that my passion does not precede yours, since having accustomed himself here to do without caresses, he had grown hard toward love, which was so much more tender in me that not an hour, not a moment, not an instant could I stand its absence, and his affection for me is better known than that which he bore you. And I must be believed, since I have always seen and you always have merely heard; and others take more pleasure in the virtue of their own eyes than they do in the reports of fame. And, in the event that I yield my passion to your suffering, it is because it gives so much pre-eminence to the valor and the wisdom I know are yours, realizing that there is more capacity for things in you, a woman, than in me, a man; and yet, even so, grief is greater on the side where more, not less, is known. But give me, if you will, the second place in your affliction, which is so supreme in my own heart that there is no room for any greater grief. And though he was dead, I have viewed the exhalations of his illustrious spirit, both in the formation of the face, which Giulio di Rafaello made, and in the act of closing him in his sepulchre, which I did with my own hands. But the comfort which the eternity of his memory has given me has sustained me in life. The public voice, proclaiming his virtues, which 55 were the joys and the ornaments of your own widowhood, has dried my tears. The stories of his deeds do not bring me depression, but made me glad. And I feed on such remarks from great persons as: “He is dead and with him the work of nature. He is gone, the exemplar of the ancient faith. He has departed, the true and mighty arm of battle.” And of a very certainty, there was never any other who so raised the hopes of the Italian arms. What finer tribute could one have who has been taken out of this world than that which was paid to him by King Francis, who many times was heard to say: “If Signor Giovanni had not been wounded, fortune would not have made me a prisoner.” Behold, he is scarcely underground before the pride-filled barbarians, rising up to heaven, strike fear into the hearts of the most courageous; and already fear rules Clement, who has learned to approve the death of him who, while alive, was his able supporter. But the wrath of God, whose will it is to proceed over the failings of others, has taken him away. His Majesty has taken him to Himself in order to chastise the errant ones. And so, we consent to the divine will, without our hearts being stabbed any more, giving ear to the harmony of his praise. It restrains our heart in the delight which it takes in his honors; and speaking of his victories, we bring him light with the rays of his own glory, which has gone on before his bier, even while the funeral pomps were pausing in astonishment at the splendid sight, among the famous captains, of him whom they had brought to bury, on their own honored shoulders. And the marchese, with all the nobility of the house of Gonzaga and of his court, with a crowd of people behind and a throng of women, their interest turned to amazement, at the windows above, went to pay reverence to the body of him who was your spouse and my lord, affirming that he had never beheld the obsequies of a greater warrior. Let your mind repose in the lap of his memory, and send Cosimo to His Excellency, who has commanded me to write to you, on account of that 56 desire to follow in the steps of his father which the latter has bequeathed to his young son. And if I did not believe that God would render to you with twofold interest the dignities which have been stolen from my idol by death and an invidious destiny, I should throw myself into the arms of despair. But let us live, for so it shall be, because it cannot be otherwise.

From Mantua, the 10th of December, 1526.



In Which He Exhorts Him to Liberate Pope Clement VII.

It is quite true that felicity grows with a greater vehemence than that with which it is born; and this is to be seen in the person of Your Majesty, under whose judgment fortune and your own virtue have placed the liberty of the pontiff, even before the door has scarcely closed on the prison from which you lately drew the king, to overcome him with your pity as you had conquered him with your arms. Truly, every one confesses that there is in you something of God, whose goodness causes you to exercise that clemency of yours; for no other would have been able to endure such a trade, and only you have a mind capable of taking in the grandeur of those compassions which are the scourges of the humiliated pride of the perverse, who are punished by your kindness. What mind, what heart, what intellect, except your mind, your heart, your intellect would have conceived the desire to free an enemy? Who except you would have rested his fate in the promises, the instability and the nobility of a vanquished prince, since it is characteristic of those who have lost to give over soul and body, as well as their treasuries and their peoples to revenge? You have had ample opportunity to view the world in the light in which it must appear to the breast of a Caesar; you have known the generosity of mercy and the security that lies in valor. You have understood that in the former lies hope and 57 in the latter cause to fear, and that it is given to us to flee neither the one nor the other. Beyond this, who ever heard of any man, save Charles, who, in the summit of victory, thought of God and of his own better nature? How you have thought of God is shown by the grace which, in this matter, you have rendered Him; and how you have thought of yourself is shown in the fact that you look upon yourself as a mere mortal. What lamps shall be burned in front of the image of the name of so much self-knowledge! Since to know God in felicity is to stabilize one’s self in perpetual beatitude; and he who knows himself in the prosperity of his desires, makes himself, thereby, known to God, and who is known of God takes on some of His qualities. And so, put into operation the benignity of that clemency of which I have spoken, without which fame is plucked and glory extinguished. And since this is the triumphal crown for the one who has triumphed, the reasons which lead him to grant pardon are of greater dignity than the virtues to which he owes his conquest, and that victory may be said to have been lost which is not accompanied by such clemency. But if this clemency, the shadow of the arm of God, rains down into your heart, who can doubt that the pastor of the church shall be freed from the position into which he has been placed — placed there, not because he has abrogated to himself the license of war, but, rather, by the will of heaven, which has breathed over the head of the court a wind of adversity, in which all Rome has suffered? But since the justice of your mercy does not exact payment in cruelty, may it please you that the ruin go no further. In your judgment rests piety and the welfare of the Pope; release him, and let him go free, yielding, to that favor which has been conceded by Christ to your victories, His vicar, being loath to consent that the joy of victory should interfere with the offices of your own divine custom. This being the case, most certainly, among all the crowns which you have acquired, and which God and the fates owe you for the remainder of your illustrious life, 58 none other will be seen more worthy of admiration. But who would not place his hope in the best, the religious and courteous Majesty of Charles V., who is always are own august Caesar?

From Venice, the 20th of May, 1527.



In Which He Exhorts Him to Pardon The Emperor Charles V.

While fortune, my lord, does, indeed, rule the affairs of men in a manner which no foresight on their part can resist; nevertheless, where God has placed His hand, His jurisdiction must prevail. For which reason, one who has fallen, as has Your Holiness, into her bad graces should turn to Jesus with his prayers, and not to Fate with his laments. It was a necessity that the vicar of Christ, by suffering the miseries of chance, should pay the debts due for the short-comings of others; nor would that justice with which heaven corrects our errors be clear to all the world, if your prison were not a witness. So console yourself in your anxieties, since it is His will that has placed you in the judgment of Caesar, a situation in which you may experience, at once, divine mercy and human clemency. But if it is an honor for a prince, who has been always brave, always cautious and always provident against the insults of fate — if it is an honor for him, after he has known those insults, to bear in peace whatever misfortune the malignity of destiny would have him bear, how great shall be your glory if, cinctured with patience, after having come to the end of your industry, your strength and your prudence, you choose to suffer all that the will of God may place before you? Collect that supreme mind of yours and, examining each virtue that is in you, tell me if it is worthy of you not to hope to surmount more stairs than those you have already climbed. Nor is there any doubt that God will sustain the religion of His church, or that, sustaining it, he will fail to guide you; and with His guidance, 59 your downfall lies merely in the appearance, not in the fact. It is, however, in fact and not in appearance that your pontifical mind must act, by thinking of pardon rather than of vengeance; for by resolving to pardon and not to take revenge you prepare for yourself an end befitting your own high dignity and the office that you hold. What work is better fitted to enlarge the limits of the name of “most holy?” and that of “most blessed” than the one of overcoming hatred with piety and perfidy with liberality? The wheel sharpens steel and renders it apt to cut the hardness of things: and in the same manner do adversities serve as a whet to generous minds, by teaching them to make sport of fortune, which, on the other hand, is to be vituperated, if you do not place to her account the grandeur of the accident which has deprived you of your liberty. It cannot be denied that you have been assailed with every species of cruel occurrence, and your misfortunes have brought perversity to the fatherland, timidity to our arms, ingratitude to those who have profited by your benevolence, a wavering to the faith and envy to potentates. But if God had had nothing to do with it, your own prudence would yet teach men how to serve, as well as how to rule. Yield, then, all things to Him who can do all things, and when you fall into mischance, thank Him for it; and since the emperor is the firmament of that faith of which you are the father, God has given you into his power in order that you might graft the papal will to that of Caesar, to the end that the great accretion of your honors may be resplendent in all parts of he universe. The good Charles, I assure you, is all kindness and will soon restore you to your primal state; I can see him even now on his knees before you with that humility which is due to him who holds the place of Christ, and due also to his own rank of Caesar. In His Majesty, there is no pride. Give yourself, then, to the arms of that power which has been conceded from above: and drawing once more the Catholic sword against the proud bosom of the Orient, transform the 60 latter into the object of your disdain. Thus out of this sorry pass to which the licentious sins of the clergy have brought you, shall issue, with praise and glory, the reward of that patience in suffering which has been displayed by Your Holiness, whose feet I most devotedly kiss.

From Venice, the last day of May, 1527.



In Which The Author Thanks Him for a Gift of Wine.7

I do not wish to speak, dear brother, of the sixty scudi which you have sent me on the account of the horse. I shall merely remark that, if I had the name of a saint, instead of that of a demon, or if I were the friend of the Pope in place of being his enemy, folks surely would say, on seeing the crowd about my door, either that I was working miracles or that it must be the day of jubilee. And all this comes from the fine gift of wine you sent me. I do not believe there are such servants anywhere as mine. As soon as it is daylight, they begin to fill the flasks of the retainers to all the ambassadors there are — save his grace, the ambassador of France, to give him all the credit that his king deserves. And I, for my part, do not put on airs, as those bald-headed courtiers do, when their lord claps them on the back or gives them some of his cast-off things. Though I have reason enough to play the great man, seeing that every good companion in town gets up a thirst to come and swill down two or three beakers with me. Now when I eat, sit or walk is there any other conversation except about what perfect wine I have; so you see, I am better known on my own account than I am on yours, and it would be a disgrace, indeed, if anything happened to interrupt such solemn-fine drinking. The finest thing about it, it seems to me, is the fact that it ends up in the mouths of the wenches and tavern lads, who love its kissing, biting taste. And the tears that come to one’s eyes 61 when he drinks it make me weep even now, as I write this. It makes me forget all the other wines you’ve sent me. And I am only sorry your brother, Benedetto, sent me those two coifs of gold and turquoise silk, since I should like to exchange them for more wine like this. If it were not that I fear Bacchus and Apollo do not get on well together, I should dedicate an opus to the cask in which it stood, which calls for other devotions than those paid to the blessed Lena of the oil. There is nothing more for me to say, except that, in despite of immortality, I shall become divine, if only once a year I get such a taste of the grape as this.

From Venice, the 11th of November, 1520.


7  Here, we have the other note. Aretino is himself.



In Which He Accepts a Collar and Refuses the Title of Cavaliere.

The collar which you sent me is the most pleasing and lovely one that was ever seen. It is so lovely, indeed, that I either must not wear it or, if I do wear it, I must conceal both from whom it comes and who the wearer is. I certainly shall never part with it, both because it comes from one whom I respect and love above all other men, and because of its own novel charm. In short, I accept the chain, but not your proposal to make me a cavaliere through an imperial privilegio; for, as I have said in my Marescalco, a cavaliere without entree is a wall without crosses, that everybody wets against. Leave such dignities to those citizens who swell up over them, and who, at every opportunity, put in with “we cavalier.” As for myself, I am content with what I am, since to my honors are added the ability to support myself. But let us speak of something else. The valorous joy that came to me with your chain I shall keep as long as I am able. And as to my keeping it invisible, the remedy for that lies in the additional favor which you are in a position to render me 62 in my needs, which I would remind you to remember to the Pope.

From Venice, the 17th of September, 1530.



In Which He Thanks His Highness for Having Reconciled Him with the Pope.

I, sublime prince, have two obligations toward Christ, according to the station in which God preserves me. One is to adjust myself, whatever He my do, to His will; the other is to show my gratitude to you for my present condition; for it is through you, I confess, that my honor and my life have been saved. The credence which I always had given to the reports of this land, and to the fame of its worthy Doge, has now tasted the fruits of its own just hope. And so, I ought to celebrate the city and revere you: the former for having taken me in; you for having defended me against the persecutions of others, leading me back into the grace of Clement by appeasing the wrath of His Holiness, to the satisfaction of my own reason, which is very good and which, in the failure of the papal promises, observes that silence which Your Serene Highness has imposed on me. Here may be seen the difference between the faith of a virtuous man and that of a great man. But I who, in the liberty of many states, have contrived to remain a free man, fleeing courts forever, have set up here a perpetual tabernacle against the years which are advancing upon me; because here, treason has no place; here, favor does no wrong to right; here, the cruelty of the meretricious does not reign; here, the insolence of ganymedes gives no commands; here, there is no robbery; here, there is no coercion; and here, there is no murder. And for this reason I, who have made kings tremble and who have assured them of prosperity, give myself to you, the fathers of your people, the brothers of your servants, the little sons of truth, the friends of virtue, the companions of strangers, the 63 supports of religion, the observers of the faith, the executors of justice, the heirs of charity and the subjects of clemency. For the same reason, illustrious prince, receive my affection into a hem of your piety, so that I may go on praising the nurse of cities and the mother elect of God. Make her the most famous of any in the world, by moderating her customs, by giving humanity to me, by humiliating the proud and by pardoning the erring. Such an exercise is, indeed, your proper task, as is the giving of a beginning to peace and an end to wars. It is for this reason that the angels guide their celestial balls, strengthening their hearts and rolling their splendors over the field of the air above, exceeding, under the ordering of their own laws, that span of life which has been prescribed by nature. O universal fatherland! O communal liberty! O inn of all the dispersed peoples! How great would be the woes of Italy if your bounty were any the less! Here, there is refuge for the nations; here, there is security for richness; and here, there is safety for honors. She receives you with open arms; others shun you. She rules you; others abase you. She pastures you; others starve you. She takes you in; others hunt you down. And while she regales you in your tribulations, she preserves you in charity and in love. And so, I rightly bow to her, and through her offer my prayers to God, whose Majesty by means of altars and sacrifices has willed that Venice should be the rival of eternity in this world, that world which is astonished at Nature’s having, miraculously, set her down in so impossible a place; the heavens are richer with her gifts, and she shines there, in her nobility, in her magnificence, in her dominion, in her edifices, in her temples, in her pious houses, in her counsels, in her fame and in her glory, more than any other ever did. She is Rome’s reproach, since here there are no minds which could or would tyrannize over liberty and make a slave of the minds of their people. Wherefore, I, with the greatest of reverence, salute and respect your Most Sincere and Serene Highness, who has been placed 64 in the seat of public power, as I would not salute or respect any king or emperor of ancient times. And no less do I wish that your generous life may, with the privilege of God, enter into eternity long after mine. For there is no other payment I can render for the benefits with which you have sustained me; and so, may your Sublimity be paid in the prophecy, by means of which I have endeavored to lengthen your days, which shall, surely, be very long, because Your Highness knows how to employ them.

From Venice (1530).



In Which He Repents of Having Written Against His Holiness.

The cruelty of stubborness is not conformable to either Your Holiness’ rank or temper; for you have shown yourself more facile in results than in intercessions. Monsignor Girolamo da Vicenza, bishop of Vasone, your major-domo, here in the house of the queen of Cyprus, the sister of Cornaro, has placed in my hands your brief. And since it was given to him with certain commandments, he has told me all that you told him to tell me: how even the event of a quartermaster of Rhodes becoming Pope and the Pope a prisoner did not so amaze you as the fact that I had lacerated your name in my writings, especially since I knew why it was you did not punish those others for their attempted assassination of me.7 Holy Father, in all things, my heart has always been in agreement with my tongue; but in touching your honor, its fidelity always has protested that there was no blame in its reproof of you. But if those who have gained the heights of greatness by your aid have outraged you with their deeds, is it any marvel if I have injured you with my idle words? I feel repentance and shame for two things. I repent the fact that I have blamed that Pope whose glory 65 I always held dearer than my life; and I am ashamed that, if I had to blame you, it should have happened in the heat of your misfortunes. But that fate which locked you in the Castello would not have been the worst, if it had not made you my enemy once more. As it is, I thank God who has taken from your mind the harshness of contempt and from my pen the sweetness of revenge. For the future, I shall be the good servant I was when my virtue, feeding on your praise, armed itself against Rome in the vacancy of the seat of Leo,8 and my conduct shall be such that the Most Serene Gritti, whose modesty has interposed between your patience and my fury, shall have cause to reward, rather than to punish me. In the meanwhile, with the very best wishes, I kiss Your Holiness’ sacred feet with the same tenderness of heart with which I have kissed them in the past.

From Venice, the 20th of September, 1530.


8  Hutton, pp. 73 ff.

9  See Hutton, Chapter III.



Thanking Him for a Gift of Thrushes.

Dining, signor, the other day with some friends on a mess of hares that had been torn by dogs, and which the Captain Giovan Tiepoli had sent me, I was so pleased that I decided “Gloria prima lepus” was a saying worthy of being posted up in the hypocrites’ choir on feast days, in place of the “Silentium” which a garrulous friar tacks up over the monks’ quarters. And while their praises were going “caeli caelorum,” one of your lackeys came along and brought me your thrushes; and as I tasted them, I found myself humming the “Inter aves turdus.” They were so good, indeed, that our master Titian, upon seeing them on a platter and getting a whiff of them with his nostrils, gave one look at the snow which, while the table was being laid, was falling outside and decided to disappoint a group of gentlemen who were giving him a dinner party. And they all gave great praise to the 66 bird with the long beak which, boiled with a bit of dried beef, two leaves of laurel and a pinch of pepper, we ate from love of you and because we liked it. We liked it as well as Fra Mariano, Moro dei Nobili, Proto da Luca, Brandino and the Bishop of Troy liked the ortalans, fig-peckers, pheasants, peacocks and lampreys with which they filled their stomachs, with the consent of their cooks’ souls and that of the mad and knavish stars which had given them such big bellies — bellies that were gourmands’ treasuries and paradises of fine viands; which was the idea of high life that such asses had. But woe to the fine art of poltroonery, if all of us had been born sage and sober! For doctrine, sobriety, and wisdom are a cloak in the wind of princes. Happy is he who is a bit mad, and who, in his madness, pleases himself and others! Certainly, Leo had a nature that ran from extreme to extreme, and it would not be for every one to judge which delighted him most, gifts or the chatter of his buffoons; and this is proved by the fact that he gave as much heed to one as the other, exalting one as well as the other. And when he would say to me: “Whose servant would you rather have been” (you know that I was his servant) “Virgil’s or the poet-laureate’s?” I would reply: “The laureate’s, master; for he, drinking by himself in the Castello in July, had more good hot toddies9 than Sire Maro could have gotten if he had written two thousand fawning Aeneids and a million Georgics. For there is no doubt that the great masters love strong-drinkers better than good-versifiers. I commend myself to Your Lordship.

From Venice, the 10th of October, 1532.


10  il vin temperato con l’ acqua calda..



In Which He Thanks Him for the Gift of a Chain of Gold.11

SIRE, your gift is so in keeping with the most Christian Francis, and so of the very essence of liberality, that, as to 67 earthly things, you wold almost rival God in my thanks, if I thanked you with haste; for true courtesy walks with its own feet, while a limping pretence goes with those of ambition. Men who are tossed on the sea or struck down on land are accustomed to turn to Christ, and when his goodness, in response to their zealously ardent hearts and faithful feet, suddenly frees them from peril, they are wont to hang up their votive offerings in his temples. And so, the virtuous, devoured by their necessities, turn to you, and Your Highness thus becomes the second God of the peoples. But gifts are so slow in coming to those who receive them that they are like placing food before a man who has gone without eating for three days; when he goes to break his fast, he finds that he cannot touch what is set before him, and so either dies or is in danger of it. Behold, it is three years now since you promised me a five-pound gold chain, and I could not have been more doubtful of the coming of the Messiah of the Jews, when along it came, with its vermilion-tinted tongues and with the inscription:


By God! if a lie does not sit better in my mouth than the truth in the mouth of a cleric. I suppose, if I were to tell you that you are to your people what God is to the world, and that you are a father to your little sons, I should be telling a lie? If I told you that you have all the rare virtues, bravery and justice and clemency and gravity and magnanimity and a knowledge of things, I should be a liar? If I told you that you know how to rule yourself to the amazement of all, should I not be speaking the truth? If I told you that your subjects feel your power more in the benefits they receive than in the injuries they suffer, should I be speaking evil? If I cry out that you are the father of virtue, the brother of your servants, the little son of religion, the companion of the faith and the support of charity, shall I not be speaking 68 well? If I proclaim that the great merit of your valor moves others in their love to make you the heir of the kingdom, shall you oppose me? It is true, that if I cared to brag of this present of the collar as a present, I should be lying, because that cannot be called a “gift” which, devoured by hope in the expectation, is no sooner seen than sold. And so, if I did not know that your kindness is without measure and innocent in intent, if I were not resolved to believe that I have always enjoyed it, I should tear out all these linked tongues and make them ring so that the ministers of the royal treasuries would hear them for days to come, in order that they might learn to send in haste what their king gives quickly.13 But as I know there is no deceit in your loyalty, I ought not to be contemptuous in my own virtue, which shall always be the humble prattle of the ineffable benignity of Your Majesty, in whose grace Christ keep me.

From Venice, the 10th of November, 1533.


11  The famous one. See Introduction.

12  See my note on the De Sanctis passage regarding this inscription.

13  Aretino was under the impression that Francis’ agents had held up the gift.



He Wishes to Go to Constantinople.

Since I am under obligations, my lord, to the courtesy of the king of France and to that of the Cardinal Ippolito, who have relieved me somewhat of the necessities I experience, on account of the envy with which my enemies have conquered the kindness of His Holiness — since I am under such obligations as these, I should not think of going to Constantinople, whither the liberality of Gritti14 draws me and my own poverty drags me, if it were not that you already have done what you could in my behalf, as I have asked you, with His Majesty; but since he disdains to do anything for me in that direction, I shall go on serving you with the same heart with which a just man serves his God. And so, Aretino, 69 a veracious man, except in the reproofs which reasons all too bitter have caused him to make our lord,15 an old man and a wretched one, must needs go to seek his bread in Turkey, leaving to the happy Christians the pimps, flatterers and hermaphrodites, tools of princes, who, closing their eyes to the example which your own royal nature gives them, live only by begging the goods which you scatter with so lavish a hand, at all times and in all places. With your permission, then, I, who have redeemed the truth with my own blood, will go there and, while others show the ranks, entree and favors they have acquired through their vices at the court of Rome, I will show the wounds which I have received for my virtues, the sight of which, though it never has moved these lords to pity, will move those savages to compassion. And Christ, who to some great end has saved me so many times from death, shall be with me always, because I have held to his truth; and moreover, I am not Pietro, but a miraculous monster among men.16 In this faith, I alone wear my heart on my forehead,17 where all the world may see the respect I bear you. I know that, by leaving, I am wronging your own greatness of heart, despairing of that grace of yours with which you console the afflicted. But the reason lies in the fear which the years bring to me, and the suspicion that I have the ill will of some who, being unable to forgive me for the wounds they have made me suffer, may, it is possible, cause your warm will towards me to grow cold. Besides, I plan to go on preaching in the Orient, as I have preached here, until the peoples that do not know reverence shall revere you. In divorcing myself from Italy, perhaps forever, I do not lament the reasons which have led to my exile, but, rather, the fact that I have been able to leave behind me no testimonial of the love I bear you, as I do leave behind me the hatred I 70 bear to others; although I am comforted by the hope that I shall be able, in my new lot, to supply the old lack of fortune. May God consent, before I die, that I may be able to repay that courtesy of yours which has come voluntarily to aid me in my needs. I speak with a sincere soul, stripped of all fraud and adulation — which only make me miserable, so great is my abhorrence for them, though others are happy in practicing them.

From Venice, the 19th of December, 1533.


14  The natural son of Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was his father’s representative at Constantinople, and who wrote urging Pietro to come to him that he might enjoy “that charming conversation of yours.” See Introduction.

15  The Pope.

16  per esser io non pur Pietro, ma un miraculoso mostro degli uomini..

17  Cf. Cicero’s Catalinarian: Sit inscriptum in fronte unius cuiusque quid le republica sentiat.



In Which He Speaks of the Avarice of Clement VII. and of the Liberality of Francis I.

It was with great consolation that I received Your Lordship’s two letters, and they were all the more gratifying because unexpected; for when one begins mingling with prelates, he becomes like them, and it is all the greater miracle to find that Vergerio is the same Vergerio I used to know, and to perceive that he has not become, as I should have done, the apprentice18 and good fellow of the priests. On the contrary, I discover the same gentle and lovable Pietro Paolo that you have always been, with me and with all; and so, I am glad, rather than sorry, for the transformation from the first profession to the second, since if self-preservation were the essence of good, I should have said you were better off at the Venetian than at the Roman court. But if you persevere, as I see you are doing, in the ways of a righteous man, I judge your choice most wise, for, of a truth, you are playing time against a larger hope. But to return to your letters, in which you speak to me of the worthy merits of the best king of the Romans, I may say that I have already been informed of them by my friend, the Duke d’ Atri. His Excellency has given me a long story of 71 His Highness’ kindness, his religion and his liberality, and how he brings to the office of prince more kindness, more religion and more faith than are to be found anywhere else in the world. And it is by just such a path as this that King Francis ascends, without whose courtesy every species of virtue would be a species of divine progeny abandoned by heaven. Lest it may appear that I am praising His Majesty for his gift of a collar, I would have you see what he has done for the divine Luigi Alamanni, for Giulio Camillo, for my friend, Alberto, and for so many other fine spirits. He entertains painters, rewards sculptors and contents musicians. And in case your lordship should ever go to Nizza for an interview, you will see there the strangest miracle that was ever heard of. As Gaurico, a prophet after the fact, speaking of my chain of tongues, says: the liberality of Francis is such that if only the pontiff could see it, it would convert even his innate misery and incomprehensible avarice into prodigality. Oh! would not that be a greater miracle than any Gilberto ever wrought? By God, if his immense and royal courtesy could only turn Clement into a Leo! O God, what a fine life it would be, if the Holy Father, like a chameleon, were to put on the colors of a truly Christian mind! But have I nothing to say to you? The herd of Pasquins is afraid that the king, by dealing with the Pope, may transform himself into one, from which God save us! And, while I have succeeded in getting out of him this fantasy, he was more stubborn about it than is the Cardinal de’ Medici in giving to the well-deserving all that he has, all that he hopes to have or ever had; and all these follies, I may tell you, he commits in order that he may be imitated by other princes. But I hope to Christ he does not thereby acquire for himself an envy that will rob him of his life and rob the virtuous of their support.

From Venice, the 20th of January, 1534.


18  We have here almost our modern slang phrase, “be the goat”: che io sia alievo dei preti. Alievo is also a foal or a calf.




He Would Not Serve in the Papal Court.

I, Elegant Spirit, wondered more, when I read a letter of Bernardi’s about my coming to take service in the papal court, than the good folks would have wondered, if Farnese had not risen to that rank which the deceits of simony and of men had forbidden him for so many years. And I may tell your Most Celebrated Lordship that, being prey to a most malignant fever and being wholly occupied in my bed, I was shown an article in which Monsignor Giovanbattista exhorted me to proclaim the merits of His Holiness, who had been made pontiff by divine will and not by human favor. At that time, quite appropriately, they brought me my Salmi from the press; whereupon I, to show that I had not need to be exhorted to praise so just an old man, directed Ricchi to send you one of these books. Then, moved by I do not know what impulse, I commissioned him to ask you, in my name, to obtain from his Holiness a letter of friendship, and I told him twice to make clear to you that I was not seeking this in order to come out scot-free, nor because I wished to come to Rome nor for any reason at all, except to have the means of enjoying a little pleasure once a month. And as it seemed to me that what I asked should not be denied to the Rector Arlotto, I waited. As to the fact that Messer Agostino, who has gone to Lucca, had published a work in his usual manner, I was in no wise to blame. From this error, I have drawn both pleasure and displeasure. It pleased me because it brought me a letter from you, dearer to me than those of kings; and it displeased me because I knew you had been pained not by the thought of how you were going to satisfy the desire you thought was mine, but by the reflection that you had not yet been able to accomplish it. And for all of this, I thank you, with my heart and with my soul. I am writing to His Excellency, the Signor Pier Luigi. God knows, I have always been his servant, and 73 when the devil takes me and makes a servant out of a free man, I would sooner serve him than the Father, because I am used to camps; from soldiers I have had honors and money, and from priests insults and robberies. And I would sooner be confined in a prison for ten years than in a palace with Accursio, Sarapica and Troiano.19 What my friends eat in my house is worth more than what I hoped to get at court, and the clothes I wear on my back are better than those Ganymedes ever saw. To conclude, please put a stop to any movement that may have been started to bring me back to Rome, for I would not live there with St. Peter, himself, much less with his successor. I am, indeed, grateful for being remembered by so great a pastor, whose Holiness, I know, will deign to read two or three pages of my Vita di Cristo, which will be out soon. I implore you, in case you happen to speak with the innately good and virtuous del Molza, to remember me to him.

From Venice, the 15th of January, 1535.


19  Papal favorites.



Of Giovanni delle Bande Nere.

I, Captain, in the news of the two victories which, in open stockade, having taken one of his adversaries and slain the other, Messer Antonnino has obtained, have taken, as I believe, not only as much pleasure as all the numerous friends and relatives he has, but, it seems to me, even more, since my pleasure is increased by the fact that he has proved his own valor to himself. But why is not Giovanni de’ Medici living yet? Why is he not here to complete our consolation by letting us see him reap the rewards of his own glorious virtues and his glorious deeds? It is a great thing that we now see not only his nobles, but even the stewards and butlers who once served him, become illustrious captains! Everybody knows his grooms, his light horse and his men of 74 arms, and the latter, in whatever position they are placed, shine like the most resplendent cavalieri. Nevertheless, it is a fine boast which Francesco Maria, among so many others, may make, that, fierce lord that he was, by reason of his kindness as well as because of his merits as a grand duke, the riders of His Excellency were reverenced, not merely obeyed. Tell me, you who, since death separated you from his regal conversation and he schooling of his invincible actions, have sought out and conversed with an infinite variety of soldier — tell me if you have found a complexion so generous, so affable and so regardful of honor, necessity and the blood of his followers? Do you not weep when you chance to remember how you felt when he used to share with us his horses, his money and even his garments? Do you not fall to weeping when you think how you were always his friend and companion? For my part, I always looked upon his outbursts of anger as a manifestation of the greatness of his nature, and nothing more; and the world knows that whoever was not a coward could look into his heart and share with him his rule. How many have wanted to usurp his name through the bravura of their slaughterings? Every occurrence that moved him to speak came from his nature and his custom; and he alone it was who looked upon brave men as riches. How often have I seen them at his feet, wounded, famished and alone, and then, in three hours’ time, lodged, provided with horses and servants, clothed and well fed! He was the true interpreter of the military physiognomy, and in the lines of his face and forehead could be read a comprehension of the animosities and the vileness of others. For this reason, being our brother and accepted by the grace of his friendship as a gentleman, he could not but conquer whomsoever he fought with; and always, when I hear the fame of his deeds, I feel that they are dear to me but not new. And now, may Your Highness be moved to command me in any way in which I may delight or serve you.

From Venice, the 28th of April, 1535.




On the Death of the Cardinal Ippolito de’ Medici.

Who ever would have believed, brother, that I would have to praise the fate which drove me from Rome; and yet, if it had not been for that, would the kindness of my faith and the tenderness of my nature ever have been made at home with the ineffable affability of him who, betrayed by the invincible courtesies of his own royal nature, is now dead? My sorrow at having known him and having taken his gifts is even greater than my joy in having known him and having received them. For if I had not known him, or the taste of his liberality, his countenance, which shall always remain fixed in my mind, would not afflict me as it now does; nor would the obligation I feel for the good he has done me be now moving me, as it does move me, to render suitable gratitude to his memory. But if I, who barely saw him and rarely enjoyed his presents, thinking of the misery of chance, suffered an insufferable grief, how much greater should be that which consumes you, who, with the keys of your dignities opening to you at every hour the doors of that magnanimous breast, ministered to his soul? It seems to me impossible — it seems to me you have to be more than a man, if you bore without grief the absence of that celestial face, in which health-bringing atmosphere the hopes of all were nourished — of all who knew how to hope in the benignity of his works. I am amazed at the method of Death in outraging an immortal personality. Surely, when she saw in his mind the preparations of his fine virtues, she ought to have drawn back her weapons against the one who provoked her to so inhuman an office. Alas! tell me, out of the divinity of your spirit, to which it was permitted to penetrate all the profundities of his heart: what were the splendors of those places in which he lodged the excellences of his generosity? Tell me: how was the room of the love he bore his friends furnished? Tell me: how was that nest built in which he 76 received the miseries of the virtuous? Tell me: how did he dwell in his own ardent valor? Describe to me the inns in which he sojourned his charity, his benignity and his religion. Point out to me the footprints which his graces, promenading always about the world, have left. Ah, unheard of wickedness! Ah, mad Tuscan!20 Ah, unjust mind! Why did you offend one who not only had not offended you, but who, with his own splendors, had made your life resplendent? But what influences are those of the heavens? Those influences struggle because they comprehend the power of the fatal effects of such a deed; and as thought they envied him, they consent that fortune, in the flowering of the years, shall make us cruelly lack, as we have lacked, this refuge of the rare virtues. But you who, thanks to the charity with which the stars have used you, are in a position to give life to others, do you avenge the outrages which have been done to us by death and destiny, and, feeding with the food of eternity the name of the one who was the nourishment to all the necessities of you and others, give cause to every prince to receive under his roof the familiars of the muse; for it is clear that the memory of such a lord commends itself to their pages. But as those lords who rejoice in the riches of Christ imitate the footsteps of the eternal Cardinal de’ Medici, so by your own and other intellects shall be satisfied the excessive debt which every generation owes itself. And this and no other is the light in which the matter is viewed by Rome, which from century to century shames the courts by reproving their supreme magnificences.

From Venice, the 20th of August, 1535.


20  Referring to the Cardinal’s slayer.



On the Death of Francesco Il Sforza.

The duke is dead, and one must believe that such an event has taken with it, not only your happiness, but also a part of 77 your soul, since you were nourished by the same milk and so were, in a manner, joined in one flesh, even as you always were one in will. But you should find peace in the thought that human privileges are those sorrows which afflict every one living, and which God permits so that we may trust solely in Him. And upon thinking well of your adversity, you should thank fate which has taught you to know heaven and to make sport of the world. Furthermore, if I, who am so weak in spirit, have suffered, at one stroke, three blows of fate, what reason is there that you, who are so strong, should not be able to make your peace with grief, since you have suffered but one? Fell first, struck down by a bullet, the great Luigi Gritti; following him, laid low by poison, our only Cardinal de’ Medici; and now, as though to ruin me under the weight of misfortunes, comes the end of His Excellency. He, after all, should be happy, who, a wanderer from the sage of six, and knowing exile before he knew his native land, after so many confusions, so many accidents of war, disease, and famine, after so many travails on the part of his followers and all the afflictions which the necessity of the times has imposed on his people, was able, in the quietest State that could be desired, in the warmest love that Milan could bear him, in all security and with the friendship of Caesar, as well as the grace of all Italy, to render up his spirit to Him who gave it; and so, without noise, without fear and without hatred, he has left to the succession the most just, the loftiest and the most fortunate emperor that ever was. All praise and all glory be given to Francesco Sforza, who, in the virtue of his own bosom, kicking fortune under heel, had the happiness both to die in his native land and to die a prince. Therefore, signor mio, cheer with that accustomed serenity of yours the hearts of those who revere you even as I revere you; and may your comfort be the felicity in which so great a one has left you. Show to His Majesty that you are as much pleased with the State you have come into as you are grieved at the loss of him; and rejoice in the 78 inviolable faith which he always reposed in you, when he was emboldened to receive you into the lap of his divine favor. May your consolation be the report which comes, from the tongues of the soldiery, the learned and the nobility, of your courtesy, which is your trumpet everywhere; and giving no heed to the devastations of time, rout fate and bury death, permitting your thoughts to return to their original state. And do not any longer mingle the bitter with the sweet of life, since you are naturally the friend of gladness. There lies the sacred body of the best of dukes; give him an honored sepulchre and see that his spirit is paid the rites that are its due, recalling that, since he made you in his image, it is not fitting that his name should go unremembered. Look at me, I do not vary with the variations of fortune; and even if the rank which your liberality has made me hope for should fail me, I shall not fail every to celebrate him dead, as you living, since the object of the devotion that I fell for Massimiliano is not reward. I am what I always was, and the stars may make me miserable, but they shall not make me a liar. I, in my last letter, which was filled with sorrowful forebodings, wrote you of the variable end of things, and how the finest of pomps fade into mist. I concluded by promising such stability as ink can give, and you shall have the work I promised. Be at peace and, being at peace, thank Christ who has made you what you are.

From Venice, the 25th of November, 1535.



In Which Comforts Him for the Death of His Little Daughter, Giovanna.

Your Excellency ought not to marvel at the theft of your little daughter, which heaven has committed by the hand of death, nor should you raise an eyelash at what the continuous accidents of evil bring. You should rather be astonished if adversity does not assail you, since every grave occurrence 79 of that sort comes from God, who does not consent that men shall be his companions, as you, whose glory illuminated the world, were, unless they are oppressed by those sufferings to which the title of “most blessed” might be given — not merely “blessed.” Alas! Your honored daughter is dead; but is that any miracle? Did she not have to die? Was she not born for that purpose? Must we not make way fro those who come? Has not Christ shared this lot with us? And if she had not died, by what way should she have gone to paradise? And if all this is so, is weeping worthy of your soul? A little earth, which resolved itself into earth again, does not merit tears. And if that flesh which you loved so tenderly brings you affliction, comfort your self with the thought that she is now in the lap of her Maker. And while the captains of the eternal militia rejoice as they hear sung the deeds of their great father, the angels also are glad at seeing her come back to them, as beautiful, as pure and as gleaming as she left. But what am I saying? Neither son nor daughter of yours has died, for your true sons cannot die, since fame, the soul of noble names, is the consort of your valor, and Giovanna and the others cannot take away your victories and your triumphs. Let, then, your grandsons be praises and honors, and, after them, armies and the peoples whom you rule and conquer. Your blood-children are merely yours by nature and have nothing to do with your immortality. Look to that which lasts forever, and not to that which lasts but an hour. And when pain perturbs your breast, turn your thoughts to yourself; console yourself by thinking of yourself alone, and say: “I am.” And saying that, you shall shine once more in your proper spirit as a divine being. There is little doubt that Antonio is more God than man, since if he were more man than God, he would not, from a private citizen, have become a prince, and from a mortal an immortal. His dignity takes from Alexander the glory of being born a king and is like Caesar’s in that he is not called emperor; for it was virtue and not


Black and white lithograph by the Marquis de Bayros, of a nude man carrying a nude girl, with a large angel behind them.


fortune that crowned Caesar in the same world that shall crown you. And that will not be long, so soon as you shall have looked into yourself and seen there all that is to be seen. The fortunate Augustus should regard it as a felicity to have as his devoted servant the good Leva, without whose counsels and without whose arms His Majesty would not make any impression. But he has done much without His Majesty, and has been so fortunate that history, which commemorates him, shall be no less astonished than Milan is astonished now — astonished to see itself come back under the sway of your calm prudence, which shall acquit it for whatever misfortunes it may have suffered in the past through the iniquity of the times, misfortunes which, with his universal peace, Charles V shall set right again, to whose empire no limits can be fixed. Since he alone knows how to fight and how to conquer, there is no reason why you should not return laden with all the spoils of the Orient. Do this, and your season of grief shall end, wars shall be disposed of, faith shall appear again and justice shall take up her abode with us once more. And religion, by the aid of Caesar, being more revered than ever, the universe shall give itself to building temples to him, consecrating statues and erecting votive shrines. And since His Highness never has been able, never has desired, to act without your mind, you shall participate in those celestial pre-eminences which the peoples shall give him, placing him among the number of the gods, along with your own divine Excellency, whose kindness is consolation to the hopes of all who deserve to hope in you.

From Venice, the last day of November, 1535.

[Letters XX-XXXIX]


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