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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. 148-180.



Letters LX-LXXIX




Although Your Majesty, being the handmaid of Christ as well as the wife of Caesar, needs no praise, having received your gift from the hands of the perfect Don Lope, in order not to publish myself as an ingrate, I will say that he is wrong who does not believe, and he errs who does not assert, that you were conceived through the centuries and reserved in the mind of God to be joined by His will with Augustus; for surely it is not permissible that to him, who is more than mortal man, should be given a wife who is less than superhuman. And so, it is no marvel that you are the most excellent in virtue, the most deserving of glory, the most pure in mind, the most tender in heart and the most chaste in body of all women, of whatever age they may be. Adorned, then, with grace and beauty, with that simplicity which shines from your forehead, bring serenity to minds that are clouded with affliction. That tranquillity which quiets the tempest of hearts gladdens your brows, which are a miniature of honesty’s self. Your eyes, turning in modest 149 movements, console the soul of the one who wonders at them, and in their gentleness, filled with love and grace, it is as if green and marvelous emerald vistas were recreated. Your cheeks are the flowers of our hope. With your glance, you entice the good, and with a sign, you admonish kings. Your actions are a lesson in holy customs, and in your countenance, true beatitude is to be discerned. Charity opens your hands, and mercy moves your feet. Constancy, humility and concord are your companions and ministers. In your step and in your presence, you reveal the favor of heaven. Faith and religion point you to your own good sense and your own valor. And with the pomp of those virtues which adorn you, you make no fewer conquests with your courtesy than the emperor does with his arms. Hence, the world is half yours and half his. And while you employ the solemn office of liberality, he is astonished at you, as he is at himself; and he has reason to be astonished, for Charles and Isabella, looked upon by God and adored by men, live and reign for the honor of Jesus and the welfare of the peoples. I thank you, therefore, for this divine favor, since by sending me this collar, you are the first lady of the universe,39 you are paying tribute not to my merits, but to the most chaste and venerable qualities of your own Serene Highness, and all the ladies of Italy bend the knee at the sound of the name of your Illustrious Highness, whose sacred hands I kiss, with those of your most holy and Christian consort. And it is befitting that every one say as much, for his goodness and religion have drawn upon Catholic shoulders the burden of one title and the other.

From Venice, the 20th of August, 1537.


39  Going one better than “the first lady of the land.”



In Which He Exhorts Him to Give No Heed to Delusions, but to Live to Himself.

Since, signor, I always give every one his dues, no matter 150 from where he comes as whence he goes, I will say, in response to your request and commission, that I did not blush upon receiving your letter as I should have blushed if I had not done so; for certainly I should be the first to remind you that, at a time when I barely knew what such an acquaintance meant, I knew you with genuine intimacy, and from that day to this, the love I have for your good and illustrious person has ever grown. And I swear to you, by the power which God has given to His Majesty, and which His Majesty has given to me, that if, with the exception of yourself, all the others of the court have been forgotten by me, it is for no other reason than that you are so far removed from envy, slander and the greed of enriching yourself by the death of others. And if, under the harsh Clement, the conqueror of three papacies, your firm faith, with twenty-five years of service behind it, appears to have grown old in vain, congratulate yourself on the fact, for it would not be possible to produce a testimonial which would better enlighten every one as to your own sovereign goodness. I, for my part, not only pride myself on being a good man, seeing I have received nothing from two pontiffs, but I am inclined to exalt myself with the title of perfect, when I see that prelatures are given to plebeians and the worst of men, rather than to gentlemen and the just, like you. Learn to poison, to betray, to gossip, to be a drunkard and a pimp, adulating always, if you do not wish, after your youth has been consumed in robbing and robing a pope, to return to your own house a beggar. The memory of His Holiness ought to be ashamed, since his life knew no shame, at not having made you at least a bishop of your fatherland, not merely a decurion of his chamberlains, for you have all the gentleness, nobility and patience in the world; but the benefices and the abbeys go to the vituperators, in whom never was and never will be religion or good custom. But who is happier than I, who have been able to publish the nature of the priestly nature, to the shame of which the world honors me with 151 its tributes? Let your heart be at peace, dear and gentle brother, and rest content with what you have, though it is little enough for your mind and merit; let your joy be in Arezzo. And let the plain citizens among whom you were born take the place of the great personages who used to entertain you at Rome. Rejoice and feast and take your pleasure with them, for in them is the greater security, and they show you the mind on the tongue without fraud. Look at our Francesco Bacci, who wears his mind on his forehead; look at all the other grateful companions; grow young again in their company, and have no longer a desire to wander among strange nations, since you know how many heartbreaks there are in the desire of rank and honors. He who does not die with an aversion to bending the knee to a cavalry stripling and a Trojan is an ass in human form, while he who never has revered them is the victor over fortune and entitled to sit at the right hand of the blessed. And so, live cheerfully, and be to me as you have always been. With this, I kiss your reverend Lordship with all the affection that I bear you.

From Venice, the 22nd of August, 1537.



In Which He Defends Himself Against the Accusation of Slander.

Our circumspect Messer Tarlato, revered friend, has placed in my hands the book you gave him, as he told me, with your own hand. I have had it now three or four days, and I have run over almost all of it, both the prose and the verse. And then, backed by your letter, he asked me for it back, and I restored it to him. As to its merits, I will say that I, who am a man of no judgment, ought not to pass judgment, for a judge should be possessed of conscience, prudence and experience; otherwise, his ignorance brings public blame on others. Nor does it seem to me a thing 152 quite worthy, after confessing that I am not fitted to do so, to go ahead, for the sake of displaying my wisdom, and defame others by the act of judging. Hence, I shall not endeavor to pass sentence upon your work, but shall merely discuss it. You say that you are sending it to me as you would your own daughter to a very harsh uncle, and your sincerity moves me to say that the style out of which you have woven so impressive a fabric is supported by heroic fibres and breathes an heroic spirit; if you continue to write verse so great as this, you will end by being second to none. There are, in your Trionfi, certain tercets which are high and clear and fine; then come uneven and poorly conceived passages. To me, the Dantesque vocabulary is not annoying, as you employ it, as would be, ordinarily, the example, the use of “perplesso,” which those well versed in the Latin tongue do not use. It strikes me as too much of an innovation when Pollio, a learned man, fails to distinguish a noun from a verb and, for the sake of the rhyme, writes “l'erra” for “gli errori,” and “sono” for “sonno,” making “relligion” a trisyllabic word, which is harsh to the ears and difficult to pronounce. And I wonder even more at the mere stuff which I often find, along with harsh constructions. I love you and, because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies. It seems to me that so profound a subject should depend for decoration only on its own dignity and should not make poetic license out of whatever comes to the mouth. Root out from your compositions all the terms of Petrarch; and since you are not pleased to stroll in such streets, do not harbor in your house his “unquanchi,” his “soventi” and his “ancide,” the costive superstitions of our language; and in dealing with stories and names employed by him, get as far away from him as you can, for these things are too trite. Enter, with the scythe of your own novel judgment, that meadow which I have glimpsed in your book and mow down the disgressional hay I have come upon. When one is dealing 153 with faith, hope and charity, it is not fitting to hand out idle chatter. Pure and candid are those three virtues; and so, seek for them pure and candid ornaments. Do not think that I am advising you in this manner because, in your discourse, you have blamed me for slander; for if you did it to praise me, I thank you; and if you did it to blame me, I pardon you; and since my name occurs to you in this connection, do with it what seems good to you, for it is known to all the world, and the world knows that I repress the vices of others and do not speak evil of my fellow men. And at the sound of the name, “Pietro Aretino,” as many princes as there are reigning over the face of the earth lend their ears. It shall be the glory of your book to have mentioned my own sacred40 and veracious compositions, and I would remind you that it is necessary in the treatise, De la caritade. I laugh at you when you boast that you have not wished to acquire fame by biting this one or that one; and all the while, you are even outraging the sisters, reprehending the brothels which they make of their cloisters, pardoning neither the flock nor the pastors. And now may you take every word I say as it ought to be taken; for I swear to you on my soul that when you shall have purged your book of this sorry stuff, you will add so much splendor to your own name and that of your native land that whoever looks upon Arezzo will behold another sun. And by God, I tell you that all it needs is to be properly clothed. In it are all the qualities which are asked of a writer; you do not pass over any fact ancient or modern in silence. You are admirable in cosmography; to it add grace and elevation of diction. Finally, I would make it clear to you that this depends upon your will alone and your patience in better thinking over your things; on this hangs the glory of Pollio, whose choice has given me for niece that daughter whom I have chastised as you perceive. And if you were not as a brother to me, I should not 154 have spoken so freely what I have said in all affection.

From Venice, the 28th of August, 1537.


40  The prose sacre.



The Woes of Pedantry.

Even as to Cosimo de’ Medici it has been a good augury, his having taken, at the beginning of his reign, his most important adversaries, so to you it should be a harbinger of happiness that I, before the end of your journey, moved by a better spirit, come back to pay you the reverence which the world pays you, when envy, with the tyrannical eye of avarice, does not turn the mind to those riches which the virtue of your kinsmen has procured for you. I am ashamed that my ears and my tongue, which are accustomed to hear and speak the truth, with a notable injury to their nature, have allowed themselves to be corrupted by a lie. I confess that, in return for one of the minor offices you performed for me, which was the marrying off of a sister (a good turn never done me by either of two pontiffs whom I served), I believed, and, believing, blamed you for what the dogs barked against your rank and your merits. And the cause of this has not been my own defection, but the malignity of the fate that hung over you, which forced those of good integrity to put faith in the falsity of wretches. Surely calumny with you has exhausted all her poison, without perceiving that the true gold which is in you has been merely refined by the torments you have undergone. All the evil comes from your not being of a hypocritical humor and the fact that you were not one of the pedants who reigned about you. How much better would it be for a gran maestro to have in his house a few faithful fellows, free folk and persons of good will, than to attempt to adorn himself with the vulpine modesty of the asinine pedants who write books; who, when they have assassinated and, with their labors, have succeeded in croaking the dead, do not rest until they have crucified 155 the living. To tell the truth, it was pedantry that poisoned the Medici; it was pedantry that cut the throat of Duke Alessandro; and what is worse, it has provoked a heresy against our faith, through the mouth of Luther, the arch-pedant of them all. Certain it is, all the literati are not virtuous; and when letters are not at home in the gentle mind of a noble or a good man, they may be said to be nothing but bits of torn parchment. There is, indeed, a difference between a virtuous man and a literary hack, for virtue is founded in pure goodness of intention, and literature in the captious malignity of thievery. A man like Molza, may be said to be “virtuous” and “literate,” for he, through his own high nature, and not through thefts, is glorious; and he has forced himself to honor you. A man like Ubaldino is not virtuous, though literate, and by a continuous and splitting effort appears to be learned; and from this come his attempts to abase your reputation. But is there any wickedness, pride or worthlessness which is not hatched in the felonious minds of pedagogues, while they, in their poltroonery, seek to cover their dishonest vices with the venerable name of science? Cherish then, you gentlemen, lovers of the useful and of your honor, and bind to you with courtesy your solicitous servants, knowing there is more virtue in a fellow of the stalls or in a lackey, who is only alive when his master is looking at him, than there is in all the lettered ones that ever were. For learning is the property of those who fear to do disagreeable things; and woe to your welfare, if it lay in the hands of one of those untamed Ciceros instead of Messer Giambattista Pontano! His, indeed, may rightly be called “virtue,” seeing he left country, wife, friends and estates to guard your innocence. You may, then, thank God that you not only have learned to know the sincere from the wicked, but that, in the perversity of circumstance, you have always submitted to the judgment of your own intrepid mind the perfidy and the deceit of enemies, which accounts for the state in which you find yourself today, more honored 156 than ever. For it is well known that Fortune, by way of demonstrating the sovereign power she exercises over princes, sometimes incarcerates them, as she incarcerated Pope Clement and King Francis, though for different reasons; since for the imprisonment of His Holiness, misery was to blame; for that of His Majesty neglect; but your own came from the perverseness of envy. And envy, in this case as I see it, should be praised, since your rights were defended by the emperor, our true lord, whose religion is as powerful in heaven as his dominion is on earth; and so, I hold your state a blessed one, since you have been condemned by others and absolved by Caesar. Divine is the judgment of Charles, and his mind is just. And if any one requires proof that your deeds were not what others would have made them out to be, let him find an argument in the love which Augustus bears you and in the respect in which the good Ercole di Ferrara holds you, to whose Excellency I am indebted for the major part of anything I may in the future accomplish in the way of writing, such has been his courtesy towards me. And so, I, with the affection of an unpretending man, kiss the hands of His Most Illustrious Lordship and those of Your Reverence.

From Venice, the 29th of August, 1537.



In Which He Urges Her to Return from Her Country Place.

There is a proverb of the wenches, my daughter, which says that “Every agreement is not a swindle.” You and Messer Polo and Caterina,41a with the groom and the maid, asked permission to stay in the country, if you pleased, eight days; and since ten have passed, it seems to me it is about time you were coming home. I am glad your mother, to her own great satisfaction, has shown those rude folk 157 what sort of son-in-law she has, I am glad, too, that you have been praised for taking such a husband on your own initiative. Every one has seen the abundance of clothes you have, which shows that you are deserving of the splendor I have conferred upon you. You will come, then, unless you find the Gambrare gives you more reputation than this city, and that the Brenta is of a more jocund aspect that the Grand Canal. As I told you, you were to stay a week in the country, no more; for in a short time like that, the freshness of the air, the wildness of the place and the rusticity of the people with the general novelty of the thing, provide pleasant food for conversation. But beyond that period, the roughness of the site, with the strangeness of the inhabitants, converts every recreation into an annoyance, until you are forced to reduce, at once, your store of convenience and your stock of civility. And so, as I wait for you, it seems to me that, with five mouths less to feed, I suffer as much pain as a cardinal would if he saw one more. I seems to me, too, when I do not see you at table with me, that I have a premonition of misery. To such a degree that, I confess, the sight of you at meat is to me the triumph of a generous nature, and not merely of a sumptuous pride. Moreover, your pleasant ways, to which I am so used, my daughter, are a sweet nutriment to the years which are beginning to fall upon me. That prudent honesty with which you are endowed is to me an entertaining recompense for the pains I am at to provide those hundred scudi a month; and by the grace of God, we shall go on eating, giving and spending with the permission of those who hate me, though I wish evil to none.

From Venice, the 30th of August, 1537.


41   See Introduction.

41a  See Introduction.



In Which He Thanks Him for a Gift of Things to Eat and Speaks of His Own Frugality.

If the princes that rule us, father, showed as great haste 158 in keeping their promises as you do, what a fine life and what a fine age ours would be! The sacristan of San Salvatore, who is very gentle and very courteous, has given me the mushrooms which you sent, and I have enjoyed them out of love for your Reverence; for I love you no less now that you are a religious than I did when you were a secular. And since truffles, oysters and fruits are not foods but pricks to the appetite, forcing us to eat until we are overstuffed, I hope the pleasure which I had in eating them will not lead you to believe that I take an unduly vicious delight in my palate and for that reason am in danger of slipping into the devil’s claws, all for the sake of four fungi. My mind, I am sure, if it had the means would feed on real grandeur, but my mouth, which exercises some little sway over my taste, finds its nourishment in rustic victuals. If it is a sin to devour a whole salad, along with an entire onion, then I am branded, for I find in them a sharpness of flavor which those kitchen-falcons who flock about the table of Leo never enjoyed. I am aware that there are times when the church forbids lettuce to those priests who blame the herbs, but I feel like declaring two more days of jubilee on account of it. But do not think that similar gewgaws must, of necessity, fill the mind of one who takes such pleasure as this. For according to the opinion of Nero, antipasti are of the gods, and his good memory went to heaven by that means; and the same witness is borne by Sire Claudius, who was more gluttonous of them than he was of empire. However that may be, I give you more thanks than you gave me gifts, and while your gifts lasted, I abandoned all other ragoûts. If there is anything here that smells good to your nose, let me know, and it shall be sent you at once. Non altro. Remember to commend me in the prayers of your continuous offices.

From Venice, the 6th of September, 1537.




Concerning the Successes of Cosimo de’ Medici.

I had thought, signora, that it was enough to adorn you with the virtues of your husband, which are of more splendor and of greater price than gold, without speaking of those with which you yourself shine, as is apparent, and those which are due to the fortune of that most excellent son of yours. But what cannot the heavens do? What reward do not the good deserve? It is very evident, since Leo, beginning to fear the young military power of the signor Giovanni, seeks to crush him. Look at Clement, who did everything in his power, since his own works could not exalt him. And then, upon his death, Alexander turns his attention to the great Cosimo and, inheriting this suspicion of his two papal forbears, does a dishonest wrong to his own right and honest reason by abandoning all thought of Cosimo’s greatness. But God, who never opposes what he has willed to be, has seen to it that he was placed in that seat which was his from the day he was born, so that he might establish peace and union everywhere, reigning in justice and in continence. And the glorious beginning which Christ has given to his reign is a testimony of the favor which the stars show him. Surely, if Fate had said to you: “What will you have?” your desire would have been in doubt, in order not to appear bold by asking the half of what the success of the enterprise has placed in your hands, since that enterprise was guided so foolishly by wise men that excuse finds no tongue to defend it. But everything goes as the planets will, and our designs never take form without their consent; deeds are vain, and thought builds up its edifices in vain, if God does not look approvingly upon them. And so, we throw away time, money and fame because the celestial influences show us a bad face. For this reason, their prudence is divine who, yielding to one who makes us yield by love and force, act in obedience to the supernal will and are not stubborn, as are 160 those who stand in contrast to the emperor, whose Majesty reduces itself to a miracle; even while he appears to have been cast down, we hear the cries of his victories, so that no one is safe who provokes him. I, then, who, from the antiquity of my service, share in that felicity with which, from day to day, you enlarge your own mind and the confines of the State, congratulate myself, not on the miseries of others (for I am a man and not a beast), but on the honors and prosperity which are yours. And if I have delayed doing so up to now, it has been to give full play to the consolation of your justice and your clemency, praying God that He would make hard hearts tender and harsh minds gentle, so that concord may embrace all with an equal will. In the meanwhile, the dagger of deceit and the sword of treason shall be far from you, for neither the one nor the other has power over His Legitimate Lordship nor over Your Excellency.

From Venice, the Day of Our Lady, September, 1537.



Of Pierina Riccia,42 Whom He Keeps and Loves as a Daughter.

Who would have thought, Messer Francesco, that our distant friendship would have brought us together in so close a relationship? Look you: God, by sending to my house Pierina Riccia, your kinswoman, has overcome the influence of Verona, for whose sake you had let the intimacy contracted between us many years ago grow cold; and so, I congratulate myself beyond measure. Your virtues and the consideration I have for your gentle way of life give me so much true joy that they drive away the melancholy which comes from plans frustrated by chance. And I will tell you, you might lump together all the loving tenderness which four fathers have for their sons, and you would not arrive 161 at the minor part of that which I feel for so light and lively a girl as this, whose own innate goodness keeps her beauty locked in the fortress of her modesty in so obvious and pleasing a manner that I weep for joy even to think of it. How is it possible she, in less than fourteen years, should have acquired the wisdom to pick a husband who holds her dearer than his life? I spend whole days thinking of it, while she is busy with her sewing, her reading, her embroidery or in arranging her wardrobe in that neat fashion which she brings with her from the cradle; and I am prepared to swear to you that I have never seen such habits as those which are the fruit of her gentle nature. And I would to Christ that the gratitude she shows for the benefits she receives from me might be an example to others whose wants I have relieved! She calls me “father and mother,” and I am, in truth, the one and the other to her; and when I am asked how many daughters I have, I reply, “Two,” putting first the one who, by coming to comfort me in those infirmities to which I am subject, takes precedence over the one produced by my own blood. Her courteous kindness is so dear to my heart that I do not know what pain is; and I so rejoice when I see her sporting with Polo, the most discreet of consorts and my own dear creature. And it seems to me beyond all feminine custom that she shows no haughtiness at seeing herself mistress of all that I have and all that I am. It is nothing less than a miracle to see her and Caterina with their arms always about each other’s neck, and my life knows a peace that it never before experienced. And my contentment attains the summit of joy, when I see that you and Messer Ognibene, good fellow that he is, appreciate the charity with which I have provided, at once, for the honor of the young man and of the young woman; a thing which is the astonishment of her — I will not say stepmother, since the conscience and the reason she shows rather entitle her to be called mother. I hope, with all the hope there may be, that I shall soon be able to assure the future of our bride and 162 bridegroom, so that they may share in whatever I may have. And so, put aside forever any thought that may disturb you, thinking only of the welfare of your niece and my daughter.

From Venice, the 15th of September, 1537.


42  See Introduction.



Of His “Last Judgment.”

As, venerable man, it is a shame and a sin on the part of the soul not to remember God, so it is a reflection on the virtue and a dishonor to the judgment of every one who possesses virtue and judgment not to revere you, for you are the target43 of wonderment, at whom the stars in rivalry shoot all the arrows of their grace. For in your hands lives the occult idea of a new nature, whence it is, the difficulty of line (which is the highest science, so far as the subtlety of the picture is concerned) with you is so easily overcome that, in your handling of line, you appear to attain the extremity of art; things which art itself confesses it is impossible to bring to perfection — for the line, as you know, must encompass itself — you accomplish in such a manner that you seem to be demonstrating the undemonstrable, giving us such promise as do the figures of the Capella, which you are fitted to judge, rather than to marvel at. And so I, who, with praise and infamy, have given the last touch to the merits or demerits of other, in order not to convert into nothing the little that I am, salute you. Nor should I hasten to do so, if my name, which is acceptable to the ears of every prince, had not been sufficiently robbed of any indignity attaching to it. It is fitting that I should treat you with such reverence, since the world has many kings but only one Michelangelo. It is a great miracle that nature is not able to place a thing so high that you, with your industry, are not able to attain it, and to use it in your works, the majesty of which shows the immense power of your style and your chisel; hence, he 163 who has seen you need have no concern about not having seen Phidias, Apelles or Vitruvius, since their spirits were but the shadow of your own. I consider it a good fortune on the part of Parrhasius and other ancient painters that time has not preserved their works to be viewed today; for we, giving credit to history which trumpets their merits, put off awarding you that palm which they themselves, if they were to sit in judgment with our eyes, would give to you, calling you the one sculptor, the one painter and the one architect. Since this is so, why not be content with the glory which you have achieved? It seems to me, it should be enough for you to have overcome the others by other methods. But I know that, with the End of the World, which you are at present engaged in painting, you think to surpass the Creation, which you have already painted, so that your paintings, conquered by paintings, may give you a triumph over yourself. But who would not be terrified at the thought of putting his brush to so terrible a subject? I see, in the middle of the crowd, the Antichrist, with a countenance which could only be conceived by you. I see the fear on the faces of the living. I see the signs of extinction which the sun, moon and stars give. I see the spirit leaping up, as it were, from fire, air, earth and water. I see Nature horrified and sterilely recoiling in her decrepitude. I see Time, emaciated and trembling, who, having come to the end of his reign, is seated on a withering throne. And while the trumpets of the angels shake all hearts and breasts, I see Life and Death thrown into a frightful confusion, the one tired of raising up the dead, the other preparing to cast down the living. I see Hope and Despair guiding the hosts of the good and the throngs of the damned. I see the theatre of the clouds colored with the rays of that come from the pure fires of heaven, on which, among his soldiery, Christ is seated, cinctured with splendor and with terror. I see the refulgence of His face and the scintillation of those flames of light, joyful and tender, which fill the good with gladness and the evil 164 with fear. And in the mean time I behold the ministers of the abyss who, to the glory of the martyrs and the saints, deride the Caesars and the Alexanders, since to have conquered one’s self is something different from having conquered the world. I see Fame with her crowns and her palms under foot, cast there under the wheels of her own chariots. And finally, I see coming out of the mouth of the great Son of God the last great sentence. I see it in the form of two arrows, one bringing salvation, the other damnation; and as I watch them come down, I hear fury crashing through the mechanism of the elements, with tremendous thunderbolts undoing and dissolving all. I see the lights of paradise and the furnaces of the abyss, which cut the shadows that fall upon the face of the windy universe. I am so moved by the thought which the image of the ruin of that last day inspires in me that I find myself saying: “If you fear and tremble at the sight of Buonnaroti, how will you fear and tremble when you come to be judged by Him who is your judge?” But does not Your Lordship believe that I shall have to break the vow I have made never again to set eyes on Rome, in order to view such a history as this? I had rather make myself a liar than offend your virtue, which I hope will cherish the desire I have to publish it abroad.

From Venice, the 16th of September, 1537.


43  The “bull’s-eye”: bersaglio.



Upon the Reasons for His Majesty’s Abandoning the Turks and Entering the League.

Your Majesty knows the good, religious and magnanimous deliberation which, from duty and from custom, the good, religious and magnanimous Venetians make use of. You know how they have scattered their riches in the Levant and the treasure which they have brought back, the blood that was shed and the unheard-of offers of the Turk, and how 165 these things, through Peter and Caesar, have moved the forces of land and sea in the service of Christ. For this reason, the world is bent upon asking you, which weighs the more in your most lofty breast, the hatred you bear to others, or the love that you owe to God? I hatred is the stronger, look to your title of “most Christian,” for it is not becoming to oppose one of your rank, neither is it permissible to assail him with names favorable to his dignity. But if love is the stronger, look at the most holy league, which is willing not merely to make a place for you, but to receive you with open arms to the place of greatest eminence. Collect yourself, and reflect that God, who has given you the finest kingdom there is, the most generous nature that breathes, the greatest knowledge that was ever heard of and the most affable grace that was ever seen, does not deserve that you should betray Him by becoming the despair of your followers and uniting them with their adversaries; in which case it would appear to the peoples that the virtue of the royal goodness had been conquered by the perfidy of stubbornness. Fortune breaks the glass in all the facets that gleam in your diamond. And from this it follows that, by bending your every thought and every effort in a contrary direction, she is in a position to laugh at the two millions in gold which France has spent against the three-hundred-fifty Ottoman sails, when they were pressing Castro. I tell you, Sire, these are the facts: that it, yielding, you seize the occasion to be reconciled with your great kinsman, you are putting yourself directly in God’s favor, by being able to participate in the recovery of His sepulchre. Let yourself be moved by the example of Pipino and of Charles, and those who came before and after, by the might of whose arms, the fourth and fifth Stephen, the third Leo, Urban, Pasquale and Gelasio the Second, Eugene the Third, with the fourth Innocent and other pontiffs, overcome by the fury of pride, were placed back on their thrones. But is not your heart perturbed at the thought of the confidence you would have to have in the 166 suspicions of the infidels? Do you think that two diverse creeds, mingled by the madness of revenge, can make one good end? Do you think you can domesticate Turkish barbarism with Gallic humanity? If you reflect on the temerity of Selim, vituperated in Hungary and outdone in Persia, tell me: what price can he pay for the concord of forty years, demonstrated to you by this omnipotent city? And then, one must not forget his being at Rhodes, one might say, a prisoner. Alas! Look, illustrious king, to your own rank and the office that you hold, and do not put your soul in peril, for with it, fame goes. Displeasing to true ears is the cry of irreligion, which will be the sound of your name, in case you remain allied with him who stands apart in the insolence of the pride he takes in the magnitude of his empire and the infinite number of his hounds, and whose arms are deprived of all art, all reason and all counsel, the principal spiritual supports of any army. And so, lay all your disdain in the firm hands of your faith, joining your mind with the minds of those who follow Jesus; for the glory of losing life and kingdom for His baptism is greater than the vituperation which follows one who lives and rules forever by any other circumcision. Disembarrass yourself, then, of this great monster, an alliance even more frightful than it is offensive; for he who trusts in such a thing shows his lack of trust in God, and an alliance of that sort might be called a “separation,” rather than a “confederation,” since it is one better fitting rebels against heaven than the princes of the universe. Beyond this, his arrogance will make a slave of your friendship, and he will boast of you as of a conquered thing; and he may well do so, since you teach him to do it, when you, who so many times have caused the Orient to fear and tremble, are found bowing to the banners of Mahommet. Ah, that worst of all passions, the passion to rule! Ah, the cruel desire of revenge! You — should you confiscate the mind of the most candid and the noblest king that ever was? Where, Francis, is that prudence of yours which, being born between victories, has 167 won you so many triumphs? It is with you still. And so, listen to the supplications of the church, and the vows of your people. Behold Paul who calls you, behold Charles who receives you, behold Mark who exhorts you, so that you should be glad of haste, rather than of delay, knowing that every reason which you appear to have on the human side is a wrong done to Christ.

From Venice, the 18th of September, 1537.


44  The letter which, as Hutton remarks, “reverberated throughout Europe.”



In Which He Congratulates Him on His Nomination to the Post of Generalissimo of the League.

I do not congratulate myself, signor, on the act of His Holiness, His Majesty,45 and His Serene Highness46 in choosing you, because whenever the Pope, the Emperor and the Venetians have thought of uniting their power to crush the Turk, you have been the general of the Most Christian League. Every thought would be in vain, if it were not put into execution through your knowledge; and so, the rank which appears to us a new one is really very old. I take comfort in the reflection that the good qualities of my signor, which in the past have wrought good works, will now work miracles; and to this, God is witness, whose kindness, despite the fact it was provoked with the Church, has permitted his vicar to commit the hopes of his arms and his honors to the capacious counsel of Francesco Maria, who is a manifest example of religion, of merit and of experience. But if Fortune who, not to lose her reputation, has learned discretion from your enterprises, treats us too kindly to make us unhappy, how will she treat you, who have already placed your foot on the ladder of blessedness? It is a great thing that what you say and what you do is the very soul of what can be said and can be done. And it is astonishing to


Black and white lithograph by the Marquis de Bayros, of a nude woman, in the dark, wearing a turbin or tight scarf on her head, with her hand up in the air and the other on ther thight, before a small tunnel with branches before it and a light gleaming in its depths.


imagine how it is possible for you to think and foresee with a firm judgment what is not thought or foreseen, bringing peace to all the princes and putting an end to all wars, as if peace and war had consulted with your own admirable genius, whose prudence has a seat in the tribunal of memory, the three being rectors of virtue, as it were, in the form of a republic. So true is this that not only are they who fight by your side audacious against the enemy, benevolent with their soldiers and wise in grasping opportunity; but even those who merely hear you speak are learned in these matters; and so, we are proud of the victory even before you move against the monstrous adversary, sure of the truth that is in the laws of Christ, which, thanks to Your Excellency, shall have absolute authority throughout the Orient.

From Venice, the 18th of September, 1537.


45  Charles.

46  The Doge.



A Generous Lady Cannot Be an Immodest One.

I, godmother, take more satisfaction in the fact that you have given away the turquoise set in gold than if you had kept it as a remembrance of me, for the young girl whose finger it adorns will always remember your courtesy. However, I have no need of a noble act like this to certify to me the kinship which exists between generosity and your mind, for I have seen it too often in greater things; and Messer Francesco, your husband, well may boast of the liberality of a nature such as yours, for it is a sign of the chastity in which you are rich. Moreover, it is not possible for an unavaricious woman not to be modest. Need and avarice are the pimps for the virtue of other women, but she who is beyond need and avarice, as you are, is not known by blame; and yet, it would be easier to find a thousand close-fisted than two magnanimous women, thanks to the cheapness of the sex. And for no other reason do they violate their good and solemn duties, except for gain. And every time, through the fault of this 170 woman or that, goodness and faith fall in ruins, it is the fault of misery, the mind of princes, a life of luxury or the desire to provide for old age. See, then, that, without ever departing from or becoming tired of it, you follow the old saying: It is better to give than to receive; for, giving, you are bartering things for benevolence and, receiving, you are selling benevolence for things; and since love is something more than utility, he who gives, receives, and he who receives, loses. I greatly praise your native disposition; in attempting to change it, you would become nothing.

From Venice, the 18th of September, 1537.



Of the League Against the Turks.

The holiest procedure and the most approved practice are assured, signor, of a proper conclusion by that grave sufficiency of yours, which has been heard of ever since the idleness of princes, who burned with the usual desire for immortality, gave it birth, as a pleasure to the mind and a delight to the ambition for glory, the happiness which the mind finds in fixing its thoughts on high things. And so it became a business to find for emperors and trafficking kings a way of putting into effect their wills, from which come wars, peace and laws. Truly, you are deserving of the greatest reward and the highest honor a man ever had, since it is you who have brought to a conclusion the will, let us say, of God; as it is for the interest of his faith that the incredibly good and religious Venetians have come to act, bringing into the field a power of will and not an excuse for a lack of power. There is no doubt that, though no reason were just which did not aid our credit, yours would be most just, since the ancient commerce between Venice and Constantinople is well known. But where Christ is not, their hearts are not. Wherefore, let the great emperor congratulate himself that he has such friends; and following it up with 171 arms which represent the Christian intention, the eagle and the lion will soon be beating their wings through the air of all the Orient, to the supreme happiness of yourself, who are an astonishment to every one who considers the apt manner in which, serving His Majesty, you satisfy the will of this most serene republic. Beyond this, how can it be that, on top of all these occurrences, you should be as mindful of the needs of the virtuous as you are of the servants of Caesar? Is there a person who cannot boast of the pleasure he has taken in the graceful courtesy of your nature? And among others, I am one of those who, with tongue and with pen, always shall speak well of Your Lordship, whose hands I kiss and to whose gentleness I am indebted for the state, praise God, in which I find myself.

From Venice, the 19th of September, 1537.



On the Same Subject.

In the greatest necessity, signor, which Christianity ever had, in the extremity of the religion of Christ, on the most worthy occasion of honor, Your Excellency, by taking from the nest the cocks47 of Italy, has done a work of such a sort and so suited to the public good that even Envy, which would have no one merit praise, reproves Fame for not crying through the world the reward which should be yours, a reward for beating back the other kings from the place whence His Majesty thought to hunt down your emperor. But if you, with the breast of wise valor’s self, do not turn back the French fury, how can the chain of our faith be made to bind together the ecclesiastic mind, the Caesarean heart and the Venetian soul? Certainly, your conduct, past and present, is not merely a model to the one who would be victorious in enterprises, and rule republics, or to the prince who gives ranks and rewards, but it is the key, also, which opens the 172 gates of Constantinople to the ships and horses of the people of God, who would fear for His own safety if France, escaping your arms, were to succeed in effecting an alliance with the Turks, who, sunk in their own bestiality48 and maddened by others, with flesh and blood would make Corfu more eternal than Rome. Exercise, then, that care, governed in military fashion by your accurate foresight; for one wiser or more courageous could not be hoped for in any part of an army. And so you, returning to clear the Alps, which you passed with Augustus, will complete the work which he began. In the meanwhile, your name flies with the wings of a new fame; new, I say, because it is not a poetic adulation, and not an historic lie, but the public voice which exalts you, and no praise is so clear as yours, since even the striplings are singing it. Nor should I refrain from telling you of Messer Angelo Contarino, who is no less learned than he is good, and who said, in a circle of senators: “The Marchese del Vasto is the wood of India which will cure Italy of the French plague.”49 It is no wonder, then, if I, with the pen and tongue of a pure and true man, find food in writing of the operations of the most excellent Alfonso d’ Avolos, my lord.

From Venice, the 20th of September, 1537.


47  I galli d’Italia.

48  Cf. Schrecklichkeit!

49  mal francese: the syphilis.



On the Same Subject.

Any one, brother, who would like to see the love which I, without desire of favor or reward, bear this city of God should have been able to lay his hand on my breast when your advice made me a party to the deliberations of the most serene senate against the Turks. I am sure my heart, at this news, indulged in such movements as it never shall know again, from any joy whatsoever. If it had not been that my judgment in the eleven years of Venetian liberty which I 173 have enjoyed had taught me to know the goodness of the Venetian nature, I should have been transported at such tidings. Any one who knows how much I love the religion to which we are born, how I desire the glory of the divine place which I, by my own choice, inhabit and how I long for the greatness of the emperor, whose Majesty holds my virtue as his handmaiden — any one who knows this, will believe me. What a fine boast will be Venice’s, throughout the world and in every century, that for Jesus she spilled blood and riches! But if I, merely by living here, feed on such a reputation, what should you do who, thanks to your learning, your wide experience and your all-sufficient worth, are established with us as a gentleman? May God never let the thought enter my mind of moving foot out of these secure and sacred waters; and so may my mind always be bent to consider the excellencies of such a republic, which, holding its right direct from God, commands and forbids dishonest things, by custom and not by code, and so has created most chaste laws, which restrain the audacious and assure the innocence of the good, the dominion of which shall be concurrent with the eternity of the universe. It could not be otherwise, for these people rule their magistrates, not their magistrates them. And from this, if follows that the dignity of Christ is placed before the interest of individuals, and established law has placed the heart of St. Mark in the palm of the Christian faith, so that princes may see its pure intention. Then, get your pen and paper ready, for the fortunate outcome of the holy and ordained enterprise will provide you with plenty of material, and such a subject is proper food for your intellect.

From Venice, the 22nd of September, 1537.



Against the Pedants.

I, magnificent son, had thought it impossible, even though 174 fate smiled upon my virtues, ever to disentangle myself from the hands of necessity; and now, thank God, I find myself in the arms of want, which to my judgment is a thing more tolerable than the beggary of utter poverty. But I swear to you that the claws of envy, which have so plucked my feathers, are a thing I never hope to escape, living or dead. Would you believe that the inventors of envy were the pedants? I assure you, I think it came from their swinish attempts to prove that two negatives made an affirmative. But I am really much obliged to the malignity of my crucifiers, for the thought of them leads me to smite their horse’s buttocks continuously, giving them a hundred blows for their own faults and a hundred for the virtues of others. But how insolent that herd which devours me with its envy would be, if God, in his goodness, were to show them the grace he shows to me, such grace that no prince appears to be a prince, if he does not witness the fact by paying constant tribute to my virtue? By my faith, in all the happiness which my virtue brings me, I have always shown an extreme modesty; for this, I have fled neither the light of day nor the occult arrogance of the worst of men. Since it is not true that he who hates a virtuous man is good, it is not seemly to offend the academy of all the virtuous and the good! And if it were not that I know envy always trails glory, I should lose patience, as you have with the advocates, for advocates are the night of the day of justice. In refusing such a title, you display the mind of a gentleman; and so, leaving the quarrels over the rights and wrongs of the widow and the orphan50 to those who have at heart gain rather than conscience, seek to procure rank for yourself in other offices, spending the hours, which with you are coming along, in poetry, as you well know you and your brothers owe this to your own reputations. The learned look with great expectation to the Rime of Messer Domenico, and the work of Messer Francesco is beyond expectation, since he is not of the profession. 175 I believe that the seed of the magnificent Messer Giannandrea which is in you comes from Parnassus; and so, all his sons should be Apollos and Mercuries. Virtue is a fine thing in any one, but it is of the finest when joined to nobility, in which case it grows by its own grace and the graces of the one who adorns himself with it. May you have, then, no other concern; for a little glory is worth a vast deal of worldly goods.

From Venice, the 24th of September, 1537.


50  queste vedova e . . . quel pupillo.



On the Death of a Friend.

Just as I was reflecting, illustrious spirit, on the praise which the voice of public acclaim gives your facile and felicitous labors — such praises as those judges give who, by their knowledge, are worthy of passing judgment on you — just as I was thinking this, I was told: “The good Ferier Beltramo is dead! And then, with such an accident upon my mind, the joy that I had in thinking of your honors changed to grief in thinking of his death, and I was sad for the loss of a friend. But since I know that you know that he loved me as I am aware51 he loved you; I am sure you will mourn the immeasurable lovableness and the courteous manners of such a nature, even as I mourn for them. Truly, man is a bundle of weaknesses, devoured by misery and by time; and so, when, fortune scorning him, he draws up a balance of envy, he ought to reflect on the danger to his soul in confiding in life; for life is a toy made of glass; it appears to be of inestimable price, but in reality it is very cheap. And I, for my part, would compare it to the sun in winter, the cloud in summer, the flower in spring and the leaf in autumn. But what displeasure have I given Death that she must every day so fiercely outrage me? She meets revenge in you, who dwell beyond her jurisdiction; let her turn to Sperone or 176 Grazia or Molino, who are immortal, but not to me, whose eyes are always fixed on her eternal sleep. How cruel she is, since, without looking, she, with one stroke almost, has taken away from me Luigi Gritti, Anton da Leva, Francesco Sforza, and Ippolito and Alessandro de’ Medici, without having also to rob me of the signor Giovanni and of Bonifazio, marchese di Monferrato; for all these deaths have left me without hope, and if the goodness of Charles were to cease, I should be as little a thing as he is great. And for a final blow, she has taken from me as much tenderness, as much gentleness and as much lovableness as could be desired in the rite of friendship. There will never be a more courteous, a more loving or a more cordial companion. He was affection itself; and it is for this reason that I have been unable to express to you my astonishment at the manner in which you, by your works, have put an end to slander; nor can any one tire of reading those works or of exalting their vivacious, novel, sweet and candid spirit. They are such as to cause Fame, when she thinks of them, to marvel, to the great honor of your name.

From Venice, the 26th of September, 1537.


51  An example of Aretino’s occasional perverted word-play.



Fungi, Quail and Thrushes.

By grace of being a good fellow, which is a title I must accord you, you sent me not merely the fungi, which I expected, but a mess of quails and thrushes, which I did not expect; and so, I really ought to thank you for ten gifts; for these are a safer diet than those perilous mushrooms and are cooked in two turns of the skillet, sandwiched with lettuce and sausages in careless fashion. But you cannot do that with the fungi, which must be boiled with two slices of bread and then fried in oil. And moreover, one likes to eat them in the morning but not so well at night, from fear of being poisoned, when it is not so easy to wake up their 177 excellencies, the doctors. The churchmen do well who confess themselves and go to communion before they put them in their mouths. I take great pleasure in watching a cowardly glutton who likes to fill his belly with them, and in laughing at him when he bends double as the odor assails his nose and fear his mind. But he who does not know how cheaply life holds itself may get some idea by putting in his mouth such victuals as these, which are no less poisonous than they are vile. And yet, don’t fail to send us some! But may God guard you from these and other accidents.

From Venice, the 20th of October, 1530.



Of His Own Loves.

How often, honorable brother, have I smiled to myself at the venereal intrigues of our Molza. I have laughed as I thought of all of them and of the miracles which his sacred genius works for its own pleasure. I never have seen the snow falling from heaven without remarking: “Molza’s amours are more numerous than all those flakes,” being prepared to swear that Cupid had spent all his arrows on my friend’s account and so had been forced to bet into submission with his bow and quiver the hearts he would conquer. And I was stupefied to think how so generous-minded a man, coming from the holy temples and the grand palazzi, should turn to the synagogues and permit himself to be ensnared by a Jewess, known to all the world as such. But now that I begin to have some knowledge of myself, I laugh at myself and wonder; for running from one madness to another, I doubt if my own love-escapades are not eternal. Look you, the second follows the first and the fourth the third, crowding as thickly on one another as do my prodigal debts. Surely, there must be in my eyes so tender a fury that, attracting to itself every bit of loveliness, it still can never get enough of beauty. And I often have been inclined to think that in this 178 I was avenged for the blasphemies of the priests, resolved to thank God that nature more often shows me objects of love than objects of hate, thanking fate who has made me a lover and not a tradesman. And except that I ought not to be practicing such a trade at my age, I would look upon myself as blessed, for amorous desire is a delightful torment, and the teeth of concupiscence bite sweetly and gently; for in such vexation as this, you look for good things to come and take no less pleasure in future than in present joys, delighting yourself even with those that are past. If I, by some necromancy, were able to rid myself of the weight of eight or ten years, I should be wise and triumph by making a change from month to amorous month, like a sharp and stingy courtezan who, by changing her servant every fifteen days, finds herself well served and with no salary to pay. But it is the very devil to try to make such changes as this in your old age, for age has a good mind and sorry shanks. And it is a sin that the poor old lady cannot close her eyes, at midnight or dawn, from suffering all the passions and jealousies of youth, fixing her thoughts, which ought to be on death that hold her by the hair, on some diva who makes sport of her solicitudes and her cares. Any one is surely crazy who thinks that all the gifts of old men and the trouble to which they put themselves do them any good. The insults and vituperations, the outrages and infamies of beardless youths are more grateful to the women than all the fame and all the glory which he who has fame and glory can possibly give them. And I ought to know, who have made the heavens ring with the name of the one I loved with the holiest and most chaste affection,52 and who have had for my reward my own disgrace. And with this, I commend myself to you.53


52  Pierina Riccia.

53  Without date.




In Which He Remembers the Friend Who Has Never Abandoned Him in Adversity.

You can see, brother, God has willed that I should conquer, with patience and with virtue, the perversity of the times, the avarice of princes and the envy of men. Despite the sorrows that banished my virtue from Rome, those virtues have remained unchanged. And I, satisfied with my own honors, flying with the wings of the very best reputation, am known to all the world, just as you have heard of me even in Leo’s temple. And so, joining yourself to me in that true friendship which never belies the name, you have always suffered, in my persecutions, the same pains that I suffered. Nor did I ever sigh or grieve at the wrongs done me that you also did not sigh and grieve. I have seen you, in the course of the treasons that have befallen me, preferring, for my sake, to leave the service of Cornaro and Rangone, your most revered patrons, showing to him who had robbed my seven years54 of service of the hope that was theirs that fate was not thereby able to rob me of your friendship, of which I never have despaired in the most tempestuous or the most calm and tranquil fortune. All this you do for the reason that your own joy stands in no need of comfort nor the upright man of support. Truly, I prefer my own good fortune to the victories of the emperor, because I have been able to acquire and to keep such a friend as you. And there is more glory for you in being such a friend than if you were the repository of all wisdom. The zeal of one who knows how to exercise charity and benevolence is of more merit than are the works which the soul performs out of pity. It is proper that the terms, holy and wonderful, be applied to the best of friends, whose tender offices produce such holy and miraculous fruits. That those fruits are holy is shown by the good that follows them; and as to how miraculous they are, 180 I who, through them, feel myself transformed into you, am a demonstration. I am grateful to you for having always, with all your faculties, watched over and succoured my happiness, which draws tears of joy from your eyes, as my adversities have drawn tears of compassion.

From Venice, the 25th of October, 1537.


54  The sette anni traditori. See the sonnet.

[Letters LXXX-XCIX]


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