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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. 211-244.



Letters C-CXVII



In Which He Exhorts Him to Return to Venice.

Titian, your father, has conveyed the salutations you sent me, and I was scarcely less delighted with them than with two wild chickens, which I took the liberty of presenting to myself, being commissioned by him to present them in his name to a lord. And, since you perceive my liberality, I pay you back “mille millanta, che tutta notte canta” requesting that you give the leanest ones to your good little brother, Orazio, since he has forgotten to tell me what his fancy is about spending, as soon as he can, this world and the other; for your thrift is enough for one who gets the goods,73 since, being a priest, we must believe that you cannot depart from the custom of Melchisedek. Health, then, shall be the gift I wish you. It is time now to get back to work, for the villa, it seems to me, is not keeping school; after it, the city is a winter cloak. Come, then, straightaway, so that, with your thirteen years and your Hebrew, Greek and Latin 212 we can drive all the doctors on the map to despair, just as the fine things your father does routs all the painters of Italy. I am telling you the truth. Keep warm and a good appetite.

From Venice, the 26th of November, 1537.


73  guadagna la robba.



Of the Crowd of People Surrounding Him.

To the prayers, my brother, with which others work upon me I add my own and, binding them all together, send them to you for your inspection, begging that you will let me have a sample of anything you may produce in the way of lettering. While you may reply that I, in my request, am looking for the fair of Ricanati, I know that you have a sufficient store to draw upon, and the tongues of the Tower of Babel were not so numerous as are the various manners in which, with your diligent and patient genius, you compose and draw your characters, your pen all the while painting the small details and sculpturing the great ones. The great Emperor, in Bologna, spent an entire day in contemplating the greatness of your art, marveling at seeing written, without abbreviation, the Credo and the “In principio” in the space of a denary, laughing at Sire Pliny, who speaks of a certain Iliad of Homer as being contained in a nutshell. Pope Clement also was astonished when you unfolded for him your cartoons, whereupon Iacopo Salviati, eyeing some of your majescules, ornamented with leaf-work, exclaimed: “Holy Father, look at those crests!” I prefer above all others, that style of letter which is round and antique, of which the honor of the world, His Caesarean Majesty, is so fond; and I am seeking an example of this sort for one of those lords who give me a constant headache with their visits, until my stairs are worn out with the tramping of their feet, even as the pavement of Campidoglio is with the wheels of 213 triumphal chariots. Nor do I believe that Rome, in a manner of speaking, ever saw so great an admixture of the nations as is to be met with in my house. To me come Turks, Jews, Indians, French, Germans and Spaniards; and then, think of what our own Italians do to me. Of the smaller fry I do not speak, but I tell you, it would be an easier thing to break your devotion to the emperor than to find me for a moment alone, and without a throng of scholars, friars and priests about me. From which, it would appear, I have become the oracle of truth, since every one comes to tell me the wrong that has been done to him by this prince and that prelate; and so I am the secretary to the world, and it is as such that they address me in superscriptions. And now, I am still waiting for the dial-plates, as well as the pearls, which I have asked of you, but which I fear I am not to have, not because you are not courtesy itself, but because, in addition to the fame which comes with the profession in which you stand unique, you wish also, while making yourself honored with your design, the glory of poetry, laying down new rules for locutions and giving no heed to the throngs who storm your imagination merely for a glimpse of your handiwork, while those who would like to imitate you rob you with their eyes. So please lay aside one of the two virtues given you from above and serve me, who am always at your service.

From Venice, the 27th of November, 1537.


74  The calligrapher.



In Which He Advises Him Against the Army.

I, you big madman, was forced the other day to put out of your head, with threats of excommunication, the fancy of taking a wife; and now, I have to set to work to disabuse you of the whim of going to camp. It is gospel truth that bread and soldiers are not worth much in the end; although you might reply, “What are you going to do in time of famine or 214 time of war?” It seems to me you are mad even to think of going, and madder still to adhere to the purpose; for the art of war is like the art of the courtezan — indeed, they might be called sisters, since both are the slaves of desperation and the step-daughters of that swinish fortune which never tires of crucifying us at every turn. Certainly, the court and the field may be embraced together, since in the one you will find want, envy, old age and the hospital, while in the other you have only to gain wounds, prison and fame. I am aware of all that fine talk which goes on about the table, when they begin to lay plans for going to Rome. Some one of an ambitious turn of mind leans back at the end of the meal and remarks: “I’d like to put on the habit, take horse and service and go with the Pope, or with the Reverend So-and-So. I am a good musician, I am not unlettered and I delight in — and he goes on talking. I like such crazy dreaming, because a man in such thoughts appears to himself a very Trojan; but I very much disapprove of putting those thoughts into action, for if you do, in two months you will be eating your own clothes, your servant and your pony, having made an enemy of your patron and of paradise, in case you go there. That martial and fulminating manner you should regard as a bizarre and bestial gesture, that bragging of what you did and said to the French, as, giving yourself a thousand followers and two hundred helmets, you proceed to take castles, burn villages, plunder peoples and seize treasures; and if you merely wish to cut a couple of capers on your charger in front of your lady love, with your head all decked out in feathers, stay at home; you can do is just as well here! For a gaudeamus in front of a hen-roost, you go without bread for supper for a week, and for a bundle of rags, which is your booty, and a prison, which is yours whenever God wills it, you have as recompense the right to come home with a staff in your hand and to sell everything you have, even to your vineyard, in order to keep put of the domo Petri. When you tell me of the aglets, the medallions and the collars of those whom you have seen return, for example, from the Piedmont, I reply that if you had seen those who have come here and stayed with us without a picciolo, you would feel compassion for them, as one feels pity for those poor wretches who are subject to the knaveries of the court. And so, changing the argument, since you are better fitted to making a sonnet than to raising a levy, you would do well to go on having a good time at my expense; for those who get a nibble at the big tickets in a lottery are very few. Finally, the pay which a soldier gets goes as it comes,75 as with gamblers and churchmen. I have seen the nephews of cardinals reduce to nothing the benefices left to them and die of their necessities; and I, whom you see, have held the pay of fellow soldiers, and woe to them if I had not done so! Buckle this to you, and then go dress yourself in armor. The signor Giovanni de’ Medici said on one such occasion: “They prattle about my being a valiant man, and yet, I have never been able to achieve fame.”

From Venice, the 28th of November, 1537.


75  “Come easy, go easy.”



In Which He Praises a Plain Style.

I would to God, dear brother, that the masticated prose which many employ were as pure and common as are the words which, when you speak, you draw from familiar usage. For the ruggedness of the compositions of others does not induce, at first glance, any desire to read them. I am aware that my judgment has nothing to do with the good will I feel for you; and so, believe me when I swear to you, on the sacrament of friendship, that, if you were to commence to translate into our vulgate the Greek of Aristotle, you would be the means of humanizing a sufficient number of persons who, not understanding any other tongue are unable to exhibit the benefits conferred upon them by nature. Certain it is, you are fitted to enlighten their darkness with the plainness 216 of your diction, making gently apparent the sense of things confused in the clouds of matter. It is a good thing, in the formation of a vocabulary, to pay some attention to the sound, and not to fall into the use of “altresi” and “chenti,” when “ancora and “quanti” are quite as pleasing. What have we to do with words which have been used in the past, but which are no longer in use? Surely, any one now who saw a cavalier in armor would think he was either mad or masquerading. It seems to me, I see Sire Apollo with his stockings in the belfry when I come upon “uopo” at the top of some canzone or other. To those pedagogues who assert that all the better writers never lift their pens from the Latin of Cicero, I reply that every man of good genius, writing familiarly, almost never employs the Tuscan of Boccaccio. Go on, then, with that honorable translation, for it will be an enrichment to pleasant intellects. In the meanwhile, you behold me the prey to your bounty, with all respect to that science of which you are the repository.

From Venice, the 30th of November, 1537.




I, generous son, have looked at the verses which the gracious Messer Giuffre Cinami personally fetched me, and they appear to me of too great a style and invention to have come from a youth like you; I have for them more respect than you yourself profess. And since, in the letter which accompanied them, you say you have been requested to ask me what fame and ambition are, I, my son, will reply that I am not the dragoman of philosophy nor Aristotle’s secretary; and so, I will simply say that, to me, fame is the stepmother of death and ambition the excrement of glory. I hope you are well.

From Venice, the 2nd of December, 1537.




Against the Game of Lotto.

Feeling, my good fellow, the blasphemies of sixty-thousand on my shoulders — sixty-thousand persons with their bowels beaten out, crucified and chopped to mince-meat by the expectations of the game of lotto, I put up in your behalf a strong talk76 to quiet those stubborn-headed ones who would have made you out to be the author of the game. I assure you, I put up a better defense for you against the storming of these swine77 than you would have had from a basket of scimitars. For this novelty, in truth, is the invention of ill-fated asses and hopeful cows;78 they take pleasure in providing a thousand forks for a man to hang himself on. Those ribald sisters, Fate and Hope, are like a pair of gypsy wenches who, at the fair of Foligno or that of Lanciano,79 make a fool of this knave or that. Hope takes the clowns by the hand, while Fate, pretending to be a party to the joke, keeps them at bay. In the meanwhile, the purse remains as empty as a pricked bladder. Hope, eh? Fate, ah? If in the house of Satan one did not have to associate with such bitches as these, one would not mind going there. The false and lying ones, when they have assassinated a good man, go into ecstasies, like villagers in eating oiled bread. To tell you the truth, I should like to know: is this lotto male or female? For my part, I believe it is an hermaphrodite, since it has the names, “lotto” and “ventura.80 And it must be the best stuff in Italy81, since it gives a knockout82 to a world 218 of people at one blow, mixing even with the whores, dragging along at its tail the populace and the arts. As soon as “he” appears in the piazza, behold, all the twelve thousand chosen ones come trotting: Noah’s ark, the temple of Solomon, the synagogues, the mosques, the cohorts of the priests, the hierarchies of friars, with all the sinners and half-desperate wretches. And then, the big fox stands there like one who has taken a basket of snails into the light and is beside himself with astonishment at seeing them put out their horns. I tell you, the niggard will bring forth his cups, his rings, his collars and his denarii; and then, the fellow kids the crowd83 of aimless ones who have gathered to see the show. He bursts into a guffaw when this one or that, giving him the eye, fetches a couple of sighs and says to himself: “Who knows? And why not?” Some other stretches out his hand and takes the jewel or chain which he happens to fancy and places it on his finger or at his throat; others paw over the beakers and basins. This one displays a contempt for his ducats, this one for his possessions, and this other for his houses; and in all this madness, swarms of persons are to be seen, trampling and suffocating one another in the crush to place their bets. And such language! The ugliest, most traitorous, silliest, spiciest, dirtiest and most diabolic of any in the world!84 Words from the Psalms, the Gospels, the Epistles and the Calendar, half verses and whole verses. But these are merely gallantries to such as these. The cruel thing is to see the poor wretches so drunken with them. Here is one taking the bed from under him and selling it for a couple of policies. A widow is saying to a little priest, all wrapped up in his hospital blouse: “Take this chaplet, and say for me the masses of Saint Gregory for the good of my soul.” “Masses, eh?” responds the sire. “There won’t be any too many of them, for I’ll soon be defecating on the red 219 candles.” And taking two strides toward the church with the step of a canon, he explains to the good lady that the three lire which he has on the lotto will be enough to take care of him. A countryman coming upon the scene and learning that six marcelli are enough to win the lottery, sells his winter’s coat and buys a ticket as though he had won it already. He’s not going to touch the spade any more, if Christ himself turns gardener.85 One of them who stood by my side for some time, all puffed up because he had won three tickets, upon hearing me curse because I did not have the means, said to me: “Don’t worry boss; I’ll stand by you”86 How many house-wives throw away their allowances here? How many concubines all they have gained from the tread-mill of their trade? How many grooms pledge their feast-day socks for this?87 Every one who is trying to get rich here would be happy, if no one ever won anything; for the winnings are every one’s when they go to no one. The air at such a time is finer than that of Arabia Felice, so many gardens are planted here by hope and fate. It would be a comedy that would make a weeping man burst into laughter, if one could make a book of the thoughts that are fixed on those six thousand sequins in the lottery. This one is dreaming of houses, this one of embroidered clothes, this one of putting money in the bank, this one of marrying off his sisters, this one of investing in farms. The servant I have spoken of writes to his father of a palace with a garden which he is sure of getting with his winnings and tells the old man he need not speak of a hundred more or less. But it is all a joke. See how they do away with the good chances and keep the bad ones. “Go hang yourself!”88 exclaims one who had sold the winning ticket, retaining the 220alba ligustra cadunt,”89 as the pedant says. But how do they feel when it is all over? Watch them throng about the box, which is upon high and so well fitted out that it would seem Messer Lotto had taken a wife or Mistress Chance had married. Now the lad has his hand in the urn filled with tickets, and hearts are beating and everybody stops breathing while eyes and ears are fixed on the fellow who, in a gross and laughing voice, first reads and then sings out: “White!” And a gift is not so soon gone as fall the babble and the faces of those thousands, and when the big hope-killer takes his departure with a “leva eius,” he leaves the crowd as a coward who has surrendered on the field is left. Whoever has witnessed the breaking up of these disappointed mobs, knows what the household of Pope Leo is like, when, after the exequies, they return weeping to consume their forty-days handout.90 Certainly, he is wise who, amid all these madnesses, can say that he has played, locked up and consumed his last ticket in this fine device. But those who blame fortune for their ruin in this path, as if their very lives had been stolen, so breathe maledictions upon Your Lordship’s head that, if it were not for your friends’ defending you from their fury, as I have done, you would be worse off than those who, when the votes are counted, fall into despair because their name is not among the lucky ones.

From Venice, the 3rd of December, 1537.


76  sciorinai . . . una strenua diceria. This letter, giving so vivid a picture of manners, is extremely colloquial — so colloquial that translation is almost impossible at times, and a literal translation frequently is out of the question — and I have, accordingly, endeavored to preserve this colloquial quality by seeking, where such search would not be far-fetched, the contemporary Americanism.

77  cancari.

78  de la sorte asina e de la speranza vacca.

79  Popular fairs of the cinquecento.

80  One masculine, the other feminine in grammatic gender.

81  la miglior robba d’Italia.

82  da martello.

83  soia le turbe.

84  This was the milieu which Aretino loved to depcit and the language he loved to employ, e. g., in his Ragionamenti.

85  Exceedingly idiomatic: non averia tocco la zappa, che tenne in man Cristo, transformato in ortolano.

86  “Non vi disperate, padrone, che non son per mancarvi.

87  impegnano le calze dal di de le feste per cio: cf. our “bet your Sunday socks.”

88  Literally: Va’ e non t’impicca.

89  “The white privets fall”: Virgil, Eclogues, II., 18.

90  le regaglie dei quaranta giorni.



Of a Stable-Boy Who Plays the Poet.

Since all the poets of the Round Table91 take advantage of you, teasing your brains with their cobbler’s chatterings, I shall take refuge in that same patience of yours by sending you one in praise of that strenuous man, Lord Malatesta, a mortal philosopher, although one ought to be happy to 221 escape his verses, which have neither feet to run with nor a behind to sit on. He makes them of half syllables or of fifteen and a third, employing the rules of Fra Giannino, who measures his with a pair of compasses. And now, surely, we have seen everything there is to be seen, when even the maestri of the stables begin poetizing; and Petrarch is but a graceless wretch, since he could not make such lined and relined verses, in the manner of the stable-boys. What kind of expression is ‘rumica e buffa cornacchia,” which he uses under the beard of the Tuscan tongue? I never thought to laugh so much as I did yesterday. I said to him: “How goes it with Your Highness, arcifanfana92 of Immortality?” “Fine,” he replied, “since, thanks to God, I’ve been able to fart twice on Parnassus, as well as any other.” A saying worthy of Cino da Pistoia, not to say of Dante. And so, you may show my sonnet to the most illustrious Signor, Count Guido, and may His Excellency provide the chains for it, as it is certainly unshackled enough.

From Venice, the 15th of December, 1537.

The Sonnet93

I’m astonished, Malatesta, the laurel tree

Isn’t crazy about94 giving you a crown;

All the old blades and old loves in the town

Should split their breeches95 over your poetry.

A million wrongs men do you, I can see,

By not hymning your fair name, and doing it brown.96

Apollo himself isn’t worthy to let down

Your socks, nor all his tribe to wipe your lee.

By God! I cannot think how you can write

Such verses as you do out of your head.

And dress them up till they’re so brave and bright.


Monsieur the cook, you may be comforted,

Is your very slave, and I doubt not but he might

Even urinate upon you, when you’re dead.


91  la Tavola ritonda.

92  great swaggerer, great boaster.

93  Doggerel, of course. I have preserved the doggerel character.

94  faccin le pazzie per coronarvi.

95  sbraghino.

96  frastagliare.




I more than congratulate myself, Sire Pecora,97 that you have been published as the chaplain of the muses. But watch out for your tail, for Sire Apollo is a hard lad, and when he gets jealous, is just as likely to give you a good wallop on the behind with the bow to his lyre as he is to spit on the ground. For this reason, it would be a good thing to get yourself castrated, and I beg you to do so; and then, Sire Phoebus, old hatchet-face, will give you a present on Easter and Christmas and, more than likely, all the old blades, worn-out currycombs and other asses of their kind. But that’s enough: I know what they say about that bald head of yours, “quoniam frigent in veste camoenae,” and in memory of it I kiss your hand with the following sonnet:

Iuelo, immaculate and strenuous sire,

My detonating, titubating friend,

May Apollo bind you to his chariot-end

And Orpheus teach you to cook nuts in the fire.

Of hearing the Te Deum we may tire,

But not of your majestic verse; you bend

The sword of poetry and straightway send

Old Petrarch back to polish up his — lyre.

This asinine and silly century

Should carve you up in wood and caviare,

To the praise and glory of high poesy.

If marble weren’t so dear, I should take care

To embalm you with a perfumed eulogy

In a temple fit for Heaven’s only Heir.


97  pecora: ewe-sheep.




In Which He Bemoans His Friend’s Absence.

I recall how, when you were here, you used to knock at my door, and I was like a baby who knows its father is bringing apples and comfits. I had grown so used to seeing you constantly at the door that, now I know you are gone, I am sad whenever any one else comes to the house. Your virtue and courtesy have so made me yours that I am no longer myself, except when you give me a sight of you. Nor shall my heart ever forget the contentment of soul I felt that evening when you brought me word of Caesar’s gift; the happiness which you felt upon that occasion equaled and even surpassed my own joy. That is the way good friends ought to be. But rest assured, I shall pay this debt in eternal coin. Do not forget to remember me to Messer Aniballe Palmegiani da Forli, to Messer Marcantonio Patanella and to all the other gentlemen of the court.

From Venice, the 5th of December, 1537.



A Dream.

Although the ambassador of a Duke d’Urbino, who is always wide awake, has nothing to do with dreams, I am going to give you one which is so enormous it would prove too much even for a Daniel.

Tonight, not from superfluity of food or melancholy, but simply from my accustomed thoughtlessness, I was sleeping the best sleep ever, when there suddenly appeared to me a gentle dream-creature. I said to him: “What is it, Sire Girandolone?”98 “The mountain of Parnassus, which you see there,” he replied. And then, I found myself at its foot, and looking up, I was like one of those who contemplate the difficulties of San Leo. But it was a devil of a story getting over it; the easy thing was to do down it. From the sides of the mountain, where St. Francis had his stigmata, rose 224 masses of earth and stone, intermingled with uprooted trees; but from above were falling heaps of men, so horrible that it was a cruel and inhuman sport to see them grasping at this or that trunk, sweating blood all the while. Some, who appeared to be like those who scale a garden wall to write their names with carbon on the top, would fall to the ground with a sickening thud;99 others, half way up, would stop without being able to go further. Some would seize the leg of the one above; others would go mad and bite those who drew near them. Still others, when they perceived they were but a little way from the top, would come tumbling down, like one of those who, when they reach out their hand for the capon, seeing the rope under their feet, slide down the greased pole,100 at which sport the populace fills the air with hoots and shouts. Still others, on striking their heads against the buttocks of the pharisees above, would experience the same madness that moves those who kill cats. And the cause of all this was a garland, similar to the hoop of a hostelry. These madmen with the slackening arms were breaking their necks in a lake of ink blacker than a printer’s river; and there was no sport that equaled such a spectacle as this. He who did not know how to swim drowned; and he who swam came to the other bank with a more horrifying aspect than any Dante ever saw, even in the intercourse of little souls, which he places in the pitch of the inferno.

I fixed my eyes on all the faces; but the masks of various colors did not permit me to recognize any of them; the disgraceful cries they made, yes. Some were lamenting the criticism which their translations, some that which their romances and other works had encountered. I, who could not help laughing, said to them: “You, who are learned, ought to note and follow the example of Caesar, when he saved his Commentaries; you ought to thank fate for bringing you out alive; for it is certain that commentators and 225 translators are less than those who plaster walls, chalk tables, or grind colors for a Giulio Romano or some other famous painter.” This was the way I spoke to them. And, even as I perceived that my own clothes had been soiled by contact with such as these, I discerned my fine Franco101 coming up the very path which I myself had made over the back of the mountain, and it was not without pleasure and wonderment that I beheld him in this by-way. And it appeared to me also that Ambrogio102 my own creation, was clinging close to my heels, hastening his steps.

And then, behold me in an inn, set down by the wayside to ensnare the assassins of poetry. As I entered, I could not resist exclaiming: “He who has not been in a tavern does not know what a paradise it is,” as Cappa says. Repressing my appetite in my stomach, I thought of turning tail and running.103 At this, behold, there appeared to me one Marfisa,104 clad in helmet, breastplate and sword. To discern this sight, to say to myself, “Be brave,” and to feel myself snatched upward was but the work of a moment. I, who was in a bad way and could only console myself with repeating, “I’m dreaming,” became discouraged when I reflected, “I was dreaming, at least!” But all this, I assure you, my brother, happened of itself.

Maestro Apollo, before whom I was brought, I cannot tell you how, had one of my heads on a medallion; and suddenly, espying me, he opened his arms and gave me a kiss on the middle of the lips, so sweet that some one, I do not know who, cried out: “Sassata!” Oh, he was the fine lad!105 Oh, he was fine! Surely, if Rome had been lying there asleep instead of me, she would have wished never to awake. And would you believe there was a pan of ox-herbs there, long and tender? He had two smiling eyes, a happy face, an airy


Black and white lithograph by the Marquis de Bayros, of a seated woman in robes before a lighted ornate screen, with a halo, and a man in the shadows to the side, owering against a wall.


forehead, a wide chest, two fine legs, and two of the finest pairs of feet and hands you ever saw; on the whole (to speak a little flowerily), he looked like a composition of breathing ivory, over which nature had scattered all the roses from Aurora’s cheeks. The short of it is, this acme of loveliness made me take my place among the muses. And as I sat there among them, it seemed to me I was in my own house, as I looked upon a certain figure of Time and another mask of Comedy. As I contemplated the cymbals, the bagpipes and the other instruments with which they passed the time, look you, the good Febo divulged, to the tune of Salamone, two stanzas of the Sirena, the sound of which made me weep not from the sweetness of the rhyme, but for the ignorant nature of the subject. Fame, moreover, kept up a constant chatter, and this spoiled the song. She, as soon as she knew me, began to deck herself in my honors, in a manner which I recommend to the ears of all the poor ladies who, when they hear it, will burst with envy. And then her prattle, which was of the sine fine dicentes order, changed, and she recited the praises of God as composed by the divine Pescara, with a few things of the learned Gambara, which, I would have you know, made the ladies leap for joy, for, being women, they took pleasure in such things as these.

After this, my lady Minerva, perceiving that I was a man of merit, took my hand and said, blushing and wise: “Let us walk a little way alone.” — And so, we came to the stall of Pegasus, who was being curried by Quinto Gruaro, while Father Biagio was filling his hay trough. He was a fine animal and one suited to bearing on his crupper the reverend testicles of those who, to leave a name for themselves, perform a thousand madnesses. And while I was wondering at the manners and wings of the beast, he consumed as much bewitched water as two Frenchmen with a cold chill would have drunk, if it had been wine. In color and in taste, it was like that of the Tre Fontane.


After we had soaked our beaks a while, we came to a little study, filled with pens, inkstands and paper; and without my asking, the armed lady said to me: “This is the place in which shall be written the deeds which your Duke d’Urbino must do against the enemies of Christ.” And I to her: “It could not be for anything else.” Having seen the writing room, I beheld a secret garden, full of palms and of laurels as green as possible; and divining that they were reserved for crowns of triumph, I, as she opened her mouth to speak, said: “I know what you wish to say.” And then, I perceived marbles, which I knew were being worked for the arches and statues of Francesco Mario and his son.

And then, I was with him in the church of Eternity, made, it seemed to me, of a Doric composition, signifying by its solidity his own eternal nature. I scarcely had entered, when I met my two brothers, Sansovino and Titian. The one was working over the bronze door of the temple, where were carved the four thousand followers and eight hundred horse with which His Excellency traversed Italy when he brought the plague to Leo. And when I asked him why he was leaving a certain space vacant, his reply was: “So that I can carve there what Paolo is going to do.” The other was placing over the great altar a tablet which depicted in most vivid form the victories of our emperor.

Having seen everything, they permitted me to go to the gate of the principal garden, and there I saw, approaching me, a number of youths, Lorenzo Veniero106 and Domenico, Girolamo Lioni, Francesco Badovaro and Federico, who, with fingers on their mouths, made me a sign that I should walk gently; and among them was the gentle Francesco Querino. Meanwhile, the scent of lilies, hyacinths and roses filled my nostrils with comfort;107 whereupon I, drawing near my friends, beheld upon a throne of myrtles the great Bembo.108 229 His face shown with a light not seen any more.109 Seated on high, with a diadem of glory on his head, he had about him a coronal of sacred spirits. There was Iovio, Trifon, Gabriello, Molza, Nicolò Tiepolo, Girolamo Querino, Alemanno, Tasso, Sperone, Fortunio, Guidiccione, Varchi, Vittor Fausto, Contarin Pier Francesco, Trissino, Capello, Molino, Fracastoro, Bevazzano, Navaier Bernardo, Dolce, Fausto da Longiano and Maffio. And I saw there, also, Your Lordship, with every other person of name, without giving heed to the manner in which I seat my guests, as I mention them in this case. I might tell you that this chorus of excelling genius stood attentive to the Istoria Veneziana, the words of which fell from the tongue of the man above with the same gravity with which a cloud climbs the sky. But since one had here to hold even his breathing in leash, and since I was not used to remaining quiet for so long, giving one glance at the resplendent clouds, which distilled a sugared blush on the open mouths of the listeners, wondering at the attention which birds, winds, air and foliage gave, none of them moving a bit, while even the odor of the violets was a respectful one and the flowers neglected to rain down for fear of breaking the spell of ears — with all this, I said to myself, very softly: “Valete et plaudite.”

But then I came to a kitchen, and near it I beheld I cannot tell you what skeleton throng, with the faces one sees in visions; and as I looked upon them, I perceived that their prosopopoeia lay in the fact that I was still very much in the flesh. Being more interested in looking upon the victuals than in contemplating these, I, with a fraternal presumption, saluted the cook, who was on the verge of despair because I had interrupted a capitolo of Sbernia or of Sire Mauro, whichever it was, which he was singing to the tune of a turning skillet. The fellow was roasting a phoenix over a fire of incense and aloes. You may be assured, I did not invite myself to a mouthful. As I stood there considering with my 230 palate’s best judgment the sweetness, sustenance and savour of it, I was like my knave drinking a julep, standing there with arms extended and spread out like a priest whose privates itch. At this, I perceived Apollo, who said to me: “Eat, so that those carrion there, who have consumed all my cabbages, herbs and salads, may know a greater hunger.” I, who was not able to say him nay, thanks to a beaker of the wine of God which I had just swilled down, thanked him with a nod. But as I changed place, I found myself in a prison paced by a folk clad in worse harness than the he-courtezan’s110 of today; and hearing that they had stolen, upon every occasion, pearls, gold, rubies, purple cloth, sapphires, amber and coral, I remarked: “These are poorly clothed, indeed, seeing they have committed such great thefts.” I saw also certain others who, upon making restitution to one another, were going out with slates as white111 as if they had just come from the Maker.

The conclusion of the dream was, I found myself in a market-place, as it seemed to me, where starlings, magpies, crows and parrots were imitating the geese on the eve of All Saints. With these birds, which I am telling you of, were certain togaed, wise-bearded and hopeless pedagogues, whose only occupation was to teach them to chatter by the points of the moon. Oh, what sport you would have had with one jackdaw, who was specifying “unquanco,” “uopo,” “scaltro,” “snello,” “sovente,” “quinci e quindi,” “restio,”112 You would have burst your jaws at seeing Apollo, flaming with anger, make a blockhead leap who could not succeed in making a nightingale say “gnaffe!113 whereupon, he broke the bottom of his cithara over the fellow’s hole, while Fame broke the handles of her trumpet. I know you will understand the reason for their penitence. It is the truth I am telling you, that it ended with my being given a basket 231 of laurel with which to wreathe myself. Whereupon, I said to them: “If I had the head of an elephant, I should not have the heart to wear it.” “Why not?” said my friend. “This bit of rue is given you for your acute and whorish dialogues, this nettle for your pungent priestly sonnets, this bouquet of a thousand devices for your pleasing comedies; this one of thorns for your Christian books, this cypress for the immortality that is your’s from your laudatory works,114 this olive for the peace you have made with princes, this laurel for your military and amorous stanzas, and this oak for the bestiality of your mind, which has vanquished avarice.” And I to him: “Look you, I take them and give them back to you; for if tomorrow I were to be seen with such fripperies in my cap, I should be canonized as a madman. The laurels of poets and the spurs of cavalrymen have played the devil with Reputation’s purse. And so, I beg you, rather, to give me a privilegio, by means of which I shall be able to sell or pawn those virtues which the heavens have given me in passing; for thereby I not only shall have quite a few denarii without labor, but I shall not have to listen to my name being taken in vain in all the libraries, by the pedants with their fine points. Reserve for me, therefore, enough genius to excuse you for being a stable boy to these dames —” At least, I was about to say this. But the noise which was made, thanks to Monna Thalia, when, she, in a manner to make you split, had so tangled up the wings of Fate that the latter looked like a thrush in the birdlime — the uproar woke me up.

From Venice, the 6th of December, 1537.


98  girandolone: roamer.

99  Exactly: matte piattonate.

100  legno insaponato: the sport appears to be an old one.

101  Nicolo, his secretary and, later, betrayer: see Introduction.

102  His secretary: see Introduction.

103  alzare il fianco per una volta.

104  Aretino’s epic: see Introduction.

105  Oh, egli e il bel fanciullone! Cf. The stage Hibernianism, “broth of a boy.”

106  His secretary: see the story of the Puttana errante, Introduction.

107  Aretino like Baudelaire, appears to have been particularly sensitive to odors.

108  The pedant: see Introduction.

109  luce non piu veduta: cf. The “light that never was.”

110  Or courtiers: cortegiani.

111  carete bianche: cf. carte blanche.

112  Aretino’s pet aversions in diction, which he lists over and over again.

113  In truth, by my troth.

114  Which Aretino himself would seem to have fancied above all.




If the olives which you sent me had not been good, you would not have had two vases from me to fill with more. I 232 swear to you, I never have tasted better or finer. Even Tuscany, mistress of the gentle art, has to bow to the manner in which yours are dressed. Those of Spain are haughty and large; those of Bologna, like those of Spain, not being split, retain something of the bitter flavor they get from the tree; those of Apulia might be called “spit-breads,” from being so dwarfed. Hence, the balance of praise must remain on your side. And so, I am going to ask you if we may have a few more, since the two baskets we had barely touched the palates of my friends.

Messer Polo, your son and mine, is playing the gentleman and only lives when he is with Madonna Pierina,115, his wife and your daughter-in-law. Nor would you recognize the latter, so greatly has she grown in beauty and manners, which makes her much esteemed. You should be glad that, thanks to God, she is a vessel of gold, holding all the virtues which are to be desired in a young girl. If you could see the timorous prudence she exhibits in her relations to her husband, you would love her. And what touches my heart is the mother, who is beside herself with contentment. I, as you have asked me, have not consented that she should quarrel with her son-in-law; instead, the good lad has shared his own with her; and when her days are ended, all shall be theirs. Finally, greet in my name my daughter’s kinswomen, and tell them I shall soon see to it that their brother comes to visit them. Remember me to Messer Vincenzio.

From Venice, the 10th of December, 1537.


115  Pierina Riccia: see Introduction and preceding letters.



In Which He Praises the Benedictines.

If the valiant man, father, to whom you consigned the letter which was brought to me had not delivered it through another, I should have been able to offer him my assistance whenever it was needed. But since I did not see him, I will 233 tell you that any labor will be sport to me, if I can only give pleasure to you and to your friends. To those persons who love me I am bound, and these may dispose of me as they will, as may always Your Reverence, whose kind breast was opened to me the first day you saw me; and the reason of this was, there reigned in your mind no trace of the friar, so well did you have it under control. For in the religion which you follow and observe, there is no niggardliness; Saint Benedict was a personage different from all the others in the calendar; and as he foresaw the scandal which would arise in the thoughts of others who were consumed by want, he threw open the door of commerce to his sons, in order that they might, with nothing to hinder, turn back to their offices and their orisons. I know with what a brave fantasy I set myself to write when the manna of liberality is raining down upon me! I know also in what a devil of a whirl my brain is when I lack omnia bona. At this point, I want to tell you of a wooden-shoe father, who was standing on the bank of a deep river that would have come above his cincture, waiting for some one, for the love of God, to take him across. And he would have stood there the rest of his days, had he not fallen in with a pair of religious of your order, whose rumps were most mundanely fortified with a brace of stallions. No sooner did the poor wretch catch sight of them than he began twisting his neck in a gesture of hypocrisy and begged from them, in the name of charity, the crupper of one of those bays. Leaping into the torrent and tucking up the ends of his monk’s cloak, he held on to the saddle for dear life; but he was scarcely across before the demon tempted him. He thought of his wooden shoes, and then the devil put a fancy into his head, and he thought how fine it would be to be carried always; he had a vision of himself never getting off, and when they said to him: “Come down now” and urged him with words and elbow-digs to do so, he replied: “This beast is as much mine as any body’s else, for I have decided to become a member of your order.” 234 Nor were they able to make him dismount. And when they came to the monastery, he put on a black habit, saying: “Take your gray, St. Francis, for those, too, who are rich, and who do not bore holes through their hands, go to heaven.” It is foolish to believe that nature does not resent the injuries which she receives from heat and cold. It is suicidal not to take water for one’s thirst and bread for one’s hunger; shivering or perspiring limbs must be refreshed with fire and wind; otherwise, one falls and is no longer able to keep his heart fixed on God. Any one who would bear so unbearable a thing is nothing more than an “anima mea Dominum.” But after all this gossip, when you write to the learned, best and most reverend Don Onorato Fassitello, that luminare maius, do not forget to commend me to his most egregious person.

From Venice, the 11th of December, 1537.



In Which He Praises the Life of the Cloister.

It was sweet and dear, reverend mother, to hear from Madonna Francesca Serlia, my godmother and sister, of the desire you, in your goodness, have to hear my words, since it is not permitted you to see me. A thing which at once pleases and displeases me. It pleases me, because imagination cannot take away what absence deprives me of; and I am displeased because I am not permitted a sight of that venerable lady who has learned how to despise and world and to overcome fortune. The loss of husband, son and title have been recompensed to you, thanks to the manner in which you bear so great a loss — a recompense which no emperor would be able to give you; for that circle with which you enclose your sacred person is more spacious than the fields of the moon. If it appears little at times, it is still the model of that paradise which you have learned to achieve, the walls of which are not to be assaulted by peoples or by arms. 235 In it, there is nothing that has to do with poison or with treason; in it, tyranny gives no commands, for the reason that old age and death do not discommode or grieve you, nor deprive you of your strength; here, indeed, time and death mean nothing. Happy you, who have learned at once to procure quiet of body and well-being of soul! With us rule those who have learned how to bear suspicions, cares, wars and cruelty; but the one who would rejoice in security, liberty, peace and piety takes himself from us. The drawingroom of the worldly is an image of the abyss, and while you feel not the least pain, we never know an hour’s repose. Far removed from your cell are all deceits, envy does not lacerate you, sins do not tempt you, desires do not inflame you and avarice does not torment you. The hours which you steal from sleep, the food which you deny your hunger and the pleasures of which you deprive your will, being of your own choice, adorn, feed and comfort you. Nature is satisfied with very little; herbs and water are enough to sustain it. She is not to blame for the desires of the throat; pheasants and peacocks are the pomps of the palate. He is better off who is content with homely foods than the one who fills himself with varied viands, for sumptuous lunches and magnificent dinners are the parents of disease. And so, do you remain in your nun’s robes, and a single habit shall cover you, who once went clad in purple and fine gold. The brides of Christ have no need of pearls or rings. They find with their eternal Lover neither sighs nor jealousy nor infamy. The songs of the offices are their only delight, and the sound of the psalm-raising organ. To your ears comes no report of the doings of others nor the cries which they send up in their ruin. You see nothing of blood, fire, rape and adultery; and so, do you pray God that he may not correct us with his wrath nor chastise us in his fury. Woe to us, if your tears and your prayers did not possess the efficacy conferred upon them by Jesus! Look you, infidel flights and Christian concords come, [236] 237 alike, from the merits of your sincere mind; and heaven shall deny you none of those graces which your heart knows so well how to say. I never enter the churches conducted through the diligence of the godmothers of the Virgin Mary that I am not aware of the sweetness and fragrance which breathes from their chaste sanctity. Regard yourself, then, as in the number of the blessed, since, satiated with the miseries which, in the guise of rank and honor, are presented to us, you have elected a secure mansion and a laudable life. And so, by that faith and hope which I have in the fervor of your vows and the merit of those works with which you please and serve God, I beseech you to obtain for holiness and length of days for that life which Jesus has given me.

From Venice, the 13th of December, 1537.



In Which He Lauds His Courtezan.

Since Fame, putting on her armor, has gone trumpeting throughout Italy the report that Love, in the person of you, has done me wrong, I may say, I have always regarded it as a great favor that your manners were so far removed from any kind of fraud. Indeed, I give you the palm, among all those that ever were, for knowing how to put upon the face of lasciviousness the mask of decency; and hence it is, by your wisdom and discretion, you have procured money and praise. You do not exercise the quality of astuteness, which is the very soul of a courtezan, in order to work treason, but rather with such a dexterity that he who spends with you swears he is the gainer. The manner in which you establish new friendships is indescribable, as is the manner in which you draw into the house those who are doubtful, hesitating between a yes and a no. It is difficult to imagine the care you employ in retaining those who have become yours. You dispense so well your kisses, hand-squeezes, smiles and bed-fellowships 238 that a quarrel or brawl or any complaint whatsoever was never heard of. Your outbursts of anger are suited to the occasion nor are you anxious to be called “the mistress of all praise,” having a contempt for those who study the artifices of Nanna and of Pippa.116 You are not suspicious where there is no cause for it, converting every thought into a jealous one. You do not draw from your bag woes and consolations, nor, feigning love, do you die and come to life again when it pleases you. You do not hold to the flanks of the credulous the spurs of a servant-maid, swearing to them that you do not drink, eat or sleep on account of them, affirming that you came near hanging yourself because your lover has visited another. You are not of those who always keep their tears on tap and, while they weep, mingle with their tears certain sighs and a few sobs, a little too nimbly drawn from their hearts, furtively scratching their heads and biting their fingers with an “Ei si sia,” in a hoarse and mincing voice; nor are you industrious about retaining the one who would leave, forcing him to go who wants to stay. There are in your mind, no such deceits. Your womanly intuition117 clings to reality, nor are feminine gossipings to your taste, nor do you collect about you a throng of vain wenches and idle boasters. Your decent habits rejoice in a genteel beauty, which makes you shine most rarely; firm are the hopes of that way of life in which you triumph over the things you must do. Lying, envy and slander, the fifth part of a courtezan, do not keep your mind and tongue in constant motion. You caress virtue and honor the virtuous; and in this, you are far from the nature and custom of those you are pleasing. And while I am, of a truth, devoted to Your Ladyship, it seems to me Your Ladyship is worthy of such devotion.

From Venice, the 15th of December, 1537.


116  Of the Ragionamenti.

117  saper donnesco.




Against the Doctors.

Give yourself no worry, most excellent genius, over the persecutions of the doctors, who would have you walk in line with their canonical procedure; for the benefit of him who would know what you are, let it be said that you employ syrups in place of medicines (may God forgive the man who invented the latter). I would compare medicines to the fury of a violent river, which takes with it in its course fields, stones and trunks of trees. I will tell you, their ribald mixtures take whole months and years from our viscera, leaving us a dried-up life. If it were not for the respect I have for Their Excellencies, I should baptize the doctors as the “alchemists of the human body,” since the presumption with which they are drunken brings an ounce of health for every two lives they take; and the laws support them for it, and they are not punished but paid for their homicides. In great travail, the valiant fellows enter and question the patient as to whether he is doing well. “Yes, sir.” For the whole art of Galeno lies in an injection of mallows. What a pity it is to see a poor wretch stretched out there and emaciated from the diet which they have given him, understanding, as they do, neither the nature of the malady nor the strength of the patient’s constitution; for which reason, the big blockheads go on prescribing distillations, sedatives, the candle and the grave. How cruel are the colleges, disputing at the expense of the one who puts faith in them! Wise peasants who, without resorting to such treacherous measures, treat one another in an honest fashion! How many, while they are dying, are reassured with a coram vobis; and how many, given up for dead, leap out of bed the very next evening! And all this comes from the doctors’ having no judgment whatever as to inequalities of condition among the infirm. Do they not, in their avarice, prolong a little fever for a whole month? They probably would have gone more 240 than once to take the pulse of St. Francis, if the latter, who never had a denarius, had paid them. All this is said, saving the peace of the truly expert, learned and good Iacopo Buonacosa of Ferrara, a splendid physicist, and others like him. And now, turning to you, I exhort Your Lordship to persevered in the incorruptible distillations with which Your Lordship’s great father resuscitated the peoples, to the highest glory of the city of Castello.

From Venice, the 15th of December, 1537.



Verses and Pears.

The fruits of your genius and of your garden have been such sweet food to my intellect and to my palate that I never have experienced the like before. Surely, the sonnet is sweet, but the pears (saving the grace of the bergamots) excell all others in sweetness and juice. It has been some days since I received a gift so gracious or one that gave me more delight; and so, in memory of the tree that grew them and of you who sent them to me, I will say that if the rich Brescia had nothing else that was fine or gentle, these would still give it a famous name.

From Venice, the 15th of December, 1537.



Against Pedantry.

I have learned, my brother, from the letter which you sent me, what criticism is and what I have been able to accomplish in the works I have produced. How is it possible your intellect, inspecting so minutely the labors of others, knows and sees so much? Any ancient or modern author that I know would go to heaven from pride or to the abyss from shame at hearing himself praised or blamed by your insight, which is so much sharper than that of science. Nothing, it appears to me, is of greater value in a man than the power of 241 judgment; and the man who has it may be compared to a chest filled with books, for he is the son of nature and the father of art. Not by any fault of it, but by the presumption of others are they led astray who trust in it, for we are often vituperated by the opinion which stubbornness passes on our work. Happy is he who considers the merits of a writer with the wisdom of a friend! But I laugh at those pedants who believe that learning consists of Greek and Latin, affirming that he who does not understand these languages has no business to open his mouth, making all reputation rest upon the “in bus” and “in bas” of grammar. It is judgment I am speaking of; for other things are good for seeing the genius of others, by which your own may be awakened and corrected. Take the case of one who knows as much as it is desirable to know in sculpture and in painting; nevertheless, the marble Nostra Donna de la Febbre is sufficiently younger than her son, and the figures in their flight do not give the impression of flying. We must take into consideration what the maestro who made the Laocoon118 did, if we wish to know what judgment is. Behold those two serpents, which, in assailing three persons, have in their likeness all there is of fear, grief and death. The young lad, girdled round his bust and extremities, is filled with terror; the old man, bitten by their teeth, wails; and the infant, poisoned by their fangs, dies. The artist deserves more praise for having been able to express the effects of such passions as these, making fear the first motive, suffering the second and death the third, than those who would have occupied themselves with the style in which they would have depicted the bodily members. How many volumes do we see without any organization and without any decorative effect,119 and yet, their authors are supposed to be learned men? The short of it is, he who does not pass judgment, has none too much authority with Fame, but he whose capacity renders him 242 worthy shares all her honors. This is seen in the case of the great Duke d’Urbino, who by administering with discretion and counsel all the circumstances of his own life, has been made administration-secretary of the army; and for this reason is conceded to him, not otherwise than to you, all due respect for whatever he may think or write, and his poems are acknowledged to be neither greater nor less than those which are the product of your care and labor. For which reason I, when I hear him exalting my own works, congratulate myself in the manner of a man who, beholding the riches of his inheritance, finds them so much more than he had thought. It is not out of ignorance that I have declined to follow in the footsteps of Petrarch and Boccaccio, for I know what they are, but I have not wished to lose time, patience and good name in this effort to transform myself into them, since this is not possible. Better is bread eaten in one’s own house than that accompanied by fine viands at the table of another. I walk with tranquil step the garden of the muses, nor does there ever fall from me any word that I have learned from any stinkpot of old. I wear the face of genius unveiled, and, not knowing an h, I still can give lessons to those who know their l’s and m’s; and so, they ought now to keep still who do not believe there is a better school under heaven than the Dottrinale novellis. Imitate here, imitate there; all is trifling, it might be said, including the compositions of the majority of writers; and hence it is, readers have become like the enemies of abstinence who tack on a vigilia to the skirts of Venus and the Sabath. — “Bring us something besides salad,” cry those who have achieved fame. What do you think of those who believe they can come down per omnia saecula with their capitoli of the Cardi, the Orinali and the Primiere, not perceiving the fact that such babblings as these give birth to a name that dies the day it is born? In another fashion, after the Lodi de la mosca, did Luciano compose. Georgio of Vicenza, who reduced the clock to the size of the great Turk’s ring, need not 243 sweat so industriously over the ship which sails above the table or the figure which dances through the room, for these are good only to move the laughter of foolish young women. The thing to do is, as I have done, to reduce to half a folio the extent of history and the tedium of orations, the effect of which may be viewed in my letters, and I shall keep on doing this in all the things that come from my pen. I hope also to be able to let you see comedies relieved of the expense of scene and the tedium of interlocutors; as it is, one needs only to divide the five acts in the manner of the sermon. In conclusion, I, who know so little, offer myself to you, who know everything.

From Venice, the 17th of December, 1537.


118  The Laocoon appears to tempt the critic: e. g., Lessing.

119  senza disposizione e senza decoro: sounds like the terms of modern painting criticism.



The Pessimist.

As soon as I saw you at the bedside of the Signor Don Lope Soria, whence her Excellency, the Duchess d’Urbino, had just departed, having paid a visit to the sick man, I felt overcome by the remembrance of Messer Ferrier Beltrami, and it seemed to me that, without his presence, the day was without sunlight. How many times, seeing you together in church, at confession, on the river and at home, I have said to myself: “Behold the witness of perfect friendship and the example of honest pleasures!” But since God, who gave him to you, has taken him away, I counsel you, you seek to console yourself. Moreover, we ought not to be sad, if others precede us in the path which all must tread. The world is a room, rented to us at the good pleasure of Christ and nature; and he who stays the shorter time here lives the longer there; for death is but life, issuing with a freed spirit from that prison in which all the pains that could be imagined have kept it locked. Look at the scene: In the city, envy, injustice and ambition traffic; in the country, civil customs 244 are transformed into those of wild beasts; sons give us the care of enriching and the fear of losing them; seeing ourselves without them, we long to have them; peace gives birth to lust, and wars sow blood; the ruler is the prey to suspicions, and the servant is the subject of despair; poverty is fled, and riches are stolen by every one; youth is given to impetuosity and to fury and old age to ills and procrastinations. And so the best thing for a man to do is to be born and, being born, to die at once.

From Venice, the 18th of December, 1537.




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