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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, Volume I., Chicago: Pascal Covici, 1926; pp. 7-25.




A Critical and Biographical Study



Machiavel and Aretino knew fashions and were
acquainted with ye cunning of ye world.

Gabriel Harvey: Marginalia.





Poison-Flower of the Renaissance


On the day set by Julius II., that is to say, on Monday, Michelangelo betook himself once more to the Palace. He had been given to understand that the Pope was leaving on a hunting expedition in the Albanian mountains. The court was filled with the joyous sound of horns, the barking of dogs, the cries of hunters and the beating of the wings of falcons. From a distance, Michelangelo saw the Pope, clad in hunting costume, strange enough for a man of the church. Shod in high boots, wearing a plumed hat and a leather round-jacket, he looked like an old conqueror, as he mounted a superb horse. Accorsio1 held his stirrup. The Pope appeared to be animated and whispered in the ear of his favorite, who smiled like a woman, a fine, ambiguous smile.

“Buonarotti understood that, at this moment, Julius II. was little concerned with his mausoleum. He came back on Tuesday. The Pope had not yet returned from the hunt. He put in an appearance on Wednesday and met, in the gallery, a secretary whom he knew, who informed him that His Holiness, having received vexatious news from Bologna, was in a bad humor and had just given the priest, d’Ancona, a caning. Courtezans, with a discomfited air, were coming out of the audience chamber, and Michelangelo overheard the ambassador from France remark, with a smile, to a fat and insouciant chaplain:

“ ‘But he is terribly irritable, your Pope!’”

With these few vivid lines, Dmitri Merejkowski, in his novelized biography of Michelangelo,2 puts us into the heart 10 of the cinquecento, in all probability the most riotously colorful and the most colorfully depraved epoch in civilized history. Merejkowsky’s account is fiction, but if there ever was a time when truth was stranger than fiction, that time was the Sixteenth century.

The Russian writer’s snapshot is, of course, not the whole picture, but it is the focus of that larger photograph which might be composed — and which, yet, so eludes any one who attempts the task — from the documents of the age. For the Papacy was the heart of a Romanized world, and the world was a goodly apple rotten at the core.

To fill in the picture, we must add: the melodrama of dagger-thrusts in the dark; the finest of the fine and Machiavellian arts, the art of poisoning; and, finally, that most poisonous of all weapons, the pen. Oscar Wilde’s shocking title3 becomes a commonplace, in a world in which the Popes and princes of the earth — and the pirates of the high seas, as well — pay groveling tribute to the Prince of Blackmailers and even think seriously of giving the fellow a cardinal’s hat. The cold-blooded craft, cunning and self-centeredness of the era are reflected for us in the political morality to be encountered in Machiavelli’s Principe and Guicciardini’s Ricordi politici;4 while such highly chromatic names as the Medici, Lucrezia Borgia, Cellini, Malatesta, Gonzaga, etc., round out the picture. Tasso and Ariosto, today the most unread of authors outside their native country, provide the literary background, while Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael and Tintoretto do the honors in paint, to say nothing of such lesser figures as Bellini, Giorgione, Sansovino and others.

The world scene, too, which means the European scene, is a fascinating one. While the Popes of Rome, in scarlet hunting costume, are riding to the chase accompanied by their favorite Ganymedes and the Doges are lording it over the world from their rocca sicura, Venice, it is, at the same 11 time, the day of the “Spanish flamingo,”5 the Emperor Charles V., of the wavering, reactionary and stingy Francis I. in France, of Henry VIII., his wives, divorces and religious schisms in England, of Luther in Germany, nailing up his theses on the church door at Wittenberg, and of Barbarossa, sailing the seas for Their Imperial Majesties, the Sultan Selim I. and the King of Algiers. What more could be asked in the way of color?

And out of all this welter of gorgeous semi-barbarism, there emerges — there must emerge — for the student who seeks a conscientious close-up, the figure of one man — the bastard son of a prostitute, legend has it, though more likely the son of a village shoemaker — who, by the sheer force of personality (since what other explanation is there?), rules the rulers of this turbulent world, flaying them into submission with the power of his pen, accepting, with one hand, their regal bribes, and, with the other, tossing the bulk of what he gets to the poor, living all the while in princely splendor, amid a veritable harem of wives and courtezans, and keeping open house to artists, soldiers, statesmen, priests, the intellectual, social and artistic èlite of his day. That man is Pietro Aretino, the last fine poison-flower of the century that grew the Borgias.


Yet, Aretino today is barely a name. He is chiefly known in Europe, and in America by a few collectors of erotica, as the author of certain obscene Dialogues and obscener Sonnets. True, some years ago, a couple of addle-pated college boys6 got hold of him, went completely out of their heads and — well, the criminal case that ensued, attended by world-wide notoriety, familiarized the public for a fleeting moment with at least the name; and Hearst newspapers even dug up one of Titian’s bearded portraits of the “Scourge of Princes.” All this, doubtless, has been long since forgotten by the 12 man in the street, and Aretino remains a name for a few Romance professors to conjure with, while if he has any other readers outside the curiosa hounds, they are a few pale-handed youths with mildly decadent ambitions who go abrousing in campus libraries.

Sic transit.

If Aretino had been a non-literary personality, the oblivion thus thrust upon him might be understandable. The public may have heard of Machiavelli and the Borgia’s for the reason that these names, in a manner, have passed into schoolboy language as classy synonyms or flossy references; Cellini, too, may be fairly well known by those more or less directly concerned with the arts, or who have been told that his Autobiography is first-rate reading; but how many would be able to state, for example, who Guicciardini was?

But though most of those who collect and read him — the smut-hounds who trail him down, along with the Venus in Furs or Pierre Louys’ Aphrodite — have no suspicion of the fact, Aretino was something a good deal more than a mere picturesque figure in a picturesque age. He was, among other things, the first modern realist of importance, the first writer who dared to break away from the old, dead and deadening, hide-bound traditions of the classicists and the academicians and to write in the language of the people, the language of the street and the market place, even that of the brothel. He was, in a way, the Ring Lardner of his day (plus, of course, much more frankness than our twentieth-century Puritan America permits). Or, we might call him the H. L. Mencken (with all scruples removed) or, possibly, the Ben Hecht of his time. (His defense of his Sonetti lussuriosi reads strangely like Hecht’s flauntingly youthful preface to Fantazius Mallare.) It would not be wholly improper to term him the Rabelais of the cinquecento, though he lacks the gargantuan, cosmic vitality of Francois of blessed memory. As a matter of fact, he is the antecedent of Rabelais, his contemporary in 13 years, and of Molière, both of whom would seem to owe him no little, as do, also, Shakespeare and Balzac.

Aretino is not only the first modern realist; he is the first modern journalist. The founder and “first great Adventurer of the Press” Edward Hutton,7 in his scholarly and lonesome English biography, calls him. In his Pasquinades, his giudizii and his letters, as Hutton points out, Aretino really conducted what corresponds to a great modern newspaper, in which scheme, his religious writings (the prose sacre) are the pompous, inflated editorials. He is, in a sense, in his “yellow” proclivities, the forerunner of Mr. Hearst, Lord Northcliffe and others, while he is also the father of the awful tribe of modern press agents, who, when they wish to put on airs, become “publicists.” It is his boast that “throughout the world, Fame is sold by me.”8 He had to have publicity; it was his living; and he certainly knew how to set about to get it.

He is more than this, however. He is also the first modern critic of the arts — of painting, as of literature. Indeed, he seems to have had, as will be shown later, even more feeling for painting than for literature. His genius was essentially a plastic one, and there was a reason for his almost life-long intimacy with Titian. Like Titian, he was a realist of the senses. De Sanctis, in the role of moralizing professor, finds fault with him for not drawing any “moral impression or elevation of soul” from his contemplation of and love for nature. The kick which Aretino got was a purely sensuous, purely aesthetic one; and in this, he is truly a modernist.


Here, then, we have a man who may be called, in point of chronology, the first literary realist, the first journalist, the first publicist, the first art critic. Surely, such a man has his importance. Is a first-hand knowledge of that importance to 14 be confined to a few Romance instructors and their scattered seminars, for which only a handful of bespectacled graduate students ever enroll? Is the public to know Aretino only as a purveyor of smut, as a writer who is on the Index expurgatorius of the contemporary Puritan, and who must, therefore, be smuggled past the customs as a contraband?

Why is this? Why is it that Aretino for four centuries, has been the victim of a world-wide conspiracy of shush? Even the prurient virtue of our combined comstockeries is scarcely enough to account for this, since, with the mouldering influence of time, a bad boy of literature usually puts on the more or less sacrosanct garb of a “classic” and, thenceforth, is looked upon as naughty but, for the sake of art, as comparatively innocuous. Rabelais is a case in point. The Maitre is now seldom bothered on the metropolitan stalls. He hardly could be sold, it is true, in Dayton, Tenn., but in Chicago, the Committee of Fifteen does not stay up nights tracking him down. And yet, Aretino, as has been stated, is the godfather of Gargantua and Pantagruel. Why, then, all the animus against Pietro?

The answer is, Aretino is a bad example, not on the sexual side, but in his attitude toward life.

He is capable of being, upon occasion, the most tremendous hypocrite, as in his official and semi-official letters and in his “laudi,” those cringing, knuckling sonnets that he wrote to order. In this, he was conforming, outwardly and for his own shrewd purposes, to the custom of the age; it was a part of his game. In reality, he is a hardened, ingrown and parading cynic, and that is one thing your Babbitt will never forgive.

Hutton calls Aretino “the negation of the Renaissance.” He is more than that. He is the living negation of all the copybook maxims. He knows that early to bed and early to rise may make a man healthy, but that it will never make him wealthy or wise. Get all you can while the getting’s good is, rather, his motto, as it is that of the American big 15 business man; only, the latter will never, never stand for a formulation of his practice. Aretino, like the captain of industry, started at the bottom and worked his way up. But how? And to what? He should have ended on the gallows, but as it was, he came near being made a prince of the church. In other words, he beat the game, and that is, of all things, unforgivable; it is worse than breaking the bank at Monte Carlo.

Aretino has no illusions about himself or, above all, about humanity. He knows human lusts and meanesses and depravations, and speculates in them; they are his stock in trade. He is a non-conformist. He lives his own life amid his harem of beautiful women and his art treasures, and remarks, with a sneer, “Who’s going to keep me from it?” He prefers a talk with Titian or an interview with a lady of fortune to going to mass. When, on his death bed, he is given the holy oils, he bursts forth, to the horror of the pious ones about him, with “Now that I’m all greased up, don’t let the rats get me.” And he is the man who, according to tradition,9 had for epitaph:

Here lies Aretino, the Tuscan poet,

Who slandered every one but God, and said:

Sorry, but if I ever met him, I did not know it.

No, Aretino is not, precisely, a Sunday school lad. He was no worse, probably, than Machiavelli, Guicciardini or a hundred others of his day; but Machiavelli and Guicciardini, putting on the cloak of political necessity, have acquired a certain respectability in their diablerie. What is wrong for an individual may be, it seems, right for a nation. Aretino merely applies the Principe and the Ricordi politici to private life; but that is always dangerous. It is doubly dangerous in a democracy. Every republic is replete with Aretinos, but 16 they stay under cover and disguise their depradations under moralistic croakings. To speak out, to be frank with one’s self and others, is the unpardonable sin. It is to be doubted if, after all, Aretino ever could have existed elsewhere than in such an oligarchy as that which flourished in Venice under the Medici.

This is the real reason for the conspiracy of silence against him. This is the reason the world has chosen to overlook his undeniable contributions to literature, art and the spirit of modernity. It is time, in the name of scholarship, that the veil were lifted. Let us take the man as he was and, giving him his dues, good and bad, endeavor to place him as accurately as possible. In the course of the process, there are a few of us, it is to be hoped, confirmed amoralists, who love color and take it where we find it, who will be content to rejoice in the vivid reds of the picture and to leave the rest to priests and pedants.


Aretino, like Baudelaire, has been the victim of a legend, a legend which he encouraged, rather than discouraged. When they accused him of being the son of a prostitute, he admitted it. When it was found that he was, really, the son of a shoemaker (acconciator di scarpe), which was far more damning, he trumpeted the fact to the world in a letter to the Duke of Medici. Like Baudelaire, he was quite willing to do anything pour èpater la bourgeoisie, and, like the author of Les Fleurs du mal, he paid the penalty. Baudelaire had his Maxime du Camp, of whom Huneker so effectually disposes (see his “The Baudelaire Legend” in Egoists); Aretino had his pseudo-Berni. And the resulting legend, in each case, has displayed a surprising persistence, and resistance to the discoveries of scholars.

Nevertheless, despite all legends and overthrowings of legends, the man himself remains a miracle of vividness. The names and titles that were conferred upon him during his 17 life time are an indication of this. Ariosto won Aretino’s undying gratitude by referring to him, in the Orlando Furioso, as “the divine Pietro Aretino, the Scourge of Princes.” The “Scourge,” as Hutton remarks, might more aptly have been called “the Screw of Princes.” “Buffone, cativo” his own townsman, Meforo Nucci, calls him. He was looked upon, in turn, as a magician and a “prophet” (propheta divino).10 He was the Ward McAllister of his day and refers to himself as “censor del mondo altero.11 Coming to bless and remaining to curse, he stands forth as a “charlatan of genius.” Francis I sends him a chain of gold, with vermilion-colored serpents’ tongues, bearing the exergue: “Lingue eius loquetur mendacium” (“His tongue speaks lies”).12 Aretino is delighted and is never seen without the chain thereafter; it appears in all his portraits.

A Black and White Picture of the Portrait of Pietro Aretino by Titian, he has a long beard and short hair, wearing a vest made of fur, his shirt has light full sleeves, and he has a thick gold chain worn as a necklace, presumably the one given to him by Francis I.

Portrait of Aretino by Titian

And yet, this man, whom the mighty college of cardinals could not silence, boasts always that “I speak the truth,” insisting that therein lies his strength. De Sanctis implies that he is a “poltroon,”13 but it is still Aretino’s vaunt that “With a goose-quill and a bottle of ink, I mock myself of the universe.”


The facts of Aretino’s life may be told briefly.14

The first that strikes us is the year of his birth, 1492, the same that, with the discovery of America, marks the beginning of a new world. Aretino stands on the threshold of the modern era; and it is, accordingly, not strange if in him we first hear definitely sounded the note of revolt against Petrarch, Dante, Boccaccio and the other old masters of literature, as well as against Plato and Aristotle, Plautus and Terrence, Cicero and Pliny — the dead weight of all the centuries.


It is significant, also, that his birth occurred two years after that of Rabelais, who died (in 1553) three years before Pietro. The latter was born just as the Age of Form, carried to a last fine, hard coldness by Tasso and Ariosto, was drawing to a close. With those two great names, poetry was to die a temporary death. But across the border, barely beyond the span of Aretino’s lifetime, were to come Galileo, with his epoch-making discoveries in science, and a new birth of music.

Pietro was born — in a hospital,15 De Sanctis tells us — in the little but well known town of Arezzo, the birthplace also of Petrarch, Vasari and, in the eleventh century, of Guido of Arezzo, inventor of the modern system of musical notation. His birth occurred some time between the night of Holy Thursday and the morning of Good Friday, April 19-20, as he himself indicates in his sonnet, In questa chiara sacrosanta notte.16 The cynical may find a humorous significance in the date.

In accordance with the Aretine legend, perpetrated by the pseudo-Berni and repeated in the mid-Nineteenth century by such scholarly critics as De Sanctis and Camerini, he was the son of Tita, the “beautiful courtezan,” and one Luigi Bacci of Arezzo. Scholarship, however, has shown that his real father was Luca, the cobbler, whose wife Tita was. When, years later, a townsman arose to reveal his true birth, Aretino exclaimed, in his letter to Duke Cosimo: ‘I tell you, I glory in the title which he, to vilify, has given me; and may it teach the nobility to procreate sons like the one which a cobbler has borne in Arezzo . . .  Yes, I am the son of a maker of shoes.”17

Later, Aretino was accused of passing himself off as the son of the Virgin, and so, as the Antichrist. The controversy 19 arose over a portrait of the Virgin in a picture of the Annunciation which stood over the church door in Arezzo. Pietro insisted his mother had been the model for the Mary of this picture: “Witness is borne to the sacred goodness of so modest a woman by the fact that she is represented as Mary, Mother of Christ.”18 For Aretino had a typically Italian sentimentality where his mother was concerned, and he put himself to great exertions to get Vasari to have this portrait copied and sent to him, which was done. Doni, Aretino’s enemy, made capital of the matter and assailed Pietro as “an Antichrist, a limb of the Great Devil.”19

As to his early education, Aretino would seem, like Ben Johnson’s Shakespeare, to have had “little Latin and less Greek.” He went to school, he informs us in one of his letters,20 “only long enough to learn the santa croce,” that is, the elements of religion. He appears to have been a poor pupil, stealing his marks and having to be condoned by his teachers (“componendo ladramente, merito scusa”); and he brags of the fact that he was “not one of those who pore over the art of the Greeks and the Latins.”

All his life long, Aretino hated pedants, with a bitter, inborn, unquenchable hatred. He speaks of them as those who “croak21 the dead and crucify the living.” Pedantry to him is a crime worse than murder. He extends it even into the moral realm: ‘I tell you, it was pedantry that poisoned the Medici; it was pedantry that cut the throat of Duke Alexander; and, what is worse, it was pedantry that provoked the heresy against our faith by Luther, the greatest pedant of them all.”22 Aretino was wise enough to capitalize his deficiencies. He probably knew little if any Latin — his secretary, Berni, who later claimed he had “written” much of Aretino’s work, was, doubtless, his master’s superior in 20 this — and so, spurning Cicero, Pliny and the rest, he turns instinctively to the vulgate, the dialect of his people and his time.

The legend then goes on to tell us that, at the age of thirteen, Pietro robbed his prostitute mother and fled to Perugia. A more likely story is that he was compelled to leave Arezzo on account of a certain sonnet against indulgences.23 We know that in 1512 he was already a verse-maker, for in that year, a volume of his poems was published in Venice24. He seems also to have been a student of painting in his early youth.25


Aretino was next attracted to Rome. Rome then, under Julius II, was on the verge of entering upon the golden, the Augustan age, as it has been called, of Leo X., who was the son of Lorenzo de’ Medici. The papal court was thronged with artists, men of letters, buffoons and adventurers of every sort; and so, it was the logical, not to say the inevitable dream of every youth who was on the make. It was the Paris, the London and the New York of those days.

At Perugia, Aretino, according to legend, had been apprenticed to a bookbinder. The causes of his leaving are not exactly clear. There is a discredited story, told by Mazzuchelli, as to his having defaced a certain picture of a suppliant Magdalen by going to it at night and painting a lute in the Madalen’s hands. It is more likely that it was, simply, ambition that lured him.

Arrived in Rome, Aretino entered the service of a rich merchant, a Croesus of his day, who, with his magnificence and munificence, made the Holy Father “look like a piker,” as we in America would remark. Agostino Chigi, one of the signs of the coming order, in which money was to lord it 21 over the lords of the earth, is a typical figure. On one occasion, he gave a banquet to the papal court on gold and silver plates, which were tossed into the Tiber as soon as used; but Chigi was shrewd enough to have had nets laid to retrieve them. On another occasion, each guest found his coat of arms engraved on the plates from which he ate. Chigi, finally, had himself married by the Pope to one of his own mistresses.

Discharged from the house of Chigi, the legend relates, for having stolen a silver cup, Pietro entered the house of the Cardinal San Giovanni and, upon the death of His Eminence, became valet to Pope Julius II. Ma ere sempre un valletto, opines De Sanctis. The judgment is a little harsh. Dismissed once more, he entered upon a period of vagabondage, in the course of which he wandered over the greater part of Lombardy, ending up by becoming a Capuchin in a monastery at Ravenna.

Pietro Aretino a monk! The picture is complete. Was it here that he put the finishing touches to his education, not merely in religion, but in vice and the refinements of vice? Was it here that he gathered much of the material for the “Life of Nuns” in the Ragionamenti? And was it here he acquired that smattering of sanctity which he later was to make use of in his religious best-sellers — for that is why his Life of Saint Catherine and other homilies were written: to sell?

However, Pietro was not cut out for a friar, and he soon tired of the life. Rome beckoned again.

All this, at least, is set forth in the Aretino legend, based upon the Vita dell’ Aretino, published with the object of vituperating the subject and formerly believed to have been written by Berni. Hutton thinks there is not a word of truth in this account of Aretino’s coming from Perugia to Rome and then becoming a Capuchin at Ravenna. There is, the English biographer points out, nothing in the letters to support it. He believes that Aretino first came to Rome in 22 1516, at the age of 24, “on foot and furnished only with what he had on his back.”

At any rate, it is certain that Pietro was in Chigi’s employ. As to just what place he held in the house of his rich patron, we are not sure. Those who would play Pietro down assert he was a domestic. Whatever his status, he met there many famous men of the day, including such artists and writers as Raphael, Iacopo Sansovino, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giulio Romano, Bembo, Castiglione, Paolo Giovio and others. Leo X. had succeeded to the pontifical throne in 1514, and the “golden age” was on. We know that Aretino made powerful friends at this time, among them Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, later to become Pope Clement VII.

It was in Rome, under Leo, that Aretino first became acquainted with the vices of the Holy City, those vices which he lambasts with so keen a power of satire in La Cortigiana and his other comedies. The Courtezan is a take-off on the prostitution of an age.


Two misfortunes then befell Pietro. One was the death of his patron, Chigi, the other the sudden death of Leo X. In the confusion following the death of Leo and attendant upon the naming of his successor, Aretino found himself launched in his career of journalist. He became a writer of Pasquinades, as the vitriolic articles, affixed to the recently excavated statue of Pasquin in the Piazza Navona, were called. Pasquin, or Pasquino, had been, tradition had it, a fifteenth century schoolmaster with a bitter tongue, and the form of journalism named after him lived up to his reputation. Aretino, becoming so well known as a journalist of this type that he even had a tavern named after him,26 strenuously opposed the election of the pious weakling, Adrian VI., and it was for this reason, probably, that he was forced to flee from Rome, in the year 1522.


Supplied with excellent recommendations, through the friendships with the great which he had been wise enough to make, Aretino seems to have visited a number of cities, Milan, Pisa, Ferrara and Bologna, ending at Mantua, where he settled down for a while under the joint protection of the Marquis of Mantua and Cardinal de’ Medici. These two powerful personages even indulged in a friendly quarrel over the honor of Pietro’s company.

Finally, Pope Adrian inquiring a bit too anxiously after Aretino, the Medici shipped him off to join Giovanni delle bande nere, the leader of Italy’s only organized military force at that time. Pietro and Giovanni at once became bosom-cronies. They were, indeed, two of a kind. Barbarossa, the Corsair pirate, was later to remark that Aretino had “the head of a captain, rather than that of a poet,” and there was in him, the fact is, no little of the soldier and the buccaneer of letters. Giovanni later died in Aretino’s arms, his death being described in one of the finest and most touching letters the latter ever wrote;27 and Giovanni’s son, Cosimo, and the widow, Maria, remained devoted to the “Scourge,”28 who, it may be, first got his title from his warrior friend.


The death of Adrian, the last of the Pontefici barbari, or foreign Popes, brought Aretino’s friend, Cardinal de’ Medici, to the chair as Clement VII. Aretino at once returned to Rome. He was now distinctly in the swim. He traveled in style, and the great and powerful were his friends. He wrote sonnets in praise of Clement, the Pope made him a Knight of Rhodes, and all went well — till the little affair of the Sonnets.

What happened was this. Giulio Romano, the artist, had executed a number of obscene designs — sixteen of them, each supposed to represent a different modus sexualis — and had them engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, the first 24 man of his day with the burin. Aretino, according to his own version of the affair, saw the engravings and was inspired to write his famous, and infamous, Sonetti lussuriosi as a commentary.

The storm broke. Even the Rome of Clement VII. was shocked. Marcantonio was thrown into prison. Giulio’s reputation, a splendid one theretofore, was shadowed, and Pietro had to do some tall talking to get out of the scrape, though he did succeed, by intervening with the Pope, in procuring the release of Raimondi.

In a letter written to Battista Zatti,29 Aretino says he dedicates his sonnets to “the hypocrites, out of patience with their villainous judgment and with the hoggish custom that forbids the eyes what most delights them.” And he exclaimed, in conclusion: “The beasts are more free than we!” Does not this sound like Hecht’s preface?

In any event, Rome had now become a trifle too warm for Pietro; so he fled for a time. The legend says he was driven out, and it seems to have amounted to that. Giulio also saved himself by flight. Aretino went back to Arezzo, perhaps to visit his family, then joined his friend, Giovanni, again. He appears to have vacillated for some little time between Giovanni, who wanted him badly, and Rome, eventually returning to Rome and the sunshine of Clement’s favor. His Holiness having forgiven, and, no doubt, forgotten all.

It was in Rome at this time that the famous attempt to assassinate Aretino was made by Achille della Volta, who stuck a dagger in Pietro’s back one night as the latter was riding home alone on horseback. Aretino, badly wounded — mortally, it was believed at first — escaped with a maimed hand, which he carried for the rest of his life. The attempted slaying, which was traced to Giberti, the Pope’s counsellor and Aretino’s deadly enemy, stirred Rome. Aretino once more left, this time, in October, 1525, for Mantua.


He did not stay long in Mantua but was soon back with Giovanni delle bande nere. After the death of the sturdy captain, Pietro returned to Mantua and looked about him. His future was uncertain. Rome was out of the question. What was he to do?

It was at this time that he entered upon another phase of his journalistic activity and began issuing his giudizii. The giudizio, an institution of which Aretino was not the originator, had started out as a respectable enough almanac. In his hands, it became a scandal sheet.


1  One of the papal “Ganymedes”.

2  Michel Ange, Roman, Dmitry Merejkowski, Traduit du russe par Dumesnil de Gramont, Paris, Artheme Fayard & cie, 1926.

3   Reference is, of course, to Pen, Pencil and Poison.

4  See also his Storia d’Italia.

5  I lift the phrase from Eugenio Camerini, Prefazione al primo volume delle Lettere dell’ Aretino.

6  Loeb and Leopold.

7  Pietro Aretino, the Scourge of Princes, Edward Hutton, Constable and company, 1922.

8  “. . . in tutto il mondo per me negozia la Fama.” In a letter to Bernardo Tasso, quoted by De Sancti; see the latter’s essay, Vol. II.

9  Probably no more than a tradition. The original runs:

Qui giace l’ Aretin poeta tosco,

Che disse mal d’ ognun, fuor che di Dio,

Scusandosi col dir, no lo conosco.

10   Cf. Giovan Battista Diedo (quoted, Appendix II): Dico che Iddio l’ ha fatto di poeta diventar profeta, etc.

11  See in this volume, Miscellaneous Sonnets, IV.

12  See De Sanctis’ essay, Vol. II., and my note.

13  See the De Sanctis essay, Vol. II., and my note. See also Appendix I.

14  I am particularly indebted to Hutton in the biographical part of this paper.

15  In uno spedale.

16  See, in this volume, Miscellaneous Sonnets, I.

17  “Dico che mi glorio del titolo che per avilirmi egli dammi, conciosiache ai nobili insegna a procrear figliuoli simili a quello, che un calzolaio ha generato in Arezzo . . .  Io natoci d’ un acconciator di scarpe.

18  Letter from Venice, December, 1548, Lettere, V., 66.

19  See the Berni Vita, Milano, Daelli, 1864.

20  Lettere, I., 200. See the quotation from this letter in De Sanctis’ essay, Vol. II.

21  gracchiare.

22  See De Sanctis’ essay.

23  Hutton, op. cit., p. 13.

24  Published by Nicolo Zopino. See Bibliography, Appendix IV.

25  “Alquante cose de uno adolescente Aretino Pietro, studioso in questa faculta et in pictura.” (Prefatory note to first volume of poems).

26  The “Accademia di Pietro Aretino.”

27  See Volume II., Letters, III.

28   See correspondence, Appendix I.

29  Lettere, I., 258.


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