December 10: Benvenuto, I think I'll miss you most of all

Cellini himself. Not pictured: all his fine ladies.

My love for Cellini is well documented. I have come to respect that blowhard Emerson and admire Darwin's thoroughness and appreciate Tennyson's craft, and all that probably contributed to my growth as a human being. [Ed. note -- not really.] But those volumes will stay on my shelves untouched. Cellini, however, a terrible, selfish person, given to violence, addicted to bragging... my love for him will cancel out any human-being-style growth, and he will be with me always.

Here's a sentence whose clauses are all about the same person, and yet what the "and"s connect will make your neck snap:
He was the son of one of the Pulcis, who had been beheaded for incest with his daughter; and the youth possessed extraordinary gifts for poetry together with sound Latin scholarship; he wrote well, was graceful in manners, and of surprising personal beauty; he had just left the service of some bishop, whose name I do not remember, and was thoroughly tainted with a very foul disease.
It will not surprise you to hear that this Luigi Pulci is bad news; he cheats on Cellini's woman -- who he, Cellini, hates, but it's the principle of the thing, and so Benvenuto responds in old-school fashion: that is, with blind, unreasoning rage:
I could see Luigi in the street, together with Pantasilea; and I heard Luigi saying: “Oh, if that devil Benvenuto only saw us, shouldn’t we just catch it!” She answered: “Have no fear; only listen to the noise they’re making; we are the last thing they’re thinking of.” At these words, having made them both well out, I leaped from the window, and took Luigi by the cape; and certainly I should then have killed him with the knife I held, but that he was riding a white horse, to which he clapped spurs, leaving his cape in my grasp...The company at supper rose immediately, and came down, entreating me in a body to refrain from putting myself and them to inconvenience for a strumpet. I told them that I should not have let myself be moved on her account, but that I was bent on punishing the infamous young man, who showed how little he regarded me.
You couldn't even make a movie of this -- it would seem ridiculous. Maybe an HBO comedy series, full of nudity and buggery and people waving their hands in the air.

I mean, what is this even doing in the Harvard Classics (besides being awesome)? I used to suspect that the sour old WASPs up in Boston put it in to make Catholics look bad (today's passage ends with Cellini killing people for the Pope during the Sack of Rome). But now I wonder if it's more 1) to give people some entertainment value for their Harvard Classic investment, and 2) as a dissent from a bohemian. Cellini's life is the classic artist (he was a great sculptor) who refuses to agree to rationality, norms, not getting 15-year-olds pregnant, etc. It's as if the Harvard Classics were 49 volumes of people building civilization and one volume of someone who drinks and wenches and has friends who shit themselves with fright ("Overwhelmed with fright, my poor gossip was suddenly taken ill with the colic, and withdrew to ease himself apart; indeed, he could not buy obey the call.") I love him.

2 comments:

Lisa Simeone said...

You couldn't even make a movie of this -- it would seem ridiculous. Maybe an HBO comedy series, full of nudity and buggery and people waving their hands in the air.

They did already: it was called "Rome" (although I guess, strictly speaking, it wasn't classified as a comedy).

Delicious said...

It definitely wasn't a comedy whenever I watched it; everyone looked grim. This would probably be more like Richard Lester's "Three Musketeers" -- but with, as I said, lots of nudity.