Revenge with Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini was a sculptor, goldsmith, musician, and convicted murderer (pardoned so he could recover his post of die-stamper at the Mint). His 1563 autobiography preceded the hyperkinetic braggadocio of  Kinski Uncut, The Happy Hooker, and The Kid Stays in the Picture by four centuries.


‘A few days later we set off back towards Florence. On the way we happened to stay at a place on this side of the Chioggia, on the left as you go towards Ferrara. The innkeeper wanted to be paid in his own way before we went to bed, and when I said that in other places it was usual to pay in the morning, he answered: “But I want to be paid this evening, and in my own way.”

In reply to this I said that men who wanted to be paid to suit themselves had better make a world to suit themselves, since it was done differently in this world. The landlord answered that I should not go on tormenting him, because he was determined to do it the way he wanted. Tribolo was shaking with fear and nudged me to keep quiet in case worse should happen; so we paid up in the way that was wanted and then went to bed.

We were provided with beautifully comfortable beds, with everything new and spotlessly clean. All the same I didn’t sleep all night with thinking up what I could do to get my own back. One moment I planned to set his house on fire, the next, to slit the throats of the four good horses he had in his stable. I saw that it would be easy enough to do this, but I did not see how that would ensure the safety of myself and my friend. Finally what I did was to put Tribolo’s and my own belongings in the boat; then, after the tow-ropes had been attached by the horses, I said that they were not to move the boat till I came back, as I had left a pair of slippers in the bedroom. I went back to the inn and called for the landlord, who said that he would have nothing to do with us and that we could go and stew in a brothel. Standing near me, half-asleep, there was a young lout of a stable-boy who said: “The landlord wouldn’t move a finger for the Pope–he’s got a tart in bed with him that he’s been after for a long time.”

Then he asked me for a tip and I gave him a few of those small Venetian coins and told him to tell the man with the tow-rope to hang on a little till I found my slippers and came back. Then I went upstairs, got a sharp little knife, and used it to cut four beds that were there into shreds; I reckoned that I had done more than fifty crowns’ worth of damage.’

Autobiography, Benvenuto Cellini, 1563, translated by George Bull, Penguin Classics, 1956

The Cellini salt-shaker, photograph by Jerzy Strzelecki.