In chapter 33 of Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography, he overhears the prostitute Pantasilea with another man, Luigi Pulci, in a secretive manner, perhaps as if they are having an affair.

The window was so close to where I sat, that, by merely rising, 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.”

Benvenuto leaps from a window to attack them, but they get away. Later, he lies in wait near Pantasilea's house and ambushes her and Luigi, wounding them both with his sword though they are guarded by soldiers.

Just then Luigi, with his arm round Pantasilea’s neck, was heard crying: “I must kiss you once again, if only to insult that traitor Benvenuto.” At that moment, annoyed as I was by the prickles, and irritated by the young man’s words, I sprang forth, lifted my sword on high, and shouted at the top of my voice: “You are all dead folk!” My blow descended on the shoulder of Luigi; but the satyrs who doted on him, had steeled his person round with coasts of mail and such-like villainous defences; still the stroke fell with crushing force. Swerving aside, the sword hit Pantasilea full in nose and mouth. Both she and Luigi grovelled on the ground, while Bachiacca, with his breeches down to heels, screamed out and ran away.

But earlier, Benvenuto wrote clearly, multiple times, that he did not give any thought to Pantasilea, and it was her that loved him. From chapter 30:

I had reckoned upon being well provided with a young woman of considerable beauty, called Pantasilea, who was very much in love with me; but I was obliged to give her up to one of my dearest friends, called Il Bachiacca, who on his side had been, and still was, over head and ears in love with her. This exchange excited a certain amount of lover’s anger, because the lady, seeing I had abandoned her at Bachiacca’s first entreaty, imagined that I held in slight esteem the great affection which she bore me. In course of time a very serious incident grew out of this misunderstanding, through her desire to take revenge for the affront I had put upon her; whereof I shall speak hereafter in the proper place.

So why the act of revenge? Can Benvenuto's honor demand revenge when a prostitute he doesn't care about cuckolds him?

Or was Benvenuto really in love with Pantasilea and was lying about it?

I'm reading an English translation by John Addington Symons. I can't find any indication that my copy is abridged or is unabridged.

1 Answer 1


I think we have to apply some skepticism to Cellini’s account of his attitude to Pantasilea. The Autobiography is replete with boasting and legend-building (consider his claim, in the episode under discussion here, to have driven off “more than twelve swords” wielded by “four doughty captains of Perugia, with some other valiant soldiers in the flower of youth”), and we would be naïve if we didn’t suspect the author of exaggeration, the omission of inconvenient facts, and outright invention.

In the case of the attack on Luigi and Pantasilea, it is clear that the motive was sexual jealousy. No other motive explains so well Cellini’s warning Luigi off after seeing that Pantasilea was attracted to the young man:

Thus then it came to pass, that when I had upon a certain evening invited that woman Pantasilea to supper, and had assembled a company of men of parts who were my friends, just at the moment of our sitting down to table, Messer Giovanni and Luigi Pulci arrived, and after some complimentary speeches, they both remained to sup with us. The shameless strumpet, casting her eyes upon the young man’s beauty, began at once to lay her nets for him; perceiving which, when the supper had come to an agreeable end, I took Luigi aside, and conjured him, by the benefits he said he owed me, to have nothing whatever to do with her.

Benvenuto Cellini (1563). The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, chapter 33. Project Gutenberg.

or his hiding uncomfortably in a thorn-hedge to ambush the pair:

Just opposite [Pantasilea’s lodging] stretched a garden belonging to an innkeeper called Romolo. It was enclosed by a thick hedge of thorns, in which I hid myself, standing upright, and waiting till the woman came back with Luigi.

Cellini, chapeter 33.

Based on this, it’s reasonable to suspect that Cellini’s protest that it was Pantasilea who was actually jealous of him:

I could relate several odd things which then occurred through Pantasilea’s jealousy on my account; but since they form no part of my design, I pass them briefly over.

Cellini, chapeter 30.

and this claim to his friends:

I told them that I should not have let myself be moved on her [Pantasilea’s] account, but that I was bent on punishing the infamous young man [Luigi], who showed how little he regarded me.

Cellini, chapeter 33.

are self-serving fictions. If Cellini had really only wanted to punish Luigi as he claimed, then there was no need for him to have hidden opposite Pantasilea’s lodgings in order to catch the two together.

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