The Autobiography of Benevuto Cellini
By Benvenuto Cellini
Published in 1563
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Benvenuto Cellini is one of the greatest boasters in Italian history. He was a metalsmith and douchebag, born in the year 1500 near Florence. He would work for several prominent figures of the period such as Pope Clement of Medici and King Francis I of France.
Two things stood out from this book: Cellini is a raconteur and he is a complete asshole. This doesn’t detract from the experience at all, maybe even adding to it. Just go in expecting an anti-hero and enjoy the ride.
Cellini’s account of his life is obviously fanciful. He admits as much in the first chapter. He always recounts events in a way to make himself look as good as possible. Whenever things go wrong, he blames them on others. He justifies all of the many fights he starts as well as his constant unethical behavior. His justifications can be grating, but his exaggerations are often hilarious and exciting.
Cellini is a complete asshole. He murders dozens of people throughout his journey (although whether this is just part of the story or really happened seems debatable to me). He doesn’t hesitate to draw his sword at the slightest insult. He resorts to lies and trickery to sleep with as many men and women as possible (he was bisexual). He demands extreme compensation for his artwork, and has a very high opinion of himself. In other words, I would absolutely hate spending any time with him.
His adventures are action-packed. He fights bandits, escapes from jail, is a cannoneer during a war, travels across Europe, and faces all sorts of dangers. Whether these feats are real or imagined is irrelevant - it makes for a good story.
There are no explicit sex scenes, but quite a few references. It also describes quite a few scenes of torture, rape, and injury. Towards the middle of the book, he also starts worshipping the devil and practices what he calls “necromancy.” This isn’t suitable for children, but might assign it as required reading in a high school history class. I would give it a PG-13 rating.
As far as 500 year old books translated into modern English go, the writing style is incredibly clear and comprehensible. If you want to read a single primary source that takes place in the Renaissance, I would probably recommend this one. It gives an account from a middle class person who is blatantly unethical, and this alone makes it worth it.
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