Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic



During the present year, the first of the paparchy of Clement,1 Messer Francesco Guicciardini and Messer Paolo Giovio came from Fiorenza, bringing to me their well-written manuscripts: to the end that I might read the same, and praise them or vituperate them, as well for the purity of letters as for the good of the race of men.

But the said manuscripts ought to be burned; and no copy of them ought to be preserved. These scribes are, as I have said, of Fiorenza; and they have written of events which took place in the City2 when they were little boys.

1. Pope Clement the Seventh began to reign a.d. 1523.

2. Rome is the only “City” to a Roman.


They have no means of knowing these events, except from hearsay. They have dared to write that which they have heard: for they certainly never saw. But we know well that it is impossible for any man of Fiorenza truthfully to intreat of Roman events, by cause of the hatred, indelible, Carthaginian, which all Fiorentini always bear to us Romans. And I myself do know these their histories to be false and shameful: for I indeed was concerned in the making of history here in the City, at the same time of which these men have dared to write mendaciously.

Messer Francesco is a rather vain vacuous man, incapable of dealing with grave matters. I believe that he wisheth to be honest: but his shallow mind causeth him to collect gossip, without testing its truth, as may be seen in the manuscript which he will not burn, where They say, and It is said, and I am told that, and other suchlike forms are reiterated.

Messer Paolo, on the other hand, hath written gossip as though it were history: nor


hath he deemed it right to qualify his assertions in the manner of the aforesaid Messer Francesco. Moreover, when I plainly showed him how that, to mine own knowledge, certain of his allegations were false, he audaciously responded in these three words, saying:

“The people wish to be deceived. I will deceive them in return for gold sequins.1 And, after an hundred years, my mendacity will have become verity.”

The said Messer Paolo thus hath confessed himself to be a liar, flagrant, impenitent. So long as he was content to write of those things of which he had cognition, for example the Book About Fishes2 which lately hath been printed, so long he was worthy of observance as a rather rustic pagan man who diligently used his little ability. But, seeing that he

1. The gold zecchino was worth about half-a-guinea, but it had about four times the latter’s purchasing value.

2. I suppose Don Tarquinio to mean De Piscibus Romanis, published a.d. 1524.


not only hath written many falsehoods but also openly hath boasted of the same, let him and his dead be anathema.

It appeareth to me that the writing of history is a simple matter. Let each man, from the age of puberty, write of the things which happen to himself. So few men can write that not more than enough will be written. Also, some men, having been born under benignant stars, will rise: while others, having been born under malignant stars, will fall. The writings of the first will live; and their successors will profit by reading what they have written. The writings of the second die and disappear with the corruptible carcase of their writers.

Wherefore I myself will write the history of one day of mine own life, in order that thou, my son, mayst learn the true method of writing history: that is to say, with knowledge, with a share in the fact, with truth as before the priest, with accurate descriptions of persons and things, but chiefly without


any desire of persuading. But the four stumbling-blocks to truth, which the Anglican mage1 invented, must be avoided, and they are:

The influence of fragile or unworthy authority:
The imperfection of undisciplined senses:
Concealment of ignorance by ostentation of seeming wisdom.

Furthermore, as to what truth is, I will say that, apart from the truths of our most holy faith which are of divine revelation and therefore not to be questioned, the truth is that which every man may acquire from the apprehensive nature of perfectly cultivated senses: or, as Zeno the Stoic saith, the test of truth is the Kataleptic Phantasm. For this cause, o Prospero, I will write history for thee from the evidence of my proper senses alone, and

1. This would be Br. Roger Bacon, O.F.M.


not from the idle reports of ungoverned and ungovernable tongues.

I will choose to write the history of the day on which I was delivered from disability, of the day on which Alexander, magnificent, invincible, made me what I now am. I will write the history of my fortunate day. On that day, many things were done in which I had no little share. Of these things I will write. But, to know the history of that day absolutely as the Ruler of Olympos1 knoweth it, needs must that The Prince2 and the Cardinal of Ferrara, and Prince Gioffredo Borgia of Squillace, and innumerable other persons, should be moved as I am moved, and should be capable as I am capable, and should write as I will write. Nevertheless, seeing that none of these have written, thou

1. Regnator Olympi is Don Tarquinio’s designation of The Deity.

2. I am led to believe that this is he whom Machiavelli called The Prince – viz., Cesare (Borgia), Cardinal of Valencia, and later Duke of Valentinois.


shalt be content to take the history of that day from me, thy loving father. It will be a good enough history, seeing that I assisted at its making and that I wish to tell the truth.

Thou shalt know, o virginal Prospero,1 that, in the year MCCCCLXXXXV after the Admirable Parturition of the Mother-Maid, our house was suffering for its sins. For xij years before, on the ninth day of the kalends of March, mine uncle and our baron Madonno Francesco, the same who was the model for Messer Simone Fiorentini’s2 image of our primate Saint George of Seriphos, had been stabbed in a brawl by one of the infamous Dellavalle. We instantly had leagued with Orsini against this our hereditary enemy

1. This Prospero was born xiii Sept. 1513 – i.e., under the Sign Virgo and the Planet Mercury. He seems to have been of a singularly pure mind, very studious, and an excellent man of affairs. He left a great name behind him as a cardinal, plenipotentiary, and nuncio; and as the introducer of tobacco into Italy

2. This sculptor was commonly known as Donatello. The image of St. George is at Florence.


and Colonna; and had comported ourselves in such wise that, during iij months, the blood of those monsters befouled every gutter in the City. But, when we were in the very article of ridding this land of those reptiles, even as Saint George our said progenitor ridded his Isle of Seriphos of the pterodactyl, for very few of them remained alive, then our Lord the Paparch1 reinforced them with the bands of His Own house of Dellarovere and with those of Riarj to which He was allied by the marriage of His sister. Then indeed we tolerated many evils. His said Sanctity expelled us all from the City, man, woman, priest, and child, encumbering us with the Great Ban so that we never should return; and, further, He ordained the demolition of our palace on Catinari.2 It was done; and for this same cause my cousin now buildeth that new palace where we shall live.

1. Xystus the Fourth (Francesco Dellarovere).

2. Piazza Catinari, where the earthenware dishes came from.


Marcantonio, my said cousin, being mine equal in age, retired to Fiorenza. Being of a singular habit of mind, anxious to evade the society of most men, and not having a taste either for war or for letters, he became a disciple of Messer Lionardo da Vinci that miracle of genius, who loved him as Sokrates loved Phaidôn for his beautiful hair: with whom he studied the arts, fortifications, architecture, painting, and the construction of ingenious machines whereby men might fly with wings like bats or swim with webbed feet like tritons.

We of the junior branch made way to our castle of Deira by Squillace in the Kingdom,1 which thou never hast seen but shalt see. That demesne formerly was denominated Greater Greece,2 by cause that while yet the City was no more than a cluster of Alban shepherds’ huts on Campidoglio3 and Latium a

1. “Lo Regno” – i.e., Southern Italy, the Kingdom of Naples.

2. ἡ μεγάλη ῾Ελλάς. [hê megalê Hellas.]

3. The space between the two peaks of the Capitoline Hill.


kingdom, numbers of our progenitors took ship from Athens, violet-crowned, immortal, and founded states and cities on these shores.

But at Deira we fortified ourselves, drawing fighting men and youths apt to war from among the natives; and, by cause that the arteries of these were filled with the blood of Athenian heroes mixed with the blood of those fierce Northmen, who also settled in our vicinity about the time when our castle was a-building, that is to say about the year ML since our Fructiferous Redemption, our potency became superior to that of all other barons of the said Kingdom. But, though we lived in peace, shewing ourselves rather dangerous to any who would have been our enemies, yet we maintained ourselves with all the incessant stringency of siege, at first in preparation for an assault by the Riarj, with our ancient foes, (which never was delivered, I suppose by cause that the whole orb of earth knew that we were very gravely to be feared being driven to bay;) and even afterward, when Xystus had migrated


to The Lord and the Riarj and the Dellarovere had lost their predominance, we abated none of our precautions, seeing that we were ignorant concerning the manner in which the new paparch Innocent1 would use Himself toward us.

In those xij years, o Prospero, thy father passed from the care of nurses to boyhood and even to the gate of adolescence. I am not to intreat of those years now, nor of the manner in which I spent them. But I will say that, having something of the solitary habit of Marcantonio, and being not entirely engrossed by martial exercises or by human letters as all my fellows were, I learned to think; and thinking made me chafe, by cause that I deemed it to be a terrible sacrilege against the Maker of the World that I should be compelled to waste my life among the rustics of Deira, I being fit in mind and body to equal any patrician in the City. My syllogism was the syllogism of the Alexandrian mages:

1. Innocent the Eighth (Giambattista Cibo).

Intelligence must be Active:
God is Intelligent:
Therefore, of His Nature He must create: for a force which engendereth nothing is not a force.
God is the Creator:
In His Own Image He created Me:
Therefore, I also must Create.

But at Deira I was as a bird in a cage, as a prisoner in a dungeon, as a scorpion in a circle of fire:1 nor was there any release for me. Wherefore the new adolescence of me, exquisite, ebullient, very grievously did chafe.

But by chance, on the festival of Saint Valentine in the year MCCCCLXXXXV, there occurred to me the Most Illustrious Lord Cardinal-Δ. of Santa Lucia in Silice alias in

1. Don Tarquinio Seems to have been born under the Sign Scorpio and the Planet Mars: which accounts for his queer character. I think this expression to be an allusion to the scorpion’s well-known practice of committing suicide by stinging itself when surrounded by fire.


Orfea, the Prince Ippolito d’Este of Ferrara. He came with an admirable company out of Syracuse where he had been buying wrestlers: for he was very curious in every kind of human monster, and his collection of athletes was without rival. He himself also was by way of being abnormal: for he was of the age of xvij years, and during ij years he had worn the vermilion hat. He was tall of frame and supple of sinew and mighty of limb, having fortified his adolescence with archery and other exercises. Grace and charm bloomed on the face of him. His olive-coloured skin glowed with healthful pallor. His bright black eyes gleamed with grave tranquillity, meriting praises. His whole aspect was most basilical. He was an expert swimmer; and, with whatsoever weapons he adroitly strove, he did inure himself to heat and cold and night-long vigils.1

Thou shalt know, o my rosy Prospero, that

1. Ciacconius, in his Lives of the Pontiffs, seems to have availed himself of this description of the Cardinal Ferrara.


there are two kinds of beauty, videlicet the beauty of the body and the beauty of the soul. The latter is to be preferred: for it is permanent; and he who possesseth psychical beauty is like the immortal gods, divine ones inhabiting heavenly mansions. Yet this kind of beauty is not easily perceived. Wherefore the possession of the other kind is much to be desired: by cause that physical beauty maketh the world to turn round and to stand at gaze, whereby perception of psychical beauty, if any there be, is facilitated. Hence, physical beauty is the more important: although, unless to it be added psychical beauty, it is liable to become invalid when its first effect should have faded. But the Cardinal of Ferrara had both kinds of beauty, even as I the present scribe have both kinds of beauty.

When we first looked upon each other, our attention was arrested by means of the sense of sight: but, when words had passed, we recognized each other as being of equal texture, even as one star doth recognize another cross-


ing the firmament of heaven, or as travellers returning to their dear homes recognize their kindred standing on the threshold greeting.

After many words had been spoken: for, as soon as the glances of our eyes first clashed together, striking the spark of sympathy, whereby a certain fire burned in our minds, and as Harmodios and Aristogeitôn loved each other so did we: then the mighty Ippolito thus addressed me:

“It is not meet that such an one should be chained to this rock of Deira, where the vultures of impotent desire and of annulled energy consume thine heart and liver.”

Thus he spoke: but there was a plan in his mind, perceiving which I responded, saying:

“Only the successor of Him, Who chained Us and Our house with the Great Ban, is able to deliver; and that is the Paparch Alexander.”1

1. Alexander the Sixth (Rodrigo de Borja y Borja commonly called Borgia).


Ippolito answered me again, saying:

“We Ourself are in the grace of the said Alexander, magnificent, invincible. Moreover the Great Ban will not run in thy despite so long as that thou shalt be in Our company: for, where Este is, Ferrara is; and Rome hath no jurisdiction in Ferrara.”

His saying was a true one. Wherefore, having collected my familiars, with a joyful heart I turned my back upon Deira; and anon, with the Cardinal of Ferrara, I rode to Rome. As we rode, we conversed concerning many things, in order that the beauty of our souls might be manifested: nor did we omit to exhibit the beauty of our bodies in feats of strength and agility. It appeared that, though I had not such irresistible strength as Ippolito had, nevertheless my limberness and quickness of eye gave me no cause to blush while we contended. But, when our alliance was confirmed by the discovery of our admirable qualities, we gave names to each other, as the manner was. To Ippolito, I gave the name


Hebe,1 on account of his xvij years. To me, he gave the name Sideynes,2 on account of my xv years. And so conversing and contending, we reached the City.

It was agreed that I should live as a guest in the Estense Palace, until such time when Ippolito should find occasion for speaking of me to our Lord the Paparch. And so it was. But, as soon as we had invaded the City, I became conscious that I had exchanged one prison for another: for, on account of the Great Ban, it was not convenient that I should go out from the Estense Palace, unless a decurion3 of the cardinalitial familiars attended and surrounded me.

Thus, I was precluded from seeking such adventures as my youth and my spirit required. Now and then, I accepted the restraint: in order that I might see the world’s metropolis,

1. ἥβη = youthful prime (in Sparta, the eighteenth year).

2. σιδεύνης = a youth of fifteen to sixteen years (Laconian).

3. Ten soldiers and a lieutenant.


of which I myself was no mean citizen. But the estate of my procession terribly irked me; and I would not have gone out any more, save for a maid whom I espied on the third day; and she was thy proper mother, o Prospero. For, when I saw the tender girlishness of her, and her blue-black hair, and her blue-black eyes, and her rosy flesh, which was so bright and pure that I knew it to be soft and firm and cool to touch, then the fire of love was kindled in my dear breast; and I yearned after her. But her very name was hidden from me: nor might I ask it of any, for I was environed by my guards, and she was in the train of a princess. Her gait proclaimed her nobility. She appeared to be of equal age with me. For which causes, I pervaded the City at all hours in hope of an auspicious encounter.

Once I scattered primroses low at the feet of her beauty. She gazed modestly downward: but I looked where I loved.