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Don Tarquinio
A Kataleptic Phantasmatic

Chapter V


I will tell thee, o Prospero, of the Estense Palace: for it is impossible for thee to see it with thy proper sea-blue eyes, by cause that it was pulled down in the year before thy birth, after the miraculous picture appeared on the garden-wall; and hath given place to the new church of Theotokos with the new streets.1

It was a gigantic oblong, extending from the

1. This would seem to indicate the locality of this mysterious palace: for a miraculous Madonna was found on a garden-wall in Trastavere a.d. 1497, and the church of Santa Maria dell’ Orto (Saint Mary of the Garden) was built over it a.d 1512, the year before the birth of Cardinal Prospero Santacroce. The palace, therefore, must have stood upon a slice of the site now occupied by St. Michael’s Hospice and the barracks of the Bersaglieri, with a water-gate on Ripa Grande.


river-bank to the said garden-wall, having the grove of the Divine Furina on the one side, and Saint Cecilia and Saint Mary of the Chapel on the other. It was neither so fine nor so large as that new palace which my cousin and our baron Marcantonio is about to build on Catinari: but it was fine and large enough for a foreign cardinal. One end of the oblong abutted on Tiber, where was the great barbacan and the water-gate; and it was divided into iiij equal-sided courts by the hall and the audience-chamber and the chapel. The exterior walls were fortifications v braccie1 in thickness, where little window-slits lighted only galleries and stairs. Who builded it, I do not know: but, when it was pulled down we recognized it as the work of a master-builder, cyclopean, absolute. All the chief apartments were on the first floor. Below were kitchens, cellars, prisons, store-houses, military quarters. Above were iij floors for the familiars and the

1. 12 feet 11 inches. The braccia was 2 feet 7 inches long.


athletes. The first court from the gate was allotted to the soldiers and servitors: the second, to the gentlemen and pages: the third to the men of letters and to the illustrious, nobilities, supernities, celsitudes, tranquillities, magnificences, sublimities: the fourth was the court of the women, where the wives and daughters of the familiars cooked the food and made or mended clothes, pent from boys and adolescents savage or military, in suitable seclusion beyond the ruota.1 A flat roof, with machicolated battlement, crowned the pile, chiefly fortified, but also providing a terrace, d braccie2 in total length, l braccie3 in width, for Ippolito’s recreations.

These things being understood, I will continue the history.

When we stood up ready to proceed from the wardrobe, all the people came and made

1. A huge revolving cupboard, by which means communication was made.

2. 473 yards 1 foot 10 inches.

3. 43 yards 2 inches.


their genuflections. The pages with the cardinalitial double-cross and the Estense gonfalon went before. The gentlemen followed after, playing with their budding upper-lips. These were quite useless persons, not even showy, and only included in the family in order that they might learn manners. I never have had gentlemen in my proper family: for I prefer pages and servitors to whom I can speak and who will respond to me in turn. I would rather be surrounded by barbarians, as Ippolito generally was, than by these silent simpering youths who are merely noble. And as for myself, rather than be a gentleman in another baron’s family, I would prefer to be a farmer. And, as I will for myself, so also I will for my dear son. Note it, o Prospero.

The chamberlains preceded us with the vj torches and the iij. As we passed down the iiij stairs which led into the first gallery, a chamberlain slipped on a patch of tallow, which had dropped from a rush-light badly placed in the sconce on the wall. He was a very fat


man; and his hosen split on the ham-bone: at whose discomfiture we laughed, but Ippolito was promising a thrashing for someone.

In the private dining-room, I was moved to give an inkling of mine hopes to Ippolito, continuing to whisper until we had passed through the state withdrawing-room into the hall. He sighed when I spoke of my maid; and suddenly smiled, as one who locketh the box of his trouble when his friend unlocketh his box of joy. It appeared to me that Ippolito was not ignorant of an experience similar to mine: but the importance of my proper affairs prevented me from placing inquiries concerning his.

My discourse was interrupted by the pages at the door of the hall presenting the embossed gold basin with the ewer of tepid rose-water and diapered towels, while we washed our fingers reciting the Psalm I will wash mine hands in innocency. Our seats on the dais were canopied by the vermilion baldaquin, Ippolito’s being on a step above mine. Below on


our right, was the table of the chaplains and the men of letters who knew the iiij human languages, videlicet Greek, Roman, Tuscan, Hebrew. Below on our left, was the table of the general comptroller of estates, the secretaries, the chief steward, the auditor, the notary, the datary, the captain and lieutenants of the guard, the herald, the physician, and the barber-chirurgeon. Lower down the hall were tables, large and long. At the middle table, where the salt-cellar divided patrician from plebeian, the gentlemen sat and the bevy of pages. The rest of the family was at the end of the hall. The plebeians each brought their daily portions from the canteen, videlicet xvj ounces of beef, xx ounces of fine or coarse bread according to condition, a pint and a half of wine, pieces of their monthly pounds of cheese. All through the meal, they looked lickerishly toward the dais, thinking of their chances of our gentle leavings.

Wax torches, v in number, escorted each dish from the ruota to the carving-table; v


others illumined the tables of the patricians: cool, dim, twinkling wicks floating on oil in brazen lamps, and the blaze of the logs on the hearth, gave light to the rest. The reflections of these in the panels of the walls and roof, oaken, wax-shining, resembled golden stars in a brown sea.

As I and Ippolito spread the napkins on our breasts for tying, there was some commotion at the pages’ table. It was seen that, not content with their own napkin, they had stolen also the one pertaining to the gentlemen, which napkin one of the last retrieved with a little violence. We only saw the short struggle, and we only heard the indignant advice to the robbers that they should use their caps and sleeves like the plebeians.

Ippolito demanded of me whether, in my judgment, such advice was suitable for young boys. I responded saying that it was indecorous, and that the adviser ought to be dismissed. I forget whether this last was done.


While the wan nervous venom-taster in black, who stood at Ippolito’s left hand, was performing his office on the viands and on the wine, my flesh glowed with the stinging cold of my swim in Tiber and the subsequent ministrations of my pages. Ippolito was in a muse. But I looked at my face in my mirror; and saw happiness trying to shine there. I smoothed mine hair. I stretched my legs and arms. I felt strong. My bowels yearned to do some violent deed. But what deed? Ah, I did not know what deed to do. And I instantly slid from the height of bliss to the depth of misery. Oh, I indeed was properly unhappy.

As soon as the chaplains had finished intoning the prayers, I drank beef-and-barley broth from a silver bowl. It did not comfort me. I ate the beef from which the broth had been made. It was fibrous and dry. The brigands of the Campagna who, in those old days, used to steal half all imports sent to the City, must have been employed elsewhere that


day: for roast pig and venison appeared on the carving table. I ate of both, being ravenously hungry and unwilling to waste time in talking to Ippolito about a stranger who was sitting at the table of the men of letters. But I said that a man who had an olive-coloured skin ought not to wear a pink and green gown; and I have forgotten all else about the said stranger. The venison suited my taste, being fat and full of blood; and I signed for a third platterful. Nor did I neglect the fried things, videlicet minced chicken livers in paste balls, goose-breasts in batter, cockscombs on lettuce, leeks parboiled and fried in oil, a dish of quails farced with figs. The goose-breasts and the cockscombs were the best. Every time when I paused to wash mine hands, I seemed to be sinking deeper in the mire of my melancholy.

I was plunging, sighing, into a gigantic salad: for I remembered that green-meat is as efficacious for whitening the skin as are blood-meats for rendering supple the sinews. But we heard the sudden ringing of horse-hooves


in the court, and the champing of bitts, and the noise of an arrival. Then indeed the human tide at the end of the hall swept sideways, as Tiber surges when cloven by a galley’s prow. A pursuivant and two vermilion chamberlains, each with a handful of lighted torches snatched from anywhere, precipitated themselves at the dais, announcing:

“The Exalted Potency of Prince Gioffredo Borgia of Squillace.”

This prince, o Prospero, was then of mine own age: but he already had commanded dccxl free-lances in the war, and he already was xj months a benedick: while I, who could do nothing but fight and swim and run and speak Greek and write it and look much more like the David of Messer Verrocchio than Baldonero Fioravanti or than Rufo Drudodimare, I, I say, had no opportunity of doing anything. And I was most miserable. But I smiled, welcoming the guest: for he seemed to be a merry lad; and I admired the hardy contours of his form, precocious,


voluptuous. Sulphur-coloured silk defined each line of him. The silver bands at his throat and wrists and hips were set with great cabochon emeralds no greener than his eyes which flashed between long lashes. His curly hair was as black as night. His flesh had the rosy clearness of carnation. His laughing mouth was as red as beef. He used himself with lively dignity as became the veritable son of our Lord the Paparch; and he came to greet us with a certain gesture. He said:

“Salute the father of a lovely girl, born a month ago at Naples, whom Our Most Holy Father yesterday hath baptized by the name Antonia.”

The cellarers served a rich red wine of Nemi, full-bodied, well-sunned. Ippolito commanded them to bring moss-agate cups: in order that the Paparch’s son might have security against venom.1 While we drank,

1. Moss agate breaks when touched by poison.


those ij began to chatter of matters unknown to me.

I threw a cupful of wine in the face of the page with my basin, that I might make him as unhappy as I. He looked so meekly furious that I laughed as I washed my fingers before tasting the sweetmeats. But anon, remembering that the said page was noble and that I had hurt his honour, I sent him to fetch my two best swords. And, having slipped into the state withdrawing-room, I made him proud and happy by disarming him twice, scratching the back of his right hand. He was a bold boy, fearful of the blood of the grape, not of his own. But I returned to the cheese, more unhappy than before.

Chaplains intoned the long action of graces, cross Memoria’ fecit mirabiliu’ suoru’ etc. I lingered over a conserve of quinces, which, said Ippolito, disperseth fumes and preventeth vapours from striking upwards; and I chatted in Greek with Messer Pierettore Arrivabene below the dais, while Ippolito and the Borgia


prince eagerly whispered. When the familiars were gone out by the lower door, we iij washed our hands; and went to take our ease in the secret chamber. Singing boys followed our progress, mingling voices with archluths, quiet, clear, and low, music delightful to hear.