A salamander, 1505.

by Benvenuto Cellini.

This story recounts a curious incident in the life of a great man, though it was written when he was a child. I’ve included it because of the curious way the father ensures that his child learns from a singular experience.

Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) was a sculptor, painter, soldier and musician. Perhaps his most famous artwork is the statue of Perseus with the Head of Medusa which stands in the Loggia dei Lanzi gallery on the edge of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence;

When I was about five years old my father happened to be in a basement chamber of our house, where they had been washing, and where a good fire of oak logs was still burning; he had a viol in his hand, and was playing and singing alone beside the fire. The weather was very cold. Happening to look into the fire, he spied in the middle of those most burning flames a little creature like a lizard, which was sporting in the core of the intensest coals.

Becoming instantly aware of what the thing was, he had my sister and me called, and pointing it out to us children, gave me a great box on the ears, which caused me to howl and weep with all my might. Then he pacified me good-humouredly, and spoke as follows: ‘My dear little boy, I am not striking you for any wrong that you have done, but only to make you remember that that lizard which you see in the fire is a salamander, a creature which has never been seen before by anyone of whom we have credible information.’ So saying, he kissed me and gave me some pieces of money.


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