Thug: A Life of Caravaggio in Sixty-Nine Paragraphs
May 20, 2014 2:17 PM   Subscribe

A Roman police blotter preserves his furious words: “It seems to me, you fucking prick, that you think you’re serving some two bit crook.”

Celebrities abusing waiters sound very much the same in all times and languages, it appears....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Must be accompanied by a viewing of the Caravaggio episode of Simon Schama's Power Of Art series.
posted by Sara C. at 3:07 PM on May 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yup. That's about it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:14 PM on May 20, 2014

Thank you so much for this.
posted by angiep at 3:25 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Sara C.'s recommendation.

His induction to the Knights of St John of Malta was something of an eyebrow raiser. Technically, a knight had to have four quarters of nobility (i.e. grandparent had to be aristocratic); exceptions were made from time to time, but only under exceptional circumstances. Like war-time.

(Much good it did him if this theory is right.)
posted by BWA at 5:47 PM on May 20, 2014

If I recall my art history correctly, we actually don't know very much about Caravaggio's life at all, with the contemporary biographies being pretty fantastical and scurrilous, especially by modern standards. It was one of my prof's bugaboos, complaining about biography as narrative and drama over fact, and maybe there's been more primary source work done in the last six, seven years, but I remember him being pretty clear about how Caravaggio biographies should be read with the same skeptical eye aimed at the fanciful notions we have about Washington's cherry tree and Lincoln's simple country lawyer career.
posted by klangklangston at 6:40 PM on May 20, 2014

I have to suspend disbelief and just roll with it on this one. I love Caravaggio's work for all the wrong reasons and this was way fun. I would have been one of the immoral putti pointing and giggling.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:57 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anyone who eats this up would enjoy a two week roll in the hay with The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini.
posted by jfuller at 7:53 PM on May 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Dial M for moderation.
posted by Wolof at 1:20 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

A Roman police blotter preserves his furious words: “It seems to me, you fucking prick, that you think you’re serving some two bit crook.”

That translation appears to originate with Peter Robb who wrote M: The Man who became Caravaggio.

The original is ""Se ben mi pare, becco, fottuto, ti credi di servire qualche barone"" which I might translate as "It seems to me, you cocksucker, that you think you're just serving some bum." I base this on the fact that becco fottuto is something like "fucked mouth" and in fact still shows up in use at (ahem) Italian porn sites.

Then we have Helen Langdon's translation as "If I am not mistaken, you damned cuckold, you think you are serving some damned bum."

Is "becco fottuto" really a phrase that means "cuckold"? Andrew Graham-Dixon translates it as "fucked-over cuckold" but again I'm not sure on what basis. Graham-Dixon is a bit of a mystery. In an article of his own from 1999 about Caravaggio, he quotes the Robb translation (search for "prick") word for word but without any attribution.
posted by vacapinta at 3:48 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I also meant to add that Simon Schama (in his video) translates it as ""If I'm not mistaken,you dumb cuckold, you think you're serving some sort of bum."" which sounds like he got it from Langdon or Langdon got it from him.
posted by vacapinta at 4:25 AM on May 21, 2014

John Florio’s 1611 ‘New World of Words’ defines becco as ‘the beake or bill of any bird. Also a bucke or he goate. Also the beake of a ship or any thing else. Also the socket of a candlesticke. Also a Cuckold.’
posted by misteraitch at 4:54 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you like your artists murderous and Italian, Carlo Gesualdo is another notable example, and avant garde by a couple centuries at that.
posted by mr. digits at 5:43 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

What a fantastic article. As noted above, very much compatible with the world portrayed in Cellini's autobiography, except Cellini, while a
murderous hothead and showboater, didn't have Carravaggio's self-destructive streak. Or maybe he was just luckier.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:47 AM on May 21, 2014

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