FRANCESCO BERNI (1497-1535) 

Epitaffio per un cane del duca Alessandro de’ Medici  (Epitaph for Duke Alessandro de' Medici's dog)


Giace sepolto in questa orrenda buca                    There lies buried in this hideous grave

Un cagnaccio superbo e traditore,                         An arrogant and treacherous dog,

Ch’era il Dispetto e fu chiamato Amore:               Who was Spite itself though named Love:

Non ebbe altro di buono, fu can del Duca.           Nothing else worth noting; he was the Duke’s dog.

 From a 1721 edition of his works

From a 1721 edition of his works

Francesco Berni was born in a small Tuscan town near Pistoia, called Lamporecchio. He studied and began writing in nearby Florence, and then from 1517 worked in the household of a cardinal in Rome. In 1530, he became a canon of Santa Maria dei Fiori, the cathedral of Florence, and returned to live there as a priest. Tradition has it that he was murdered by Alessandro de’ Medici - owner of the dog Amore - in revenge for having refused to poison the duke’s cousin.

He was renowned in his lifetime for his irony and for his satirical poems about noblemen, prelates of the Church and famous figures like Duke Alessandro himself, the grandson of the great Lorenzo de’ Medici, who then ruled Florence with harsh force - seeking to emulate his grandfather. The duke was himself assassinated two years after Berni’s death (Lorenzo had survived a famous assassination attempt in 1478, in which his brother Giuliano died).

In these four lines, Berni satirizes the Greek and Roman tradition of a poetic epitaph for great men - usually carved on a tombstone - by applying it to an obviously awful dog who had no merits at all beyond belonging to the duke. In doing so, of course, he implicitly criticises the ruling duke. It’s a sharp and powerful little poem which must have amused the duke's many critics - and annoyed him.

The Italian text used here is from Berni: Le Rime, Milano: Istituto Editoriale Italiano, 1929