Pietro Bembo and Count Montebello

There is a story, occasionally told of Pietro Bembo and his guest, Count Montebello. It is highly unlikely that there is anything true about it, save perhaps the characters and the mores of the time.

When Count Montebello, known for his excellent manners,was attending a dinner at Bembo’s house, he suddenly got up and, after looking around and observing all the splendors of the humanist’s humble abode, directed his steps towards one of the servants and spat in his face. Later, he explained that everything at Bembo’s house was so exquisite and clean that he simply could not find a more suitable place to spit.

Now, if you try to find this story in some modern collection of anecdotes, you will probably read in it that the count actually spat into the servant’s mouth. It seems to me that the anecdote has been poorly translated from Latin, because a) there is no reason for the servant’s mouth to be open at the moment b) the Latin word os that means “mouth” also can mean “face” in a lot of contexts.

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