When most people think of the word Machiavelli, they usually think of evil. Nicolo Machiavelli is often thought of as a devil. Indeed, shortly after the book’s publication, he was vilified. Only recently has he started to be thought of as a perceptive analyst, with a unique knowledge of human nature (Curry, 5). Francis Bacon, a noted writer, philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, has been quoted as saying, “We are much beholden to Machiavelli and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.”
His landmark book, of course, is the brief, intense, and powerful book, “The Prince”. When most people think of him, they only remember this book. However, he had many other talents. He is the writer of several comedies, including “La Mandragola”, “Clizia”, and “The Woman From Andros”. He was the first author of the history of Florence, his hometown. He was given the standard humanistic education available, which taught him logic, rhetoric, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (Curry, 17).
At the age of 29, he was elected to the post of second chancellor, probably thanks to friends of his father. He soon became secretary of the Ten of War, Florence’s military and foreign affairs council. This means he was to report to the Ten of War on diplomatic matters, and as messenger in negotiations. His real work, of course, was more involved, and himself often assisted on sensitive issues himself (Curry, 31). Throughout this work, he displayed what was to become steadfast dedication. In 1502, Machiavelli was sent to meet the inspiration for “The Prince”, Cesare Borgia. At the time, Borgia was rapidly gutting a new domain for himself, something the Ten of War found threatening, of course. Machiavelli was in shock and awe when he saw how Borgia dealt with plotters who intended to kill him: he had them killed at dinner. However, he relied on fate than his ability (Curry, 1502). Eventually, Borgia’s luck ran out, and his empire fell apart when he became sick (Machiavelli, 118).
In 1507, Machiavelli and a friend, Piero Soderini, proposed a militia to defend Florence’s interests. Until this point, Florence had used mercenaries, which had proven useless in several campaigns. The proposal was accepted, and the “Nine of Militia” was formed, with Machiavelli as secretary. He is regarded as a highly successful tactician, and wrote a book on the subject, “The Art of War”. Within two years, the city of Pisa was regained. Pisa had been a source of constant embarrassment, it being lost in 1494 and staying intact after two failed campaigns (Curry, 32, 40).
Then, three years after that, the Medici, the old ruling family, took power again. Machiavelli was dismissed from his posts and tortured for a month. Luckily, in March, the pope died, and the new pope came from the Medici family. Florence became a papal land and amnesty was declared. Knowing he was still unsafe, he left the city of Florence and retired to his private farm. There he adapted to a completely different style of life, by day overseeing work, reading poetry, gossiping, drinking, and playing games with the locals. At night, he would change dramatically. He would enter the house, exchange his day clothes for his robes of state, and begin to write. The fruit of this labor was “The Prince”, written to win favor with the Medici family (Curry, 42-48)(Machiavelli, 31).
The Medici, however, had no need of him, and his political leanings made him a liability. He realized that he would not be re-hired, and turned to writing. His first known play, “La Mandragola”, was written in 1518. It is a black comedy, and every bit as lewd as modern comedies (Machiavelli, 67-106). He started becoming active again as a political thinker, and soon found himself writing another book, “The Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius”, or as it’s known today, “The Discourses”. It is the longest and most original of Machivelli’s work, and absolutely essential, because it shows that he doesn’t believe in immorality for its own sake, and that the strongest, most united state is the republic (Curry, 86-88).
In 1519, as his work on “The Discourses” was finished, the Medici ruler of Florence died. He was again formally introduced in court, with the help of a good friend who was related to Pope Clement VII. In 1520, he began work on “The History of Florence”, presenting it five years later to the Pope himself. The next year, the Pope formed an alliance with France, and Machiavelli was at last given diplomatic work. Spain declared war on Italy, and Rome was sacked instead of the targets given. Medici rule, without support from Rome, quickly failed. However, the new republican government rejected Machiavelli because of his ties to the Medici government. This could have been the fatal blow, as he died the same year (Curry, 112-121).
Throughout his life, he showed a loyalty rarely spoken of in his famous work. His desperation for employment in Florence forced him to betray his own Republican beliefs, for which he was tortured by the same regime. In his writing, he still sticks to his humanistic roots, while the topics he approaches are radical to say the least. This may be one of the things that makes him relevant reading today. His life was a quiet one, in which he lived a lifestyle totally unlike those described in “The Prince”. He has no lust for power, only to serve. It would make sense, then, that his genius, combined with his application of it, show that he was not a violent man himself. In the language of today, he was hardly Machiavellian.
Vol. 59, Issue 4, p. 789.