It’s not often that anyone finds something new in the archives that have been scanned, read and pawed over by academics, historians and interested lay researched for almost 500 years, but a story in the Telegraph, dated Feb. 15, 2013, tells of just that happening. The arrest warrant for Niccolo Machiavelli was found in the Florence archives recently by Prof Stephen Milner, from Manchester University. He had been researching town criers, “and the proclamations they read out.”
The article’s writer, Nick Squires, says,
The 1513 proclamation, which called for the arrest of Machiavelli, eventually led to his downfall and death.
Well, that’s not quite true. Machiavelli was arrested, and tortured, but released – there was no evidence against him as a member of the anti-Medici conspiracy. He lived on for another 14 years, until 1527. It was more likely he died of disappointment when the republic was restored and he was not included in its bureaucracy.
He also found documents relating to the payment of four horsemen who scoured the streets of the Tuscan city for Machiavelli.
Great discoveries. However, Mr. Squires adds another comment that is a little less than accurate:
Florence is this year celebrating the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli’s writing of The Prince, a political treatise which argues that the pursuit of power can justify the use of immoral means.
Readers of The Prince might argue that Machiavelli considered politics an amoral, but necessary practice, and outside the traditional constraints of morality. But power was not an end itself, but rather a tool used in the service of the greater good.
It can also be argued that, with a corrupt Pope wielding secular power, princes and nobles acting with brutal intent, with torture being an allowable practice even by the church, with violence, cunning, conspiracy and murder all around him, that Machiavelli might have had a somewhat jaundiced concept of what “traditional morality” meant.
The celebrations include, on February 19, a reconstruction of the events surrounding his arrest and imprisonment.
Here’s a story and video about that re-enactment. I would have loved to have been there for that. It’s my dream to visit Florence. Ah well, perhaps one day…