In the summer of 64 BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for the office of consul in Rome. It was a bitterly-contested fight.
His younger brother, Quintus, wrote him a letter – called the Commentariolum Petitionis – to advise him how to win that election. That “Little Handbook on Electioneering” is today a classic of politics and campaigning in which Machiavelli would have reveled.*
The short ‘book’ is controversial today, not simply for its content which espouses some “dirty” politics in order to win (along with some basic and valid advice), but because of its authorship. Some scholars doubt that Quintus is the author. As Wikipedia tells us:
Many scholars believe that it was not in fact written by Quintus for the purposes proposed, but in fact by a Roman in the Early Roman Empire, between the periods of Augustus and Trajan, as a rhetorical exercise. Such exercises were not uncommon in that time period. Others claim that it was in fact written by Quintus, but with the view to be published, perhaps as a piece of carefully distributed propaganda.
But for non-scholars, it is the frank content that holds the interest more than the authorship. We can measure today’s political campaigns by Quintus’ suggestions. As Peter Stothard writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Quintus’s election book is frank about the gullibility of the masses and firm in its requirement that they be deceived in their own best interests. Rome was a “cesspool of humanity,” and its would-be leaders could be excused of behavior to match. An assumed personality need not be maintained for long. But Marcus, his brother advised, must make himself seem to be a man of the people while reassuring the wealthy that the “new man” knows his place. There has been much modern argument about how democratic Rome really was. “How to Win an Election” shows that a campaigner’s concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough.
The letter is available in a modern translation by Philip Freeman (Princeton University Press, 2012) and is well worth reading by anyone interested in politics and history – and in Machiavelli. It is instructive to see that many of Niccolo’s ideas were presaged by a Cicero. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Quintus was in many ways the first political consultant, and his little-known book remains a mostly undiscovered treasure. For centuries his concise guide has been read only by Latin scholars, but it deserves a much wider audience.
In 1555, Bishop Stephen Gardiner wrote a treatise to King Phillip II of Spain, in which he borrowed (aka plagiarized) extensively from Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Discourses. Gardiner did not credit Machiavelli or attribute any of his quotes, but rather copied some of Machiavelli’s content verbatim or very closely.
This was less than two decades after Machiavelli’s works had been first printed, and before Pope Paul placed it on the Index librorum prohibitorum, effectively banning it in Catholic countries (but also making it more interesting, as any banned book inevitably becomes, thus guaranteeing its publication and translation).
Some two decades earlier, in 1536, Cardinal Reginald Pole wrote his Apologia ad Carolum Quintum. Pole claimed that The Prince was a satire, albeit an evil one (one that exposed the aracana imperii, or secrets of rule). He denounced Machiavelli as being “in league with the devil” and that Il principe was “written by the finger of Satan”:
In the Apologia ad Carolum Quintum (1539) Reginald Pole claimed to know, on the basis of a conversation with Thomas Cromwell some ten years earlier and subsequent inquiry into Cromwell’s views, that Machiavelli’s Il Principe had been the inspiration behind Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome, declare himself head of the church, and seize the property of the English monasteries.*
That suggests The Prince was well known by Cromwell, and possibly even by Henry himself. Who supplied Cromwell with a copy of the work is unknown, but Pole had been in Italy in 1529. However, 1529 is too early for a printed copy: the first printed edition of The Prince was 1532. Perhaps he obtained a hand-copied edition.
Pole’s Apologia, however, was not published until 1744. It might have been shared among his peers and fellow theologians, but it did not have a wider reach for another two centuries (when it provided leverage for the popular notion of a Machiavellian Henry VIII).*
Nonetheless, this and other contemporary denunciations helped bring Machiavelli’s The Prince to the attention of the English court very soon after its first publication (q.v. The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, ed. John Najemy, 2010). Ideas spread rapidly during the Renaissance.
By the time of Gardiner’s writing, Machiavelli had been denounced many times, by many more critics (especially by church allies and defenders). He was even declared a “literate atheist” in 1557. That same year, the Inquisition demanded the “utter destruction” of all of Machiavelli’s works. Ironically, this helped spread them faster in an era of intellectual curiosity and questioning or authority (it was the Reformation, after all, so anything the church opposed was consumed with relish by advocates of reform).
Gardiner – Bishop of Winchester under Henry VIII, and later Lord Chancellor to Queen Mary – was a staunch Catholic, but obviously both curious and intellectually intrigued, even by a writer which his fellow theologians like Pole denounced. He died shortly after writing this final work, so his motives were never questioned. However, in Gardiner’s defence, he was writing before Machiavelli was placed on the Index, so there was no official proscription yet.
He wrote this piece in English – surprisingly not in Latin which was the lingua franca of governance and church then, and a language in which Gardiner was fluent. The treatise was translated into Italian posthumously, in 1556, for presentation Phillip II (Queen Mary‘s Spanish husband; Mary was herself to die shortly afterwards, in 1558), then in Brussels. Phillip II, however, could not speak either English or Italian, but was fluent in Spanish, Latin and French.
The translator was George Rainsford, a courtier in the late Henry VIII’s circle. The English version of Gardiner’s work hasn’t survived, but there are two copies of the Italian translation intact (q.v. A Machiavellian Treatise by Stephen Gardiner, by Peter Donaldson, Cambridge University Press, 1975). The treatise is titled “A Discourse on the Coming of the English and Normans to Britain,” and when sent to Phillip II, it was paired with a piece Rainsford himself wrote, called “Ritratto d’Inghilterra” or “Portrait of England.”
Gardiner’s part is structured as a dialogue between two men, in which “Stephano” teaches “Alphonso” about the English historical experience in Machiavellian terms. It is essentially a guide for Phillip II in how to rule England using the techniques Machiavelli described in his books as used by people such as Caesare Borgia.
Had it been exposed before his death, there is good reason to believe other members of the English court would have felt it treasonable. Many in the court feared that Phillip would become king of England when Mary died. Had Gardiner lived, he could have faced serious consequences – even execution – under Elizabeth.
Gardiner read Machiavelli. Who else in his circle also read him? How widespread was knowledge of Machiavelli in Tudor England?
Machiavelli’s dedication in The Prince has often been overlooked or dismissed as merely a job application to the ruling Medici, a self-aggrandizing piece appended to the work. But in his book, Machiavelli’s The Prince: A Reader’s Guide, Miguel Vatter argues differently, and offers new insight into the dedication.
Before we reconsider the dedication, we need to know what it says. like most works of translation, that can vary either grossly or subtly, depending on the translator.
Here is the entire dedication, translated into English in two versions. First from this site:
Those who desire to win the favour of princes generally endeavour to do so by offering them those things which they themselves prize most, or such as they observe the prince to delight in most. Thence it is that princes have very often presented to them horses, arms, cloth of gold, precious stones, and similar ornaments worthy of their greatness. Wishing now myself to offer to your Magnificence some proof of my devotion, I have found nothing amongst all I possess that I hold more dear or esteem more highly than the knowledge of the actions of great men, which I have acquired by long experience of modern affairs and a continued study of ancient history.
These I have meditated upon for a long time, and examined with great care and diligence; and having now written them out in a small volume, I send this to your Magnificence. And although I judge this work unworthy of you, yet I trust that your kindness of heart may induce you to accept it, considering that I cannot offer you anything better than the means of understanding in the briefest time all that which I have learnt by so many years of study, and with so much trouble and danger to myself.
I have not set off this little work with pompous phrases, nor filled it with high-sounding and magnificent words, nor with any other allurements or extrinsic embellishments with which many are wont to write and adorn their works; for I wished that mine should derive credit only from the truth of the matter, and that the importance of the subject should make it acceptable.
And I hope it may not be accounted presumption if a man of lowly and humble station ventures to discuss and direct the conduct of princes; for as those who wish to delineate countries place themselves low in the plain to observe the form and character of mountains and high places, and for the purpose of studying the nature of the low country place themselves high upon an eminence, so one must be a prince to know well the character of the people, and to understand well the nature of a prince one must be of the people.
May your Magnificence then accept this little gift in the same spirit in which I send it; and if you will read and consider it well, you will recognise in it my desire that you may attain that greatness which fortune and your great qualities promise. And if your Magnificence will turn your eyes from the summit of your greatness towards those low places, you will know how undeservedly I have to bear the great and continued malice of fortune.
A new book on The Prince arrived at my mailbox, last week: Miguel Vatter’s Reader’s Guide to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Vatter is professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Australia. He has written about Machiavelli before.
I’ve been reading it since its arrival and am, so far, impressed by its scope and approach.
…a clear and thorough account of this key philosophical work. Setting Machiavelli’s text in its historical and philosophical context, the book offers a detailed review of the key themes (epistemological, social, ethical and theological-political) and a lucid commentary that will enable readers to rapidly navigate the text. Geared towards the specific requirements of students who need to reach a sound understanding of the text as a whole, the guide explores the complex and important ideas inherent in the text and provides a cogent survey of the reception and influence of Machiavelli’s work. This is the ideal companion to study this most influential of texts.
It’s a book about Machiavelli, his times, his sources, and his political ideas – much like those titles by Mansfield, Viroli and others. It is not a chapter-by-chapter guide to The Prince, which is what one might expect from a title that extolled a book as a “Reader’s Guide.” It’s a thematic approach: Vatter organizes Machiavelli’s chapters by broad theme (I had hoped for an annotated version (similar, for example, to Gardner’s annotated Alice in Wonderland, or the annotated Sherlock Holmes).
Nonetheless, it’s a welcome and important addition to the bookshelf and adds to the conversation about what relevance Machiavelli has to modern politics.
Chanakya has been called the “Indian Machiavelli” because his writings have a political pragmatism similar to that seen in Machiavelli’s own work. He has also been called “Kingmaker” because, as one book description notes,
Striving to make Chandragupta`s position secure in an unstable and dangerous time, Chanakya championed a policy of realpolitik. He deployed a large network of spies, ensured testing for the king`s food and shelter; averted disasters through keen detection like that of ants carrying rice through cracks in flooring. He was not averse to spreading rumors to win over an opponent to the king`s side. Behind all this was the burning desire to stir the country`s ruler to sweep away the vestiges of Greek rule that remained behind Alexander`s invasion and return from India.
According to Wikipedia, Chanakya lived c. 370–283 BCE and was an Indian teacher, philosopher and royal advisor to the first Maurya emperor Chandragupta. He was also “a professor of economics and political science at the ancient Takshashila University.”
Chanakya played an important role in the rise of the Maurya Empire, which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent. Chanakya was chief advisor to both Chandragupta and his son Bindusara.
Chanakya is traditionally identified by two other names: Kautilya and Vishnu Gupta. In the 4th century BCE, he wrote the ancient Indian political treatise called Arthashastra. This has been variously translated as “science of politics… to help a king in “the acquisition and protection of the earth,” “treatise on polity,” “science of material gain,” “science of polity,” and “science of political economy.” You can read it in several places, including here (PDF version here).
Tim Parks, one of the most recent translators of Machiavelli’s The Prince(this is one of my personal favourites), has recently had an article published in the NY Times Review of Books. Parks’ piece is called “Reading it Wrong,” and it’s about the difficult nature of translating a foreign language in a way that both resonates with the reader and retains the sense of the original.
Parks is mostly discussing how Italian translations of English works have changed the way Italian readers see those works, in part because of small editorial decisions and the perceptions of the translators. But he also discusses what happens in the translations of Italian into English.
I quote his comment at length because it speaks to one of the chapters I wrote here about how translators have created an impression of Machiavelli based on how they handled certain key words and sentences.
Interestingly, exactly the opposite occurs with Machiavelli in English. Again expectation is everything and Machiavelli is celebrated of course for being Machiavellian. Received opinion must not shift. So when having considered the downfall of his hero and model, the ruthless Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli rather ruefully writes: “Raccolte io adunque tutte le azioni del duca, non saprei riprenderlo.” (Literally: “Having gathered then all the actions of the duke, I would not know how to reproach him.”) The translator George Bull gives, “So having summed up all that the duke did, I cannot possibly censure him.” Here the word “censure” has a strong moral connotation, made stronger still by the introduction of “cannot possibly,” which is not there in the Italian. In line with the author’s reputation for cynicism, Bull has Machiavelli insist that he has no moral objections to anything Cesare Borgia did. Actually, Machiavelli simply says Borgia didn’t make any big mistakes. The true scandal of Machiavelli is that he never considers moral criteria at all—he doesn’t feel they are applicable to a politician fighting for survival. But it is easier for us to think of an evil Machiavelli than a lucid thinker deciding that good and evil do not come into it.
In other words, the morality of the translators impresses itself on the translation and has coloured the way readers and audiences have perceived The Prince for generations. I suggest that more people are familiar with the moral “sense” of Machiavelli as portrayed by these translators than with his actual works.
I’ve set up a Facebook page for The Municipal Machiavelli at www.facebook.com/MunicipalMachiavelli. This is where I will post links to news stories, opinion columns and other online content related to Machiavelli.
It’s also a better site for comments and to start discussions about Machiavelli, The Prince and related topics. There are many references to Machiavelli in news that are not always appropriate or relevant to the story. Please feel free to add your observations on any of the links I provide on the Facebook page, or add your own.
Please add any related images or videos, or links to same, as well.
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 wasarrested, 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.
As an aficionado of The Great Courses, it’s always a delight for me to receive a new set of lectures I can listen to in the car or when walking my dog. The wide range of topics and ideas in their catalogue provides a wealth of learning and intellectual exercise for any interest. It’s a huge pleasure to be able to listen to these courses and learn from them.
Among the six or eight courses I purchased last year, is Machiavelli in Context, a 24-part series that covers a wide range of topics related to Machiavelli, the Italian Renaissance and popular views of Machiavelli’s collected work – and what it means to be “Machiavellian.” The course description notes:
In the 24 lectures that make up Machiavelli in Context, Professor Cook offers the opportunity to meet an extraordinarily thoughtful and sincere student of history and its lessons, and to learn that there is far more to him than can be gleaned from any reading of The Prince, no matter how thorough. Although The Prince is the work by which most of us think we know Machiavelli, and although some have indeed called it the first and most important book of political science ever written, it was not, according to Professor Cook, either Machiavelli’s most important work or the one most representative of his beliefs. Those distinctions belong, instead, to his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, a longer work started at about the same time and which would, like The Prince, not be published until well after his death…Once we recover the context of the writing of The Prince, and analyze it along with the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, it will be clear how The Prince can be read as a book designed to guide leaders in the creation—for Machiavelli, restoration—of republican government in Italy.
I usually get these courses as digital downloads of the audio only and transfer them to my MP3 player – but some of the courses are on DVD because they are visual not audio, so the bandwidth demand is high. These I buy as DVDs so I can watch them while on the elliptical at home.
The 24 lectures in this series on Machiavelli are:
Who Is Machiavelli? Why Does He Matter?
Classical Thought in Renaissance Florence
The Life of Niccolò Machiavelli
Why Did Machiavelli Write The Prince?
The Prince, 1–5—Republics Old and New
The Prince, 6–7—Virtù and Fortuna
The Prince, 8–12—The Prince and Power
The Prince, 13–16—The Art of Being a Prince
The Prince, 17–21—The Lion and the Fox
The Prince, 21–26—Fortune and Foreigners
Livy, the Roman Republic, and Machiavelli
Discourses—Why Machiavelli Is a Republican
Discourses—The Workings of a Good Republic
Discourses—Lessons from Rome
Discourses—A Principality or a Republic?
Discourses—The Qualities of a Good Republic
Discourses—A Republic at War
Discourses—Can Republics Last?
Discourses—Conspiracies and Other Dangers
Florentine Histories—The Growth of Florence
Florentine Histories—The Age of the Medici
The Fate of Machiavelli’s Works
Was Machiavelli a Machiavellian?
The course is presented by Dr. William Cook, a professor of history at the State University of New York. He teaches courses in ancient and medieval history, the Renaissance and Reformation periods, and the Bible and Christian thought. I found him quite sympathetic towards Machiavelli, and very expressive in his lectures, going to great lengths to express Machiavelli’s republican sentiments as expressed in The Discourses. The final lecture is one of the highlights of the series:
The final lecture addresses the most important questions we need to ask about Machiavelli, including the fairness of the judgment brought on him by history, and why he remains such a vital model, even after five centuries.
The course description also says:
According to Professor William R. Cook, a reading of Machiavelli that considers only those qualities that we today call “Machiavellian” is incomplete, and Machiavelli himself “certainly would not recognize” such sinister interpretations or caricatures of his writings and beliefs. Indeed, The Prince—on the pages of which so much of this image was built—was not even published in his lifetime.
One review of the course says it provides “a much more nuanced view of Machiavelli.” I agree that’s true if your view has been constrained by The Prince alone, or (as I have too often found), based on popular misconception and not actually from reading anything Machiavelli wrote. If you are already a student of Machiavelli, it’s more of a confirmation and reassurance of the conclusions drawn from his whole body of work.
I recommend this series unreservedly. It’s probably the best overall introduction to Machiavelli I’ve found, and is easy to consume in small pieces (each lecture is about 30 minutes long). It also comes with a good course guide (book or PDF, depending on how you purchase the course). The (current) average rating from consumers is 4.7 stars out of five.
A final note: all of these courses go on sale frequently. The current sale price for this series is $29.95. I recommend you check their site frequently to see if a course you wants is on sale and get it then. They also offer combination sets with some savings when you buy the set.
One of the main players behind the conspiracy was the avaricious Pope Sixtus IV*. He felt great hostility towards the Medici.
The pope wanted to add Florence and its territories to his Papal States, thus considerably increasing the size of his holdings and his income, while upsetting the delicate balance of power in central Italy. He also needed money to finance several major construction projects in Rome, including the creation of the Vatican Library. From Florence he would have leverage to pressure cities in the nearby Romagna, and by taking them create a kingdom for his nephew, Girolamo Riario. All of this would add to the pope’s expanding power base. But Lorenzo resisted.
When the pope asked Lorenzo to lend him money to finance his military campaigns in the Romagna, Lorenzo refused to commit any support. Instead, to strengthen their bonds with Rome, the Pazzi,a rival Florentine banking family, loaned 30,000 ducats to the pope. This angered Lorenzo, who encouraged the other Florentine bankers to hold onto their money.
The pope then changed bankers: he shifted the administration of the papal finances from the Medici to the Pazzi. This created a deep rift between Rome and the Medici. Managing the papal finances paid large commissions, creating enormous wealth for the managers: the Medici lost a major source of income.
The pope also ordered an audit on the accounts of the alum mine trade, also managed by the Medici. Alum was central the the dyeing trade in Florence, so a major source of revenue. The Pope granted the Pazzi the monopoly on the alum.
Then, Lorenzo passed a law retroactively prohibiting family inheritance by female offspring. The death of the wealthy Pazzi elder, Giovanni Borromei, without male heirs, meant that the Pazzi assets passed to the cousins, not to his wife, Beatrice. This dealt a blow to the Pazzi fortunes and exacerbated tensions between the families.
The pope was well aware of the plot and supported it, although he did not commit any of his troops to it.
Francesco Salviati was a member of a less distinguished, but still powerful Florentine family, who acted as Papal bankers in the city. Francesco had taken holy orders and was a bishop in the 1470s. He wanted to become archbishop of Florence, his home city, and the pope agreed. But the Medici made sure the position went to Rinaldo Orsini, the brother of Lorenzo’s new wife (the Orsini were another powerful family in Italy).
Francesco turned to Pope Sixtus for help. The pope didn’t have control over the appointment, but instead named Salviati archbishop of Pisa, a client city-state of Florence. This was an insult to both the Medici and the city of Florence because in the past, popes had always consulted with the city when selection an archbishop for Pisa. This infuriated Lorenzo so much that he ordered the gates of Pisa closed, preventing Salviati from entering to take office. Francesco was forced to bide his time in Rome, fretting and plotting, until Lorenzo relented in 1475.
Federigo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino (right), was a mercenary – a conditierre – who was playing for personal gain and an easy profit by renting out his troops to the pope. His daughter was married to Giovanni Della Rovere, the pope’s favourite nephew, and his title had been granted by the pope in 1474. He secretly committed to put 600 of his troops outside Florence to support the conspirators. **
King Ferrante of Naples was a silent partner in the conspiracy, but with long-range goals to gain from the events. He had ambitions to extend his kingdom north, outflanking the papal states and Florence was a serious obstacle. He needed to unseat the Medici and replace them with a family or ruler more supportive of his cause. He agreed to supply his army to aid the pope. Later, he made peace with Lorenzo, which angered the pope.
Girolamo Riario was a favourite nephew of Sixtus IV. The pope purchased the stronghold of Imola, from Milan, but the Medici had wanted it for Florence. The pope gave it to his nephew as a dowry when he married Caterina Sforza (daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan) in 1473. Although Girolamo survived the aftermath for many years, he continued to plot against the Medici, but all his efforts failed. In 1488 he was assassinated – the last of the main Pazzi conspirators alive – by members of the Orsi.
Continued in Part 3
* Wikipedia notes:
One of his first acts was to declare a renewed crusade against the Ottoman Turks in Smyrna. Fund-raising for the crusade was more successful than the half-hearted attempts to storm Smyrna, with little to show in return.
This ill-considered crusade would later come back to haunt Sixtus during the aftermath of the Pazzi conspiracy. In the middle of their march on Florence, Naples had to shift its attention away from the conflict to southern Italy to deal with a Turkish invasion. In 1480, an army from the the Ottoman Empire landed at Otranto, under orders to march on Rome and capture the city. After a two-week battle they captured Otranto, then massacred the inhabitants. The pope panicked, and demanded King Ferdinand of Naples gather together a new crusade to defeat the Turks. The Turkish ruler, Mehmet the Conqueror, sailed to Italy to lead the army on to conquer the rest of the peninsula, but died en route. His successor ordered the army’s general to be hung, and the Turks retreated at the end of September, 1481. Ferdinand’s son Alphonso, duke of Calabria, retook the city after 13 months of Turkish rule.