“The ends justify the means,” is this the expression used by Sienna Brooks in the novel Inferno, from the notorious Florentine political theorist Machiavelli.
Niccolò Machiavelli (May 3, 1469, Florence – June 21, 1527, Florence) was an Italian Renaissance political philosopher and statesman, as well as secretary of the Florentine Republic. His most famous work, Il Principe (The Prince), brought him great renown.
The son of the attorney Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli and of Bartolomea di Stefano Nelli, Machiavelli came from a wealthy and prominent family, occasionally holding some of Florence’s most important offices. However, his father Bernardo was among the family’s poorest members. Barred from public office in Florence as an insolvent debtor, Bernardo lived frugally, administering his small landed property near the city and his earnings from the almost clandestine exercise of his profession.
Little is known of Niccolò’s education and early life in Florence, at that time a thriving centre of philosophy and a brilliant showcase of the arts. Machiavelli was taught grammar, rhetoric, and Latin. It is thought that he did not learn Greek.
He was born in a tumultuous era where popes waged acquisitive wars against Italian city-states, and people and cities often fell from power. In 1494, Florence restored the republic expelling the Medici family, which had ruled Florence for some sixty years. Shortly after the execution of Savonarola, a dominican friar who moved to Florence in 1482 and who in the 1490s attracted a party of popular supporters with his thinly veiled accusations against the government, the clergy, and the pope, Machiavelli was appointed to an office of the Second Chancery, a medieval writing office that put Machiavelli in charge of the production of official Florentine government documents.
Shortly thereafter, he was also made Secretary of the council Dieci di Libertà e Pace, which, although subordinate to the Signoria, exercised a separate control over the departments of war and the interior. In the first decade of the sixteenth century, he carried out several diplomatic missions, most notably to the papacy in Rome, to the French court of Louis XII, to Cesare Borgia (the son of Pope Alexander VI), and to the Spanish court. It was from these missions that Machiavelli formed his political opinions.
In 1501, at the age of 32, Machiavelli married Marietta Corsini, who bore him several children. This marriage was founded on family status and dowry, as was customary at that time. Very little is known about the relationship between Machiavelli and Marietta.
Between 1503 and 1506, Machiavelli was responsible for the Florentine militia: since he distrusted mercenaries, he instead staffed his army with citizens, a policy that proved to be successful many times.
In 1512 the Florentine Republic was overthrown and the Gonfalonier was deposed by a Spanish army that Julius II had enlisted into his Holy League. The Medici family returned to rule Florence, and Machiavelli, suspected of conspiracy, was imprisoned, tortured, and exiled in 1513 to his father’s small property in San Casciano, just south of Florence. During these days of forced idleness, he wrote his two major works: The Prince and Discorsi su Livio (Discourses on Livy), both of which were published posthumously.
Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici (1492–1519), ruler of Florence and grandson of Lorenzo de’ Medici. It was written in ancient Italian rather than Latin, a practice that had become increasingly popular since the publication of Dante‘s Divine Comedy and other works of Renaissance literature.
It contains several maxims concerning politics, but instead of the more traditional subject of a hereditary prince, it focuses on the potential for a “new prince” concerned not only with reputation, but also with the willingness to act immorally on the proper occasions.
After returning to Florence, Machiavelli continued to hope that the Ambassador Francesco Vettori would introduce him to some office in the city administration; however, this was in vain given that the new Pope, Leo X, was not willing to support encourage those who had not shown, at the time, any interests in the Medici family.
Despairing of the opportunity to remain directly involved in political matters, Machiavelli eventually began to participate in intellectual groups in Florence and to write several plays that were popular and widely known in his lifetime. Still, politics remained his main passion, and to satisfy this interest, he maintained a well-known correspondence with better politically connected friends, attempting to become once again involved in that sphere.
Machiavelli died in 1527 at the age of 58. He was buried at the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. An epitaph honoring him is inscribed on his monument.
Picture by wikipedia.org