L’autore del mese: Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
The Florentine Niccolò Machiavelli is best know for a short treatise on applied political science, Il Principe (The Prince, ca. 1515), an analysis of the technique to be used by monarchical ruler to gain and keep control of a state. In addition to The Prince, Machiavelli wrote a series of Discorsi sulla prima deca di Tito Livio (Reflections on the First Ten Books of Livy), containing analogous reflections on the relation of the state to its citizens under a republican government; the Istorie fiorentine (History of Florence) and a semi-fictionalized biography of a four-teenth-century Lucchese tyrant, Castruccio Castracane. His fictional production was much smaller, and consists principally of two plays, La Mandragola (The Mandrake) and Clizia, plus the short story of Belfagor the Arch-Devil, also reproduced in the volume Italian Stories, A Dual-Language Book available at the Dante’s Library (please ask Matteo if you’re not sure where to find it).
In The Prince, Machiavelli analyzed the procedures to be followed by a ruler, solely from the point of view of their effectiveness, and without regard to the traditional ethics. From this apparent neglect of morality, many readers of Machiavelli have concluded that he was favorable to dishonesty and deceit; especially in Elizabethan times, he was regarded as a base scoundrel who counseled the vilest treachery and the blackest wickedness. In actually, Machiavelli’s analysis of statecraft, both under a monarch in The Prince and under a republic in the Discourses on Livy, was based on dispassionate, scientific analysis of the facts as they exist, not as they are supposed to be according to the prescriptions of moralists. Something of this same objectivity appears in his treatment of a traditional, folkloristic theme in the tale of Belfagor. In narrating Belfagor-Roderick’s marital adventures and ultimate discomfiture, Machiavelli does not take sides, but simply presents events as they happen. Thus, the character of the demon when he assumes the shapes of a man is shown to be inevitably conditioned by the innate drives and passions of the human race.