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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The other side of Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli's Il Principe became a "must read" only in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the birth of modern politics -- and modern dictatorship. He himself knew that his "rational" model to rule a country did not match the actual practice of his epoch; in fact, he thought that his time was not only a time of decadence, but of utter madness. Here's a significant passage from his unfinished poem L'Asino, "The Donkey," canto 8. A man who has been changed into a pig (and doesn't mean to go back to his previous human condition) speaks:
Only man is born bare of any kind of defense,
without leather or spikes or feathers or fleece
or bristles or scales providing a shield to him,
so that, truly, he is a miserable thing to see.
Besides, as he grows, his life proves so short,
without any doubt, in comparison with the
lifespan enjoyed by a deer, a crow, a goose.
Nature did give you, men, hands and language,
but, together with these, ambition as well,
and greed, which destroy all good you have.
To how many weaknesses does Nature,
first, and then Fortune subjugate you! How
many goods they promise -- to no effect!
Source: Machiavelli, Pensieri, ed. by Stenio Solinas, Turin: Fògola Editore, 1980, pages 178, with 15 Renaissance drawings (fantastic warriors' heads) by Marco Zoppo, engraved by Francesco Novelli, and a 1910 essay by Giovanni Papini.