CONFERENCES: Renaissance Drinking Culture and Renaissance Drinking Vessels

Renaissance Tazza cupCONFERENCES: Renaissance Drinking Culture and Renaissance Drinking Vessels

Francois Quiviger (Warburg Institute)

This fascinating paper took a closer look at Renaissance drinking vessels and drinking culture and examined the types of vessels commonly used in Italy and the Netherlands during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

What was considered acceptable consumption of alcohol during this period? There were many medical treatises that indicated the correct portions of water and wine measurements; i.e., two parts wine and one water. Wine tended to be diluted by wine and traditionally, four units per day of wine for men, and three units per day for women was deemed acceptable.  Excessive consumption and drunkenness were frowned upon. Medically, it was believed that drinking caused you to build up “too much fire” in your body and caused an imbalance. Drunkenness wasn’t just found in medical but also in ethical treatises that condemned drunkenness as poor etiquette. In the sixteenth century, drinking was moderate with the axiom - ‘drink little but often’. The first glass to quench your thirst, the second to drink to your health, the third to friends and the fourth glass to drunkenness. “Indulgence of wine is the opposite of virtue and leads to debauchery”.  

Lorenzo Lotto - Allegory of Vice and Virtue (1505)The most popular drinking vessel of this period was the “tazza”, a flat dish or cup. The word “tazza” was used in sixteenth century descriptions of these drinking vessels which were usually made of silver and often presented to commemorate a special event. The legendary use of barbarians drinking from the skulls of their enemies was also called “tazza” by Machiavelli. There was a revival of Greek drinking vessels during the Renaissance much like the revival of other areas of antiquity and ancient culture. Drunkenness and excess were often depicted in paintings of the period. Quiviger showed paintings from the sixteenth century depicting the evils of drunkenness, like that of the Northern Italian painter, Lorenzo Lotto’s “Allegory of Vice and Virtue”, “Drunken Silenus” by Reubens, and Andrea Podesta’s “Bacco e Arianna”.

Winged BacchusAlso popular in depicting drunken revelry was the image of Bacchus, and more rarely the winged Bacchus. The popular image of Bacchanal children was used to show that when we over drink, we behave like children. Quiviger also examined several early modern images of the Wedding at Cana where the tazza was present. In many of these paintings, Quiviger demonstrated the consistency in the representation of the tazza during the Renaissance period. The flat, wide tazza was also used to bring out the aroma of the wine. There were often images painted or carved into the bottom of them so when they were filled with wine, you would not see the image until you finished drinking, a slow reveal for the enjoyment of the drinker. When filled with water, the background slowly rose to the surface as you drank and the images appeared to become animated. Silver flat wine cups were designed for banquets, the flatness and imagery gave the attendees of banquets the illusion that they had drunk one glass too many.  There was a purposeful playfulness with these optical illusions.

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Machiavelli: The Graphic Novel

A project to create a print version of a graphic novel depicting the life of the Italian politician and philosopher Machiavelli has successfully reached its fundraising goals. With still a few days to go, author Don MacDonald has earned over $7500 in donations on his Kickstarter campaign, which aims to create a 160-page paperback edition.

machiavelli graphic novel

Entirely hand drawn in pen and ink with watercolor washes, the graphic novel tells the story of how Machiavelli rose to fame in the turbulent world of fifteenth-century Florence. The story was first posted online between 2010 and 2012 on his website.

“Putting Machiavelli online has really opened doors,” MacDonald explains. “I mean, there hasn’t been anything like an explosive growth, but over the years, people have managed to find the work and when it turns out they enjoy it, that’s extremely gratifying. And it led to being invited to speak at TEDx Boston and enough of a base of support that a Kickstarter like this is viable. But the format of Machiavelli is not best suited to a HTML page presentation. The most frequent request I get is for a print version or an ebook so it can be read in a sitting without having to click and load all those pages.”

MacDonald adds, “I want to humanize Machiavelli. At the least, I want to give people the sense that Machiavelli was not Machiavellian: that he was not some kind of sinister schemer. I don’t want to whitewash, but in the popular culture Machiavelli is always a villainous presence and I wanted to counter that. Also, analysis of his philosophy is well covered ground. I didn’t feel there was much I could really add to that discussion, but there’s not that much written about his life—at least, its not well-known at any rate—so I felt I could bring a new angle to his work by highlighting where it came from.”

You can still contribute to the Kickstarter campaign until May 14th. You can also also follow Don MacDonald on Twitter @don_macdonald

Click here to read an interview Don MacDonald had with The Outhousers

Prophetic Statebuilding: Machiavelli and the Passion of the Duke

Cesare & Machiavelli Prophetic Statebuilding: Machiavelli and the Passion of the Duke

John P. Mccormick

Representations: Vol. 115, No. 1 (Summer 2011), pp. 1-19


Niccolò Machiavelli’s use of Cesare Borgia has always posed a puzzle for interpreters of The Prince . For those who denounced the scandalous quality of Machiavelli’s “piccolo libro,” the laudatory presentation of Borgia—cunning, lascivious, ambitious, and brutal—proved decisively that the Florentine secretary cared little for piety, morality, good government, or basic decency. In attempting to shield Machiavelli from such charges, no less a luminary than Jean-Jacques Rousseau insisted that Machiavelli’s use of Borgia was instructively ironic: Machiavelli didn’t really mean for Borgia to serve as an exemplar for anything other than the kind of tyranny that inevitably emerges in circumstances where republics do not abide.

Interpreters more willing to take Machiavelli at his word detect in the Borgia example Machiavelli’s head-on confrontation with the dire political realities of his day: Jacob Burckhardt, for instance, understood Machiavelli’s account of Borgia’s career to illustrate how a ruthless, mendacious warlord could use the authority of the papacy to accumulate power and even create circum- stances where the papacy itself might be converted into a proper hereditary monarchy, a more conventional principality that might expel foreign invaders and unify Italy.

Click here to read this article from Representations

BOOKS: The Feuding Families of Medieval and Renaissance Italy

The House of Medici - Its Rise and FallThe House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (May 19, 1999)


At its height Renaissance Florence was a centre of enormous wealth, power and influence. A republican city-state funded by trade and banking, its often bloody political scene was dominated by rich mercantile families, the most famous of which were the Medici. This enthralling book charts the family’s huge influence on the political, economic and cultural history of Florence. Beginning in the early 1430s with the rise of the dynasty under the near-legendary Cosimo de Medici, it moves through their golden era as patrons of some of the most remarkable artists and architects of the Renaissance, to the era of the Medici Popes and Grand Dukes, Florence’s slide into decay and bankruptcy, and the end, in 1737, of the Medici line.

magnifico-brilliant-life-violent-times-lorenzo-de-medici-miles-j-unger-hardcover-cover-artMagnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de’ Medici

Author: Miles Unger

Publisher: Simon & Schuster(May 6, 2008)


Magnifico is a vividly colorful portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the uncrowned ruler of Florence during its golden age. A true “Renaissance man,” Lorenzo dazzled contemporaries with his prodigious talents and magnetic personality. Known to history as Il Magnifico (the Magnificent), Lorenzo was not only the foremost patron of his day but also a renowned poet, equally adept at composing philosophical verses and obscene rhymes to be sung at Carnival. He befriended the greatest artists and writers of the time — Leonardo, Botticelli, Poliziano, and, especially, Michelangelo, whom he discovered as a young boy and invited to live at his palace — turning Florence into the cultural capital of Europe. He was the leading statesman of the age, the fulcrum of Italy, but also a cunning and ruthless political operative. Miles Unger’s biography of this complex figure draws on primary research in Italian sources and on his intimate knowledge of Florence, where he lived for several years. Lorenzo’s grandfather Cosimo had converted the vast wealth of the family bank into political power, but from his earliest days Lorenzo’s position was precarious. Bitter rivalries among the leading Florentine families and competition among the squabbling Italian states meant that Lorenzo’s life was under constant threat. Those who plotted his death included a pope, a king, and a duke, but Lorenzo used his legendary charm and diplomatic skill — as well as occasional acts of violence — to navigate the murderous labyrinth of Italian politics. Against all odds he managed not only to survive but to preside over one of the great moments in the history of civilization. Florence in the age of Lorenzo was a city of contrasts, of unparalleled artistic brilliance and unimaginable squalor in the city’s crowded tenements; of both pagan excess and the fire-and-brimstone sermons of the Dominican preacher Savonarola. Florence gave birpth to both the otherworldly perfection of Botticelli’s Primavera and the gritty realism of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Nowhere was this world of contrasts more perfectly embodied than in the life and character of the man who ruled this most fascinating city.

The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy's Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de' Medici The Tigress of Forli: Renaissance Italy’s Most Courageous and Notorious Countess, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici

Author: Elizabeth Lev

Publisher: Mariner Books (October 16, 2012)


A strategist to match Machiavelli; a warrior who stood toe to toe with the Borgias; a wife whose three marriages would end in bloodshed and heartbreak; and a mother determined to maintain her family’s honor, Caterina Riario Sforza de’ Medici was a true Renaissance celebrity, beloved and vilified in equal measure. In this dazzling biography, Elizabeth Lev illuminates her extraordinary life and accomplishments. Raised in the court of Milan and wed at age ten to the pope’s corrupt nephew, Caterina was ensnared in Italy’s political intrigues early in life. After turbulent years in Rome’s papal court, she moved to the Romagnol province of Forlì. Following her husband’s assassination, she ruled Italy’s crossroads with iron will, martial strength, political savvy, and an icon’s fashion sense. In finally losing her lands to the Borgia family, she put up a resistance that inspired all of Europe and set the stage for her progeny—including Cosimo de’ Medici—to follow her example to greatness. A rich evocation of Renaissance life, The Tigress of Forlì reveals Caterina Riario Sforza as a brilliant and fearless ruler, and a tragic but unbowed figure.

The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1519

Author: Christopher Hibbert

Publisher: Mariner Books (September 16, 2009)


Acclaimed British historian Hibbert’s latest work focuses on three members of the notorious Borgia family of Spain, who came to power in Rome with the election of Alfonso de Borgia (1378–1458), the scholarly bishop of Valencia, to the papacy as Calixtus III. Calixtus’s nephew Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (1431–1503) was known for decadence as well as keen administrative skills. Cardinal Rodrigo played a key role in electing Pope Sixtus IV, had a lucrative career as vice chancellor under five popes, fathered several children and bribed his way to becoming pope himself, as Alexander VI, in 1492. His children were infamous, including the unscrupulous military leader and politician Cesare (1475–1507), who inspired Machiavelli’s The Prince and murdered his own brother and brother-in-law to achieve his goals, while his daughter Lucrezia (1480–1519) overcame an incestuous reputation to become a respected patron of the arts as duchess of Ferrara. The book is a heavily researched and generally engrossing account of a famous dynasty, but readers may wish Hibbert (The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici) had used a more assertive and analytical voice to accompany the detailed descriptions of Renaissance life.

Absolutism in Renaissance Milan: Plenitude of Power under the Visconti and the Sforza 1329-1535 Absolutism in Renaissance Milan: Plenitude of Power under the Visconti and the Sforza 1329-1535

Author: Jane Black

Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (December 20, 2009)


Absolutism in Renaissance Milan shows how authority above the law, once the preserve of pope and emperor, was claimed by the ruling Milanese dynasties, the Visconti and the Sforza, and why this privilege was finally abandoned by Francesco II Sforza (d. 1535), the last duke. As new rulers, the Visconti and the Sforza had had to impose their regime by rewarding supporters at the expense of opponents. That process required absolute power, also known as “plenitude of power,” meaning the capacity to overrule even fundamental laws and rights, including titles to property. The basis for such power reflected the changing status of Milanese rulers, first as signori and then as dukes. Contemporary lawyers, schooled in the sanctity of fundamental laws, were at first prepared to overturn established doctrines in support of the free use of absolute power: even the leading jurist of the day, Baldo degli Ubaldi (d. 1400), accepted the new teaching. However, lawyers came eventually to regret the new approach and to reassert the principle that laws could not be set aside without compelling justification. The Visconti and the Sforza too saw the dangers of absolute power: as legitimate princes they were meant to champion law and justice, not condone arbitrary acts that disregarded basic rights. Jane Black traces these developments in Milan over the course of two centuries, showing how the Visconti and Sforza regimes seized, exploited and finally relinquished absolute power.

The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe (Modern Wars In Perspective)The Italian Wars 1494-1559: War, State and Society in Early Modern Europe (Modern Wars In Perspective)

Authors: Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw

Publisher: Routledge (April 26, 2012)


The Italian Wars of 1494-1559 had a major impact on the whole of Renaissance Europe. In this important text, Michael Mallett and Christine Shaw place the conflict within the political and economic context of the wars. Emphasising the gap between aims and strategies of the political masters and what their commanders and troops could actually accomplish on the ground, they analyse developments in military tactics and the tactical use of firearms and examine how Italians of all sectors of society reacted to the wars and the inevitable political and social change that they brought about. The history of Renaissance Italy is currently being radically rethought by historians. This book is a major contribution to this re-evaluation, and will be essential reading for all students of Renaissance and military history.

The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a GuideThe Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide

Author: Anthony Majanlahti

Publisher: Random House UK (June 6, 2006)


Rome is famous for its buildings and architecture, but just who built its noted and beautiful structures? This distinctive account—part history and part travel guide—explores the families and individuals who built Rome from the ground up. Each of the districts dominated by the fabulously rich families of the Popes—including the Colonna, della Rovere, Farnese, Borghese, Barberini and others—are explored and paired with a vivid account of the family’s history, including their scandals and intrigues as well as their relationships with artists like Bernini and Michelangelo. An itinerary with maps and engravings provides a detailed guide to each family’s monuments. Famous sites such as the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and St. Peter’s Cathedral take on new significance as the history of the Roman nobles who placed their stamp on the city is unveiled.

Machiavelli by Robert BlackMachiavelli

Author: Robert Black

Publisher: Routledge (September 18, 2013)


Machiavelli is history’s most startling political commentator. Recent interpreters have minimised his originality, but this book restores his radicalism. Robert Black shows a clear development in Machiavelli’s thought. In his most subversive works The Prince, the Discourses on Livy, The Ass and Mandragola he rejected the moral and political values inherited by the Renaissance from antiquity and the middle ages. These outrageous compositions were all written in mid-life, when Machiavelli was a political outcast in his native Florence. Later he was reconciled with the Florentine establishment, and as a result his final compositions including his famous Florentine Histories represent a return to more conventional norms. This lucid work is perfect for students of Medieval and Early Modern History, Renaissance Studies and Italian Literature, or anyone keen to learn more about one of history’s most potent, influential and arresting writers.

The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427-1527

Author: Leonie Frieda

Publisher: Harper (April 2, 2013)


From Leonie Frieda, critically acclaimed biographer of Catherine de Medici, comes The Deadly Sisterhood: an epic tale of eight women whose lives—marked by fortune and poverty, power and powerlessness—encompass the spectacle, opportunity, and depravity of Italy’s Renaissance. Lucrezia Turnabuoni, Clarice Orsini, Beatrice d’Este, Isabella d’Este, Caterina Sforza, Giulia Farnese, Isabella d’Aragona, and Lucrezia Borgia shared the riches of their birthright: wealth, political influence, and friendship, but none were not exempt from personal tragedies, exile, and poverty. With riveting narrative, Leonie Frieda’s The Deadly Sisterhood: A Story of Women, Power, and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, 1427–1527 brings to life a long-gone era filled with intrigue, corruption, and passion.

The Medicean Succession: Monarchy and Sacral Politics in Duke Cosimo dei Medici's Florence

The Medicean Succession: Monarchy and Sacral Politics in Duke Cosimo dei Medici’s Florence (I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History)

Author: Gregory Murray

Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 3, 2014)


In 1537, Florentine Duke Alessandro dei Medici was murdered by his cousin and would-be successor, Lorenzino dei Medici. Lorenzino’s treachery forced him into exile, however, and the Florentine senate accepted a compromise candidate, seventeen-year-old Cosimo dei Medici. The senate hoped Cosimo would act as figurehead, leaving the senate to manage political affairs. But Cosimo never acted as a puppet. Instead, by the time of his death in 1574, he had stabilized ducal finances, secured his borders while doubling his territory, attracted an array of scholars and artists to his court, academy, and universities, and, most importantly, dissipated the perennially fractious politics of Florentine life. Gregory Murry argues that these triumphs were far from a foregone conclusion. Drawing on a wide variety of archival and published sources, he examines how Cosimo and his propagandists successfully crafted an image of Cosimo as a legitimate sacral monarch. Murry posits that both the propaganda and practice of sacral monarchy in Cosimo’s Florence channeled preexisting local religious assumptions as a way to establish continuities with the city’s republican and renaissance past. In The Medicean Succession, Murry elucidates the models of sacral monarchy that Cosimo chose to utilize as he deftly balanced his ambition with the political sensitivities arising from existing religious and secular traditions.

Game of Thrones and Machiavelli

Megan Cavell reports on the lecture ‘Power is a Curious Thing: Game of Thrones as a Machiavellian Mirror for Princes’ given by Janice Liedl (Laurentian University) at the University of Toronto on September 27, 2013.

Game of Thrones machiavelli

Last week I attended a session as part of the 49th season of the Toronto Renaissance and Reformation Colloquium. I know…not technically medieval…but the title was compelling.

The audience was, I must admit, not quite the one I had imagined. From my seat I could hear some undergraduate students chattering away behind me – one had come all the way from another province (what an eavesdropper, I am), one swore a bit, all could quote the books and tv show by heart. I felt ever so slightly out of place.

But Liedl’s talk soon began and her engaging style quickly calmed the filled room. She discussed first the historicity of Game of Thrones – having written and edited quite a few publications on the relationship between various fantasy series and history this was certainly an area she knew how to tread. She discussed the way fantasy literature liberates its writers from the constraints of history: they can surprise readers, while writers of historical fiction cannot (although I’m sure anyone who’s seen Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds would disagree!).

Liedl then moved on to discuss in turn four of the prominent families in George R. R. Martin’s series, especially with regard to the tv show. In fact, she made excellent use of video clips throughout her presentation, which helped to keep the audience engaged. The character sketches that Liedl provided were, perhaps, fairly obvious to the avid Game of Thrones fan. However, the links she made to Machiavelli’s philosophy were interesting, as was her use of The Prince as a tool for evaluating the effectiveness of various Game of Thrones characters in coping with political intrigue. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that Ned Stark was an idealist, but Liedl’s comment that his career resembled that of Thomas More was interesting, as were the associations she suggested between Tywin Lannister and the Borgia pope, Alexander VI.

In the end, Liedl traced out Daenerys Targaryen’s claim to the throne, her use of good judgement (regardless of occasionally bad counsel), and her ability to inspire both fear and love. This, Liedl claimed, is the ideal Machiavellian ruler.

As for the Q and A, this had a promising start, but – I must admit – I had a train to catch and couldn’t stay for the whole thing! I did listen to some excellent questions about gender (which Liedl argued Martin tackles by turning to historical models of powerful women, rather than guidebooks), the popularity of the series and the often quite brutal power dynamics that they display, and how the use of supernatural or divine powers by some figures (Stannis, Daenerys) tips the scales. Liedl fielded these questions well and left me rather disappointed to have to sneak out!

If you’re similarly hungry for more, check out Liedl’s blog: It looks like there are quite a few posts that tie into her talk, so you don’t have to feel like you’ve missed out! ~ Megan Cavell

Please also check out Megan Cavell’s website The Riddle Ages

Machiavelli: Theories on Liberty, Religion, and The Original Constitution

machiavelliMachiavelli: Theories on Liberty, Religion, and The Original Constitution

Erin Bos

Oklahoma Christian University Journal of Historical Studies, Tau Sigma Journal of Historical Studies: Vol.21 (2013)


Machiavellian qualities are often described as conniving or corrupt. Niccolò Machiavelli coined the idea of power-hungry, unremorseful princes in his book, The Prince. However, Machiavelli’s true political theory can be found in his other political theory book, The Discourses on Livy. In his Discourses, Machiavelli did not singularly focus on the preservation of power or the role of the ruler; rather, he explored the idea of Rome being the model republic. Machiavelli used the republic of Rome as a basis for the creation of his perfect republic, in which liberty was a right given to the public, religion worked as a political tool and a moral compass, and returning to the original constitution occurred frequently.

Machiavelli saw the republic as a civil way of life in which power is not absolute within any regime.1 Machiavelli claimed that clashes were good for the republic, in that the clash lead to change: “enmities between the senate and the plebeians kept Rome free, since they gave rise to laws in favor of liberty.” Thus, Machiavelli advocated that the source of Roman liberty was the disturbances between the nobles and plebeians, because the disturbances produced good effects, or liberty.

Click here to read this article from the Tau Sigma Journal of Historical Studies

How Machiavellian was Machiavelli?

How Machiavellian was Machiavelli?

Lecture by Quentin Skinner, Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London

Given at the University of York, on February 12, 2013

How Machiavellian was Machiavelli?Professor Quentin Skinner gave a public lecture at the University of York, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the composition of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Quentin Skinner is currently Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London.

He works on early-modern European intellectual history, with a particular interest in the rhetorical culture of the Renaissance and the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. He has also written about a number of philosophical questions, including the nature of interpretation and historical explanation, and about several issues in contemporary political theory, including the concept of political liberty and the character of the State.

Rule by Natural Reason: Late Medieval and early Renaissance conceptions of political corruption

 Late Medieval and early Renaissance conceptions of political corruptionRule by Natural Reason: Late Medieval and early Renaissance conceptions of political corruption

By Manuhuia Barcham

Corruption: Expanding the focus, edited by Manuhuia Barcham, Barry Hindess and Peter Larmour (Australian National University, 2012)

Introduction: This paper argues that, from about the eleventh century CE, a new and distinctive model of corruption accompanied the rediscovery and increased availability of a number of classical texts and ideals, particularly those of Cicero and the Roman Jurists. This new model of corruption accompanied a renewed emphasis on classical ideals in theorising the political, and a subsequent change in the way in which political life was conceived in Europe. Combining the medieval Christian focus on the importance of moral values with the classical emphasis on the value of reason, this tradition merged political and moral reason such that they became conceptually identical and indistinguishable from one another. The polity was thus seen as a Christian community living under laws agreed on through reason, ruled on behalf of the common good by a ruler who was bound and constrained by these same laws. In this new conceptual model, corruption was perceived largely in terms of the adverse consequences of action occurring without regard to natural reason, in contrast with the previous Augustinian approach that had viewed our entire earthly life as corrupt and without possibility of redemption.

Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century, an Augustinian approach to the concept of the political as order provided the most influential framework within which political life was discussed and studied in Christian Europe. Augustine’s work presented a political theory that placed earthly political institutions within the context of Christian theology. Probably his most radical departure from the classical tradition consisted in rethinking the role of politics and political institutions in human affairs. Augustine viewed earthly life in the wake of the Fall as inherently corrupt. He differed from earlier classical conceptions in viewing politics and political life as necessary evils requisite to achieve a semblance of order in earthly life. In Augustine’s work, the idea of the ‘good’ life achievable on earth—so important to classical conceptions of the political or its corruption—was dropped from the vocabulary of European political discourse. For Augustine, politics was concerned merely with preserving external peace and order—not with shaping the moral character of the citizens. At best, all laws could do was secure civic order. It is this Augustinian background that provided the framework for much political thought in medieval Europe.

Click here to read this article from Australian National University

500-year-old arrest warrant for Machiavelli discovered

The original copy of a proclamation – exactly 500-years old – calling for the arrest of Niccolò Machiavelli has been discovered by a British historian.

Professor Stephen Milne of the University of Manchester came across the 1513 proclamation which led to the downfall of Niccolò Machiavelli, the famous Renaissance political philosopher, buried in the state archives in Florence.

The ‘most wanted notice’ began a chain of events that led to the writing of The Prince later that same year and marked a change in the civil servant’s political fortunes, eventually resulting in his death 14 years later in abject poverty.

The Prince, infamous for advocating the sacrifice of virtue and morality to maintain power at all costs, has been updated to apply to areas as diverse as banking, finance, business and politics.

Its 500-year anniversary is being celebrated by the city of Florence – beginning with a reconstruction of the events surrounding his capture and imprisonment. A town crier mounted on a horse and armed with a silver trumpet to attract the attention of crowds will make the proclamation at sites across Florence.

By examining hundreds of proclamations between 1470 and 1530, Professor Milner has also mapped the sites within the city where the town crier would have actually read out the proclamation.

His further discoveries have shed light on the payments made to four horsemen who searched the streets for Machiavelli and the cash they received for his capture.

“When I saw it I knew exactly what it was and it was pretty exciting,” said Professor Milner. “When you realise this document marked the fall from grace of one the world’s most influential political writers, it’s quite a feeling.”

He added: “The Prince is a seminal work, with a lasting influence on political thought and culture. The term Machiavellian and the naming of the Devil as ‘Old Nick’ all derive from this single work.

“But the circumstances of its composition have often been overlooked. On the return of the Medici faction to power in 1512, Machiavelli was removed from his post in the city’s Chancery because of his close association with the previous leading citizen and head of the republican government, Piero Soderini.

“When his name was linked to conspiracy to overthrow the Medici, they wasted no time in seeking his capture using the proclamation I discovered. On the same day, he was imprisoned, tortured and later released and placed under house arrest outside the city.

“The Prince was written in the vain hope of gaining favour and employment with the Medici – but there’s no evidence to suggest they even read it.”

James Johnson, associate professor of history at Boston University, adds that it is something of a mystery why Machiavelli wrote The Prince: “Some say he wanted to empower tyrants; others say he listed their crimes the better to expose them. Readers across the ages have found support for all kinds of causes: monarchists, defenders of republics, cynics, idealists, religious zealots, religious skeptics. Whatever its intent, one thing is clear. The book follows its declared purpose fearlessly and without hesitation: to show rulers how to survive in the world as it is and not as it should be.”

Click here to read the full interview with James Johnson from Boston University

Source: University of Manchester


Shakespeare’s Richard II: Machiavelli for the Good of England

Shakespeare’s Richard II: Machiavelli for the Good of England

By Thomas Michael Franco,

Master of Arts in English, Stony Brook University (2008)

Abstract: The governed are concerned with their governments. The people of Elizabethan England were no different, and as an artist Shakespeare expressed his concern through his work. While not always a central issue in his plays, an element present in most of them is an examination of good rule. Leaders – kings, dukes, generals, and so on – are often the protagonists, and this is certainly true in Shakespeare’s histories. These plays were a way for Shakespeare to examine and comment on the nature of good rule and what was best for England, and it can be argued that England itself is the true protagonist of these plays. Often the rulers in these plays possessed qualities that can be seen as Machiavellian, yet Shakespeare often approves, because those that “win” are those that are best for their country.

This is true in Richard II and the failure of Richard and the success of Bolingbroke can be closely linked to advice put forth by Niccolo Machiavelli in The Prince. With this play, Shakespeare looks back to this Middle Age period of King Richard II through a 16th century Renaissance lens and allows that 16th century Machiavellian political thinking and methodology can be the cornerstone of good rule as England began a move away from its medieval roots and into a Renaissance power.

Click here to read this thesis from Stony Brook University 

Reading Machiavelli Rhetorically: The Prince as Covert Critique of the Renaissance Prince

Reading Machiavelli Rhetorically: The Prince as Covert Critique of the Renaissance Prince

By James O. Ward

California Italian Studies Journal, Vol.2:2 (2011)

Abstract: In this essay, classical rhetorical theory is applied to show that Machiavelli’s Prince was not intended as advice for a prince, nor as “political science,” but rather as a very subtle, but nevertheless powerful, critique of the Italian princes of his day, the Medici included. While not a new reading of the text (the notion of the Prince as a crypto-republican work goes back even before the Enlightenment to the very first years of its appearance), this article places such an interpretation on the firm base of rhetorical theory together with a close reading of the text. Classical rhetorical theory will thus be seen to be a powerful tool in the proper understanding of the text, a line of approach continuing the already important work of the past twenty years, which seeks to restore an appreciation of the fundamentally rhetorical nature of Machiavelli’s literary technique and political thought. From this examination of the text against the background of rhetorical theory, one of the perennially vexing questions in the interpretation of Machiavelli’s political thought–how to reconcile the apparently “princely” counsels of the Prince with the republican sentiments expressed in Machiavelli’s other writings–can finally be resolved.

Click here to read this article from the University of California


Machiavelli on Christian Education

Machiavelli on Christian Education

By Ilya Winham

Education: Forming and Deforming the Premodern Mind - Selected Proceedings of the Newberry Library Center for Renaissance Studies 27th Graduate Student Conference 

Introduction: On the subject of Christian education in Machiavelli’s Discourses a tacit scholarly consensus concludes that it precludes political citizenship, or at least the kind that pursues worldly glory and dedication to the public good. This view is expressed by John Pocock, who writes in his Machiavellian Moment that Machiavelli “distrusted Christianity, or at least he divorced it from the political good, because it taught men to give themselves to ends other than the city’s and to love their own souls more than the fatherland.” In the first section of this paper I describe in fuller detail the assumptions and basis of this view, which I call the “civil religion approach.” In the second section I argue that this approach is built upon a superficial understanding of the relationship between politics and moral character. The few studies that have explored Machiavelli’s understanding of how education shapes behavior demonstrate that the moral principles on which Machiavelli’s political thought are founded represent not principles of conduct, whether normative or consequentialist, but principles of human psychology and character formation. In emphasizing that Machiavelli’s various portraits of political conduct involve character I follow the lead of a number of scholars who account for Machiavelli’s idea of a distinctly political virtù in terms of a kind of “virtue ethics” whose structure bears a strong resemblance to Aristotle’s ancient approach to ethics. My primary point is not to vindicate Christian education as good for the well-being of cities but to complicate the assumptions of the civil religion approach by examining Machiavelli’s reflections on human character and psychology.

The steady production of scholarship on Machiavelli’s reflections on religion, especially in his Discourses, has long been marked by the assumption that he analyzes and evaluates religion—ancient pagan and modern Christian religion—with a concern for its external, public, political dimension; that is, what it does or could do for political liberty and the well-being of the state. Religion becomes what it does, and what it does depends essentially on its moral content. And the moral content of the Christian religion, according to many commentators, is not the foundation on which Machiavelli lays his political thought. Thus Machiavelli compares contemporary Christianity unfavorably to the ancient religion of the Romans on account of his concern with the political dimension of religion; that is, the worldly effects of religion on human action.

Click here to read this article from Education: Forming and Deforming the Premodern Mind


‘Guelphs! Faction, Liberty and Sovereignty: Inquiries about the Quattrocento’

‘Guelphs! Faction, Liberty and Sovereignty: Inquiries about the Quattrocento’

Ferente, Serena

History of Political Thought, 38 (2007)


This paper presents medieval Guelphism as an ‘ideological constellation’, in which libertas played a prominent role, and argues that, because it was lumped together with references to the French dynasty and the Church, the ordinary concept of liberty in late medieval Italy needs to be understood within the context of partisan struggles. New studies on medieval factions in the fifteenth century support the idea that a concept of libertas derived from the Guelph tradition could fulfill surprisingly different ideological functions, particularly when mobilized in debates and struggles concerning the nature of sovereignty. Pragmatic political documents, in fact, show that a libertas-empire, such as that of the Florentine republic, was by no means the dominant concept of liberty in Quattrocento Italy.

‘Political ideology’ has been little used as a tool of analysis for the study of medieval parties (partes). Of course, historians have abundantly written about ideologies in the Middle Ages, ‘the ideology of the three orders’ or the ‘ideology of sacred monarchy’, where ‘ideology’ meant generally ‘system of representations’ that a society constructed of itself. It has proved much harder, however, to produce evidence from medieval sources in support of the existence of ‘political ideologies’ in the sense of systems of political ideas distinctive of certain partisan groups. Historians have studied medieval parties and factions as clienteles, networks or interest groups, but often remained sceptical about the possibility that medieval partisans actually shared a political ideology.

Click here to read this article from the History of Political Thought

The Originality of Machiavelli

The Originality of Machiavelli

By Isaiah Berlin

Against the current: essays in the history of ideas (London, 1997)


Introduction: There is something surprising about the sheer number of interpretations of Machiavelli’s political 0pinions. There exist, even now, over a score of leading theories of how to interpret The Prince and The Discourses – apart from a cloud of subsidiary views and glosses. The bibliography of this is vast and growing faster than ever. While there may exist no more than the normal extent of disagreement about the meaning of particular terms or theses contained in these works, there is a startling degree of divergence about the central view, the basic political attitude of Machiavelli.

This phenomenon is easier to understand in the case of other thinkers whose opinions have continued to puzzle or agitate mankind – Plato, for example, or Rousseau, or Hegel, or Marx. But then it might be said that Plato wrote in a world and in a language that we cannot be sure we understand; that Rousseau, Hegel, Marx were prolific theorists, whose works are scarcely models of clarity or consistency.

But The Prince is a short book : its style is usually described as being singularly lucid, succinct and pungent – a model of clear Renaissance prose. The Discourses is not, as treatises on politics go, of undue length, and it is equally clear and definite. Yet there is no consensus about the significance of either; they have not been absorbed into the texture of traditional political theory; they continue to arouse passionate feelings; The Prince has evidently excited the interest and admiration of some of the most formidable men of action of the last four centuries, especially of our own, men not normally addicted to reading classical texts.

There is evidently something peculiarly disturbing about what Machiavelli said or implied, something that has caused profound and lasting uneasiness. Modern scholars have pointed out certain real or apparent inconsistencies between the (for the most part) republican sentiment of The Discourses (and The Histories) and the advice to absolute rulers in The Prince; indeed there is a difference of tone between the two treatises, as well as chronological puzzles : this raises problems about Machiavelli’s character, motives and convictions which for three hundred years and more have formed a rich field of investigation and speculation for literary and linguistic scholars, psychologists and historians

Click here to read this article from the University of Oxford

The Place of the Tyrant in Machiavelli’s Political Thought and the Literary Genre of the Prince

The Place of the Tyrant in Machiavelli’s Political Thought and the Literary Genre of the Prince

Giorgini, Giovanni

The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies at Columbia University, Lunch Seminar, 18 February (2004)


My project at the Italian Academy concerns how to create good citizens in a multicultural society through a reform of education. In my previous paper I tried to show how an Aristotelian approach seems to be the most promising model of education. The typical objection to such an approach is that it “idealizes” too much the real situation of human beings and their ‘nature,’ which has a lot of negative features neglected by the neo-Aristotelians. In this paper I aim to show how Machiavelli’s political writings aim atpermanently educate the real statesman, teaching him the primary duty of responsibility and the virtue of prudence. Machiavelli, the champion of political realism, becomes thus an ally of Aristotle in educating goodcitizens.

One of Machiavelli’s early readers, the French author Innocent Gentillet, commented that Machiavelli devised “des Maximes tous meschantes, et basty sur icelles non une science politique mais tyrannique.” Interestingly enough, he wrote this sentence in a treatise on how to rule a regime properly and peacefully, i.e. ‘politically’, a book known as the Anti-Machiavel. Even more interesting to me is the fact that this comment repeats the classical opposition between “politics” and “tyranny” that appeared in Greek politics in the VIth century BCE, when the Pisistratid tyrants were chased from the city and a democratic government was created, an opposition then bequeathed to the long tradition of Western political thought.

Click here to read this article from The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies

The Political Ideas of Machiavelli: A Fresh Look

The Political Ideas of Machiavelli: A Fresh Look

By Isaiah Azariah

Proceedings and Papers of the Georgia Association of Historians, Vol. 9 (1988)

Introduction: The early sixteenth century marked a watershed period for political writings on the art of governing. In 1516, Erasmus placed into the hands of a printer the manuscript of The Education of a Christian Prince. Also printed in 1516 was Thomas More’s Utopia, which he also wrote while was a houseguest on one of his frequent visits to England. And far to the south in a suburb of Florence a man unknown to either Erasmus or More, Niccolo Machiavelli, out of work and out of favor with the newly powerful Medicis, was at work on The Discourses. He had completed his more famous work, The Prince, three years previously in hopes that it would win him prestige and power with the Florentine elite. The book was not printed until 1532.

Click here to read this article from Columbus State University

Niccolo Machiavelli – the Cunning Critic of Political Reason

Niccolo Machiavelli – the Cunning Critic of Political Reason

By Vincent Barnett

History Review, Issue 56 (2006)

Introduction: Customarily, the name ‘Machiavelli’ was a synonym for the devil. The myth of the corrupt immorality of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) has lasted for many centuries, the description ‘Machiavellian’ being used today for anyone who is seen slyly to manipulate a given situation to their own advantage by means of shrewd political insight. Machiavelli as an individual has been described as aloof, as standing to one side of life ‘with a sarcastic expression continually playing around his mouth and flashing from his eyes’. This reputation is based on Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince, which was written in 1513-14.

However, is Machiavelli’s lasting reputation as the philosopher-king of political manipulation really justified? This article re-examines Machiavelli’s work and legacy and comes to some surprising conclusions. It also suggests a number of different ways to interpret Machiavelli’s political ideas.

Click here to read this article from History Today

Towards Modernity and Absolute Power: Interpretation of Kingship in

Towards Modernity and Absolute Power: Interpretation of Kingship in The Book of the Twelve Wise Men and The Seven Books of Law

McLean, Benjamin

Transcultural Studies: A Series in Interdisciplinary Research,Volumes 2-3 (2006-7)


In Castile (Spain) of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, one finds signs of a vigorous debate on the nature and limits of monarchical power. Attempts to re-theorize rulership at this time reveal a primitive concept of power as an absolute, which anticipated Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince by two and a half centuries. The attempt to extend monarchical power was manifested in what could be seen as a concerted program of legitimizing the knowledges of the time and employing these to construct legitimizing truths within the triangle observed by Michel Foucault: truth→right→power.

Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince has been widely recognized as marking the emergence of modern political thought. One aspect of The Prince which departed from earlier political writings, such as those of St. Thomas Aquinas, was the clear employment of a concept of governance and authority which considered power as an absolute, to be fostered and used, with its furtherance as an end in itself.

Click here to read this article from Transcultural Studies

“A Vile, Infamous, Diabolical Treaty”: The Franco-Ottoman Alliance of Francis I and the Eclipse of the Christendom Ideal

“A Vile, Infamous, Diabolical Treaty”: The Franco-Ottoman Alliance of Francis I and the Eclipse of the Christendom Ideal

Piccirillo, Anthony Carmen (Georgetown University)

Senior Honors Thesis in History, Georgetown University, May (2009)


In June of 1544, the Turkish fleet arrived at the island of Lipari thirty kilometers north of Sicily. The Ottoman admiral Khair-Eddin Barbarossa threatened that he would lay waste to the island and enslave its population unless the Lipariotes rendered to him two hundred boys and two hundred girls along with a large sum of money. The Lipariotes refused, resolving that the entire populace of their city should either remain free or be enslaved. In response to the defiance of the people of Lipari, the Turks proceeded to attack the island. The Ottoman forces showered barrages of cannon shots during a several-day siege before they eventually took the island, enslaving its entire population.


Click here to read this thesis from Georgetown University



The Borgias: “The Borgias in Love”, SE01 EP05

“The Borgias In Love”

Cesare pursues Baroness Ursula, while Lucrezia falls in love with the stable boy and plots against her brutish husband. Political plots thicken as Cardinal Della Rovere takes his cause to the Duke of Milan, Cesare courts Niccolo Machiavelli for an alliance and Rodrigo makes plans to marry off Juan and Gioffre.

“Good, then we need hardly see each other except when marital duties call and then I’ll keep them brief, and business like. ” ~ Giovanni Sforza

OUCH! Lucrezia ia absolutely miserable with her new husband who is mean, violent and brutal towards her. She cries every night and prays that he just leaves her alone. Rodrigo has nightmare’s about Lucrezia where she drowns and rises up to heaven uttering “God may forgive you father, but I never will”. He has no idea what she is going through but these dreams bother Rodrigo enough to have him get his Vice Chancellor, Cardinal Sforza to check in on his cousin and get assurance that Lucrezia is being treated well.

Lucrezia talks to her maid, Francesca, about men and marriage advice as she’s washing the brusies and marks on her body and she tells Lucrezia that ‘marriage should not be thus’. No shit, Francesca. He has sex with her like a battering ram and it leaves her in pain. She also shares with Lucrezia a way to make the rough sex end more quickly. If she pleases her husband, he won’t last as long ;) Also, she tells her to count the thrusts like you would count sheep to fall asleep. Currently, it takes him 27-32 thrusts to ‘get ‘er done’; that way she knows how long it takes and can bring it down to single digits! OMG! The things people did before marriage counseling was an option ;)

Fortunately for Lucrezia, her brutish husband hunts a lot and she spends her time flirting with the stable boy, Paolo. He and Francesca feel terrible for her plight and Paolo plots with Lucrezia to cause Sforza to have an accident so that he can leave her alone for a while. He rigs his master’s saddle so that it’s not secured and he falls off while hunting and breaks his leg. *high fives!* Broken leg = no sex for Lucrezia :)

“Will you never stop?…You are going to ensnare the whole of Europe in your progeny ” ~ Giulia Farnese

From one miserable marriage onto the next, Rodrigo is already plotting to betroth Juan to another important Italian family. It’s a rather humourous scene as an extremely ugly girl’s portrait is paraded in front of Juan and Rodrigo tries to contain his mutual distaste for her as well. All the girls who are being offered to Juan are cousins and distant relations to Kings, which Juan aptly calls “second rate royalty” :) Juan is picky and wants a true princess or nothing at all. He has this sense of entitlement because he is the Pope’s son. No luck this episode for Juan.

So…with Juan being difficult, he moves onto little Gioffre! Rodrigo will betroth a little boy to make an alliance with Naples. He’s on a match-making rampage. In some ways, as miserable as Chezzy is in his clerical robes, he’s at least safe from his father’s dreadful mismatches.

“There are many things that please me about you, Cardinal, among them, the fact that you are a Cardinal…your priestly collar makes me hope my heart is safe because I am not fully in command of it” ~ Ursula Bonadeo

Baroness Ursula Bonadeo goes to confession to speak to Cesare and confesses she has nothing to confess – she just wanted to see him. Ursula and Cesare admit their feelings for one another – their infatuation for each other. Cesare wants to kiss her and would if it weren’t for the confession barrier. Ursula begs Cesare not topursue a fight with her husband to avenge his mother’s honour because her husband is a fighter and she fears for Cesare’s life, not knowing that he’s actually good with a sword – better than his half-assed, pompous brother Juan. She cares for him deeply andcannot bear to see him hurt. He tells her that she doesn’t know him well and that he doesn’t forget such insults, he must avenge his mother. Ya, our boy Chezzy is definitely not the type to just let things go ;)

Later, as they go on a horseback ride together in the woods, she admits she can’t control her feelings and fears he would break her heart – Cesare assures her that he would put it in mortal danger, but never hurt her. Awwwww, Socio-path love…isn’t that sweet? ;)

“Can you do nothing right?! Blink once and you will be eyeless!” ~ Cesare Borgia

Cesare finds out from Michelotto that Giancarlo, the #SpyFAIL was murdered by Della Rovere. Della Rovere has fled Florence and is now in Milan. Cesare fears he will go to France and the French will march through Florence by arranging safe passage with the Florentines and invade Rome. The French King would depose his father, and this would be easily accomplished because the French are hardened by one hundred years of war with England – Italy has nothing to match that. Rodrigo sends Cesare to Florence to speak with the Medici and sends Cardinal Sforza to Milan .He must tell the Duke that if he acts against the Pope’s wishes, he will see the justice of his imprisoned nephew’s cause.

Della Rovere is indeed stirring the pot with Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who is also known as ‘il Moro” due to his cruelty and cunning. We get a peak at this with his nephew, the true Duke of Milan, sitting in chains below the floor. There is a grate in his prison in which Ludovico pisses on him. He speaks to him about exactly what Cesare feared: allowing the French to pass through Milan unmolested.

Cardinal Sforza finally speaks to the Duke of Milan, who also happens to be a cousin and a Sforza. These Sforza’s sure do get around! My word! You can’t turn around without hitting a Sforza on this show!

The Duke of Milan is enraged but frees his nephew….only to poison him and to tell Cardinal Sforza that he will welcome the French army. #VeiledThreatFAIL. Rodrigo’s plans fall flat since he now has no one to leverage against the Duke of Milan and he’s also managed to piss him off. Good one. This is where Rodrigo and Cesare differ – Cesare’s plans seem to be well thought out and he manages to get “buy in” from people. Rodrigo didn’t offer anything to the Duke he, just threatened him. Cesare offered Florence something they wanted in exchange for something he wanted – Savanarola out of their hair, for stopping the French march through Florence. Cesare didn’t come to Florence and threaten Machiavelli. Della Rovere also didn’t get the Florentines on his side because he didn’t give them something that they wanted. The longer this show goes on, the more I see Cesare as the true mastermind behind the Borgia family and Rodrigo as a washed up has been who pales in comparison to his son’s brilliance.

“You have lived in usury Florence, like pigs in heat! The riches of your banking may astound the world but one day, they will be your undoing!”~ Girolamo Savanarola

While Cesare is watching his father’s nemesis, Savanarola, preach against the Florentine bankers, he is approached discretely by Niccolo Machiavelli, Ambassador to the House of Medici. Cesare asks about Machiavelli’s meeting with Cardinal Della Rovere. Machiavelli is surprised that Cesare knows about their meeting and knows that Florence did not agree to Della Rovere’s offer, so…Cesare sweetens one of his own. He offers Machiavelli Savanarola in exchange for Florence not permitting the French to pass through their territory. Savanarola has been a thorn in the side of the Florentine bankers because he is constantly railing against them…his father could be convinced to have him burned as an exchange for their cooperation. Machiavelli is impressed with Cesare’s political shrewdness and compliments him on it.

“Where is the valour in that? Or the pleasure…No, I shall do this alone.” ~ Cesare Borgia

The ending scenes are some of my favourites in this episode. Cesare finds Ursula in the marketplace distributing alms and notices marks on the side of her face from her husband. She tells Cesare to forget her and kisses him secretly in the alley. Cesare is pretty pissed now and goes to Michelotto to sharpen his sword-fighting skills. He asks him to ‘put me in harm’s way’ so that he can fight the Baron and win. He feels he’s become soft since he’s become a cardinal and he practices so that he can duel Ursula’s husband properly. Cesare wants to avenge his mother’s honour after Ursula’s husband called her a whore at Lucrezia’s wedding and liberate Ursula from him. Cesare finally confronts Ursula’s husband, they duel in the pouring rain and he slays him. Now Ursula is free, Cesare can pursue her without hindrance, and he has also avenged his mother’s honour.

The fight in the pouring rain was awesome. It wasn’t a long scene but it was just cool to watch. It must have been difficult to fight in the pouring rain but they made it look really good:) This episode was enjoyable to watch and it is building towards Lucrezia and Cesare coming closer to their beloveds in next week’s episode. I can’t wait! This show is like a fine wine, it gets better with age. Every episode is improving and culminating towards something that will be very exciting by the time the season finale rolls around. I am also thrilled to learn that The Borgias has been renewed for an exciting second season of intrigue, drama and murder :)

Rivers and Humans: The Civilizing Project of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccoló Machiavelli

Rivers and Humans: The Civilizing Project of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccoló Machiavelli

By Nina Witoszek

Transference: Interdisciplinary Communications, ed. W. Ostreng (2008/9)

Introduction: In October 1502, an extraordinary meeting of two Renaissance geniuses took place in the fortress of Imola, in the province of Bologna. One was Leonardo da Vinci, painter, sculptor, architect, inventor, anatomist, musician, costume designer and hydraulic engineer. The other was a political star, Niccolo Machiavelli, a chancellor and secretary of the Florentine republic. Leonardo worked as a military engineer for Cesare Borgia, the conqueror of sizable part of Italy an an accomplished murderer. Machiavella in Imola to negotiate the French military campaign to re-conquer Pisa, a recalcitrant city, which blocked the Florentine merchants’ access to the sea. The meeting of Machiavelli and Leonardo was one of the most fateful – and most enigmatic – events in Europe’s intellectual history.

Neither man spoke about in his notebooks, letters or diaries. But out of the brainstorming at Imola emerged a project which was as momentous as it was daring: In order to vanquish the rebellious Pisans, Leonardo – il fondatore idralica – was to design a plan of diverting the Arno and thus deprive Pisa of its life-giving source.

Leonarado and Machiavelli seemed eminently qualified to take up the challenge. Leonardo was obsessed by the idea of civilizing rivers; Machiavelli was determined to civilize politics. Leonardo drew countless hydraulic contraptions that were to turn unsanitary Italian metropolitan areas into precursory ‘bio-cities’ with an advanced system of canalization. Machiavelli was a seasoned diplomat longing for a united Italy, where the competing families would be less preoccupied with plotting of how to outshine, outwit, and crush one another, and engage more  in creating viable defenses against he forays of the Spaniards and the French. The success of the project would ensure not just a seaport for Florence, but wealth and prosperity for all of Tuscany, and the possibility of a playing a significant role in the conquest of the New World.

Click here to read this article from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

The Borgias: SE01 EP01/EP01 – “The Poisoned Chalice/The Assassin”

The House of Borgias

The Borgias were a Spanish papal family who rose to prominence through their involvement in ecclesiastical and political affairs during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They were made famous for their corruption through Rodrigo Borgias,  who became Pope in 1492. Rodrigo was said to have bought his way to the papal throne via bribes, and was also accused of nepotism and lechery. Now Showtime and Bravo are re-telling this fascinating tale of papal intrigue, sexual trysts and political backstabbing. Tune in Sunday night at 10pm for The Borgias.

“The Poisoned Chalice/The Assassin” – SE01 EP01/EP02

“You will fight like dogs over this corpse I leave, for this throne of St. Peter’s….but it was pure once. We have sullied it with our greed and lechery.” – Pope Innocent VIII

1492, Rome. Pope Innocent VIIIl languishes on his deathbed. The College of Cardinals come to pay their last respects and vow to clean up the corruption from the throne of St. Peter.

A cleric is having sex with a woman while a girl spies on their tryst. Enter Cesare Borgia (played brilliantly by Francois Arnaud) Cardinal Rodrigo Borgias’s eldest son and a bishop! The spy? His little sister Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger). Cesare confides in his sister his hopes of abandoning the Church and becoming a soldier once their father becomes Pope.

So, we know clerics had clandestine affairs, kept concubines and had bastard children – awesome! I thought this was going to be dry but it’s turned into a papal version of “The Sopranos” much to my glee! :)

Innocent dies, and Rodrigo rushes to tell Cesare to keep their family safe during the upheaval that will surely follow until a new Pope is elected. Rodrigo has a mistress, Vanozza dei Cattanei (Joanne Whalley) the mother of his four children, Cesare, Juan (David Oakes), Lucrezia and Gioffre (Aidan Alexander). He also imparts directions as to what his son must do to aid him in obtaining the papal seat. Cesare is to wait and see if the first vote brings his father to power. It fails, and Rodrigo sends further instructions via dove (because no outside contact is permitted for the Cardinals) telling Cesare to extend benefices and titles to those Cardinals who did not vote for him. This is the crime of simony; the practice of paying for sacraments, holy offices or positions within the Church. Rodrigo finds out in a rather sneaky way, what Cardinal is eating which meal and relays this to his son. Cesare and his brother then stuff the letters in the food of each Cardinal and Rodrigos plot goes undetected.

“I do tend to win whatever battles I fight. But what talk we of fighting? It is all in God’s hands” ~ Rodrigo Borgia

Another election takes place and there is still no clear victor, a majority is required to declare a Pope. Another trick is up Rodrigo’s sleeve and he has Cesare empty the Borgia’s church coffers of gold and ornaments and then distribute them to the Cardinals who didn’t vote for him.

I loved this part of the episode- it was very mafia-esque, the plotting and scheming to get votes. It was brilliant when they stuffed notes in the meat carcasses going to the Cardinals private quarters. The extent to which Rodrigo will go to get votes is incredible, they guy just doesn’t give up! Jeremy Irons is very convincing as the calculating Rodrigo Borgias.

Habemus Papam. Rodrigo Borgias is now Pope Alexander VI. Rodrigo’s final ploy proves fruitful and he is declared Pope amid some outcry by a few of the Cardinals, who accuse him of simony, namely Cardinal Orsini (played by Derek Jacobi of Brother Cadfael fame) and Cardinal Della Rovere (played by Colm Feore, starring in the upcoming movie Thor).  After undergoing a rather interesting ritual where Rodrigo sits on an open seat and gets groped to prove he’s male, they declare he’s got two testicles and he’s well hung so he’s good to go as Pope :) Other than this brief moment, the majority of the show lacks comedic relief. Thats is my only complaint thus far. It is very interesting, but very complex and heavy.

The Cardinals make mention of the fact that he has four bastard children by his concubine but one of the Cardinals makes a pointed comment, “Let him without children cast the first stone”. This was apparently fairly common in ecclesiastical circles in Italy at the time. His youngest son, Juan, celebrates in a whore house and gets called a bastard by one of the whores and flips right out. He grabs the whore by the hair and proceeds to dunk her head under water screaming that he is his son. It’s a strange position; they’re bastards but paraded openly and move freely in high circles. Lucrezia is illegitimate but it is mentioned that her hand will be sought after because she is the Pope’s daughter. Cesare is a bishop and everyone knows he’s the Pope’s son. The children are not shunned as bastards as would be expected in most cases, in fact, they are treated with respect because of their father’s position.

“You placed this collar around my neck father. You made God my calling, but the sins I’ve committed for you must convince you surely that the church is not my calling…I beg you now to release me from my vows” ~ Cesare Borgia

Now that his father is Pope, Cesare begs him to release him from his vows so that he can become a soldier to better protect the family. Rodrigo refuses saying that one Borgia must be in the Church and one must be a soldier and that duty falls to his younger, (and inept) brother, Juan. Earlier in the episode, Juan gets in a street fight and Cesare, embarrassingly, rescues him while dressed in his bishop’s robes. Cesare resents the role being foisted on him when he knows he’s the better soldier.

Next move…Rodrigo tells Vanozza that he can no longer been seen with her in public because he is now the Pope and must be seen being chaste even if it is known throughout Rome that he has children.

“God has chosen us as a new broom to seep the Vatican clean of corruption” ~ Rodrigo Borgia

Indeed….of all the people to sweep corruption out of the Vatican, I’m sure Rodrigo Borgia wasn’t at the top of God’s list ;)

To celebrate, Rodrigo and Cesare are invited by their arch nemesis, Cardinal Orsini, to his home for dinner. Cesare, ever the intelligent son, brings a pet monkey to the feast. When the wine is poured, Cesare allows his monkey to taste it. The monkey lives and they know it is safe to drink. Suddenly, Cesare notices the server hurriedly making his way towards the kitchens and finds it strange so he pursues him. He sees the server grinding a powder, most likely poison, to put in the food that would be served to his father and confronts him. The monkey, meanwhile, eats the powder and promptly dies, confirming Cesare’s suspicions, that Orsini is trying to kill his father. The server-assassin tells him it was meant for Cesare as well. Cesare takes the powder, dumps it into the flagon of wine and commands the assassin to pour this into Orsini’s wine glass. He takes this man under his wing and tells him he will pay him double to work for his family. The assassin accepts and serves Orsini the wine; he dies of poisoning almost immediately as the rest of the Cardinals look on aghast. Cesare rushes his father out of the house and puts him in a coach to be taken to safety. He tells him about the plot against their lives and Rodrigo is shocked and vows revenge.

I didn’t understand how Rodrigo was surprised by the attempt on his life. He thought that poison was beneath them as a means to kill a person of his position. Really?! The entire time watching this, I knew that someone would try to assassinate him at some point. Rodrigo is so hated by Orsini and Della Rovere that it was unbelievable that some kind of attempt would not be made. Cesare was the smart one here – he brought a taster-monkey because he knew his father had made many enemies and that murder was a very real possibility

“I need someone I can trust….I can trust these wounds of yours” ~ Cardinal Della Rovere

Meanwhile, Cesare’s new assassin tells him the danger isn’t over yet, that they have to rush to the Borgia’s home because Orsini sent assassins to murder the rest of the Borgias family. They arrive in the nick of time to halt the assassins. The assassin hired by Cesare tells him his name is Michelotto. Juan arrests him and is about to torture him for information when Cesare saves him. He tells Michelotto to lie low and his next job is to get close to Cardinal Della Rovere. Michelotto tells Cesare to whip him to make the torture believable. Michelotto goes to Della Rovere and he is questioned by him but it seems he passes his inspection and Della Rovere asks him to assemble the Cardinals who hate the Pope in absolute secret.

The more I watch this, as impressed as I was by Rodrigo’s initial plotting, I’m becoming more enamoured by Cesare. He’s sly and knows enough about intrigue to hire an assassin and bring a wine-taster monkey. He’s becoming more interesting to watch than his father and seems to be out-scheming him.

“I fear I may lack your Holiness’s will…I am still young your Holiness and my body I’m sure, could find and give much happiness if my soul could find peace” ~ Giulia Farnese

A beautiful woman comes to Rodrigo for confession. Enter Giulia Farnese (Lotte Verbeek).

She complains of her husband, saying she hates him and aborted his baby. She seeks forgiveness and penance. Rodrigo finds her beautiful and offers her safe haven in deceased Cardinal Orsini’s palace and shows her the secret tunnel from Orsini’s to the Vatican, should she need “spiritual counsel” *cough cough* ;) Rodrigo then proceeds to

give her said counsel by having sex with her. That’s some counsel ;) A servant hears their love making and we know that this foreshadows that this affair will not bode well for Rodrigo.

Della Rovere meets with his Cardinals and seeks to depose the Pope. He is looking for a legal means to get rid of Rodrigo and finds that a Pope who publicly keeps a concubine can be unseated.

“You told me that the Pope can love God but to be seen to love anyone else would be impossible, that the Pope must be chaste, and he must be seen to be chaste. Don’t you want them to hear?! that you have a new whore!!! ” ~ Vanozza dei Cattanei


Rodrigo has Giulia’s portrait painted. While having her portrait done, she meets and befriends his daughter, Lucrezia. Lucrezia tells her mother about meeting Giulia in the Popes private rooms and Vanozza knows immediately that Rodrigo is having an affair. She confronts him, in hysterics, in front of the cardinals giving Della Rovere his much needed ammunition to proceed with proving the Pope is lecherous. He has the staff questioned and finds the serving girl who overheard them having sex.

Michelotto tells Cesare about the attempt to depose his father through accusations of lechery and Cesare tells him to ‘silence’ the evidence. Ahhh, a Renaissance “hit” :) Cesare is definitely Mafia material. Michelotto gets rid of all the servants, speaks to the maid, has torrid sex with her, and stabs her to death in Della Rovere’s bed.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo finds out about the clandestine meeting of the Cardinals. He goes to see the Vatican expert on Canon Law and finds that if he increases the number of Cardinals by thirteen, he can prevent them from deposing him. He announces this at their next meeting sparking protests and outrage. Adding fuel to the fire, he announces that his son, Cesare, bishop of Valencia, has been raised to the position of Cardinal. In a rage, Della Rovere seeks to prove Rodrigo is keeping a concubine and runs out of the room to find the maid. He finds her bloody body in his bed. OH SNAP! His plot to depose Rodrigo is an utter failure and we’re left waiting until the next episode to find out what happens.

Things seem to be unravelling for our “papal hero”. He is being sloppy and his affair with Giulia has been uncovered.  At the end of this episode, I have to admit that between Rodrigo and Cesare, Cesare is the better manipulator. If it weren’t for Cesare’s astute machinations, Rodrigo would be deposed and their family murdered or in exile. Della Rovere’s set up was brilliant. Now he looks like he’s been keeping a concubine and what’s more, she was murdered in his bed making him the suspect. He is now in no position to challenge Rodrigo on the count of lechery. The twists and turns of the plot are getting more complex but it hasn’t become dry or overburdened by detail. However, at the end of two episodes, I’m left more interested in watching what Cesare does instead of Rodrigo.

Click here to see more about The Borgias



Carswell, Robyn E.

Historia, Vol.15 (2006)


Dating back to Riurik, Russia has always had strong leaders who stopped at nothing to ensure the success of the throne. With a couple of noted exceptions, the rulers had the luxury of growing up witnessing the rule of their fathers. Ivan IV had no role model, no mentor, and no one to instruct him on how to be a leader. Before assuming the throne, he looked elsewhere for information on how to be a proper sovereign. Beginning with the Primary Chronicle, he would have looked back at previous rulers and what methodologies madethemsuccessful. At this time of growing contact with the West, he may have also looked outside of Russia, perhaps to Machiavelli’s The Prince. Also influencing Ivan’s reign were the bitter feelings he had for the boyars during his childhood. Historians have traditionally divided Ivan’s regime into two periods, the good half and the bad half. This essay will center on the “good-half,” when Ivan focused on reform, land conquest, and reshaping the monarchy. Ivan wanted something that was unlike anything that had preceded it; he reformed and changed Russia in an attempt to unite it under the supreme sovereignty of an absolute Machiavellian ruler—the Tsar.

Click here to read this article from Historia