bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Lecture IV: Machiavelli’s Use (and Abuse) of Classical Sources

Machiavelli’s Use (and Abuse) of Classical Sources

Humanist rediscovery of classical texts
Poggio Bracciolini at the Council of Constance – Cicero orations, Quintilian; Lucretius
Giovanni Aurispa (1376 – 1459)

L. Reynolds ed., Texts and Transmission (Oxford, 1983).
N. G. Wilson, From Byzantium to Italy (London, 1992).

The Ancient Historians

Franciscus Puteolanus, writing in the early 1480s, on the Roman historians:
in speeches, Tacitus comes even before Livy, and he imitates Sallust’s incisive terseness more than Livy’s fullness.

Livy (59 B.C. – A.D. 17) – Ab Urbe Condita / Decades
Sallust (86 – 35 B.C.) – Catiline Conspiracy
Tacitus (A.D. 56/7 – after 117) – Annals, Histories

Plutarch (c. A.D. 46 – c. 120) – Parallel Lives – individual lives translated by, eg, Leonardo Bruni, Guarino da Verona – composite edition printed in 1470
Herodian (fl. c. A.D. 230) – translated by Angelo Poliziano (Politian), 1484 (commissioned by Pope Innocent VIII), printed by Giunti 1517
Polybius (c. 200 B. C. – after 118) – translation of books I – V by Niccolò Perotti, 1450 – his concept of anacyclosis

Tacitus in the Renaissance

Boccaccio (1313 – 1375)
Leonardo Bruni – Laudatio Florentinae Urbis
Enoch of Ascoli (c. 1400 – c. 1457)
Filippo Beroaldo – edition of 1515
Francesco Giucciardini

K. Schellhase, Tacitus in Renaissance Political Thought (Chicago, 1974).

Livy in the Renaissance

‘pre-humanist’ Paduan pride – Lovato Lovati (1241 – 1309)
Naples under Alfonso V
Lorenzo Valla (1407 – 1457); Panormita (1394 – 1471)
J. H. Whitfield, “Machiavelli’s use of Livy” in T. A. Dorey ed., Livy (London, 1971).
J. H. Whitfield, “Livy > Tacitus” in R. R. Bolgar ed., Classical Influences on European Culture (London, 1969).

Prefaces to Bruni’s and Machiavelli’s Histories

Bruni’s preface:

It required long deliberation and many changes of mind before I decided to write about the deeds of the Florentine People, their struggles at home and abroad, their celebrated exploits in war and in peace. What attracted me was the greatness of the actions this People performed … Indeed, all Italy from the Alps to Apulia rang with the sound of Florentine arms … In addition there is the conquest of Pisa, and if one considers the clash of characters, the rivalry of power, and the ultimate outcome, I think it fair to call that city another Carthage…

Machiavelli’s dedicatory letter to Clement VII (Giulio de’ Medici):

I was particularly commanded by You to write about the things done by your ancestors in such a way that it might be seen I was far from all flattery (for just as you like to hear true praise of men, so does feigned praise presented for the sake of favour displease you), I very much fear that in describing the goodness of Giovanni, the wisdom of Cosimo, the humanity of Piero, and the magnificence and prudence of Lorenzo, it may appear to Your Highness that I have transgressed your commands… and if under those remarkable deeds of theirs was hidden an ambition contrary to the common utility, as some say, I who do not know it am not bound to write about it.

Florentine Histories: Tacitean annals?

V. 33: Battle of Anghiari (1440)
See also S. Di Maria, ‘Machiavelli’s ironic view of history: the Istorie Fiorentine’, Renaissance Quarterly, xlv (1992), pp. 248 – 70.
VIII. 36: death of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1492):
Lorenzo was loved by fortune and by God in the highest degree, because of which all his enterprises had a prosperous end and all his enemies an unprosperous one. For besides the Pazzi, Battista Frescobaldi wanted to kill him [as did] Baldinotto di Pistoia … Lorenzo’s … prudence and fortune were … held in admiration by princes not only in Italy but far away from it. Matthias [Corvinus], king of Hungary, gave him many signs of the love he bore him; the Sultan sent him his spokesmen…; the Grand Turk [Selim] put into his hands Bernardo Bandini, the killer of his brother… Nor can vices of his be adduced to stain his great virtues, even though he was marvellously involved in things of Venus and delighted in… childish games, more than would appear fitting in such a man.

Machiavelli’s abuse of his sources in the Discourses

Livy [II. 33 – 40]: Coriolanus in Discourses I. 7 & III. 13
Tacitus [Annals iii. 55]: Discourses III. 29


Justus Lipsius (1547 – 1606) – neo-stoicism
Giovanni Botero (1544 – 1617)

P. Burke, “Tacitism” in T. A. Dorey ed., Tacitus (London, 1969).
P. Burke, “Tacitism” in J. H. Burns ed., The Cambridge History of Political Thought, 1450 – 1700 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 484 – 490.

David Rundle

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