Filippo de’ Nerli

Place Of Sender



Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project


Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

Nerli writes to keep M. in the picture about what is going on in the group of friends and members of the Orti Oricellari in Florence during his absence.

Nerli comments on the ongoing debates in the Orti Oricellari concerning the questione della lingua and has a giggle over the criticism and jokes about M. and his vernacular style.

Otiose Joking

The letter responds to a previous one that Nerli had received from Lucca where M. was carrying out commercial negotiations for various Florentine companies (on the context and potential purposes of these missions see Black, Machiavelli, 223–225). Its sarcastic and amusing style of communication is typical of the letters exchanged between M. and his “compagnia” or “brigata” of friends with connections to the “garden academy” in the Orti Oricellari, a place of leisure and otium doctum that both correspondents visited regularly in this period. Ridolfi (Vita, 565-66) describes the language used by Nerli as “mordacità fiorentinesca” (‘Florentine caustic sarcasm’). It amounts to a sort of comic slang that, in some cases, today’s readers of the correspondence may find hard to understand (cf. also Niccolai, Nerli, 19). While traditional scholarship often stresses the fact that the Orti Oricellari were a place for erudite political, philosophical and literary discussions, in this letter a more burlesque character of the “garden academy” comes to the fore.

Nerli informs M. that Zanobi Buondelmonti’s son was born and embraces this opportunity to satirize M.’s military thinking: All newborn males should be rejoiced in, for they will help fight against the Turk (“tanti più provigionati arèno contro al Turco”). He proves to be very serious in this matter and exhorts M. to warn those “signori Lucchesi” to use diligence in sexual intercourse for the infantry and that it is not the trenches and fortresses that are the sinew (i.e. the core) of an army (as M. had emphasized in Principe XX and Discorsi II.24). Otiose joking is brought into a grotesque relationship with military thinking. It is not only the subject and potential effect of the letter, but it is also enacted by the very act of epistolary writing.


Reflections on Language

Furthermore, Nerli writes about the latest gatherings in the Orti Oricellari and the ongoing discussions on the questione della lingua (cf. Cummings, The Maecenas, 35f.). This lively exchange on the norms for vernacular writing is also at the center of the Dialogo intorno alla nostra lingua which is attributed to M., although the question of its authorship remains unresolved. The fact that this literary dialogue might have evolved in or from the conversations that took place in the Orti could provide further evidence for the hypothesis of M.’s authorship. Moreover, the constant reflections on language and the questione della lingua might point out that the letters in M.’s correspondence do not conceive language as a merely functional tool, but as an artistic and social practice: as a form of conscious literary networking which connects public and more private spaces, otium and negotium as well as different social groups and classes.

M.’s rivals in this circle had taken advantage of his absence and had proposed – as Nerli claims – to give the ex-secretary and future author of the Istorie fiorentine tuition in language and style after his return and, sarcastically, force him to read Gualtieri Panciatichi’s Epistola nella entrata di Papa Leone twice a day – which was obviously considered an example of a somewhat pompous and pretentious writing.

On Panciatichi’s Epistola, as one of the extant sources about the solemn entry of Leo X in his hometown performed on 30th November 1515 and lasting seven hours cf. Shearman, “The Florentine Entrata of Leo X, 1515”; it was actually a text considered to be “tiresomely affected in literary style” (ibid., 136).

Con Zanobi communicai la vostra, e ne facemo quel giudizio che delle cose vostre si fa sempre, per arrecarvi voi queste cose in cazzelleria. Eravamo lui e io in animo questo giorno rispondervi a comune; ma lui ha avuto figliuolo maschio, e per questo io non li ho voluto dare noia. Potrete voi, nello scrivere in qua, rallegrarvene seco, perché lui ne ha preso piacere singulare; perché tanti più ci nasce maschi, tanti più provigionati arèno contro al Turco. Voi non pensate a queste cose; le ’mportano più che voi non credete: ricordatelo, e avvertitene cotesti signori lucchesi, che attendino a chiavare assai, per fare fanterie, che saranno loro a proposito quanto e fossi e’ torrioni.


Co’ poeti e con le muse si parlò della lingua molto a lungo: a questo s’è pensato, per rassettarvi il gusto come voi tornate, di darvi qualche buono precettore. Erasi pensato al Sernigi; ma poi che lui non c’è, fanno pensiero che usiate a vostro ritorno con Gualtieri Panciatichi, e per vostra lezione usiate ogni giorno leggere dua volta la sua epistola dell’entrata del pontefice in patria. E così pensono avervi a rassettare l’orecchie.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

I shared your letter with Zanobi, and we made the same judgment of it as we always make of your affairs, because you always make a stupid mess of these affairs. He and I were of a mind today to answer you in common; but he has had a son and for this reason I did not want to bother him. When you write here you can congratulate him, because he was extremely pleased by it; because the more sons are born, the more protection we shall have against the Turks. You do not think of these things; they are more important than you believe: remember that, and notify those gentlemen of Lucca there that they should make sure and screw a good deal, to make infantry, which will be of as much use to them as their torrone is.


With the poets and the muses we talked of language for quite a while: we thought, in order to straighten out your taste when you come home, of giving you some good preceptors. We had thought of Sernigi; but since he is not here, they are thinking of having you frequent Gualtieri Panciatichi on your return. As your lesson, you should make a habit of reading twice each day his epistle on the entrance of the pontiff into the fatherland; they will straighten out your ears that way.


Source: Atkinson/Sices: Machiavelli and his friends. Their Personal Correspondence.

A. Niccolai, Filippo de’ Nerli (Pisa: 1906), 19; I. Biagianti, “Politici e storici del Cinquecento: Filippo de’ Nerli (1485-1556),” Archivio storico italiano, CXXXIII (1975): 96 [45-100]; J. Shearman, “The Florentine Entrata of Leo X, 1515,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 38 (1975): 136-154. A. M. Cummings, The Maecenas and the Madrigalist. Patrons, Patronage, and the Origins of the Italian Madrigal (Philadelphia: 2004), 35f.; A. Guidi – M. Simonetta, “Machiavelli, Paolo Vettori e la caccia ai pirati nel Mediterraneo: ancora sui ‘negozi’ di Niccolò nell’‘ozio’ di Sant’Andrea,” in Dalle antiche alle nuove ‘corti’. Machiavelli dai ‘castellucci’ di San Casciano all’epoca della comunicazione globale, ed. by A. Guidi (Manziana: Vecchiarelli, 2019), 19-33.



Fighting the Turk

The joke relating to the newborn child of Zanobi Buondelmonti, described as good news as to the need for more infantry against the Turk, might satirically allude to an episode of M.’s life during which he was employed as assistant and agent of Paolo Vettori, newly created Captain of the Papal fleet, which had been designed to defend the shores of the Italian peninsula from Barbary pirates’ attacks in the Summer of 1516 (for this episode in the life of M. cf. A. Guidi – M. Simonetta, “Machiavelli, Paolo Vettori,” 19-33). There was an increasing fear that Ottomans could invade Europe spread through the Italian peninsula during that period. A satirical comment which is similar to the one made by Nerli in this letter can be found in Machiavelli’s Mandragola, III 3: “DONNA Credete voi che ’l Turco passi questo anno in Italia? TIMOTEO Se voi non fate orazione, sì. DONNA Naffe! Dio ci aiuti, con queste diavolerie! Io ho una gran paura di quello impalare.”


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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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