Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Sender

Florence or Sant’Andrea in Percussina


Francesco Vettori

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project

very high

Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

Description of a day in M.’s life in his villa in Sant’Andrea in Percussina (San Casciano). This letter is M.’s most famous letter because in it he informs Francesco Vettori that he is writing “un opuscolo de principatibus” later identified as The Prince. He asks Vettori to convey his “opuscule” to the Medici.

This is the best known letter written by M. and maybe one of the most famous letters of Italian literary history (cf. Ridolfi, Vita, 238). After some remarks on the long interruption in the correspondence with Francesco Vettori, the first part of the letter is dedicated to M.’s days “in villa,” which he describes as characterized by otiose leisure and forced idleness. Hence, he relates his encounters with the work- and craftsmen from the countryside, as well running various errands and being occupied with the ‘common’ things of everyday life but also his reading of love poetry. This section of the letter overturns point by point Vettori’s description of his own day in the letter of 23-11-1513. M. does not enjoy the comforts of Rome but rather the harsh life of the countryside. Vettori gets up comfortably around 9 a.m., M. gets up at dawn. M. does not meet with high-ranking and illustrious personalities (popes, cardinals, ambassadors) but with ordinary and humble characters (lumberjacks, butchers, millers, bakers). He does not live in a luxurious lodging near the Vatican but in a rustic country house. He does not frequent the papal court but the tavern in Sant’Andrea in Percussina (“L’Albergaccio”). In contrast to Vettori, he does not practice horseback riding outside Rome, but hunts thrushes and wanders through the woods. M. spends his afternoons playing at the tavern, whereas Vettori’s evenings are dedicated to cultivated leisure with old friends. Above all, M.’s letter does not portray the idleness of a nobleman who unenthusiastically performs a prestigious representative role, but describes the forced inactivity of a man who used to live for politics.

When evening comes, however, M. enters the stage of his scrittoio by removing the “muddy” clothes of the countryman and devotes himself to his true passion, reading the classics. Finally, M. announces to Vettori the project of his opuscule De Principatibus (The Prince), which his friend is to convey to the Medici.


Discourses of Otium and Leisure

The contrast between the active Niccolò (the Florentine secretary) and the Niccolò of San Casciano (the “quondam segretario”, i.e. ex-secretary), who talks about his days spent in forced idleness at his estate in Sant’Andrea in Percussina, upholds a cultural tradition that spans the history of Latin and Italian literature, and is based on the doctrinal opposition between the industrious city and the idle countryside (cf. Sacchini, “Dalla solitudine,” 141-42, and Sberlati, “Villania e cortesia,” 65-114; Guidi, “L’ozio di San Casciano,” 10).


Otium and/as Social Distinction

Vettori’s description of otium in his previous letter from 23 November 1513 calls forth a notion of leisure as an aristocratic experience and thereby follows the tradition of Roman literature and historiography, which advocates honest otium (e.g. as represented by Cicero’s letters), but also praises otium as a form of social distinction (cf. Vickers, 7-9). Unlike the Greek tradition of scholé, these aristocratic ways of spending free time in leisure are not limited to mere contemplation and philosophical activity (for otiose leisure and social distinction in general cf. Fludernik, “Muße als soziale Distinktion,” esp. 163–67). They are part of the lifestyle of the Florentine ambassador who benefits from his privileged existence at the Roman courts and who indulges in erotic activities with courtesans and mistresses. However, M.’s reversal of this model exposes an almost anti-aristocratic conception of otium, for it describes his daily routine among common people, which is conditioned by the scarcity of his financial resources. By staging the diversity of forms and the heterogeneous discourses of otium and leisure, M. transforms his letter into a sort of a manifesto. The epistolary practice becomes part of a civic and political program. For this letter is not only intended to subtly present to his correspondent the disparity of their cases under the umbrella of a careful literary description and its sometimes comic effects, but it also displays an almost republican potential of otium and leisure as a social practice that encompasses all parts of life and thereby very different forms of community (see Frömmer, “Out of office”).


Strategic Otium and Retreat

As to the question of M.’s strategic use of otium and retreat, M.’s use of vocabulary in the letter is pertinent. For instance, M.’s comments on his wood trade echo what the general commissioner of the Florentine Forces, Pierfrancesco Tosinghi, wrote to M. about the imminent Spanish operations that would eventually lead to the defeat of the Florentine military defenses and to the sack of Prato: “et se non si fa una testa grossa a Prato veggo le cose nostre rovinare tutte” (“and if a stronghold is not raised in Prato, it will be our downfall”; (Tosinghi to M., 22 August 1512; our translation, italics added). M. adopts this wording when describing the disputes involved in negotiating prices and quantities of firewood: “…e tutti ne hanno fatto capo grosso [i.e. in military terms of the time also a ‘stronghold’], e in specie Battista [sc. the mayor of Prato], che connumera questa tra l’altre sciagure di Prato [sc. the “calamities of Prato”].”

The military vocabulary highlights the (perhaps unintentional) use of the example of Prato as an emblematic moment and turning point in M.’s politically ‘active’ life that, unsurprisingly, also marks M.’s most famous letter written during his forced inactivity in San Casciano. His (likely unconscious) re-appropriation of the vocabulary of Tosinghi’s letter might even point to a military conception of M.’s retreat to San Casciano, i.e. that his stay in the countryside is not only envisioned as a situation of otiose leisure forced upon the former secretary, but is, at the same time, part of a deliberate strategy of retreat (within a battle that might not be quite over yet). If so, it seems important to note that until the late eighteenth century and the French Revolution, retreat as one of several military strategies was not considered a prelude to defeat but a vital part of warfare (see esp. the remarks on the difference between ‘flight’ and ‘retreat’ in Schivelbusch, Rückzug, esp. 13–28; for a picaresque reformulation of this idea see chap. 28 of the Second Part of Cervantes, Don Quijote).

Correspondingly, M.’s new situation does not condemn him to passivity, but calls for different modes of action. Hence, as in M.’s letter to Vettori from 13 March of the same year, his uses of the verbs “operare”/“adoperare” (e.g. his hope that “questi signori Medici mi cominciassino adoperare” at the end of the letter) might be associated with his use of the same verb in the Libro dell’arte della guerra, which M., according to the Proemio, wrote “per non passare questi mia ociosi tempi sanza operare niente,” reclaiming thus for his writing the status of action, which in the end is dependent on his readers (e.g. the Medici who might be indirectly addressed by this letter to Vettori and to whom Il Principe will be dedicated). De Grazia (Machiavelli in Hell, 42) notes that M. in the same passage of the letter of 10 December 1513 uses the verb begin (or start) [“cominciare”] twice, in order to send a message to Vettori, stating that he hopes something new emerges from the opuscule he wrote (i.e. The Prince).

Another example of M.’s use of military vocabulary is the term ‘badalucco’: “Ho infino a qui uccellato a’ tordi di mia mano […] dipoi questo badalucco, ancora che dispettoso e strano, è mancato con mio dispiacere” (“Until now, I have been catching thrushes with my own hands. […] Eventually this diversion, albeit contemptible and foreign to me, petered out—to my regret”). It usually denotes a small military clash, but in this letter it refers to M.’s futile pastimes in the woods and thus exposes the military structures of Machiavelli’s thought and writing (see also the use of the term in the Mandragola, Prol., 44: “Fien questo giorno el vostro badalucco”).


Otium, Literature and Intertextuality

Starting with his enigmatic quote from Petrarch’s Triumphus Eternitatis (for an interpretation in light of Vettori’s patronage see Najemy, Between Friends, 222–23 and fn. 13), the letter is teeming with intertextual references:



The Machiavelli–Vettori Letters between Rome and San Casciano evoke the contrast between the peacefulness of rural life and the restlessness of city life and the respective prevailing lifestyles in Horace’s satires. One can mention here Hor. II,6 for instance, and the depiction of daily routines between serene mornings and social practices of otium in the evenings on his beloved Sabine Farm in contrast to the permanent busyness in Rome. Whereas the Horatian appreciation of country life is structured by rather stable oppositions between the self-sufficient contentedness of country life and the agitation the Roman capital, Machiavelli’s correspondence is characterized by a continuous reversal of values and role models.

By describing his early morning activities, M. takes up Vettori’s allusions to Hor. Sat. I,6,100–31, which is, significantly, also a poem on the relationship between a poet and his patron, in a most intricate way (see Larosa, “Autobiografia e tradizione,” esp. 226–35): Whereas by his determination to return to political office M. seems to repudiate Horace and Vettori’s praise of doctum otium, which requires distancing from the world of politics, he has nevertheless adopted some Horatian habits himself – despite his getting up even before dawn, thus much earlier than his idle “Horatian” friend Vettori. Like Horace, who spends his mornings wandering about, reading, and writing (“ad quartam iaceo; post hanc vagor aut ego lecto aut scripto, quod me tacitum iuvet” / “I lie a-bed till ten; then I take a stroll, or after reading or writing something that will please me in quiet moments”; Hor. Sat. I,6,122–23), Machiavelli goes for a walk with the books of poets such as Dante, Petrarch, Tibullus, or Ovid “under my arm,” and, later on, works on his “opuscolo de principatibus.” One might also think of Horace’s Satire I,6 when Machiavelli describes the landscapes and the simple lifestyle of the countryside, as well as his mingling with more “popular environments” (cf. Larosa, “Autobiografia e tradizione,” 232–33). Another Horatian intertext, especially as to the confrontation between city and countryside and the imaginary swap between the living and working conditions of the two correspondents, might be Hor. Epist. I,14 (cf. Larosa, “Autobiografia e tradizione,” 238–40 and Bausi’s introduction to this letter in the volumes of Machiavelli’s Lettere in the Edizione Nazionale delle Opere, II, 1063–1066).

Moreover, as a “libertinus patre natus,” Horace, like Machiavelli, was a social climber: For instance, at the end of Satire I,6, he reclaims otium instead of negotium because he considers the freedom from the turmoil of political office as the conditio sine qua non of his writing under the patronage of Maecenas and Augustus. The Horatian (anti-)role model in M.’s letters might invite the reader to contemplate on the social diversifications and the different assessments of otium and leisure. Even more so as Hor. Epist. I,14 too is based on a relationship between master (Horace) and servant (his estate manager).

As Najemy suggested, in Vettori’s letter from December 3, 1514, which starts with a quote from Hor. Epist. I,1.   the parallels between the relations of Machiavelli-Vettori-Medici on the one side and Horace-Maecenas-Augustus on the other become even more obvious (cf. Najemy, Between Friends, 295–96). The analogies between Horace’s and Machiavelli’s writing situations are striking. Similar to Machiavelli, who now seeks the favor of the former opponents of the popular government under Soderini, Horace had lost all hopes for a career in public service after the defeat of Brutus’ army at the battle of Philippi, but was then able to gain the graces of Brutus’ opponent Augustus through Maecenas’ patronage. It is very likely that Vettori and Machiavelli were aware of these biographical parallels. The details of Suetonius’ Vita of Horace, for instance, were part of the introductions to editions of his works and were often integrated in the commentaries (cf. Pausch, “Sueton”). They might also have read Crinito’s biography of Horace in De poetis latinis. In contrast to M., who aims for a political office, i.e. negotium, Horace stages his writing as a public service that evolves from otium and that, at the same time, requires the leisure of his readers, who need free time to dedicate to his poetry (cf. Eickhoff, “Inszenierungen von Muße”). M., on the other hand, in the dedicatory letter to The Prince presents his writing as the result of “una lunga sperienza delle cose moderne, ed una continua lezione delle antiche” (“long experience of modern things and constant reading about ancient things”), thus emerging from a prudent combination of otium and negotium.



Among the “minor poets” whose verses Machiavelli carries around in the book “under [his] arm” when walking in the woods he mentions Tibullus. Notably, just like his friend Horace, Tibullus not only divided his time between the city (of Rome, in his case) and the countryside, but, like M., lost part of his family fortune (cf. Sannicandro, “Tibullus”; as to Machiavelli’s situation see Boschetto, “«Uno uomo di basso e infimo stato»” and “Machiavelli’s Family and Social Background”). The passage of the letter in which M. describes his own estate as “questa povera villa e paululo patrimonio” calls to mind Tibullus’ autobiographical verses in the Elegiae, in which his lyrical I refers to the loss of large parts of his property (I,1,19), as a farmer “felicis quondam, nunc pauperis agri” (“a property once prosperous, now poor”). Further intertextual echoing in M.’s letter might result from the verse in which Tibullus’ lyrical alter ego expresses his hopes of finding a way to live simply off his diminished estate (“Iam modo iam possim contentus vivere parvo” / “If only, now at least, I can live content with little”; see Guidi, “L’ozio di Machiavelli,” 9). From this perspective, again, the otium litteratum in the countryside is part of a strategic use of topoi by social outcasts. It is worth noting that M. might have known Tibullus’ biography, especially as it was part of Pietro Crinito’s De poetis latinis, according to Bausi’s suggestion in his commentary on the letter in his commentary (see the edition of Machiavelli’s Lettere in the Edizione Nazionale delle Opere series II,1073).


Reading as Practice of Otium and Leisure

There has been considerable debate on the nature and objects of M.’s reading practice. There are two passages in the letter that are dedicated to the reading of classical texts. By presenting two different types of reading, they also invoke slightly different traditions of otium:


  1. After coming from the woods, where M. gets into various discussions and quarrels as to his trade, i.e. his negotium – which most interestingly points to Machiavelli’s political past and former colleagues (cf. Najemy, Between Friends, 230–31) – he goes for a walk, with “a book under my arm: Dante, Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, Ovid, or some such.” There has been an extensive philological discussion on the texts to which Machiavelli might be referring (see Inglese’s comment, 198 n. 24, Martelli, “Schede sulla cultura di Machiavelli,” 308–9; Najemy, Between Friends, 231–33; Guidi, “L’ozio di San Casciano,” 8–9 et passim). By perusing love poetry M. claims to reflect on his own erotic adventures (“leggo quelle loro amorose passioni et quelli loro amori, ricordomi de mia, godomi in pezzo in questo pensiero”). According to Francesco Bausi, these morning readings are characterized by a rather unsophisticated kind of immediacy and empathy, as well as by autobiographical identification (cf. Bausi, “Politica e poesia,” 386; see also Bolzoni, “‘Entro nelle antique corti’,” 176). According to Antony Grafton, Machiavelli’s scanning of ancient love poetry presupposes portable octavo editions, and it involves daydreaming, distraction, and the stimulation of erotic sensations (cf. Grafton, “The Humanist as Reader,” 180–81), thus pure leisure.


  1. The second famous reading scene takes place in the evening, after Machiavelli has removed his workday clothes “covered with mud and dirt, and put on the garments of court and palace.” It is marked by metaphors of transfer, dialogue, and communion, and culminates with M.’s announcement of his “opuscolo De principatibus,” which has been identified as The Prince. The dialogue with the ancients through the medium of texts/books is a humanist topos, which, as Christian Bec has documented in detail, is intertwined with the traditions of otium litteratum (cf. Bec, “De Pétrarque à Machiavel”). Furthermore, the famous passage on M.’s stepping “inside the venerable courts of the ancients” seems to adopt key elements of Seneca’s De brevitate vitae (14-15), whose author celebrates otium dedicated to sapientia (“Soli omnium otiosi sunt qui sapientiae vacant, soli vivunt; nec enim suam tantum aetatem bene tuentur” / “Of all men they alone are at leisure who take time for philosophy, they alone really live”; cf. Ferroni, “La struttura,” 268). With phrases that are strikingly similar to M.’s, Seneca claims that the contact with authors as “glorious fashioners of holy thoughts” (“clarissimi sacrarum opinionum conditores”), who are “born for us” (“nobis nati sunt”), enables the reader to “pass beyond the narrow limits of human weakness” (“egredi humanae imbecillitatis angustias”). Grafton distinguishes this second way of studying the classics, most likely conducted in folio and quarto editions, from M.’s reading of love poetry because here he does not seek distraction but knowledge and learning (cf. Grafton, “The Humanist as Reader,” 180–81). Nevertheless, M.’s imaginary dialogue with the ancients (as well as his epistolary dialogue with Vettori) leads to the writing of The Prince as a manual for (present and future) rulers. In light of his final appeal to his correspondent to forward his opuscolo to the Medici, M.’s reading and writing should not be limited to the otium of secluded intellectual life, but should be connected to his return into the realm of Florentine politics. According to Lina Bolzoni, M.’s reading of the ancients is thus aimed at bridging the gap between literature and political action by a practice of reading “in cui la realtà virtuale e fantasmatica della rievocazione dei grandi del passato si pone in alternativa al presente, e chiede polemicamente di varcare i confini, di penetrare nel reale, di tradursi in ‘ragione’ e azione” (Bolzoni, “‘Entro nelle antique corti’,” 187). Although Machiavelli’s version of the topos of the reader’s imaginary dialogue with his books is quite unique, it must be read in the light of civil humanism and its interpretation of otium as a preparation for political life (cf. Bec, L’umanesimo civile, 19 et passim). Giorgio Barberì Squarotti has argued the opposite, i.e. that M.’s imaginary communion with the ancients is part of a larger process of sublimating social reality and political choices and actions by theory (cf. Barberì Squarotti, “Narrazione e sublimazione”). For a grotesque metamorphosis of Machiavelli’s doctum otium, i.e. for his evening dialogue with the ancients in contemporary literature see Mari, “Il Centauro”, 89–90.


The status of this second, even more famous reading scene within the narrative strategy of the letter has also been subject to scholarly discussion. In view of the latter, posthumous success of Il Principe, M.’s literary conversation with the ancients is often regarded as the letter’s climax. According to Bausi, but also to Grafton, it is therefore based on a more methodological kind of reading and, in contrast to the more or less random, trivial reading of love poetry in the morning, it is part of an erudite culture (cf. Bausi, “Politica e poesia,” 386–87; Grafton, “The Humanist as Reader,” 180–81). Although M.’s “convivio notturno” (Inglese, “Introduzione,” 27) with the ancients is obviously closer to the classical and humanist tradition of otium doctum, the representations of love and eros are rooted in the classical and humanist discourse on otium as well (cf. Figorilli, “‘Il vivere senza faccende’,” 267 et passim): in the poetry of Catullus, for instance, whose lyrical I stages otium (conceived as a lustful retreat from the political and historical world marked by civil war but also as a precarious psychological state) as a precondition of poetry, as well as of the loss of self due to passion (cf. Zimmermann, “Otiosi sumus. Muße und Muse in Catulls Gedichten”; Woodman, “Some Implications of Otium in Catullus 51.13–16”). On the other hand, Peter Godman stresses the strategies of parody in the potentially ironic description of M.’s dialogue with the ancients. He reads this passage as a more or less hidden attempt to criticize but also outstrip contemporary humanists such as Marcello Virgilio, who had been able to keep his post under the new Medici regime (Godman, From Poliziano to Machiavelli, 256–58).


Otium, Leisure and Mixed Style

In contrast to Francesco Vettori’s letter, M.’s response is characterized by a mingling of both elevated and plain, and sometimes even grotesque styles, as well as by different levels of reality, and thus of otium, but also of more popular forms of leisure (cf. Frömmer, “Out of office”). Since the famous reading scene in the scrittoio adopts parts of the vocabulary M. used to describe his encounters in and around the “osteria” and the meal he shares with his family (cf. Bolzoni, “Entro nelle antique corti”, 176–77), it seems inadequate to devalue erotic leisure and the more popular or ‘common’ forms of otiose leisure such as gambling and drinking in the pub as compared to the erudite tradition of otium. Giorgio Inglese also stresses the letter’s careful display of all kinds of social, economic, political, and psychological realities (cf. Inglese, “Introduzione,” 26). The same holds true for the different kinds of otium and leisure staged in this letter, which range from erotic love, reading, gambling, and fighting in the pub to the high forms of otium doctum and the philosophical banquet. Paradoxically, M.’s virtuoso representation and intertwining of different kinds of and discourses on otium contribute to his goal of overcoming his situation of otiose leisure by serving as a political advisor, e. g. for the Medici or the pope.


[1] Magnifico oratori Florentino Francisco Vectori apud summum Pontificem, patrono et benefactori suo, Romae


[2] Magnifico ambasciadore, «tarde non furon mai grazie divine»: dico questo perché mi pareva aver perduta no, ma smarrita la grazia vostra, sendo stato voi assai tempo senza scrivermi, e ero dubbio donde potessi nascere la cagione. [3] E di tutte quelle che mi venivono nella mente tenevo poco conto, salvo che di quella quando io dubitavo non vi avessi ritirato da scrivermi perché vi fussi suto scritto che io non fussi buono massaio delle vostre lettere; e io sapevo che, da Filippo e Pagolo in fuora, altri per mio conto non l’aveva viste. [4] Honne riaùto per l’ultima vostra de’ 23 del passato, dove io resto contentissimo vedere quanto ordinatamente e quietamente voi esercitate cotesto offizio pubblico; e io vi conforto a seguire così, perché chi lascia e’ sua commodi per li commodi d’altri, so perde e’ sua, e di quelli non li è saputo grado. [5] E poi che la fortuna vuol fare ogni cosa, ella si vuole lasciarla fare, stare quieto e non le dare briga, e aspettar tempo che la lasci fare qualche cosa agl’uomini; e allora starà bene a voi durare più fatica, vegghiare più le cose, e a me partirmi di villa e dire: «Eccomi!». [6] Non posso pertanto, volendovi rendere pari grazie, dirvi in questa mia lettera altro che qual sia la vita mia; e se voi giudicate che sia a barattarla con la vostra, io sarò contento mutarla.

Io mi sto in villa, e poi che seguirno quelli miei ultimi casi, non sono stato, ad accozzalli tutti, 20 dì a Firenze. [8] Ho infino a qui uccellato a’ tordi di mia mano: levàvomi innanzi dì, inpaniavo, andàvone oltre con un fascio di gabbie addosso, che parevo el Geta quando e’ tornava dal porto con e’ libri d’Anfitrione; pigliavo el meno dua, el più sei tordi. [9] E così stetti tutto novembre: dipoi questo badalucco, ancora che dispettoso e strano, è mancato con mio dispiacere, e qual sia la vita mia vi dirò. [10] Io mi lievo la mattina con el sole, e vòmmene in un mio bosco che io fo tagliare, dove sto dua ore a rivedere l’opere del giorno passato, e a passar tempo con quegli tagliatori, che hanno sempre qualche sciagura alle mane, o fra loro o co’ vicini; e circa questo bosco io vi arei a dire mille belle cose che mi sono intervenute, e con Frosino da Panzano e con altri che voleano di queste legne. [11] E Fruosino, in specie, mandò per certe cataste senza dirmi nulla, e al pagamento mi voleva rattenere 10 lire, che dice aveva avere da me quattro anni sono, che mi vinse a cricca in casa Antonio Guicciardini. [12] Io cominciai a fare el diavolo; volevo accusare el vetturale, che vi era ito per esse, per ladro; tandem Giovanni Machiavelli vi entrò di mezzo, e ci pose d’accordo. [13] Battista Guicciardini, Filippo Ginori, Tommaso del Bene e certi altri cittadini, quando quella tramontana soffiava, ognuno me ne prese una catasta; io promessi a tutti, e manda’ne una a Tommaso, la quale tornò in Firenze per metà, perché a rizzarla vi era lui, la moglie, le fante e ’ figliuoli, che paréno el Gabburra quando el giovedì con quelli suoi garzoni bastona un bue. [14] Di modo che, veduto in chi era guadagno, ho detto agl’altri che io non ho più legne, e tutti ne hanno fatto capo grosso, e in specie Battista, che connumera questa tra l’altre sciagure di Prato.

[15] Partitomi del bosco, io me ne vo a una fonte, e di quivi in un mio uccellare. [16] Ho un libro sotto, o Dante o Petrarca o un di questi poeti minori, come Tibullo, Ovvidio e simili; leggo quelle loro amorose passioni e quelli loro amori, ricordomi de’ mia, godomi un pezzo in questo pensiero. [17] Transferiscomi poi in su la strada nell’osteria, parlo con quelli che passono, dimando delle nuove de’ paesi loro, intendo varie cose e noto varii gusti e diverse fantasie d’uomini; vienne in questo mentre l’ora del desinare, dove con la mia brigata mi mangio di quelli cibi che questa povera villa e paululo patrimonio comporta. [18] Mangiato che ho, ritorno nell’osteria: quivi è l’oste, per l’ordinario, un beccaio, un mugnaio, dua fornaciai; con questi io m’ingaglioffo per tutto dì giuocando a cricca, a tricche-tracche, dove poi nascono mille contese e infiniti dispetti di parole iniuriose, e il più delle volte si combatte un quattrino, e siamo sentiti nondimanco gridare da San Casciano. [19] Così rinvolto entra questi pidocchi traggo el cervello di muffa, e sfogo questa malignità di questa mia sorta, sendo contento mi calpesti per questa via, per vedere se la se ne vergognassi.

[20] Venuta la sera, mi ritorno in casa, e entro nel mio scrittoio, e in su l’uscio mi spoglio quella veste cotidiana, piena di fango e di loto, e mi metto panni reali e curiali, e rivestito condecentemente entro nelle antique corti delli antiqui uomini, dove da loro ricevuto amorevolmente mi pasco di quel cibo che solum è mio e che io nacqui per lui; dove io non mi vergogno parlare con loro, e domandarli de la ragione delle loro azioni, e quelli per loro umanità mi rispondono, e non sento per 4 ore di tempo alcuna noia, sdimentico ogni affanno, non temo la povertà, non mi sbigottisce la morte: tutto mi transferisco in loro. [21] E perché Dante dice che non fa scienza, sanza lo ritenere, lo avere inteso, io ho notato quello di che per la loro conversazione ho fatto capitale, e composto uno opusculo De principatibus, dove io mi profondo quanto io posso nelle cogitazioni di questo subbietto, disputando che cosa è principato, di quale specie sono, come e’ si acquistono, come e’ si mantengono, perché e’ si perdono. [22] E se vi piacque mai alcuno mio ghiribizzo, questo non vi doverrebbe dispiacere, e a un principe, e maxime a un principe nuovo, doverrebbe essere accetto; però io lo indirizzo alla Magnificenza di Giuliano. [23] Filippo Casavecchia l’ha visto; vi potrà ragguagliare in parte e della cosa in sé, e de’ ragionamenti ho aùto seco, ancorché tuttavolta io l’ingrasso e ripulisco.

[24] Voi vorresti, magnifico ambasciadore, che io lasciassi questa vita e venissi a godere con voi la vostra. [25] Io lo farò in ogni modo, ma quello che mi tenta ora è certe mia faccende che fra 6 settimane l’arò fatte; quello che mi fa stare dubbio è che sono costì quelli Soderini, e’ quali io sarei forzato, venendo costì, vicitarli e parlar loro. [26] Dubiterei che alla tornata mia io non credessi

scavalcare a casa, e scavalcassi nel Bargello, perché, ancora che questo stato abbi grandissimi fondamenti e gran securtà, tamen egli è nuovo, e per questo sospettoso, né ci manca de’ saccenti che, per parere, come Pagolo Bertini metterebbono altri a scotto e lascierebbono el pensiero a me. [27] Pregovi mi solviate questa paura, e poi verrò infra el tempo detto a trovarvi a ogni modo. [28] Io ho ragionato con Filippo di questo mio opusculo, se gli era ben darlo o non lo dare; e, sendo ben darlo, se gli era bene che io lo portassi, o che io ve lo mandassi. [29] El non lo dare mi faceva dubitare che da Giuliano e’ non fussi, non ch’altro, letto, e che questo Ardinghelli si facessi onore di questa ultima mia fatica. [30] El darlo mi faceva la necessità che mi caccia, perché io mi logoro, e lungo tempo non posso star così che io non diventi per povertà contennendo; appresso, el desiderio arei che questi signori Medici mi cominciassino adoperare, se dovessino cominciare a farmi voltolare un sasso. [31] Perché, se poi io non me gli guadagnassi, io mi dôrrei di me; e per questa cosa, quando la fussi letta, si vedrebbe che 15 anni che io sono stato a studio all’arte dello stato non gl’ho né dormiti né giuocati, e doverrebbe ciascheduno aver caro servirsi d’uno che alle spese d’altri fussi pieno di esperienzia. [32] E della fede mia non si doverrebbe dubitare, perché, avendo sempre osservato la fede, io non debbo imparare ora a romperla, e chi è stato fedele e buono 45 anni, che io ho, non debbe potere mutare natura; e della fede e della bontà mia ne è testimonio la povertà mia. [33] Desidererei adunque che voi ancora mi scrivessi quello che sopra questa materia vi paia, e a voi mi raccomando.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

To the Magnificent Francesco Vettori, His Patron and Benefactor, Florentine Ambassador to the Supreme Pontiff. In Rome.

 Magnificent Ambassador. “Divine favors were never late.” I say this because it seemed to me that I had lost – no, rather, strayed from – your favor; it has been a long time since you wrote me, and I was unclear about what the reason may be. And I paid little attention to all those reasons that came to mind except for one: I was afraid that you might have ceased writing to me because someone had written you that I was not a good steward of your letters. I knew that, except for Filippo and Paolo, no one else had seen them through my doing. I am reassured by your recent letter of the 23rd of last month, from which I am extremely pleased to see how methodically and calmly you fulfill your public duties. I exhort you to continue in this manner, because whoever forgoes his own interests for those of others sacrifices his own and gets no gratitude from them. And since Fortune is eager to shape everything, she wants people to let her do so, to be still, not to trouble her, and to await the moment when she will let men do something. That will be the moment for you to persevere more unfailingly, to be more alert about matters, and for me to leave my farm and announce, “Here I am.” Since I want to repay you in the same coin, therefore, I can tell you nothing else in this letter except what my life is like. If you decide you would like to swap it for yours, I shall be happy to make the exchange.

I am living on my farm, and since my latest disasters, I have not spent a total of twenty days in Florence. Until now, I have been catching thrushes with my own hands. I would get up before daybreak, prepare the birdlime, and go out with such a bundle of birdcages on my back that I looked like Geta when he came back from the harbor with Amphitryon’s books. I would catch at least two, at most six, thrushes. And thus I passed the entire month of November. Eventually this diversion, albeit contemptible and foreign to me, petered out – to my regret. I shall tell you about my life. I get up in the morning with the sun and go into one of my woods that I am having cut down; there I spend a couple of hours inspecting the work of the previous day and kill some time with the woodsmen who always have some dispute on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbors. I could tell you a thousand good stories about these woods and my experiences with them, and about Frosino da Panzano and other men who wanted some of this firewood. In particular, Frosino sent for some loads of wood without saying a word to me; when it came time to settle, he wanted to withhold ten lire that he said he had won off me four years ago when he had beaten me at cricca at Antonio Gucciardini’s house. I started to raise hell; I was going to call the wagoner who had come for the wood a thief, but Giovanni Machiavelli eventually stepped in and got us to agree. Once the north wind started blowing, Battista Guicciardini, Filippo Ginori, Tomaso del Bene, and some other citizens all ordered a load from me. I promised some to each one; I sent Tommaso a load, which turned into half a load in Florence because he, his wife, his children, and the servants were all there to stack it—they looked like Gaburra on Thursdays when he and his crew flay an ox. Consequently, once I realized who was profiting, I told the others that I had no more wood; all of them were angry about it, especially Battista, who includes this among the other calamities of Prato.

Upon leaving the woods, I go to a spring; from there, to one of the places where I hang my bird nets. I have a book under my arm: Dante, Petrarch, or one of the minor poets like Tibullus, Ovid, or some such. I read about their amorous passions and their loves, remember my own, and these reflections make me happy for a while. Then I make my way along the road toward the inn, I chat with passersby, I ask news of their regions, I learn about various matters, I observe mankind: the variety of its tastes, the diversity of its fancies. By then it is time to eat; with my household I eat what food this poor farm and my minuscule patrimony yield. When I have finished eating, I return to the inn, where there usually are the innkeeper, a butcher, a miller, and a couple of kilnworkers. I slum around with them for the rest of the day playing cricca and backgammon: these games lead to thousands of squabbles and endless abuses and vituperations. More often than not we are wrangling over a penny; be that as it may, people can hear us yelling even in San Casciano. Thus, having been cooped up among these lice, I get the mold out of my brain and let out the malice of my fate, content to be ridden over roughshod in this fashion if only to discover whether or not my fate is ashamed of treating me so.

When evening comes, I return home and enter my study; on the threshold I take off my workday clothes, covered with mud and dirt, and put on the garments of court and palace. Fitted out appropriately, I step inside the venerable courts of the ancients, where, solicitously received by them, I nourish myself on that food that alone is mine and for which I was born; where I am unashamed to converse with them and to question them about the motives for their actions, and they, out of their human kindness, answer me. And for four hours at a time I feel no boredom, I forget all my troubles, I do not dread poverty, and I am not terrified by death. I absorb myself into them completely. And because Dante says that no one understands anything unless he retains what he has understood, I have jotted down what I have profited from in their conversation and composed a short study, De principatibus, in which I delve as deeply as I can into the ideas concerning this topic, discussing the definition of a princedom, the categories of princedoms, how they are acquired, how they are retained, and why they are lost. And if ever any whimsy of mine has given you pleasure, this one should not displease you. It ought to be welcomed by a prince, and especially by a new prince; therefore I am dedicating it to His Magnificence Giuliano. Filippo da Casavecchia has seen it. He will be able to give you some account of both the work itself and the discussions I have had with him about it, although I am continually fattening and currying it.

Magnificent Ambassador, you would like me to abandon this life and come and enjoy yours with you. I shall do so in any case, but I am kept here by certain commitments that I shall attend to within six weeks. What makes me hesitate is that those Soderinis are in Rome; were I to come there, I would be obliged to visit and to talk with them. I am afraid upon my return that I might not count on dismounting at home but rather that I should dismount at the Bargello. For although this regime has extremely strong foundations and great security, it is still new and, consequently, suspicious. There are plenty of rogues like Paolo Bertini who, in order to be impressive, would order a meal for others and leave the tab for me to pick up. I beg you to make this fear evaporate, and then, come what may, I shall come and see you in any case at the time mentioned.

I have discussed this opuscule of mine with Filippo and whether or not it would be a good idea to present it [to Giuliano], and if it were a good idea, whether I should take it myself or should send it to you. Against presenting it would be my suspicion that he might not even read it and that that person Ardinghelli might take the credit for this most recent of my endeavors. In favor of presenting it would be the necessity that hounds me, because I am wasting away and cannot continue on like this much longer without becoming contemptible because of my poverty. Besides, there is my desire that these Medici princes should begin to engage my services, even if they should start out by having me roll along a stone. For then, if I could not win them over, I should have only myself to blame. And through this study of mine, were it to be read, it would be evident that during the fifteen years I have been studying the art of the state I have neither slept nor fooled around, and anybody ought to be happy to utilize someone who has had so much experience at the expense of others. There should be no doubt about my word; for, since I have always kept it, I should not start learning how to break it now. Whoever has been honest and faithful for forty-three years, as I have, is unable to change his nature; my poverty is a witness to my loyalty and honesty.

So I should like you, too, to write me what your opinion is about all this. I commend myself to you.


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


For insights on the interpretation of some of the terms used in this letter in general literature, see: E. Raimondi, “Il sasso del Machiavelli,” Strumenti critici 4, no. 11-13 (1970): 86-91; E. Raimondi, “Il sasso del politico,” in Politica e commedia: Il centauro disarmato (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998 [19721]), 37-43; S. De Grazia, Machiavelli in Hell (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 42; A. Polegato, “On the Expression «Li òmini in universali iudicano più alli occhi che alle mani»: an Alternative Reading of Chapter 18 in The Prince,” Politics. Rivista di Studi Politici 6, no. 2 (2016): 8-11; G. Inglese, Lettere a Francesco Vettori e a Francesco Guicciardini (1513-1527) (Milano: Rizzoli, 1989).


For the particularly military dimension of M.’s vocabulary, see: E. Raimondi, “La retorica del guerriero,” in Politica e commedia: Il centauro disarmato (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998 [19721]), 145-62; W. Schivelbusch, Rückzug: Geschichte eines Tabus (Munich: Hanser, 2019); A. Guidi, “L’ozio di San Casciano,” in Dalle antiche alle nuove ‘corti’: Machiavelli dai ‘castellucci’ di San Casciano all’epoca della comunicazione globale, ed. A. Guidi (Manziana: Vecchiarelli, 2019), 8-10.


For interpretations of the reading scene, see: C. Bec, “De Pétrarque à Machiavel: à propos d’un ‘topos’ humaniste (le dialogue lecteur/livre),” Rinascimento 16 (1976): 3-17; A. Grafton, “The Humanist as Reader,” in A History of Reading in the West, ed. G. Cavallo and R. Chartier (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 179-80, 205-06 et passim; M. Mari, “Il Centauro,” in Fantasmagonia (Torino: Einaudi, 2012), 89-90; L. Bolzoni, “«Entro nelle antique corti degli antiqui uomini […] e quelli per loro umanità mi rispondono»: la lettera di Machiavelli al Vettori,” in Una meravigliosa solitudine: L’arte di leggere nell’Europa moderna (Torino: Einaudi, 2019), 171-92.


For M’s social background, see: R. Black, Machiavelli (London and New York: Routledge, 2013); L. Boschetto, “«Uno uomo di basso e infimo stato»: Ricerche sulla storia familiare di Niccolò Machiavelli,” Archivio Storico Italiano 3 (2018): 485-524; L. Boschetto, “Machiavelli’s Family and Social Background: The Enigma of Messer Bernardo’s Illegitimacy,” in The Art and Language of Power in Renaissance Florence: Essays for Alison Brown, ed. A. R. Bloch, C. James, and C. Russell (Toronto: Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2019), 45-64.


For otium in classical and contemporary literature, see: A. J. Woodman, “Some Implications of otium in Catullus 51.13–16,” Latomus 25 (1966): 217-26; B. Vickers, “Leisure and Idleness in the Renaissance,” Renaissance Studies 4, no. 1 (1990): 1-37; A. Grafton, “The Humanist as Reader,” in A History of Reading in the West, ed. G. Cavallo and R. Chartier (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 179-212; B. Zimmermann, “Otiosi sumus. Muße und Muse in Catulls Gedichten,” in Muße und Rekursivität in der antiken Briefliteratur. Mit einem Ausblick in andere Gattungen, ed. F. C. Eickhoff (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 253-68; M. Fludernik, “Muße als soziale Distinktion,” in Muße und Gesellschaft, ed. G. Dobler and P. Ph. Riedl (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017), 163-178.


On otium and leisure in this letter see: A. Guidi, “L’ozio di San Casciano,” in Dalle antiche alle nuove ‘corti’: Machiavelli dai ‘castellucci’ di San Casciano all’epoca della comunicazione globale, ed. A. Guidi (Manziana: Vecchiarelli, 2019), 8-10. For the republican potential of otium see J. Frömmer, “Out of office,” Comparatio 14:1 (2022).


On M.’s communion with the ancients as a process of sublimation see: G. B. Squarotti, “Narrazione e sublimazione: le lettere di Machiavelli,” in: Machiavelli o la scelta della letteratura (Rome: Bulzoni, 1987), 63-95; on its ironic dimension see P. Godman, From Poliziano to Machiavelli: Florentine Humanism in the High Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998), 256-58.


On irony in the context of M.’s poetry see: P. Villari, Niccolò Machiavelli e i suoi tempi II (Milano: Hoepli, 1897), 208 and on possible contextualizitations of M.’s poetry see: H. Jaeckel and R. Fubini, “I ‘Tordi’ e il ‘Principe Nuovo’. Note sulle dediche del ‘Principe’ di Machiavelli a Giuliano e a Lorenzo de’ Medici,” Archivo Storico Italiano 156 (1998): 73-92.


On possible references to other texts see: M. Martelli, “Schede sulla cultura di Machiavelli,” Interpres VI (1985-86): 283-330.


For the opposition between the industrious city and the idle countryside, see: L. Sacchini, “Dalla solitudine della villa alla conversazione della città. Itinerari dell’ozio in una triade di lezioni accademiche secentesche di Cesare Crispolti,” in From “Otium” and “Occupatio” to Work and Labor in Italian Culture. Special issue, Annali d’Italianistica 32 (2014): 141-42; F. Sberlati, “Villania e cortesia. L’opposizione tra città e campagna tra Medioevo e Rinascimento,” in La letteratura di villa e di villeggiatura: Atti del Convegno, Parma 29 settembre-1 ottobre 2003 (Rome: Salerno Editrice 2004), 65-114.


For the reception of Suetonius’ biography of Horace see: D. Pausch, “Sueton (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus),” in Der Neue Pauly Supplemente I Online – Band 7: Die Rezeption der antiken Literatur, ed. C. Walde with B. Egger (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung and Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag, 2010). Accessed 10 September 2020.


On Horace’s writing and the role(s) of leisure see: F. Eickhoff, “Inszenierungen von Muße durch die Gattung Brief in den Epistulae des Horaz,” in Muße und Rekursivität in der antiken Briefliteratur: mit einem Ausblick in andere Gattungen, ed. F. Eickhoff (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 75-96.


For Tibullus’ life see: L. Sannicandro, “Tibullus (Albius Tibullus),” in Brill’s New Pauly Supplements I – Volume 5: The Reception of Classical Literature, English edition by M. H. Wibier (2012). Accessed 3 June 2022.


For specifications on this letter see: R. Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (Firenze: Sansoni, 1969), 514-15 and F. Bausi “”Medicare il grande invalido”. Storia (e sfortuna) editoriale del carteggio privato di Machiavelli,” in Dalle antiche alle nuove ‘corti’: Machiavelli dai ‘castellucci’ di San Casciano all’epoca della comunicazione globale, ed. A. Guidi (Manziana: Vecchiarelli, 2019), 162-70.


For specific bibliographies on this letter see: A. Ridolfi, Pensieri intorno allo scopo di Nicolò [sic] Machiavelli nel libro «Il Principe» (Milano, 1810), 61-66; A. Moretti, Corrispondenza di Niccolò Machiavelli con Francesco Vettori dal 1513 al 1515 (Florence: Le Monnier, 1948), 19-32; G. Ferroni, “Le cose vane nelle Lettere di Machiavelli,” La Rassegna della Letteratura Italiana 76 (1972): 215-64 (esp. 231-37); S. De Grazia, Machiavelli in Hell (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 48-49 and 248-51; G. Bardazzi, “Introduzione,” in Niccolò Machiavelli, Dieci lettere private, ed. G. Bardazzi (Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1992), 7-50; G. Bardazzi, “In margine a «Dieci lettere private» di Machiavelli,” Filologia e Critica 17 (1992):189-202; J. M. Najemy, Between Friends: Discourses of Power and Desire in the Machiavelli-Vettori Letters of 1513-1515 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 221-41.; G. Ferroni, “La struttura epistolare come contraddizione,” in Niccolò Machiavelli. Politico storico letterato: Atti del Convegno di Losanna, 27-30 settembre 1995 (Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1996), 247-69; F. Bausi, “Politica e poesia. Ancora sulla cultura di Machiavelli,” Intersezioni 23 (2002): 377-93; F. Bausi, “Il sasso di Machiavelli (con altre schede sul «Principe», sui «Discorsi» e sull’«Arte della guerra»),” in Confini dell’Umanesimo letterario: Studi in onore di Francesco Tateo (Rome: Roma nel Rinascimento, 2003), 115-26; S. Larosa, “Autobiografia e tradizione letteraria nella “giornata” di Niccolò Machiavelli,” Interpres 22 (2003): 223-75; W. J. Connell, “New Light on Machiavelli’s Letter to Vettori, 10 December 1513,” in Europe and Italy: Studies in Honour of Giorgio Chittolini (Florence: Firenze University Press, 2011), 93-127; W. J. Connell, “La lettera di Machiavelli a Vettori del 10 dicembre 1513,” Archivio Storico Italiano 171, no. 4, 638, (2013): 665-724; M. C. Figorilli, “Il vivere senza faccende tra Machiavelli, Vettori e Guicciardini,” in Visitare la letteratura: Studi per Nicola Merola, ed. G. Lo Castro, E. Porciani, and C. Verbaro (Pisa and Florence: ETS, 2014), 261-69; S. Landi, Lo sguardo di Machiavelli: Una nuova storia intellettuale (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2017), 159-75.


The English translations of Horace’s works are taken from: Horace, Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica, with an English translation by H. Rushton Fairclough (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926).


The English translations of Seneca’s De brevitate vitae are taken from: Seneca in Ten volumes II: Moral Essays, with an English translation by J. W. Basore, 3 vols. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932), 286-355.


The English translations of Tibullus’ elegy are taken from: Albius Tibullus, Elegies, edited and translated by G. Lee (Cambridge: St John’s College, 1975), 24-29. [25]


A Spanish and German digitalized full text of Cervantes’ Don Quijote is provided by Duke University and is available at the following link:




M.’s ‘Exile’

It must be noted that, in contrast to the current belief that M. was living in exile in San Casciano, he was merely prohibited from leaving the Florentine territory (see letter of 9-04-1513). Although after his dismissal as Secretary M. was not allowed to enter the Palazzo della Signoria for a year and was forced into inactivity and otium, he was allowed to enter the City of Florence at any time: his choice to remain mostly “in villa” was due to the fact that after the loss of his position M. most probably withdrew to San Casciano mainly for economic reasons – which does not exclude other strategic advantages of his retreat to the countryside.

Sant’Andrea in Percussina was not really the isolated spot it is sometimes imagined as being – or that it is today. The farm, with its osteria known as the ‘Albergaccio,’ stood close by the Strada Regia Romana. This was the road that in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries had gradually displaced the Via Francigena (whose undoing was that it avoided Florence) as the principal route for messengers, pilgrims, and merchants traveling between Rome and all of Northern Europe from the Rhine basin westward. […] In the 10 December letter San Casciano appears as the “next town over,” where Machiavelli imagined that the “cries” of his friends at the Albergaccio could be heard. San Casciano was where Vettori knew Machiavelli could easily get the news of the world. (Connell, “New Light,” 112; see also letter of 20-8-1513).


Graces and Favors

After the formal address to Francesco Vettori as “patrono e benefactori suo,” the letter starts with a quotation from Petrarch’s Trionfi, “Tarde nun furon mai gratie divine” (Triumphus Eternitatis, v. 13), alluding to Vettori’s long interruption of the correspondence. This quotation, and especially the theme of “gratie” (“graces,” “favors”), is resumed in order to justify M.’s description of his day as a “rendere pari gratie,” i.e. as the reciprocal return of favors/graces to Vettori for the portrayal of his giornata. M.’s subsequent description of his daily routine in San Casciano is clearly conceived as a reversal of Francesco’s previous letter from November 23 (see above and Ferroni, “Le cose vane,” 232–37; as well as Larosa, “Autobiografia e tradizione,” and Frömmer, “Out of office”). In his “carefully crafted counter description” (cf. Najemy, Between Friends, 224), M. is quite clear about the fact that he would not hesitate to exchange what he is about to describe as “la vita mia” with Vettori’s life in Rome.



Like Francesco Vettori’s preceding letter from 23 November 1513, M.’s response builds on the literary tradition of describing one’s day, although the rich humanist variations of this topos might not have been known to him (cf. Larosa, “Autobiografia e tradizione,” 257 et passim). A rather uncommon element of this description is M.’s thrush hunting, depicted as a “diversion, albeit contemptible and foreign to me” (“questo badalucco, ancora che dispettoso e strano”), to which he was nevertheless attached to. (For the military connotations of the term “badalucco,” see the section ‘Strategic Otium and Retreat’.) There has been some debate among scholars as to the season of thrush hunting and a respective emendation in the letter (cf. Ridolfi, Vita, 492 n. 19; Connell, “New Light,” 104). Although thrush season was a vital part of Tuscan culture, M.’s attachment to this rather extraordinary leisure pastime might also be connected to his literary activity. For his “prison sonnet” “Io vi mando, Giuliano, alquanti tordi,” which is addressed to Giuliano de’ Medici, the supposed dedicatee of The Prince, claims to come with a present of thrushes. While Ridolfi believes that M.’s poem was indeed accompanied by a gift of thrushes, which M. might have caught in his leisure time in San Casciano, Villari took this as an ironic remark (cf. Villari, Machiavelli e i suoi tempi, II, 208). As discussed in the record dedicated to that sonnet, Jaeckel advances the hypothesis that the sonnet “I tordi” was composed as a dedicatory poem for The Prince (cf. Jaeckel, “I ‘tordi’ e il ‘principe nuovo’”), and Connell, building on his argument, contends that “the sonnet ‘The Thrushes’ refers not to an out-of-season gift of birds made in March, but to The Prince, and that it was M.’s newly discovered pleasure in trapping thrushes in October and November, as reported in the famous letter to Vettori, that inspired the poem’s conceit” (cf. Connell, “New Light,” 105).

Within his larger hypothesis of The Prince as an elaboration of M.’s epistolary discussions with Vettori, Najemy’s interpretation of the letter focuses on the reference to Geta (cf. Najemy, Between Friends, 221–30 et passim), which also occurs within the context of catching thrushes (“andavone oltre con un fascio di gabbie addosso, che parevo el Geta quando e’ tornava dal porto con i libri d’Anphitrione”). Geta is a character known from the novella and comedy traditions (cf. the comments in the edition of Gaeta, 302 n. 9; Inglese, 197 n. 10, and Bausi in the respective volume of M.’s Letters for the Edizione Nazionale delle Opere). Within the logic of the letter as an appeal to Vettori to serve as a mediator, Geta might indeed act as M.’s literary alter ego, which represents the difficulties of transmitting the book of The Prince and the dependency of the former civil ‘servant’ Machiavelli on readers and patrons. As a comic character with tragic features, Geta might also be considered as a mirror of Machiavelli’s ironic style (cf. Najemy, Between Friends, 221–40).


Early editions of the letter, based on a MS copy in the Vatican (Barberiniano LVIII 47), were printed with the wrong date of October (cf. Bausi, “Medicare il grande invalido,” 162-70). The date was then amended on the basis of another manuscript preserved in the Apografo Ricci (which reads “D.” for “December” followed by an erroneous “Octobris”: “Die x D. oct.bris 1513”). Furthermore, comparisons with later letters of M. (19 December) and Vettori (24 December), which make references to this document in the Apografo Ricci, confirm that the letter was certainly written in December (cf. Ridolfi, Vita, 514-15). Moreover, an analysis of the content of the letter provides further evidence for this dating. Thus, for instance, M. refers to the end of the relegatio that prohibited him from leaving the Florentine territory. As this confinement had come to an end on 10 November, this letter must have been written after this date (cf. Connell, “New Light,” 106-8 et passim).

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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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