Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Sender



Francesco Guicciardini

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project


Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

M. starts to exchange ideas with F. Guicciardini about the plan to stage La Mandragola in the Romagna.

The main subject of the letter is M.’s role as a mediator between Guicciardini, who wanted to marry off his daughters, and the Capponi and Strozzi families. The letter refers en passant to the plan of staging M.’s Mandragola in Faenza during carnival. The letter is also supposed to contain some digestive pills which M. advises his friend to take after dinner.

M. as Negotiator

As is typical of the last phase of M.’s life, this letter presents the former secretary not in a situation of leisure or inactivity, but as rather busy with various jobs and commissions for patrons from the Florentine upper classes and guilds. Large sections of this letter are dedicated to details of the negotiations for arranging a possible marriage between one of Guicciardini’s daughters, and either a member of the Capponi family, or one of the two sons of Lorenzo Strozzi, Giovan Battista and Palla. Lorenzo, actually one of M.’s most important patrons of this time (he is called “lo amico” in this letter), had, according to this letter, reproached M. for promoting Guicciardini’s interest rather than his own when negotiating the dowry. Guicciardini’s daughter Simona, however,  would go on to marry Piero Capponi in 1529.


The plans for a Staging of the Mandragola in Faenza

In passing, M. exchanges ideas with Guicciardini concerning the plan of staging La Mandragola during the next carnival. Guicciardini had obviously been enchanted by the play (“Mi piace che Messer Nicia vi piaccia”). M. suggests that he could make a stop in the Romagna on his return from Venice, where he had to go on behalf of the Arte della Lana (the guild of the wool weavers) in order to solve a dispute about sequestered Florentine merchandise (for this subject, see also Filippo de’ Nerli’s letter of 22-02-1525 and 6-09-1525).


Machiavellian Medicine

The letter was supposed to arrive with 25 pills, as is M.’s claim in the correspondence, for which he provides Guicciardini with the recipe. M. tells Guicciardini that this medicine had rescued him (“risuscitato”) and gives instructions on how to use them (for further scholarly debate on these pills see Notes section on M.’s pills). However, since the pharmakon is also a powerful rhetorical and literary concept (cf. Herlinghaus, The Pharmakon) and one of the master tropes of M.’s Mandragola, the intended function of these pills might go beyond a purely medical one.

Signor Presidente, ieri ebbi la vostra de’ dodici, e per risposta vi dirò come Capponi tornò, e questa cura di domandarlo ha voluta Iacopo vostro; ma, come voi dite, io credo che si sarà inteso assai. Puossi far loro in ogni modo una offerta, acciò che si vegga che voi lo volete, quando e’ non si discostino dallo onesto; e non pare a Girolamo e a me che si possa offerire manco di 3000 ducati; pure, di questo voi gliene darete quella commessione che vi parrà. Mi piace che Messer Nicia vi piaccia, e se la farete [the Mandragola] recitare in questo carnovale, noi verreno ad aiutarvi. Ringraziovi delle raccomandazioni fatte, e vi priego di nuovo. Questi proveditori delle cose di Levante disegnono di mandarmi a Vinezia per la recuperazione di certi danari perduti; se io debbo andare, partirò tra quattro dì, e nel tornare verrò di costì per starmi una sera con Vostra Signoria, e per rivedere gli amici.Mandovi 25 pillole fatte da 4 dí in qua in nome vostro, e la ricetta fia sottoscritta qui da piè. Io vi dico che me elle hanno risuscitato. Cominciate a pigliarne una doppo cena: se la vi muove, non ne pigliate piú, se la non vi muove, dua o tre, o al piú cinque; ma io non ne presi mai piú che due, e della settimana una volta, o quando io mi sento grave o lo stomaco o la testa.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

Signor President. I received your letter of the twelfth yesterday, and in reply I shall let you know that Capponi has returned and your Jacopo wanted to assume the burden of asking him; but, as you point out, I think there must have been a very good understanding between them. At any rate, you might make them an offer so that it can be seen that you want it, as long as they do not go too far from what is reasonable. Girolamo and I think you cannot offer less than three thousand ducats; but on this point you should fix whatever sum you like for it. I like it that you like Messer Nicia, and if you put it on during Carnival season we shall come and help you out. Thank you for the testimonials you gave; I beg you to keep them coming. The superintendents of affairs in the Levant plan to send me to Venice to recover some lost funds. If I am to go, I shall set off within four days and on my return trip I shall come through Modena to spend an evening with Your Lordship and to see our friends again. I am sending you twenty-five pills made up four days ago in your name, and the list of ingredients for them is at the end of this letter. I can tell you that they have revived me. Start by taking one after dinner; if that causes a movement, do not take any more; if it does not, take two or three – at most, five. But I never took more than two, once a week, and when I felt heaviness in my stomach or in my head.


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

R. Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (Florence: Sansoni, 1978), 339-40, 571-72; F. Gilbert, “Machiavelli e Venezia,” Lettere italiane 20 (1969): 389-398; W. J. Landon, Lorenzo di Filippo Strozzi and Niccolò Machiavelli. Patron, Client, and the Pistola fatta per la peste / An Epistle Written Concerning the Plague (Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2013), 84; R. L. Martinez, “Comedian, tragedian: Machiavelli and traditions of Renaissance theatre,” in The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, ed. J. M. Najemy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 206-222, 216.


On the subject of the “pills” and the role of the pharmakon in general and in the Mandragola: see: G. Busini, Lettere a Benedetto Varchi sopra l’assedio di Firenze, ed. G. Milanesi (Florence: Le Monnier, 1861), 84-85; G. Inglese, Lettere a Francesco Vettori e a Francesco Guicciardini (1513-1527) (Milano: Rizzoli, 1989), 324—325; A. Sorella, Magia, lingua e commedia nel Machiavelli (Florence: Olschki, 1990), 79-­84; L. Sartorello, “Paolo Giovio e Giuliano de’ Ricci primi biografi di Machiavelli,” in Machiavelli nelle storiografia post-risorgimentale: tra metodo storico e usi politici, ed. id. (Padova: CLEUP, 2009), 47-59; H. Herlinghaus, ed., The Pharmakon: Concept Figure, Image of Transgression, Poetic Practice (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2018); N. Machiavelli, Lettere, “Edizione Nazionale delle Opere,” 2 vols. (Rome: Salerno editrice, 2022), vol. 2, 1407-8; Judith Frömmer, “Die Lenkung der Dinge bei Machiavelli. Magische (Ver-)Bindungen im Prinicipe, den Discorsi und der Mandragola,” in: Die Lenkung der Dinge. Magie, Kunst und Politik in der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. Stefan Bayer, Kirsten Dickhaut und Irene Herzog (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 2021), 169–199.


M.’s Pills

There has been considerable debate on the “pillole”, which M. sends to Guicciardini together with this letter and for which he also provides the recipe as well as rather detailed instructions for the use of the medicine. According to Giorgio Inglese’s comment on this letter, these pills were a common medication prescribed in times of the plague (see 324 n. 8). For his book Machiavel, son génie et ses erreurs (Paris: 1833) the French diplomat and historian Alexis François Chevalier Artaud de Montor had even consulted pharmacological expertise in order to explore the composition and the effectiveness of the pills mentioned in this letter (F. Artaud, Machiavel, vol. 2, 201-202). Other scholars have drawn a parallel between these pills and the pills which, as Paolo Giovio claims in the chapter on M. in his Elogia, are said to have ended M.’s life: Fuit exinde semper inops uti irrisor & atheus: fatoque functus est, quum accepto temere pharmaco, quo se adversus morbos praemuniret, vitae suae iocabundus illusisset, (P. Giovio, Elogia veris clarorum virorum imaginibus apposita quae in museo Ioviano Comi spectantur, Venetiis, apud Michaelem Tramezinum, 1546, f. 55v; “From then on he always lived in poverty like a mocker and an atheist. He died after he jokingly mocked his life by imprudently taking a drug that was supposed to protect him from diseases”; our translation). Other contemporaries seem not only to suggest a medical and digestive, but even an aphrodisiac character of the pills (cf. the commentary on this letter in the volumes of Machiavelli, Lettere, vol. 3, 1407-8, and Busini’s letter to Varchi from 23-1-1549, in Busini, Lettere a Benedetto Varchi, 84-85). For the sake of the reputation of his family, M.’s grandson Giuliano Ricci contests all these sources by insisting that M. “morí cristianamente nel suo letto visitato da tutti gli amici, in braccio della moglie et de’ figlioli” (quoted after the commentary to N. Machiavelli, Lettere, vol. 3, 1408; “died as a Christian in his bed, visited by all his friends, in the arms of his wife and sons,” our translation); on Ricci’s apology as to Giovio’s image of M. cf. Sartorello, “Paolo Giovio e Giuliano de’ Ricci,” 47-59).

M.’s comments on medical treatment seem especially interesting in view of the therein mentioned representation of the Mandragola (cf. Sorella, Magia, 79-­84), which is a comedy about the applications, purposes, and effects of a ‘pharmaco’ and which revolves around the functions of illusions or ‘inganno’, as M. tells us in the prologue of the comedy. M.’s insisting on the ingredients, the composition, the use and the effect of his ‘pillole’ in the letter to his friend might be an artful staging of the notion of the ‘pharmakon’, which, in a very subtle or even unconscious way, might provide a link between the themes of marriage, love, and sex, which constitute the main subjects of both his comedy as well as of this letter. From the perspective of the comic plot, M.’s role as a negotiator mirrors Ligurio’s role as a matchmaker in the Mandragola.



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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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