Niccolò Machiavelli

Place Of Sender



Luigi Guicciardini

Place Of Destination


Relevance to the Project

very high

Type of Record

Standard (Letter text)

Type of Document


Main Subject

The letter indulges in the description of leisure in moments of unoccupied time when M. distracts himself by writing letters or poems.

M. expresses his concern for his correspondent’s younger brother (sc. the health condition of Jacopo, whom Luigi went to assist in Mantua). Moreover, M. comments on his own peculiar way of spending free time daydreaming. Finally, he informs his friend about his off-work activities in Verona.

Letter Writing Between ‘Otiose’ Practice and Professional Activities

This letter provides insight into moments of leisure during M.’s vita activa and especially the practice of otiose letter writing, which is nevertheless inspired by his professional life as secretary. As Najemy notes: “Even in idleness, he [sc. M.] daydreamed about writing letters, and the kind of letters he fantasized were harangues of rebuke and anger aimed at his superiors back in Florence. Being away from the action and from the inside knowledge of things that he was accustomed to having, even for only a few days, obviously made him feel less ‘alive,’ and his first impulse was to preserve in imagination some continuity with that world and thus to go on writing letters in his mind” (Between Friends, 68). This attitude seems similar to the ‘spirit’ that characterizes M.’s letters after he lost his employment as secretary three years later. In addition to Najemy’s observations, one can say that this letter reveals how M. used to ponder about how and what to write to the Florentine authorities, using  fiction techniques (“ghibirizando”). Thus, there seems to be a notable blend of literary genres, especially of a more ‘official,’ ‘diplomatic’ type of correspondence on the one hand combined with a more intimate, playful, and literary art of letter writing in M.’s free time on the other. Nevertheless, the latter, more otiose and poetic form of letter writing is by no means free of professional and strategic purposes. This literary strategy might anticipate a tactical use of letters, which later characterizes his correspondence with Francesco Vettori. During the composition of these apparently ‘private’ letters, M. probably invested a lot of thought and effort in reaching out to political authorities by nevertheless using the excuse of writing to fill the gap left by the loss of his position and his state of inactivity or involuntary otium into which he had fallen after November 1512.


Strategic Functions of Otium and Literary Writing

It is notable that during the years of his chancery office he had written political and ‘militant’ poetry, such as the poem Dell’ambizione dedicated to the same Luigi Guicciardi who is the addressee of this letter.

Finally, it must be highlighted that M.’s political activity and thought almost always involve the question of how to write and how to create powerful effects on his correspondents, be they his friends or the authorities in Florence.

Io sono qui in isola secca come voi, perché qui si sa nulla di nulla; e pure, per parere vivo, vo ghiribizando intemerate che io scrivo a’ Dieci [the council of the Ten, of which M. was secretary] […] E me li raccomanderai [to Giovanni], dicendogli che io mi sto qui con el suo Stefano, e attendo a godere.

Se voi scrivete ad messer Francesco vostro [sc. Luigi’s brother F. Guicciardini], ditegli che mi raccomandi alla combriccola. Sono vostro, vostrissimo; e quanto al comporre, io penso tuttavia ciò.


Source: Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Niccolò Machiavelli

I’m marooned here like you, because here no one knows anything about anything; and yet, in order to seem alive, I go on fantasizing tirades that I write to the Ten (translation in this case by Najemy in his Between Friends, 68). […] Give him my regards and tell him that I am here with his Stefano and having a good time. […] If you write your Messer Francesco, tell him that I send the gang my regards. I am yours, very much yours; as for what I am writing, I am still thinking about it.


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

Roberto Ridolfi, Vita di Niccolò Machiavelli (Florence: Sansoni, 1978), 177-79, 489; Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa, eds., The Portable Machiavelli, newly translated [from the Italian] and edited and with a critical introduction by Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), 58-60; John M. Najemy, “The Controversy Surrounding Machiavelli’s Service to the Republic,” in Machiavelli and Republicanism, ed. Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner, and Maurizio Viroli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 101-17; John M. Najemy, Between Friends: Discourses of Power and Desire in the Machiavelli-Vettori Letters of 1513-1515 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 68-69; Maria Luisa Doglio, “‘Varietà’ e scrittura epistolare: Le lettere del Machiavelli,” in L’arte delle lettere: Idee e pratica della scrittura epistolare tra Quattro e Seicento (Bologna: il Mulino, 2000), 80-81.



M. as Diplomat of the Florentine Republic

M.’s concern to keep the Ten continuously posted, although there was no news as to actual diplomatic developments, must also be understood in light of the fact that the head of state Piero Soderini himself had recommended to him to write to the city authorities frequently. Through a letter by Biagio Buonaccorsi, Soderini had asked M. to write regularly and repeatedly during the latter’s mission in order to silence the accusations made against him by political opponents. Only recently, M. himself had been promoted to official ambassador of the Republic (“Bisogna, se mai usasti diligenzia in avvisare, lo facciate ora, a volere turare la bocca a le pancacce. Feci la ambasciata al Gonfaloniere: respose attendessi a scrivere sollecitamente,” Buonaccorsi to M., 20-11-1509; it does not come as a surprise that this part of the letter was partially encrypted by Buonaccorsi). In fact, on November 9, just a few weeks before, M. had for the first time been officially elected to the position of ‘nuntio’, instead of being sent on the mission in his usual role as unofficial agent (see Guidi, Un Segretario militante, 109-11).

This letter was written during M.’s vita activa as secretary, ante res perditas, i.e. before his dismissal from the Florentine Chancery in November 1512 due to the fall of the popular government led by Pier Soderini and the re-establishment of the Medici rule in Florence in September.

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Cite as: Judith Frömmer, Andrea Guidi

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