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Niccolò MachiavelliMay 3, 1469 - June 22, 1527
Part 8 of 11: History of Florence
In the same year, 1520, Machiavelli, at the instance of the cardinal Giulio de' Medici, received commission from the officers of the Studio pubblico to write a history of Florence. They agreed to pay him an annual allowance of 100 florins while engaged upon the work. The next six years were partly employed in its composition, and he left a portion of it finished, with a dedication to Clement VII., when he died in 1527. In the Historie fiorentine Machiavelli quitted the field of political speculation for that of history. But, having already written the Discorsi and the Principe, he carried with him to this new task of historiography the habit of mind proper to political philosophy. In his hands the history of Florence became a text on which at fitting seasons to deliver lessons in the science he initiated. This gives the work its special character. It is not so much a chronicle of Florentine affairs, from the commencement of modern history to the death of Lorenzo de' Medici in 1492, as a critique of that chronicle from the point of view adopted by Machiavelli in his former writing5,. Having condensed his doctrines in the Principe and the Discorsi, he applies their abstract principles to the example of the Florentine republic. But the History of Florence is not a mere political pamphlet. It is the first example in Italian literature of a national biography, the first attempt in any literature to trace the vicissitudes of a people's life in their logical sequence, deducing each successive phase from passions or necessities inherent in preceding circumstances, reasoning upon them from general principles, and inferring corollaries for the conduct of the future. In point of form the Florentine History is modelled upon Livy. It contains speeches in the antique manner, which may be taken partly as embodying the author's commentary upon situations of importance, partly as expressing what he thought dramatically appropriate to prominent personages. The style of the whole book is nervous, vivid, free from artifice and rhetoric, obeying the writer's thought with absolute plasticity. Machiavelli had formed for himself a prose style, equalled by no one but by Guicciardini in his minor works, which was far removed from the emptiness of the latinizing humanists and the trivialities of the Italian purists. Words in his hands have the substance, the self-evidence of things. It is an athlete's style, all bone and sinew, nude, without superfluous flesh or ornament.
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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