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Machiavelli's imagination of excellent men: an appraisal of the lives of Cosimo de' Medici and Castruccio Castracani.

In The Prince Machiavelli recommends that princes read histories and consider the actions of "excellent men" because men learn by imitation. Just as Achilles was the model for Alexander, and Alexander for Julius Caesar, new princes should imitate these men (The Prince, 60).(1) In the Discourses on Livy Machiavelli (1, Preface, 2) grieves that "no sign of that ancient virtue remains with us" because ancient "kings, captains, citizens, and legislators . . . are admired rather than imitated" (translation modified); his subsequent discussions aim to rectify this error and make such imitation possible in his times. This connection between reading history and imitation was commonplace in the Renaissance. When Poggio Bracciolini dedicated his translation of Xenophon's Education of Cyrus to Ferdinand of Aragon, he implied that simply by reading the life of Cyrus, Ferdinand would already be imitating another great prince, Scipio (A. Gilbert 1938, 75).(2) If Machiavelli's recommendation to read the lives of excellent men was commonplace, his reason for it was not, since this recommendation is soon followed by his decision "to go to the effectual truth of the thing rather than to the imagination of it" and to base his analysis of princely conduct on "how one lives" rather than on "how one should live," on "what is true" rather than "what is imagined about a prince" (The Prince, 61, emphasis added). Whatever the controversies over Machiavelli's influence on political thought, most agree that in this regard his teaching was novel (A. Gilbert 1938, 77-83; Strauss 1984, 59, 232-3; Skinner 1981, 37-8). By limiting the education of would-be princes to the actions of excellent men, he frees them from the impractical expectations laid out by inactive men of letters. He makes "utility and imitation" essential elements of reading in order to nullify its "contemplative or indolent dangers" (de Grazia 1989, 286); this criticism of the imagination gives expression to the "contempt" that "men of deeds" often have for "men of words" (Strauss 1984, 233). The Prince leaves no place for "writing as an heroic act"; words are valuable only as "initiators of action" (de Grazia 1989, 374-5).

Machiavelli's contempt for imaginary lives seems surprising when one observes that the lives he recommends for imitation often blur the distinction between history and fiction. Alexander's imitation of Achilles arose from his reading of Homer. Scipio "conformed to what had been written of Cyrus by Xenophon" because Xenophon's Cyrus died peacefully in Persia after having conquered the inhabitable world, whereas the more historical Cyrus of Herodotus was killed by Queen Tamyris (The Prince, 60; Xenophon 1914, 8.6.21, 8.7.1-2; Herodotus, 1987, 1.212-4; Machiavelli's awareness of Herodotus' account is seen in Discourses 2.12.1). The case is no better when chapter six of The Prince urges imitation of "the greatest examples": Cyrus, Theseus, Romulus, and Moses. In the parallel lives of Romulus and Theseus, Plutarch likens his task to that of the geographer trying to draw those lands at the edge of the map about which nothing certain is known; of Moses Machiavelli says his actions can be perceived only by reading the Bible sensatamente ("judiciously") (Discourses 3.30.1; Plutarch n.d., 3). The fictional element in these lives may serve a salutary purpose: Since men usually fail to attain the virtue of their models, a prince "should do as prudent archers do when the place they plan to hit appears too distant . . . they set their aim much higher than the place intended" (The Prince, 22). More imaginative writers have done princes the favor of raising the mark for them. What might have become of Scipio had he imitated the Cyrus of Herodotus rather than Xenophon?

To make sense of the tension in The Prince between contempt for the imagination and the recommendation to imitate quasi-imaginary lives, we should examine Machiavelli's own historical writings to discover what part the imagination plays in teaching the effectual truth to aspiring princes. Insofar as he presents himself not only as a restorer of ancient ways but also as a discoverer of new modes and orders, the imitation of ancient models seems inadequate for achieving his ends (Discourses 1, Preface, 1).(3) For example, Scipio learned how to be liberal and humane from the example of Cyrus, but this humanity caused Scipio to be so much scorned by his soldiers that they mutinied against him (The Prince, 60; Discourses 3.20, 3.21.4). Machiavelli's claim to be a discoverer of new ways leads us to suspect that the lives most deserving imitation may be found in his own writings, if anywhere at all. When the life of Cosimo de' Medici, related in Machiavelli's Florentine Histories (hereafter Histories), is compared with his Life of Castruccio Castracani (hereafter Castruccio), the contrast between them shows that the imagination is not only compatible with the "effectual truth" but also is indispensable for teaching it. The liberality and cleverness of Cosimo, told without fictional interpolations, is worth admiring but not imitating, whereas the life of Castruccio, replete with imaginative episodes drawn from a variety of ancient histories, illustrates much of the distinctive character of Machiavellian virtue. It cannot be said that the Histories meets the historiographical standards of modern historians,(4) but the work does draw extensively on earlier chronicles. For example, in recounting Cosimo's exile and return, Machiavelli drew from Giovanni Cavalcanti's chronicle "the minutest details and expressions," including many of the most memorable phrases in the speeches of Giovanni de' Medici, Niccolo da Uzzano, and Rinaldo degli Albizzi (Villari 1898, 4437). By contrast, into Castruccio's fourteenth-century life Machiavelli inserted episodes and strategies drawn from the pages of Xenophon, Plutarch, and Livy; even those events drawn from Florentine chronicles are given a novel significance through chronological manipulations. As one biographer exclaimed, the piece was "a great scandal for the pedants of posterity" who identified "all the historical errors" in what was "a literary work" (Ridolfi 1963, 181).

While Machiavelli's largely historical Cosimo demonstrates qualities that are worthy of "admiration," only the mostly imaginary Castruccio appears worthy of imitation (Histories 5.1.186). Cosimo is a fortunate and astute prince who rules by appearing honest and faithful while knowing how to be deceitful and faithless. His liberality and modesty reveal that he is guided by a desire to preserve at least the appearance of having religion. He is one of those princes who admires the ancients but does not believe they can be imitated because the religion of his times teaches contempt for worldly things (Discourses 2.2.2, and cf. 2, Preface, 3). Whereas Cosimo is unarmed, modest, merciful, and beloved, Castruccio, who does not even pretend to be religious, is armed, proud, cruel, and fearsome. He bears a striking resemblance to Cesare Borgia, whom The Prince explicitly offers as a rare, modern model for princes to follow (Cochrane 1981, 267; The Prince, 27; Villari 1898, 307).(5) In Castruccio the prudent cruelty of a Borgia or Septimus Severus is combined with the military skills of Scipio and Hannibal, adding for good measure the mythical origins of a Romulus or Moses. The fictionalized life of Castruccio shows how ancient princes may indeed be imitated in modern times, however much that contradicts a Christian education. It is the modern reluctance to adopt ancient ways, as seen in the life of Cosimo, that led Machiavelli to embody the effectual truth in a largely imaginary life. Although his account of the effectual truth contrasts what is true with what is imagined, the effectual truth is not historical fact, as Harvey Mansfield (Histories xiv) has observed, so much as the truth about producing effects. Thus, while it is sometimes thought that Castruccio was written as a preliminary model for the Histories, the two works have little in common: The latter is a historical work whose examples are to be avoided (Histories 5.1.186), and the former is a fictional work whose example is to be imitated. Whereas the Histories, like The Prince, were written for the Medici, who were princes in Rome as well as Florence, Castruccio, like the Discourses, was written for Machiavelli's friends from the Orti Oricellari, men who, in Machiavelli's view, ought to have been princes (Discourses, Dedicatory Letter; Strauss 1984, 22-3).(6) By examining Cosimo first and Castruccio second, we will trace an ascent in Machiavelli's thought.

One must recognize that this ascent does not reach the peak of Machiavelli's thoughts and aspirations. Castruccio shares a critical defect with Cosimo, an inability to found new orders. This failure common to both lives suggests that the Renaissance commonplace, that princes should imitate the lives of excellent men, is by no means adequate as an education for the new princes that Machiavelli has in mind. Cosimo was unable to reform his state because, being unarmed and modest, he lacked the means to rule alone, but even Castruccio, who had the arms and cruelty to effect the deed, lacked the requisite judgment. His reading of the lives of excellent men as a youth taught him to overcome every obstacle in life, but it did not show him how to establish a state that could endure after his death. Engrossed by his own virtue and glory, he did not consider how new institutions could educate princes capable of maintaining his state. A princely education that aims at the imitation of excellent men is not adequate to the work of founding, in which process one's own life is conceived as an education for successive princes. The work of founding requires a kind of reflection that is similar to the imaginative activity through which Machiavelli invented Castruccio. When Machiavelli confines the education of the prince to reading the true lives of men and condemns imaginary lives and republics, he reins in those writers whose ignorance of, or indifference to, the effectual truth has enfeebled princes and their states, but at the same time he dissembles the degree to which his own mind is necessarily occupied with imaginary lives and republics.


Two objections can be raised against reading Machiavelli's life of Cosimo de' Medici as an example worthy of admiration. First, the Histories is not a collection of lives, like those of Plutarch or Petrarch; it is a "universal" history, beginning with the founding of Florence and ending with the death of Lorenzo de' Medici (Histories 2.2.54, 7.5.284). Second, if Machiavelli is an advocate of republican government, then it is hardly imaginable that he could present the corrupter of the Florentine republic as someone to be admired.

Regarding the first objection, it must be noted that the encomium upon the death of Cosimo is reminiscent of Machiavelli's procedure at the close of Castruccio. The Histories gives a physical description of Cosimo, followed by a list of six memorable sayings and, somewhat later, two of Cosimo's regrets about his life; Castruccio relates his greatest regret shortly before dying, after which Machiavelli gives a physical description and a list of thirty-four memorable sayings (Histories 7.6.283, Castruccio 129-82). In the encomium for Cosimo, Machiavelli pauses to observe that he has "imitated those who write the lives of princes, not those who write universal histories" (Histories 7.6.284). In addition, Cosimo's return from exile in 1434 is the event around which the whole of the Histories is constructed. In the Preface Machiavelli explains that he had originally intended to begin in 1434 because Leonardo Bruni and Poggio Bracciolini had already written histories up to that date; nevertheless, he subsequently decided to cover the same material because his predecessors had been "altogether silent" regarding "civil discords and internal enmities" and "brief" in describing "the effects arising from them" (Histories, Preface, 6). In other words, they noted briefly the rule of the Medici but not the discord that caused it.(7) Machiavelli's need to explain the discords and enmities that led to Medici rule dictates the plan of the work as a whole. Book One briefly covers foreign affairs up to 1424, while books Two through Four, focusing on domestic affairs in the same period, relate the discords that led to Medici rule. Books Five through Eight, being freed from the purpose of correcting the errors of Bruni and Poggio, usually relate domestic and foreign affairs simultaneously. Cosimo's return is the central event in Florentine history, and Cosimo's life, spanning four of the eight books (from 4.12 to 7.6), dominates the Histories (Mansfield 1996, 140-1).

As for the second objection, could not our teacher of the "effectual truth" admire Cosimo, even if only as an enemy? According to Felix Gilbert (1977, 148), the Histories recounts a story of increasing corruption in which Cosimo is the principal villain (cf. Skinner 1981, 82-6). Gilbert points to Machiavelli's comments on the work, as reported by Donato Giannotti:

I cannot write this History from when Cosimo took the state until Lorenzo's death as I would write it if I were free from all hesitations. The actions will be true, and I shall not leave anything undone; only I shall not tell in what mode or by what means and tricks [astutie] one arrives at so great a height. And whoever wants to learn this also may note very well what I will make his adversaries say, because that which I will not want to say myself, as from me, I will make his adversaries say (Histories, xiii; cf. F. Gilbert 1977, 142).(8)

Gilbert believes that speeches by Niccolo da Uzzano and Rinaldo degli Albizzi indicate Machiavelli's underlying condemnation of the Medici (Histories 4.27.174-6, 5.8.193-5). It has also been argued that Machiavelli's criticisms of Cosimo in the Histories signal the last and most republican phase in Machiavelli's thought, during which he liberated himself "from the myths of The Prince" on the creative power of the lawgiver (Najemy 1982, 574).

Machiavelli certainly points to important defects in Cosimo's method of ruling, as we will see, but the general claim that Machiavelli blamed Cosimo for his greatness as a prince presumes that pre-Medicean Florence was a sound and virtuous republic whose loss was lamentable. In fact, when narrating Cosimo's rise Machiavelli demonstrates a striking impartiality between Rinaldo's "republic" and Cosimo's principality: In the republic both the people and the nobles deceptively invoked "the name of freedom," the former seeking license and the latter seeking to dominate the former (Histories 4.1.146). Florence was no more free under Rinaldo and the nobles than under Cosimo and the people; 1434 simply marked a swing from one pernicious regime to another. The most prudent of the nobles, Niccolo da Uzzano, said that the nobles could not persuade the people that Cosimo was undermining the republic because the city was already "corrupt," divided by parties, and had no nonpartisan means of resolving the accusations against Cosimo (Histories 4.27.175, cf. Discourses 1.8). Lacking good laws, even pre-Medicean Florence had been covertly governed by the virtue of a single man, first Maso degli Albizzi and then Niccolo da Uzzano (Histories 4.2.146).(9) As Machiavelli points out in the Preface to the Histories (p. 8), men gain honor from the greatness of their actions, regardless of the goodness of their intentions. He surmises that Bruni and Poggio failed to relate the discords surrounding the Medici because they did not want to "offend the memories" of the men they discussed; but they were "deceived . . . about the ambition of men" (p. 7), that is, they did not realize that men are content to win fame even through base deeds. Cosimo's fault in Machiavelli's eyes lay not in corrupting the republic but in failing to use the opportunity to make the republic virtuous; indeed, Machiavelli would have praised far more tyrannical measures if used to establish good orders.

That Cosimo de' Medici was endowed with several of the qualities befitting a Machiavellian prince is seen merely by reading his portrait in the Histories in the light of The Prince. This connection may not have been widely recognized because Cosimo is nowhere mentioned in The Prince, even though it was dedicated to his descendants. The type of prince we find in Cosimo is treated in the ninth chapter of The Prince, where it is argued that a private citizen who becomes a prince with the support of his fellow citizens in a "civil principality" founds himself on the people rather than on the great. Cosimo, of course, led the "plebeian" party against the ruling oligarchy (Histories 3.18.131, 4.26.173). Such a prince acquires rule neither by fortune nor by virtue but by fortunate astuteness (astuzia fortunata); that is, he rules with cunning, just as Cosimo came to power through "tricks" (astutie) in the words of Giannotti (cited above). Cosimo's tricks as discussed in The Prince are illustrated in the Histories.

Cosimo was "very prudent" (Histories 7.5.282), and for Machiavelli "prudent" is synonymous with astute or clever.(10) The opposite of astuteness is honesty, or keeping faith. Princes who do "great things" do not always keep faith but know "how to get around men's brains with their astuteness" (The Prince, 69). The prudent prince should appear honest but know when to be dishonest, and it was largely by means of astute lies that Cosimo came to power. In the Discourses, Machiavelli suggests that Cosimo would not have been made prince if he had not first been exiled by Rinaldo's party, so that Cosimo's ascent seems to depend not on his cleverness but on the good fortune of Rinaldo's error (Discourses 1.33.3). Thus, as observed in The Prince, when fortune wants to make a new prince great, she makes enemies rise against him, so that the prince, in overcoming them, "climb[s] higher on the ladder that his enemies have brought for him" (The Prince, 85). Yet, Machiavelli adds, "a wise prince . . . should astutely nourish some enmity so that when he has crushed it, his greatness emerges the more from it" (p. 85, emphasis added). As the Histories shows us, it was not just good fortune but astute lies, that caused Cosimo's exile. When Rinaldo degli Albizzi first incited Florence's attack on Lucca, the Medici supported the war (Histories 4.18.163-4), but once the war was under way they reversed their position. They slandered Rinaldo, claiming that he gathered booty for his own estates, and they likewise slandered Giovanni Guicciardini, claiming that he took a bribe from the Luccans (Histories 4.22.169, 4.25.171-2, 4.26.173). By means of these unsubstantiated accusations the Medici used the failure of the Florentine war effort to undermine the ruling oligarchy and gain the favor of the people. Thus, such slanders led to the "ruin of the republic" and the rule of Cosimo (Discourses 1.8.3).

In the chapter of The Prince on breaking faith with astuteness, Machiavelli adds that princes must know how to act "against religion," even while "nothing is more necessary to appear to have" (The Prince, 70; emphasis added). The Histories shows that Cosimo knew how to break faith astutely and to act against religion while still maintaining the appearance of religion. When Rinaldo had taken up arms in order to prevent Cosimo's return from exile, he was persuaded to accept a truce by Pope Eugene, who was then in Florence; the pope's truce was used by Cosimo's partisans to secure the strongholds of the city so that they safely could banish Rinaldo and his accomplices (Histories 4.32-3). Cosimo's partisans seized the state by pledging their "faith" to the pope, solely with a view to advantageously breaking that faith. Furthermore, we cannot assume that such faithlessness met with disapproval from the man who fatuously said that "states were not held with paternosters in hand" (Histories 7.6.283). Nevertheless, Cosimo certainly appeared to have religion: Machiavelli lists his munificent gifts to the churches of San Marco, San Lorenzo, and Santa Croce, among others (Histories 7.5.281), and he had been presented as sincerely penitent in the biography of Vespasiano da Bisticci (1963, 218-21). Did Machiavelli regard these acts as signifying more than the appearance of religion? On the one hand, Machiavelli's Cosimo "complained . . . that he had never been able to spend as much in honor of God as he found in His books that he was a debtor" (Histories 7.6.283); on the other hand, Machiavelli lists Cosimo's pious gifts alongside the kingly palaces he built for himself, as if the religious gifts augmented his own glory as much as God's.

Cosimo's most well-known quality was his liberality. As Niccolo da Uzzano wryly remarked, "all these citizens . . . are prepared to sell this republic, and so much is fortune their friend that they have found a buyer" (Histories 4.27.176). Liberality, of course, is a quality maligned by Machiavelli on the grounds that a prince who gains the love of his subjects by being liberal with his possessions will eventually incur their hatred when, having exhausted his possessions, he is compelled to tax them instead. Fortunately for Cosimo, the harmful consequences of his liberality appeared only after he had died: his son Piero, wishing to put the Medici finances in order, sought to collect on the loans made by Cosimo, but by doing so he incurred hatred for his stinginess and provoked an anti-Medici conspiracy (Histories 7.10-1). The Medici fortunes sank so low that both Piero and Lorenzo became debtors to Florence (Histories 7.13.291, 8.36.361). Cosimo, however, ruled with liberality for a full thirty years, either because his fortune was extremely large, or perhaps because he occasionally divined Machiavelli's recommendation to be liberal with the possessions of one's enemies. As was customary, after Cosimo's opponents had been exiled, their property was divided among the victors; in defense of this injustice Cosimo remarked coldly that "a city despoiled is better than one lost" (Histories 5.4.189-90, 7.6.283, translation modified). In addition, when compelled to raise taxes, he avoided incurring the hatred of the people by increasing the taxes on the wealthy (Histories 7.2.278).

Thus, the "very prudent" Cosimo seems to have mastered much of the effectual truth of politics: Appearing faithful and honest, he knew how to be faithless and dishonest. In several respects, however, Cosimo chose the traditional virtues over those qualities which Machiavelli recommends. He was liberal rather than parsimonious, merciful rather than cruel, and beloved rather than feared. Cosimo's cleverness is manifest even in his use of the traditional virtues, for they, too, enabled him to seize the state. The plan to exile Cosimo was opposed by Niccolo da Uzzano because the conspirators "would have us allege as the causes for driving him out that he is merciful, helpful, liberal and loved by everyone . . . And although these are all modes that send men flying to a princedom, nonetheless they are not believed to be so, nor are we adequate to the task of making them be so understood" (Histories 4.27.175, emphasis added). As Machiavelli says, "the vulgar are taken in by the appearance . . . of a thing," a fact that Cosimo used well to his benefit.

Machiavelli's admiration for Cosimo's prudence ultimately serves to underscore the limitations inherent in his method of ruling. Machiavelli says that "Cosimo was the most reputed and renowned citizen, as an unarmed man, of whom not only Florence but any other city had ever memory" (Histories 7.5.281, emphasis added). Which is to say that the life of Cosimo delineates the greatest renown achievable by an unarmed prince. This extraordinary statement ought not to be understood simply as flattery, since the qualification "unarmed" carries with it two sharp criticisms. First, an unarmed prince cannot expand the territory of his republic. The Prince states, as if in defense of the unarmed Cosimo, that men "capable of ruling by themselves" can "by abundance of either men or money, put together an adequate army and fight a battle against whoever comes to attack them" (The Prince, 43, emphasis added). Cosimo knows nothing of the art of war. Having acquired the state at the end of Book Four of the Histories, he almost disappears from books Five and Six, which narrate the wars of Venice and Florence against Naples and Milan. He appears once in an unsuccessful embassy to Venice (Histories 5.14.202); he plays no part in the Florentine victory at Anghiari. Nevertheless, at the final moment before Milan is taken by Francesco Sforza, we discover that Francesco and Cosimo maintained a "constant friendship" and that the condottiere had been "faithfully counseled and handsomely assisted in every enterprise" (Histories 6.23.255).

Although lacking the art of war, Cosimo had enough money and prudence to maintain not only his state but also the greatest warrior of the age; indeed, Machiavelli adds that Cosimo's "prosperity and prudence" guaranteed that "whoever allied with him and with his fatherland would come out either equal or superior to the enemy, and whoever opposed him would lose his time and money or state" (Histories 7.5.282). Yet, even Cosimo regarded his policy as a failure. He supported Sforza against Florentine public opinion because Sforza had promised to seize Lucca on behalf of Florence, but the condottiere chose not keep faith with Cosimo (Histories 6.23.255-6, 7.6.284). The unarmed prince's fruitless dependence on a mercenary captain epitomizes the age, in which even victory impoverishes the state (Histories 1.39.50, 6.1.230-1). Although Florence did make minor acquisitions under Cosimo's watch, such as San Sepulcro and the Casentino, they were made by Cosimo's Florentine rivals, Neri Capponi and Baldaccio; moreover, Baldaccio's reward for his military service was to be murdered by Cosimo's partisans, who feared his reputation with the soldiers (Histories 5.33-4, 6.6.237). Thus, Cosimo was distressed that he could not add to the Florentine empire an "honorable acquisition," and we must note that Machiavelli said "whoever allied with [Cosimo] . . . would come out either equal or superior to the enemy," not that Cosimo himself would do so (Histories 7.5.282, 7.6.284).

In Machiavelli's view, Cosimo's being unarmed had more serious consequences for domestic affairs because it compelled him to perpetuate the corruption of a republic in need of reform. According to the Discourses, a prudent man who wants to help the common good and reorder a republic must, like Romulus or Moses, have sole authority, and to secure it he may undertake "any extraordinary action" without reproof (Discourses 1.9.1-2). To rule alone in a corrupt city, one must eliminate the envious just as Romulus killed his brother and Moses "infinite" men (Discourses 1.9.1, 3.30.1). An unarmed prince, being unable to have sole authority, cannot reform a corrupt city. Although Machiavelli says that Cosimo "alone in Florence was prince," he had to rule indirectly through a facade of partisan magistrates (Histories 7.5.281; cf. The Prince, 42). This fact is exaggerated in Machiavelli's history: Even though Cosimo served three two-month terms as gonfalonier of justice (the highest office), the Histories do not record him in any office except ambassador.(11) Cosimo avoided the envy of his citizen-subjects by striving not to appear to be a prince, so that "in his whole mode of living . . . he was like any modest citizen" (Histories 7.5.281; cf. Vespasiano 1963, 214). Consistent with his religion (or the appearance of it) he was modest rather than proud. He consequently lacked the virtue needed for establishing "the good laws and good orders" of a city that "has no necessity . . . for the virtue of a single man to maintain it" (Histories 4.1.146). In other words, he could not give his city the orders that would free it from always needing a prince like himself to govern it. As a result, on the eve of his death, when Cosimo lacked the strength to attend to politics, his own partisans began to plunder the city (Histories 7.4.279-80). Although The Prince is dedicated to Cosimo's descendants, it seems designed to demonstrate that his mode of ruling was much inferior to that of the virtuous and armed prince who knows how to be not only clever, faithless, and dishonest but also parsimonious and cruel. Cosimo can be imitated only by those who will be content with the glory of ruling a permanently corrupt state.

The advantages and disadvantages of Cosimo's method of ruling are consequences of his religion, real or apparent. We have seen how Christian qualities such as liberality, mercy, and modesty complemented Cosimo's deceitful slanders and prudent faithlessness. As the Discourses notes, citizens of the early Roman Republic who used these means met with rather different results: Spurius Maelius privately provided grain to the plebs, and Manlius Capitolinus secretly slandered the nobility; both were executed by dictators (Discourses 1.8.1, 3.28). Mansfield (1996, 142, 168-9) has argued that Cosimo's private modes of gaining power succeeded in Florence because Christianity had taught a disdain of honor, thus widening the division between the nobles and the people. As a result, no means existed by which great ambition could be made to serve the public good, and great ambition had to be gratified by private means (see Histories 7.1.276-7). The victory of modest Cosimo's "plebeian" party over the "popular" nobles represented the defeat of the princely part of the city by a Christian disdain for princely honor (Mansfield 1996, 158-60, 173-5). Mansfield (pp. 142-5, 156) argues that Cosimo's return from exile was so dependent on papal authority that, in Machiavelli's view, Cosimo and Florence became the "unconscious tools of the pope," and Florence under the Medici popes became a "colony" of Rome (cf. Histories 4.31.182, 8.36.361). In pursuing this interpretation Mansfield chooses not to account for the frequent enmity between the Medici and the papacy. In 1434 the pope negotiated on behalf of the enemies of the Medici, and the Pazzi conspiracy was, according to the Histories, strongly supported by the pope (Histories 8.4.320; Mansfield 1996, 149). This interpretation explains the deep connection between Cosimo's defects as a ruler and his city's religion, but it neglects Cosimo's partial mastery of Machiavelli's effectual truth, and it thereby obscures the lesson of Machiavelli's life of Cosimo: Even a man of very great prudence cannot, as an unarmed prince, make his city capable of greatness. The Cosimo of the Histories is no "tool" of the pope, but it is true that his religion, or even the appearance thereof, while enabling him to become prince as an unarmed man, prevents him from obtaining the authority necessary for reforming his city.


To explain why Machiavelli chose to compose the life of Castruccio Castracani, a Luccan tyrant, it hardly suffices to point out that Machiavelli, in Lucca on business, found himself with too much time on his hands (Ridolfi 1963, 181). The historical Castruccio probably interested Machiavelli because, as the Histories show, his menacing of Florence revealed its inherent weakness. If the clever and modest Cosimo is the most renowned citizen of Florentine memory, then Castruccio, the tyrannical captain, is the paradigmatic anti-Florentine. Machiavelli's celebration of Castruccio's virtue as a prince reveals an incisive, unpatriotic analysis of his own native city. Castruccio's defeat of a Florentine condottiere at Altopascio compelled the Florentines to secure their defense by granting lordship over their city to Charles, Duke of Calabria (Histories 2.29-30). Charles, being at first unavailable, sent in his place Walter of Brienne, Duke of Athens, who seventeen years later under similar circumstances tyrannized Florence.(12) Castruccio's virtue, as portrayed in the Histories, reveals how the unarmed Florentines could "maintain" their freedom only by giving it away. Florence was freed from the threat of Castruccio as well as the oppression of Charles only by a stroke of absurdly good fortune when both men died unexpectedly (Histories 2.30.85).

If Cosimo epitomizes the fortunate and astute civic prince, then Castruccio does the same for the virtuous and armed new prince. One episode in Castruccio's career, even without Machiavelli's embellishments, suggested Castruccio as a precursor to Cesare Borgia. According to The Description of the Method Used by Duke Valentino in Killing Vitellozzo Vitelli, etc., when Cesare's allies conspired against him to prevent him from taking Bologna, he negotiated a treaty granting them important concessions and invited them to meet him at Sinigaglia, where he had them seized and killed. Two centuries earlier, Castruccio faced a conspiracy by the Pogginghi family, allies who felt they had not been sufficiently rewarded for helping the prince come to power; they killed Castruccio's deputy and called the people to arms, whereupon Stefano Poggio, who had not been involved in the conspiracy, offered to serve as a mediator and persuaded the people to put down their arms. Castruccio subsequently comforted Stefano and asked him to bring his family to see him, "saying that he thanked God that he had the occasion to demonstrate his clemency and liberality"; when the Pogginghi came "under the faith of Stefano and Castruccio," Castruccio had them killed, including Stefano (Castruccio 65-70). When Castruccio was told that he had done wrong to kill an old friend, "he replied that they were deceived, because he had killed a new enemy" (Castruccio 174). This wry remark, typical of Machiavelli's sense of humor, is actually drawn from a similar passage in the Vita Castruccii Antelminelli Castracani, written by a Luccan humanist, Niccolo Tegrimi, and many details in the story are confirmed in the Nuova Cronica of the Florentine historian Giovanni Villani (Tegrimi 1732, 1321A; Villani 1991, 11.26).(13) The historical Castruccio, like Cesare, eliminated envy in the mode employed by Moses and Romulus but unavailable to Cosimo de' Medici.

The historical Castruccio, however, seems not to have met Machiavelli's needs, since the prince's achievements are embellished by cutting episodes from ancient histories and inserting them into this fourteenth-century life. Castruccio's birth and his conspiratorial and military tactics are largely drawn from the pages of Plutarch, Livy, and Xenophon, rather than from Tegrimi's Vita and Villani's Cronica. It is useful to review these interpolations briefly in order to appreciate fully the imaginative character of Machiavelli's writing. Through these allusions to ancient texts Castruccio's life is designed to illustrate several of the political and military principles found in The Prince, the Discourses, and The Art of War; thus, Machiavelli seems to have hoped that his fictionalized modern life could be imitated by those modern princes who hesitated to emulate the ancients.

The dedication of Castruccio ponders how most men "who have worked very great things in this world . . . have had a beginning and a birth low and obscure, or truly troubled by Fortune beyond all measure; because all of them either have been exposed to beasts or have had so vile a father that, being ashamed of him, they are made to be the son of Jove or some other God" (Castruccio 1). Although these men are not named, the "greatest examples" given in The Prince (p. 22) come to mind: Moses, left by the Nile's edge, or Romulus, fathered by Mars and raised by a she-wolf. Machiavelli tells a similar story: An abandoned infant is discovered by Dianora Castracani in the garden of her brother Antonio, the canon of St. Michael; they decide to raise the child together and name him Castruccio, after their father (Castruccio 9-13). Antonio hopes to make the boy a priest so that he can inherit the canonry, but Castruccio, true to the recommendation of The Prince, "enjoyed no readings except those about wars or those which reasoned about the things done by very great men," so that, having "a very great virtue of body and spirit," he took up arms and chose to live with Francesco Guinigi, a condottiere (Castruccio 14-16, 27-8). When Guinigi died, he made Castruccio the governor of his estate and of his son, Paolo (Castruccio 27-8). Castruccio kept faith with Francesco: When dying, he tells Paolo that he never took a wife lest the love of his own children make him unjust to Paolo and ungrateful to Francesco (Castruccio 135). These events are, as has been long known, entirely the fruit of Machiavelli's imagination. Castruccio was in fact the legitimate son of Geri Castracani of the Antelminelli family; he not only married but also fathered nine children, and he left his son Henry the dukedom of Lucca (Villani 1991, 11.87; see Tegrimi 1732, 1315C, 1326A-B, 1330C-1331B).(14) Machiavelli fabricates the story of the abandoned infant in order to unite in Castruccio the cruelty of Cesare Borgia with the mythical origins of Romulus and Moses. He fabricates the two adoptions, by the canon and the condottiere, to put before us the choice between the unarmed life of the clergy and the virtuous life of arms: Castruccio's choice of arms over the priesthood takes on an additional significance, given that the obscurity of his paternity likens him not only to Romulus but also to Jesus.

A fabrication clearly designed to confirm precepts from The Prince is Castruccio's capture of Pistoia. In that work Machiavelli argues that a city cannot be held by nourishing divisions within it: "Our ancients, and those who were esteemed wise, used to say that it was necessary to hold Pistoia with parties and Pisa with fortresses . . . [but] I do not believe that divisions ever do any good . . . [since] when the enemy approaches, of necessity divided cities are immediately lost" (The Prince, 84, emphasis added; cf. Discourses 3.27.2). When taking Pistoia, Machiavelli's Castruccio illustrates the soundness of this teaching, despite the fact that the historical Castruccio took the city by allying with the White Guelfs against the Black Guelfs (Castruccio 119-20; Villani 1991, 9.294). As Whitfield (1969, 125) first noted, the capture of Pistoia related by Machiavelli is borrowed from Xenophon (1914, 7.4.251-5). Adusius, one of Cyrus's lieutenants, is approached by two rival factions of Carians and makes secret arrangements with each party to conspire against the other. The double conspiracy is carried out at night, and in the morning Adusius summons both parties and simultaneously reveals to them their reciprocal deceptions; through these revelations he persuades the divided Carians to live together in peace (Xenophon 1914, 7.3-6). In Machiavelli's reworking of the story, Castruccio meets with rival Guelf factions from Pistoia, and makes secret arrangements with each to give him control of the city, but the story departs from Xenophon at this important juncture. Castruccio is admitted to the city by one faction, Paolo Guinigi is admitted by the other, and the two of them render the city free of factions by simultaneously killing their Pistolese coconspirators (Castruccio 75-8). In this respect, Castruccio imitates not Cyrus's lieutenant but the Roman consuls who "reconciled" the Ardeans by killing the "heads of the tumults" (Discourses 3.27.1; Livy 1988, 4.10.281).(15) Both Adusius and Castruccio hold their cities by eliminating divisions, but Adusius reconciles the factions by mercifully sparing each party from the malicious wishes of the other, while Castruccio cruelly gratifies the malicious wishes of each party by eliminating the other.

Castruccio's use of force as well as fraud is made possible by his indifference toward Christianity, an attitude already implied in his rejection of a clerical career. It should be remembered that the historical Castruccio was excommunicated for "persecuting the Church" when he fought with the excommunicate Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria against the alliance of Florence, Naples, and Pope John XXII (Villani 1991, 11.3, 11.79). Machiavelli's Castruccio not only knows how to act against religion but also seems to violate the teaching of The Prince in that he does not even appear to have it. The Luccan Tegrimi not only recounts Castruccio's last rites but also adds a pious deathbed speech, while Villani, a patriotic Florentine, states that Castruccio had confessed but nevertheless died in sin for not recognizing the injustice of having opposed the church; Machiavelli omits any account of Castruccio's last rites, noting only that he was buried "very honorably" in San Francesco in Lucca (Castruccio 141-2; Tegrimi 1732, 1342D-3D; Villani 1991, 11.87). After narrating Castruccio's death, Machiavelli gives a description of his character, whereupon we are told that he "used to say that men ought to attempt everything, nor should they fear anything, and that God is a lover of strong men, because it is seen that the powerless are always punished by the powerful" (Castruccio 147). Claiming that God loves powerful men because they are His tools for chastising the weak, Castruccio turns the beatitudes on their heads and reinterprets Christianity "according to virtue" (Discourses 2.2.2). This comment opens the way to a list of thirty-four witty remarks; all but three of which are taken from Diogenes Laertes's (1925) lives of Aristippus the Cyrenaic, Diogenes the Cynic, and Bion, although many are modified for Machiavelli's own purposes. The sayings, taken as a whole, defend the pleasures of food and sex (Castruccio, 159, 160, 163) and make fun of marriage (sec. 172, 173); they elevate the political life in the place of the contemplative life (sec. 155, 162, 172) and ridicule conceptions of the afterlife (sec. 151, 165, 175).(16) By attributing to Castruccio an ancient skepticism of moderation, family, and religion, Machiavelli exalts the worldly and irreligious life of the tyrant.

Completed contemporaneously with The Art of War, Castruccio also illustrates Machiavelli's views on military strategy (Villari 1898, 305). This thesis has been disputed by Whitfield (1969), who argues that Castruccio's battles present no coherent military principles; indeed, although he uncovered the ancient sources of many of Machiavelli's fictional episodes, Whitfield maintains that there is no "mythographic significance" or "theoretic tendency" underlying Machiavelli's historical errors and inventions, as Castruccio was merely "a summer month's diversion" (Whitfield 1969, 11922, 127-8). In fact, each fanciful invention brings to life some Machiavellian military principle. Castruccio presents three battles; the first two, Montecatini and Serravalle, correspond in some respects to battles found in the Histories and Villani's chronicles, while the third, Fucecchio, is entirely imaginary. Through its fabrications, Castruccio teaches that it is possible to employ ancient strategies in modern times.

At Montecatini, Castruccio and Uguccione della Fagiuola fought with the Ghibellines of Lucca and Pisa against the Guelfs of Florence and Pistoia. Whereas the Histories have the Ghibellines commanded by Uguccione and do not even mention Castruccio, in Castruccio Uguccione falls ill and Castruccio takes command (Histories 2.25.79; Castruccio 39).(17) After assuming this imaginary command, Castruccio adopts the plan of battle used by Scipio at Ilipa: He lets the Florentines prepare for battle, without sending his men into the field, so that he can discern the Florentine strategy (Castruccio 40-1; Livy 1987, 28.14). Because the Florentines put their stronger forces into the center and their weaker ones on the wings, Castruccio does the opposite, he orders the center to hold back so that his wings can route the enemy before the center enters combat (Castruccio 42-5; Livy 1987, 28.14-5). Castruccio thus brings to life a strategy discussed in The Art of War. At first Fabrizio Colonna says that Scipio's strategy could not be useful in modern times because enemy artillery could fire at the center while it holds back, but he adds that Scipio's strategy could still be used if it were modified so that the center would at first engage the enemy forces and then fall back gradually (The Art of War, 650-1; Whitfield 1969, 121). Thus, despite the advent of artillery Fabrizio argues that it is advisable "to use ancient methods," and although Castruccio lived before the use of artillery, his life is presented as if it were "historical" evidence that ancient captains can be imitated (The Art of War, 639).

Machiavelli moves Castruccio's second victory from Altopascio, which lies in the plain, to Serravalle, which sits in a narrow pass.(18) Castruccio initiates battle in the pass so that the Florentines will be unable take advantage of their superior numbers; he thereby leads them to break the Machiavellian rule against risking all of one's fortune on part of one's forces (Castruccio 88; cf. Discourses 1.23). In addition, when the Luccan infantry attacks the Florentine cavalry, the cavalry is overcome because its mobility is impaired by the "malignity of the site" (Castruccio 95-7). Machiavelli concludes by asserting that the Florentines were "conquered more by the place than by their enemies," but, as The Art of War explains, the choice of the site is the responsibility of the captain, and no captain should enter battle unless he is compelled by necessity or has an advantage such as a favorable site (The Art of War, 648-50, 657).

In the aftermath of Serravalle the Florentines seek the protection of Charles of Calabria, and Castruccio culminates in a fictional showdown between Castruccio and Charles at Fucecchio, where the former imitates both Scipio and Hannibal. Castruccio, again outnumbered, takes up a position across the Arno from Charles and the Florentines, so that they are compelled either to proceed to Pisa, leaving Castruccio behind them, or to give battle while crossing the river. Castruccio thus imitates tactics used by Hannibal in Spain, when he chose a site far enough from the Tagus to entice the enemy to ford it but close enough to attack them before they could bring all their forces to bear (Castruccio 108-9 and Trovato's notes, 123-4; Livy 1987, 21.5; cf. The Art of War, 657). Despite the advantage of the site, the battle is even, and Castruccio ensures victory only by using Scipio's method of reinforcement at the battle of Zama. Normally the Roman infantry were divided into three ranks, the hastati, the principes, and the triarii, so that the hastati, when in need of relief, retired into the principes, and so forth (Discourses 2.16); to match the Carthaginian forces, however, Scipio crowded the principes and the triarii together into a single second rank. As Machiavelli notes in The Art of War, because the hastati could not retire into this crowded second line, Scipio had them divide and go the wings in order to bring up the second line (The Art of War, 652; Livy 1987, 30.34). Since the Luccans did not employ the Roman organization of three ranks, Castruccio, in order to relieve the exhausted troops, used Scipio's improvised method, splitting his front line and sending them out to the wings (Castruccio 119-20). Each of these military details, by itself, is perhaps of little significance, but taken together they show the degree to which Machiavelli imaginatively alters history in order to recommend imitation of ancient commanders.

The most significant military falsification in Castruccio consists in the battle that is omitted, the siege of Pistoia. According to Villani's chronicles, Castruccio had to return from Rome to besiege the city, which had rebelled in his absence. Although, as Machiavelli says in the Histories, Castruccio was victorious through "virtue and obstinacy," the siege caused "so much hardship" that he soon died (Histories 2.30; Villani 1991, 10.86). According to the Discourses, sieges such as this were avoided by the ancients. The Romans preferred to use repeated field campaigns to compel fortified cities to surrender, and other ancient princes, such as Aratus of Sicyon, had "a hidden virtue" by which they took cities through "fraudulent and nocturnal expeditions" (Discourses 2.32.1; Plutarch n.d., 1226-7). It is then no wonder that Machiavelli's fictionalized Castruccio never attempts a siege: Pistoia, Lucca, and the town of Serravalle are all seized in fraudulent and nocturnal expeditions, while Pistoia is seized a second time in the Roman method (Castruccio 31-6, 74-8, 91-2, 98, 100). "Never did he try to win by force what he could win by fraud, because he said that the victory, and not the mode of victory, brought you glory," wrote Machiavelli, manifestly attributing his own thoughts to the Luccan tyrant (Castruccio 146; cf. The Prince, 71). In Villani's chronicles, the siege of Pistoia is Castruccio's finest moment even if its difficulty causes him to surpass his own strength; in Machiavelli's Castruccio, the siege is omitted, lest anyone be foolish enough to imitate it.

Despite his chimerical achievements, Machiavelli's Castruccio is not invested with every quality needed in a new prince, as the prince himself makes clear in his last words to Paolo Guinigi. Weakened by the long battle at Fucecchio and indifferent to the pestilent breeze rising off the Arno, Castruccio contracts a mortal fever. At the moment of complete victory over not only Florence but also the Guelf forces of all Italy, Castruccio is blocked by fortune (Castruccio 127-9). Amazingly, he blames fortune not for his untimely death but for his lack of judgment. If he had known that his life would be cut short, he would have aimed at leaving a smaller state with fewer enemies, "but Fortune, which wants to be the arbiter in all human things, did not give me judgment enough that I could have recognized it before, nor time enough that I could have overcome it" (Castruccio 130-2). As Whitfield (1969, 117-8) has pointed out, those who have attempted to read Castruccio as an idealization of the new prince have not known how to interpret his final repudiation of his own ambitions. If he had it to do over again, he claims he would have been "content with the rule of Lucca and Pisa," without aspiring to rule Florence and Pistoia. This remark is not merely a vain regret; it is the key to unraveling Machiavelli's inaccurate ordering of the events in Castruccio's life, and it points to Castruccio's principal defect, his neglect of Lucca's "orders" or institutions.

Table 1 shows the order of events in Castruccio's life, first as represented in Villani's Cronica and Machiavelli's Histories (which follow the Cronica), then as represented in Castruccio. I have included only those events from Villani that correspond to an event in Castruccio or that illustrate in some way its innovations; thus, many minor events are not included.(19) In the table I summarize the events in a manner that emphasizes the similarities and only the most salient differences. Note that I have numbered the events in the first list and repeated the same numbers in the second list in order to illustrate Machiavelli's changes in chronology; the numbers and years of misplaced events in the second list are given in boldface.

The comparison in the table supports Whitfield's claim that many of the events in Castuccio, although embellished, correspond in some fashion to events related by Villani, but Whitfield's (1969, 123, 128) claim that the "narrative of Castruccio's fortunes" does not "seriously" violate the outlines of the chroniclers is disproved merely by scanning the dates of the second list. Machiavelli has recorded the events with a free hand, so that even unembellished events take on a new significance when fictitiously juxtaposed with other events. Note the two most obvious changes in chronology. First, Villani has Castruccio seize Pisa in the last year of his life, whereas Machiavelli has Pisa granted to him at the beginning of his career, even before he has secured his position in Lucca (see Table 1, 14 and 18). Second, in Villani's chronicle, Castruccio meets the emperor once, in Tuscany, and accompanies him to Rome, while in Castruccio the imperial encounters are divided into two episodes. Castruccio first meets "Frederick of Bavaria" somewhere in Italy, whereupon he is made an imperial vicar and granted control of Pisa; later, he travels to Rome to defend Henry, the imperial vicar, from Robert of Naples, whereupon Castruccio is made a senator of Rome (Table 1, 13-17). With the actions of the emperors Machiavelli takes his greatest liberties. Villani states that both titles, vicar and senator, were given to Castruccio in Rome by Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria in 1327 (Table 1, 16), while Tegrimi ([1496] 1732, 1320D) relates that Castruccio, through the mediation of his ambassadors, had already obtained from Frederick of Austria the title of imperial vicar of Lucca in 1320. Machiavelli seems to have combined Tegrimi's account with parts of Villani's. The first imperial episode in Castruccio elides the two claimants to the throne, Frederick of Austria and Ludwig of Bavaria and has this "Frederick of Bavaria" visiting Italy seven years early, in 1320. In the second imperial episode, Machiavelli removes the emperor from the scene altogether and puts in his place Henry, a fictional imperial vicar; in this way the Luccan tyrant, rather than the German emperor, is portrayed as the leader of the Ghibellines in Italy.(20) The omission of Ludwig's notorious coronation in Rome (against the will of the pope) and the outright invention of Henry make it difficult to believe that Machiavelli's innovations were inadvertent.

Why alter the events in this manner? The two imperial episodes play important roles in advancing the narrative: In the first Castruccio is granted lordship over Pisa, while in the second he is led outside Tuscany, accidentally allowing Pistoia to revolt in his absence. Why are these two events, connected in the Villani account, separated by Machiavelli? The answer lies in Castruccio's last words, that he should have been content with Lucca and Pisa, rather than aspire to empire over Pistoia and Florence: Machiavelli must have Castruccio secure Pisa before taking Pistoia. The deathbed speech would make no sense if it were appended to the events related by Villani, because the historical Castruccio managed to take Pisa only long after taking Pistoia and indeed, long after attempting to take Prato and even Florence! Thus, the attempt against Prato (Table 1, 6), which is related at length in the Histories, is omitted from Castruccio; likewise omitted is Castruccio's failed conspiracy against Pisa (7), since, according to Castruccio, the city had already been granted by the emperor. In addition, the failed conspiracy to take Florence (8) is moved from before Castruccio's first attempt against Pistoia until after he had taken Pistoia twice.

In sum, the historical Castruccio of Villani's Cronica and the Histories began to struggle against Florence from the very beginning of his career, whereas Machiavelli's fictional Castruccio began to move against Florence and its neighbor, Pistoia (Castruccio 74-100), only after securing Lucca and its neighbor, Pisa (Castruccio 65-74). Machiavelli thus reshapes Castruccio's career into two distinct phases. By placing the acquisition of Pisa and the two imperial episodes earlier in time, Machiavelli has the battle of Serravalle (corresponding to Altopascio) fall at the end of the story and set the stage for the climactic, imaginary battle of Fucecchio. According to Villani, Castruccio never met Charles in a major battle because the duke's arrival in Tuscany caused the Ghibellines to summon Ludwig from Germany, and Ludwig's subsequent campaign diverted both Castruccio and Charles from Tuscan affairs (Table 1, 10, 11, and 13). By contrast, in Machiavelli's account, Charles raises "a very large army" with "nearly all the Guelfs of Italy," so that Castruccio, unafraid, sees that "this was the time that fortune had to put the rule of Tuscany into his hands" (Castruccio 105-7).
TABLE 1. Order of Events in Castruccio's Life

As Related in Villani's Cronica, with references to Machiavelli's

Apprenticeship under Uguccione della Faggiuola

1. Uguccione captures Lucca with the Interminelli
   (NC X 60)                                                  1313

2. Battle of Montecatini won by Uguccione
   (NC X 71-2, FH II 25)                                      1315

3. Castruccio is imprisoned by Uguccione, but
   Uguccione is then expelled from Lucca and Pisa,
   and Castruccio becomes prince of Lucca
   (NC X 78, FH II 26)                                        1316

4. Truce with Florence (NC 82, 106)                          1317-20

5. Castruccio builds a fortress inside Lucca (NC 154)         1322

Castruccio Threatens Florence and Takes Pistoia

6. Castruccio attempts to take Prato by force
   (NC 214, FH II 26)                                         1323

7. Attempt to take Pisa by conspiracy fails (NC X 230)        1323

8. Attempt to take Florence by conspiracy fails
   (NC X 292)                                                 1325

9. Attempt to take Pistoia by conspiracy succeeds
   (NC X 294, FH II 29)                                       1325

10. Victory at Altopascio; Castruccio occupies Peretola,
    2 miles outside Florence (NC X 304-6, 327; FH II 29)      1325

11. Florence surrenders itself to Charles, Duke of
    Calabria (NC X 320, 323; FH II 30)                       1325-26

12. In Lucca, Castruccio thwarts the conspiracy of the
    Quartegiani and Charles of Calabria (NC XI 26)            1327

The Imperial Episode

13. Castruccio meets Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria in
    Tuscany (NC XI 34)                                        1327

14. Pisan towns are granted to Castruccio by the emperor,
    but not Pisa itself (NC XI 38, 47; FH II 30)              1327

15. Castruccio travels to Rome to assist the emperor;
    Charles leaves Florence to protect the Kingdom
    of Naples from Ludwig (NC XI 49, 50, 55)                  1327

16. Castruccio is made an imperial vicar and a senator
    of Rome (NC XI 56)                                        1327

17. Pistols is retaken by Florence in Castruccio's
    absence (NC XI 59, FH II 30)                              1327

Castruccio Acquires Pisa and Recaptures Pistoia

18. Pisa is taken by Castruccio (NC XI 60, 83; FH II 30)     1327-28

19. Siege of Pistoia (NC XI 85-6, FH II 30)                   1328

20. Pistoia is retaken by Castruccio (NC XI 86, FH II 30)     1328

21. Death of Castruccio after the battle
    (NC CI 87, FH II 30)                                      1328

As Related in Machiavelli's Castruccio

Apprenticeship under Uguccione della Faggiuola

1. Uguccione captures Lucca with Castruccio Castracani
   degli Antelminelli (31-36)                                 1313

2. Battle of Montecatini won by Castruccio (39-47)            1315

3. Castruccio is imprisoned by Uguccione, but Uguccione
   is then expelled from Lucca and Pisa, and Castruccio
   becomes prince of Lucca (52-5)                             1316

First imperial Episode and Acquisition of Pisa

13. Castruccio meets Emperor Frederick of Bavaria in
    Italy (59)                                                1327

16a. Castruccio is made an imperial vicar (60)                1327

14 & 18. Pisa is granted to Castruccio by the
         emperor (60)                                         1327

Lucca Secured

12. In Lucca, Castruccio thwarts the conspiracy
    of the Pogginghi (65-70)                                  1327

4. Truce with Florence (71)                                  1317-20

5. Castruccio builds a fortress inside Lucca (72)             1322

Castruccio Takes Pistola

9. Attempt to take Pistoia by conspiracy succeeds (74-78)     1325

Second Imperial Episode

15. Castruccio travels to Rome to assist the imperial
    vicar Henry (79-82; Charles has not yet been
    called to Florence)                                       1327

16b. Castruccio made a senator of Rome . . . (83)             1327

17. Pistoia is retaken by Florence in Castruccio's
    absence (84-86)                                           1327

Castruccio Threatens Florence, Recaptures Pistoia

10. Victory at Serravalle; Castruccio occupies Peretola,
    2 miles outside Florence (87-100)                         1325

20. Pistoia is retaken by Castruccio (100)                    1328

8. Attempt to take Florence by conspiracy fails (100)         1325

11. Florence surrenders itself to Charles, Duke of
    Calabria (101)                                           1325-26

19. Victory over Charles at Fucecchio (106-26)                1328

21. Death of Castruccio after the battle (141)                1328

Note: In the top section, "NC" = Nuova Cronica and "FH" = Florentine
Histories. In the bottom section, boldfaced numbers and years
indicate Machiavelli's alterations in the order of the events;
italics indicate changes in the details of the events themselves.

Castruccio's victory over Charles shows that his ambition to conquer Florence should not be interpreted as a military error; Castruccio erred in letting his military ambitions divert him from affairs in Lucca. As his final speech intimates, the error lies after the acquisition of Pisa but before the seizure of Pistoia, in other words, in the period of the Pogginghi/Quartegioani conspiracy. In Villani's account, the Quartegiani conspire with Charles of Calabria against Castruccio only after his victory at Altopascio, and the failed conspiracy has no real bearing on subsequent events; in Machiavelli's account, the Pogginghi conspire against Castruccio without outside help before his power reaches beyond Lucca and Pisa (Table 1, 12), and the threat leads Castruccio to take several measures to establish himself more securely. First, he makes a truce with Florence in order to concentrate on domestic affairs. Second, he exiles or kills anyone who might try to unseat him. Third, he builds himself a fortress (Table 1, 12, 4, and 5; Castruccio 71-2). Thus secured in his rule of Lucca, Castruccio thereafter focuses entirely on Pistoia and Florence; the construction of the fortress is the last action taken in his native city. It is also a rare violation of the teaching of The Prince, which states that a prince should build fortresses only when he fears his own people more than foreigners; a fortress is unnecessary so long as one avoids the hatred of the people (Discourses 2.24; The Prince, 86-7; Whitfield 1969, 131). A prince who has, like Castruccio, eliminated the nobles and armed the people, needs merely to benefit the people in order to keep them faithful (Castruccio 62; The Prince, 83).

Castruccio himself does not suffer the harmful consequences of this attitude toward the Luccans, but he knows his successor will: On his deathbed he says that his conquests will vanish with his virtue.(21) Rather than seek the glory of an ephemeral conquest, he should have, like Romulus, founded enduring institutions. It is true that Castruccio had divided the city into five sections, assigned them ensigns, and armed the people, as Machiavelli and Tegrimi both relate; yet, Castruccio does this solely with a view to raising an army for the conquest of Florence, and without considering why he might want to make his people not only armed but also free (Castruccio 62; Discourses 2.2.1; Tegrimi 1732, 1325C-D). Not coincidentally, the arming of the people leads immediately to the conspiracy, the calling of the people to arms, and the subsequent elimination of the nobles. Thus passed Castruccio's chance to found an armed republic.

The details of Castruccio's life are highly malleable in Machiavelli's hands, but he could not disguise the fact that post-Castruccio Lucca was little different from pre-Castruccio Lucca. Machiavelli made Castruccio into a great captain but could not make him a founder (Whitfield 1969, 134). At the close of Castruccio Machiavelli compares him to Scipio Africanus and Philip of Macedonia on the ostensible grounds that all three died at the age of forty-four, although, in fact, none of them died at that age; the lie serves merely as a pretext to compare them. As Michael Evans (1991, 48-9) points out, had Castruccio, like Scipio, lived within a virtuous republic, his conquests might have endured, but because he lived in a corrupt city of little account, he should have imitated Philip by making "everything new" (Castruccio 185; Discourses 1.26).(22) Evans attributes Castruccio's failure as a founder to an inability to be wholly evil, but the events of Castruccio suggest that the Luccan tyrant did not lack the unchristian cruelty necessary to make the rich poor and the poor rich, to destroy cities and build new ones; he lacked only the "judgment" to attempt such things.

This failure of Castruccio is also made evident by the prominent place given to fortune in Castruccio, from his mysterious birth to his untimely death. According to The Prince, one escapes the power of fortune by having virtue and one's own arms; Castruccio, having both, was "a prince in every fortune" (Castruccio 184) but still not a prince over fortune herself. Fortune gave him an obscure birth to show us that it is she who makes men great (Castruccio, 3); fortune caused Pisa and Lucca to rise up against Uguccione when Castruccio was in prison (sec. 184, cf. 55); fortune made Charles of Calabria raise an army so great that its defeat would surrender all Tuscany to Castruccio (sec. 107); fortune interrupted Castruccio's designs by taking his life (sec. 127); fortune caused him to be born in Lucca, rather than Macedonia or Rome, where his virtue would have had more enduring effects (sec. 185). Worst of all, as Castruccio says on his deathbed, "Fortune, that wants to be the arbiter in all human things, did not give me judgment enough that I could have recognized . . . before" the need to be content with Lucca and Pisa (sec. 130-2). No matter how great a prince's virtue, a state whose maintenance requires that virtue can last no longer than is allowed by fortune. To beat down fortune it is not enough to be a man of arms, savvy in battle, cruel to one's enemies, and faithless to one's friends; one must found the orders that endure after one's virtue has been reclaimed by fortune, because only such orders can supply the line of similarly virtuous men who will maintain one's state. If a prince were truly endowed with the virtue of ancients such as Moses and Romulus, then he would establish the orders and the education that could make his virtuous way of life the norm, rather than an exception, in a world otherwise ruled by the deceits of unarmed men.


As Machiavelli tells us in the Discourses (1, Preface, 2, 2.2.2), modern princes are reluctant to imitate the ancients because it is disallowed by an education and religion which believes that times have irrevocably changed. One way to circumvent this obstacle would be to place an ancient captain in modern times, that is, to incorporate ancient strategies and methods of ruling into the fictionalized life of a modern captain, and to illustrate his success in present circumstances. Since the greatest factual life written by Machiavelli shows us Cosimo as a clever and modest unarmed prince who lacks the means to rule openly, it appears that teaching the effectual truth to princes required writing an imaginary life. Yet, not even emulating the imaginary Castruccio would suffice for achieving the greatest glory. Although Machiavelli recommends imitating the "greatest examples," he never wrote such a life. There can be no certainty in speculations based on the books that Machiavelli did not write, yet, given the poetic license taken in Castruccio, what could have prevented him from reimagining the life of a great founder? Just as Petrarch and Leonardo Bruni rewrote the lives of Scipio and Cicero (Cochrane 1981, 405), why could Machiavelli not have rewritten the life of Romulus or Moses? Perhaps he never drafted the life of a founder because no man could become a founder by imitating such a life. The founder turns one man's modernity into the next man's antiquity; whoever imitates a founder founds nothing but merely perpetuates the ways of his model. It is not difficult to discern the reservations Machiavelli held about the Renaissance commonplace that princes should imitate the lives of excellent men.

In the works examined here the action that comes nearest to founding is Machiavelli's imagining of the life of Castruccio, his literary representation of ancient political and military practices in a contemporary setting. It is true that the superiority of the armed Castruccio over the astute Cosimo expresses the contempt of men of deeds for men of letters. While Castruccio's education, as if observing the recommendation of The Prince, is limited to the lives of captains and the deeds of war, Cosimo is a "lover and exalter of literary men," most notably of Marsilio Ficino, "the second father of Platonic philosophy" (Histories 7.6.283). When leisure is enjoyed by unarmed literary men like Cosimo and Ficino, it gives rise to disorder and ruin; order and leisure are recovered only by men of arms like Castruccio (Histories 5.1.185).

Yet, Castruccio's life also demonstrates that the virtue needed for founding new orders is not learned merely by reading and imitating the actions of excellent men. Just as the defects of the unarmed Cosimo lead one to seek Castruccio's virtues, the defective judgment of the well-armed Castruccio leads one to seek the missing, requisite virtue. Only on his deathbed did Castruccio regret that the Luccans lacked the virtue to maintain his state; had he addressed this difficulty earlier, he would have had to find a way to make the Luccans more like himself: proud, fearsome, irreligious, and immune to the bribery and blandishments through which the unarmed Cosimo enfeebled the Florentines. He would have had to do for himself what Machiavelli did for him - envision his unusual life as one to be imitated by his fellow citizens. Yet, to envision one's life in this way is less characteristic of the man of deeds than of the man of letters. Let us recall the opposing characteristics that are combined in Machiavelli's vision. Castruccio, when reconciling the Pistoians, combined the deceitful ways of Xenophon's Cyrus with the cruel ways of Livy's Romans. From Plutarch's lives he combined Philopoemen's attraction to the actions of military men with the "nocturnal and fraudulent expeditions" of Aratus, who entirely lacked Philopoemen's warlike temper.(23) A prince who combines parts of Philopoemen and Aratus, of Xenophon's Cyrus and Livy's Romans, may be pictured only in the same way that we picture a centaur (cf. The Prince, 69). The would-be prince who could make himself into such a founder certainly could not afford to lack Castruccio's virtue and practical experience, but neither could he lack Machiavelli's astute imagination.

The author is grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and to Joseph A. Macfarland for his remarks on an earlier draft.

1 Citations to works by Machiavelli give a short version of the title and page number, or, where appropriate, the book, chapter, and page or paragraph number. Translations of La vita di Castruccio are my own; citations give the section number.

2 The practical value of history is a theme ubiquitous in Renaissance literature. See Eric Cochrane's discussion of Leonardo Bruni (Cochrane 1981, 4) or Enea Silvio Piccolomini (Cochrane 1981, 45).

3 On the tension between "imitation and innovation" in Machiavelli see Sullivan (1996, 123-39); on Machiavelli's implicit criticisms of Livy's Romans, see Strauss (1984, 94-7, 122-5), and Sullivan (1996, 61-117).

4 Franco Gaeta, in his introduction to Istorie Florentine, remarks: "Most times it sufficed [for Machiavelli] to follow . . . only one of the sources, without any work of comparison with the others" (Istorie Fiorentine, 56). For an abbreviated list of Machiavelli's errors, all discovered soon after the publication of the Histories, see Cochrane (1981, 269).

5 It is no doubt because of this similarity that Castruccio and A Description of the Method Used by Duke Valentino in Killing Vitellozzo Vitelli, etc. were included in the same volume with the first edition of The Prince, posthumously published in 1532 (Castruccio, Trovato's Introduction, 41). The same three works were also published together in the first English edition in 1640 (Tommasini 1883, 443).

6 Castruccio was composed while Machiavelli was waiting for a commission to write the Histories, and a letter from Zanobi Buondelmonti to Machiavelli refers to Castruccio as a "model for a history," for which reasons it is often thought that Machiavelli wrote Castruccio in preparation for the Histories (Ridolfi 1963, 180-2; Buondelmonti's letter of September 6, 1520, may be found in Castruccio, Trovato's Introduction, 16-7). However, We cannot know whether Machiavelli himself described Castruccio as a "model" for the Histories since the letter to which Buondelmonti is responding is not extant.

7 In fact, neither Bruni nor Poggio end their histories in 1434, nor do they deal with Cosimo's return in a significant manner. According to Cochrane, Bruni's Historiarum Florentini Populi Libri XII ends in 1402, while his Rerum Suo Tempore Gestarum Commentarius extends to 1444 but "omits the recall of Cosimo . . . and the subsequent persecution of his political opponents" (Cochrane 1981, 20). Poggio's Historiae Florentini Populi extends to 1455 but avoids mention of the return of Cosimo in 1434; in fact, Poggio mentions Cosimo only once, as ambassador to Venice, and, imitating Bruni, he attributes "all political decisions to the 'Florentines' collectively, even after the rise of Cosimo" (Cochrane 1981, 29, cf. 7).

8 Machiavelli's method is discreetly noted in the Histories as well, in the Dedicatory Letter (p. 4) to Giulio de' Medici: "How far I am from flattery may be known from all parts of my history, and especially in speeches and in private reasonings, direct as well as indirect."

9 According to Machiavelli's Discourse on Remodeling the Government of Florence, the rule of the nobles and Cosimo's rule suffered from similar defects. In the oligarchic regime, "men in private station took part in deliberations on public business," thus taking away "power and prestige from the magistrates"; similarly, in Cosimo's state, "weakness resulted from its having to decide through a large number [i.e., publicly] what Cosimo planned [i.e., privately] to carry out" (Discourses, 102-3, emphasis added). In both cases the city was covertly ruled by private men: A republican administration secretly exploited by private men was replaced by a secret principality encumbered by a republican administration (Najemy 1982, 563-4). 10 Cosimo "surpassed every other man of his times" in "prudence" (Histories 7.5.281). Mansfield (1996, 39) affirms the equation of astuteness and prudence by pointing out that Machiavelli, after having explicitly opposed astuteness and keeping faith, adds that "a prudent lord . . . cannot observe faith, nor should he, when such observance turns against him" (The Prince, 69). The distinction between prudence and cleverness, made by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics (1934, 1144a6-b33), was erased by Machiavelli. Note that "astute" and "clever" both translate astuto.

11 Cosimo served as gonfalonier in 1435, 1439, and 1445; he also frequently served on the board of directors of the national debt (Schevill 1961, 356-8). Machiavelli emphasizes the secretive character of Cosimo's temporizing rule (Histories 7.2.278).

12 Ridolfi (1963, 197) claims that Machiavelli found in Walter "his myth of a new prince," not recognizing that Walter, through taxes, rapes, and murders, alienated both the nobles and the people, contrary to the recommendation of chapter 9 of The Prince (Histories 2.33-37, especially 2.36). Thus, the Discourses (3.6.20) notes how Walter's errors hastened his ruin.

13 Tegrimi's work was published in 1496, Villani's was completed by 1348. For Castruccio's wry remark, see Tegrimi (1732, 1326E); the sources of the story are identified by Whitfield (1969, 127-8). Both Tegrimi and Villani report that the conspirators were the Quartegiani, not the Pogginghi. Mark Phillips (1979, 88-92, 94-5) has shown how Machiavelli's style as a historian was novel because he combined materials from humanist historians such as Bruni (or, in this case, Tegrimi) with materials from vernacular chroniclers such as Villani.

14 Like Villani's Cronica, Machiavelli's Histories does not speak of the fictional Francesco and Paolo Guinigi, and while it fails to mention Castruccio's children, it does mention a more distant relation, Francesco Castracani (Histories 2.31.85-6).

15 Machiavelli's preference for Livy's story over Xenophon's suggests that Xenophon made his Cyrus too merciful; Xenophon's flawed model would thus bear some responsibility for Scipio's excessive mercifulness, noted above.

16 On the origins and the influence of the sayings, see Strauss (1984, 224) and Luiso (1934). To recognize the elevation of the political life in the place of the philosophical life, one must compare Machiavelli's versions to the originals. For example, when Aristippus was asked how Socrates died, he said he wished to die the same way (Diogenes Laertes 1925, 2.75); when Castruccio is asked the same question, he substitutes Caesar for Socrates (Castruccio 162). Castruccio also repeats Diogenes' repudiation of marriage but is silent about similar repudiations of politics and life at court (Diogenes Laertes 1925, 4.29; Castruccio 172). For the sake of comparing my citations with other editions, note that Castruccio's first saying is section 149, the second is section 150, and so on.

17 The account in the Histories is supported by Villani (1991, 9.70), whereas Tegrimi had already surreptitiously given command to his compatriot (Castruccio, Trovato's notes, 114; Whitfield 1969, 128).

18 The prisoners taken by Castruccio at Serravalle (Castruccio 99, and Trovato's notes, 121) correspond to those taken at Altopascio, as described by both Tegrimi ([1496] 1732, 1340E) and Villani (1991, 10.304-6). The fictional Serravalle, like the factual Altopascio, compelled the Florentines to seek the protection of Charles of Calabria (Castruccio 101; Histories 2.30.83; Villani 1991, 10.320); both battles are followed by a triple palio from Peretola to the walls of Florence (Castruccio 100, Villani 1991, 10.317).

19 For example, I omit the changes of regime in Pisa in the eleven years between the expulsion of Uguccione and the acquisition of Pisa by Castruccio. I also omit minor campaigns in Lunigiana and Valdarno, regarding which Castruccio summarizes Villani (Castruccio 56-7; Histories 2.26; Villani 1991, 10.106, 10.111; also compare Castruccio 63-4 and 71 with Villani 1991, 10.209, 10.233). I have also made no effort to compare the sequence of events in Machiavelli's Castruccio with Tegrimi's Vita Castruccii because its organization is thematic rather than chronological. Although it begins with Castruccio's apprenticeship under Uguccione and the battle of Montecatini, the narrative thereafter is disrupted by digressions and concludes not with Castruccio's death but with the triumph celebrated after Altopascio.

20 Part of the confusion may arise from the fact that the real Castruccio obtained multiple titles of "imperial vicar," first from Frederick, over the Lunigiana in 1315 and Lucca in 1320, and later from Ludwig, over Lucca and Pistoia in 1324 and Pisa in 1328 (Mommsen 1959, 23-9).

21 "You are left the city of Lucca, which will never be content to live under your rule" (Castruccio 137). The armed and virtuous Francesco Sforza also built a fortress that did him no harm but brought "disorder" and war to his less worthy descendants (The Prince, 87).

22 The fiction of Castruccio's death at the age of forty-four suggests that it would be profitable to compare Castruccio to Lorenzo de' Medici. Whereas Scipio died at fifty-two, Philip at forty-six, and Castruccio at forty-seven, Lorenzo died at forty-four (Castruccio 184-5, and Trovato's notes, 132; Villani 1991, 10.85; Tegrimi [1496] 1732, 1342; Strauss 1984, 223). In Machiavelli's portrait, Lorenzo resembled Cosimo in that both ruled through a fortunate astuteness and favored men of letters (Histories 8.36.361).

23 For Philopoemen's education, see Plutarch (n.d., 437), and The Prince, 59-60. For the contrast between Philopoemen and Aratus, see Plutarch 439-40, 1226-27, 1234, and Discourses 2.32.1. On combining the modes of different men, see The Prince, 82.


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Joseph C. Macfarland is a tutor at St. John's College, Annapolis, MD 21404-2800 (
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