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Mark Jurdjevic, A Great and Wretched City: Promise and Failure in Machiavelli's Florentine Political Thought.

Mark Jurdjevic, A Great and Wretched City: Promise and Failure in Machiavelli's Florentine Political Thought, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 2014; 312 pp.: 9780674725461, $49.95

Mark Jurdjevic studies the Italian Renaissance at York University, Canada. He has conducted research on the Valori family - a prominent Florentine Renaissance family and close supporters of the Medici. His latest volume, A Great and Wretched City: Promise and Failure in Machiavelli's Florentine Political Thought, is the product of a period of study on Machiavelli's political thought at I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, Italy. The volume focuses specifically on Machiavelli and Florence: what was uniquely Florentine about Machiavelli's writing? How did his love-hate relationship with Florence: 'ire, contempt... optimism, confidence' stand out in his writing? In what way did Machiavelli consider Florentine greatness, political culture, and Florentine exceptionalism? In what manner did his writing engage with an activist republican agenda and with a realist Renaissance republicanism in the 1520s?

The book is divided into seven chapters. In the opening pages, the author focuses on the Savonarolan moment: sources and limits of power, prophecy and religion, political renewal and, finally, on the role that culture and language have in political life. When considering Machiavelli's Republican convictions, Jurdjevic moves away from the Roman model and considers, instead, Florentine republicanism in Machiavelli's republican treatise, the Discursus florentinarum rerum post mortem iunioris Laurentii Medices (Discourse on Florentine Affairs After the Death of Lorenzo de' Medici) from 1520. The Discursus is a text published in 1760 but also extant in Latin in a 16thcentury manuscript (see Sullivan VB (2000) The Comedy and Tragedy of Machiavelli: Essays on the Literary Works. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).

In the chapters that follow Jurdjevic engages with previous scholarship (Salvemini, Ottokar, Najemi) on the discussion regarding class and patronage in Florentine politics. The final chapters contrast Machiavelli's Florentine Histories and the Discourse on Florentine Affairs. Machiavelli advises the Medici to build their regime on entirely new institutions. These would be created from a revived form of Florentine republicanism. In past scholarship the author has distanced himself from proponents of the Cambridge school (Skinner, Viroli). Florentine political policy would not be neo-Roman. Machiavelli's early interest in Roman history would be superseded by an interest in Florentine history. Indeed, Rome is never mentioned.

This book focuses mostly on the aforementioned Discursus. It is a crucial text, composed by Machiavelli after the death of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, in 1519. And it is a text considered by scholars such as John Najemy an often cited model. What constitutional reforms could be enacted in Florence? The Discursus is rightly considered as a turning point in Machiavelli's pensiero. And it is in the Discursus that Florence becomes almost autonomous from Rome. However, in Jurdjevic's volume his scholarship leads us to believe that Florence was not at all a negative influence and that the city still had a considerable amount of potential.

DOI: 10.1177/0014585814543252

Reviewed by: Antonio Morena, Stony Brook University, USA
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Author:Morena, Antonio
Publication:Forum Italicum
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2014
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