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Skirting the Issue: Machiavelli's Caterina Sforza [*].

This essay examines the creation of a notorious anecdote about a Machiavellian mother -- Caterina Sforza. The adjective "Machiavellian "functions on two levels: first, Sforza often simply appears in her role as mother in Machiavelli works; second, her behavior in this particular instance might well be characterized as "practising duplicity in statecraft." [1] Yet if one considers the pertinent historical documents and Machiavelli's very first, although virtually forgotten, version of the events, it becomes apparent that Machiavelli "de-Machiavellizes" Caterina Sforza. The historical record offers a narrative in which Sforza provides a localized, targeted political response to undermine her children's would-be assassins. Machiavelli, however, rewrites the episode by altering Sforza's quip to her enemies and adding the audacious gesture of lifting her skirts; as a result, he creates a version in which she no longer responds to the political predicament in which she finds herself This essay juxtaposes Machiavell i's long-ignored first version of the tale with his other two more well-known prose versions and contextualizes all three in relation to contemporary sources.


Caterina Sforza, an illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was raised within the agnatic household, as often occurred among the aristocracy and well-to-do. Her stepmother, Bona of Savoy, saw to it that she received the rudiments of a humanist education, albeit one suited to females. [2] In 1477, the Sforza alliance strategy had Caterina, at the age of fourteen, marry Girolamo Riario, a nephew of the presiding Pope, Sixtus IV> Sforza joined her husband in Rome where they remained until the Pope's death in 1484 when Riario was reinvested as vicar of the Church for the Romagnole towns of Imola and Forli by the newly-elected Innocent VIII. Sforza and Riario then moved to their territories in the Romagna, where Caterina Sforza would eventually earn the title with which Machiavelli transmitted her to posterity the Madonna di Furli. [3]

On 14 April 1488, tired of his abrasive, tyrannical behavior and his overtaxing, [4] a group of conspirators murdered Girolamo Riario in his palace, just after lunch. The group was made up of the Orsi brothers, Cecco and Lodovico, Lodovico Pansecco, and Giacomo Ronchi. [5] Before being taken hostage herself, Sforza thought well to request help from her uncle in Milan and to advise Tommaso Feo, her castellan, not to hand over the castle under any circumstances. The conspirators then took Caterina Sforza, her mother, Lucrezia Landriani, her two half-sisters Stella and Bianca Landriani, an illegitimate son of Girolamo's, and her six children captive.

In the meantime the two governing bodies of Forli, the Council of Forty (Consiglio dei quaranta soggetti) and the Council of Elders (Consiglio degli anziani) -- the former culled its members from the most influential families of Forli and handled mostly internal affairs whereas the latter was a smaller group of twelve magistrates -- met for an emergency session. Although the council members did not expressly rebuke the conspirators, they decided to hand the city over to the papal governor and protonotary of Cesena, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Savelli. Savelli immediately sent an auditor to Forli and set up an emergency committee, the Council of Eight (Consiglio degli Otto), to govern the city.

While waiting for the arrival of papal troops, the conspirators tried to complete their coup by gaining control of the city's main fortress, the Rocca di Ravaldino, still firmly in the hands of the Riario loyalist, Tommaso Feo. Yet Feo steadfastly obeyed Sforza's wishes, as twice the conspirators dragged her before the walls of the fortress and had her order its surrender and both times he refused to turn it over. Finally, a compromise seemed to surface. Feo sent a messenger, Lodovico Ercolani, to the papal governor Savelli offering surrender on the condition that he be allowed an interview with Sforza in order to get his pay and a certificate of loyalty proving that he was merely following his employer's wishes by handing over the fortress. The interview was to take place within the Rocca. [6] Savelli and the Council debated long and hard over whether they should trust Sforza or not. The prevailing argument was that with her mother, half sisters, and - primarily -- her children retained as hostages, they cou ld reasonably allow her to enter the fortress. They then gave her three hours to organize the surrender. [7] Madonna Caterina entered the Rocca di Ravaldino and did not leave it until she had regained control of the city.

Anyone familiar with the story of Carerina Sforza realizes that I have glossed over the most memorable, controversial part of the legend -- her conduct once inside the fortress while her children were held captive by the conspirators. Machiavelli recounts the incident in its entirety in both the Dis-courses and in the Florentine Histories, and makes passing reference to it in the Prince. As my analysis of the historical and historiographical tradition will show, the Discourses represents not only the foundational text of the legend surrounding Carerina Sforza, but also the original source of her skirt-lifting: [8]

In Forli conspirators killed Count Girolamo their ruler and captured his wife and small children. These conspirators knew they were not secure if they were not masters of the fortress, but the castellan was unwilling to surrender it. Then Madonna Caterina (for so the Countess was called) promised that if the conspirators would let her enter the fortress, she would have it surrendered to them; they might keep her children as hostages. With that promise, they let her enter. As soon as she was inside, she reproached them from the wall with the death of her husband, threatening them with every kind of revenge. And to show that she did not care about her children, she uncovered to them her genital members, saying that she still had means for producing more children. [9]

Numerous historiographers, men of letters, as well as authors of the de mulieribus claris genre later recount the tale. They virtually always include at least one of the two elements present in the Discourses version: Sforza lifts her skirts and is reported to say that she still has the means to make more children. None of these authors ever directly cites Machiavelli. Yet if one looks closely at all extant accounts, including the letters from local representatives to their employers and contemporary historical chronicles, most of which are written in the local vernacular, two vastly different versions appear -- on one hand, historiography, works of obvious literary intent, and lives of illustrious women follow the tradition set by Machiavelli; on the other, a regional, vernacular historical practice offers a conflicting version of the events, which I shall explore later.

The first grouping of texts -- where literary, linguistic requirements predominate -- leads from Machiavelli to an early biographer of Sforza, Fabio Oliva. [10] Oliva was from Forli and held the position of First Chancellor there in the mid-sixteenth century. His biography of Sforza, seventy-four manuscript pages, is present in numerous collections in central and northern Italy and recounts the incident thus:

To see if her maternal piety could do more than the fear Caterina showed for her own life, the other morning Savello had Ottaviano and Cesare brought before the fortress, so that once having called their mother, she would be threatened with having to believe the horrid spectacle of the death of her children. But since Caterina was not looking, the castellan told the conspirators that if they didn't get them out of his sight, he would order fire.

Some here say that her children were even shown to Caterina and threatened with death if she didn't turn over the fortress and she replied in a virile manner that she hadn't lost the mold to make others; and others say that she lifted her skirts to show them that she had the mold to make others. [11]

The story turns on the presumed maternal sentiment that is to keep Sforza from doing anything that might put her children at risk. Whereas Machiavelli predicates Sforza's gesture on her intention to "show that she did not care about her children," Oliva's description represents an inversion of the same emotion -- an inversion because she is not reported to be lacking maternal sentiment, or even flaunting her lack of it as in Machiavelli's account, but is presumed to possess it. Granted, the subtext implies that Savelli was wrong, that her materna pieta was not greater than her fear for her own life, and that, as a result, his plan failed. Yet Oliva's version is a far cry from Machiavelli's brazen, even malicious description of her lack of maternal sentiment.

Oliva, moreover, does not settle on a single version of the events, but offers three separate possibilities. The first, his preferred, is that Sforza never saw her children, as the castellan sent them away for fear she would yield; the second and third, from which Oliva distances himself by virtue of the expressions "alcuni qui dicono" (some here say) and "et altri dicono" (and others say) include the quip that she had not lost the mold to make others and the gesture of lifting her skirts. Oliva's account presents in nuce the version proposed by Machiavelli.

Lodovico Guicciardini included the anecdote in his L'ore di ricreazione, a collection of facetiac published in 1565, catalogued under the heading "Consiglio femminino esser talora di gran valore" (Feminine Judgement May Sometimes Be of Great Value). Guicciardini's title invites the reader to consider the tale of one astute woman to make a point about the potential perspicacity of all women, albeit only on occasion ("talora"): "But the spirited countess did not change expression, brazenly raised her skirts in front, and with a proud look said to them, 'Oh, can't you see, foolish men, that I have the mold to make others?'" [12]

The Florentine historian Francesco Serdonati, in his Vite di cinque donne illustri italiane (1596), appended to his translation of Boccaccio's Dc mulieri bus claris, recounts: 'And when they [the conspirators] said that they would kill her children, she, in order to dash their hopes that tenderness for her children would induce her to do something unworthy of her, said that she thanked God that her mold to make others was not broken." [13]

More than merely re-proposing the Machiavellian "means" to have more children -- here le forme, elsewhere il modo, la stampa -- Serdonati calls attention to an element of differentiation among women in circulation at that time -- Sforza's status. When Serdonati writes that her tenderness for her children could lead her to do something unworthy of her, he is referring to behavior unbefitting an illustrious woman, a noble woman; he thus aligns her with his genre. Several years previously, in 1582, Torquato Tasso had published Della virtu feminile e donnesca, in which he draws a similar distinction between women at the service of the family and those at the service of the state. Tasso would appear to allow a different set of rules for the female ruler than the "feminine virtues" usually reserved for private women -- that is, silence and chastity, although, in certain expressions, his rhetorical strategy seems to point in a different direction. [14]

Traiano Boccalini's narration of the Sforza incident also highlights a similar class distinction. In his Ragguagli di Parnaso e pietra di paragone politico. Centuria I (1612), Boccalini also emphasizes the difference between "private" and "public" women:

Caterina Sforza, Lady of Imola and Forli, said to His Majesty [Apollo] that, after her husband had been cruelly killed by some conspirators who were vassals of his, she had had to hold onto the city's fortress, lest she, with the loss of the whole State, fall under the sway of her enemies. She added furthermore that she had succeeded in convincing them that if they agreed to let her enter to order her soldiers to surrender, she would turn over the fortress. As a pledge of her sincerity, she left her small children in the conspirators' hands. As soon as she entered the fortress, she threatened the conspirators from the fortress's walls for the crime they had committed and told them that she would give them just punishment. Whence the conspirators, realizing they had been tricked, openly warned her that they would cut her children into pieces before her very eyes if she didn't turn the fortress over into their hands. And she replied that not only was she not the least bit frightened by their horrible threats, b ut indeed added, raising her skirts and showing them her shameful parts, that they could do with her children as they wished because she still had the form to make more of them. For such resolution, which was highly commended and celebrated by all historians, she asked to be consigned that place that His Majesty judged would be appropriate in Parnassus. The judges' response to this request were extremely varied, because what so noble a lady had recounted seemed to some an act of effrontery and utter indecency. But Apollo, judging that always maintaining oneself within the terms of modesty was the obligation of private women, said that princesses born of noble blood, in the face of serious incidents, were obliged to display virility. The vote that Cino da Pistoia gave in this trial must not have passed without notice. He said that the place from which emerged the famous champion Giovanni de' Medici, father of the great Cosimo who, having been the most fortunate founder of the most florid Tuscan monarchy, from which Italy now receives splendor and singular ornament, for all the centuries to come, was highly worthy of being seen by all and merited glorious, immortal fame. [15]

I have belabored quoting from these documents to draw attention to the progressive re-confirmation of the original version proposed by Machiavelli in which by either raising her skirts or claiming to have the means to make more children or both, Caterina Sforza has been consigned to the humanist historiographical tradition. [16] In it we have a histrionic, virile ("virilmente rispose," "d'anima virile," "obbligate a mostrar virilita"), bold, spirited ("animosa"), proud noblewoman who is apparently prepared to make use of any sort of expedient in order to conserve her state. While such a characterization is patently true, and concurs with numerous other narratives of her past, her actions as recounted by Machiavelli and other humanist historiographers make good theater, but little political sense. [17] The historical record tells another tale.


The historical documents that report the episode include letters from the Florentine and the Mantovan ambassadors to their employers as well as a letter from Sforza's brother, Gian Galeazzo Sforza. In addition, a series of local chronicles -- from Forli, Ferrara, Rome, and Siena -- all document the episode within the same parameters as the letters. Finally, Leone Cobelli's near eyewitness account may provide the missing element to bridge the gap between the canonical version and the historical one.

One of Lorenzo de' Medici's correspondents, Giovanni Corbizzi, writing from Castrocaro, a small town just ten miles southwest of Forli across the border in Florentine territory, first makes mention of the episode in a letter dated 17 April 1488, the day following her entrance into the fortress:

Madonna does not want to come out. The people can easily say, "we will kill your children." She replies that there's no way, that they poisoned them anyway, and that she is carrying one in her body and she is capable of having more. By no means does she want to hear a thing about coming out and bombards the whole surrounding area without stopping. [18]

Two days later the Mantuan ambassador in Urbino, Silvestro Calandra, writes to Francesco Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, explaining the current situation in Forli as garnered from various messengers who were arriving hourly:

The people menacingly demanded of Madonna Caterina to have the castle turned over into their hands. Her Highness replied that if they, while maintaining hold of her children, would have her accompanied into the fortress by four or six of their men, they would see the work she would do with the castellan. After having done so, she stayed in the fortress and told the men who had accompanied her to leave without her, and that they could do with her children whatever they wished, that for her the one in Milan, who's the oldest, and the one she has in her body are enough. Then the castellan told those men to make the people understand that if in the future the aforesaid children were mistreated, or if they were killed or harmed in any other way, that they would level the town with bombards. [19]

Both letters concur that Sforza claims to be pregnant. They differ in that Corbizzi's also has her saying that she is "atta" (able, capable) of having more children whereas Calandra's messengers report she also asserted that her eldest child was safe in Milan. All involved, of course, knew that Ottaviano, her eldest, was firmly in the hands of Savelli.

Another epistolary testimony to Sforza's supposed pregnancy comes from a letter her half-brother Gian Galeazzo Sforza, titular Duke of Milan (although not in command), wrote to the King of Hungary on 5 May 1488 in which he states that "gravida enim est" (she is indeed pregnant). [20]

Numerous contemporary chroniclers all reconfirm the same version, that Sforza claims to be pregnant. They diverge, however, just like the letters, on her also saying that she has another child safely tucked away in some other city. [21] The Tuscan Tribaldo de' Rossi recalls the story in circulation that Sforza "said you decide whether to kill these children you're holding. I am carrying one in my body and there's one in Milan." [22] Antonio de Vascho, writing in Rome, records the Countess's words as such: "You have two of my children hostage. Do whatever is best for you because I have a son in Imola of around nine or ten years of age and I think I'm carrying another and I don't value those two much." [23]

In his Diari delle cose sanesi del suo tempo, Allegretto Allegretti records that the conspirators "said that if she did not turn over the fortress to them, they would kill her children. She boldly replied that she didn't care and that she was carrying another who would take revenge for everything, and other threatening words worthy of a Caesar, and not of a woman." [24]

We again encounter the same version in the Cronaca di Anonimo Veronese 1446-1488: "The woman, truly a virago, went into the fortress and once there had the bombards ordered and set upon the city, saying that they could do as they wished with her children, but that she was warning them that they were nephews of the Duke of Milan and that he would take revenge for everything and, if that were not enough, that she was pregnant and hoped to have an heir who would avenge them; and so it was." [25]

The last testimony comes from Bernardino Zambotti who, writing about the events as they occurred, not only faithfully reports the episode but also sagaciously comments on it: [Sforza] managed to gain entrance to the Fortress of Forli by pretending to want to give it to the people, if they let her enter into the aforesaid fortress, and she left them her children. And once she entered, she began to call the Duke of Milan to her aid and defense, saying to the Forlivese that she would rather suffer the death of her children than give up the fortress. She was counting on the Duke of Milan's aid, and said that she would never give back the fortress, rather she would raze it to the ground if they were to harm her children, reminding them that she also was carrying another in her body. And in this way the Forlivese found themselves tricked by the astuteness of a magnanimous, wise woman, which was a wonderful thing and most worthy of being remembered, that many city counselors were overcome by a woman. And it wasn't true that she was pregnant, but she faked it. [26]

Of all the previous chroniclers, Zambotti is the only one to offer the most plausible interpretation: Sforza was most likely not pregnant but only pretended to be. This allowed her to neutralize the conspirators' threats to kill her children. [27] Their threats carried a dual purpose -- both to appeal to Sforza's maternal sentiment but also to eliminate any legitimate heirs to the murdered Riario's territories. Sforza's behavior once inside the fortress responds on both levels to the conspirators' threats. She professes no discernible maternal sentiment whereby they might manipulate her and moreover provides a potential legitimate heir with which to reclaim her right, by means of the Riario, to rule over the papal territories. Through a false claim of pregnancy, Sforza renders her children virtually worthless as hostages and simultaneously exploits concerns regarding legitimacy. Within a noble, ruling family, those concerns regard filial and thus political legitimacy, for only a legitimate heir has a clear ti tle to rule. [28]

The canonical humanist version of the episode differs from the regional vernacular one in two ways. Machiavelli and others have Sforza quip that she can always make more children and then raise her skirts to show her genitals. De' Rossi, de Vascho, etc., in contrast, describe her as responding to the conspirators with words, not actions -- the claim of already being pregnant. There are however two bridges between the conflicting accounts. The first, the letter of Giovanni Corbizzi to Lorenzo de' Medici cited earlier, has Sforza claiming both to be pregnant and able to produce more children ("atta a farne de' gl'altri"). Machiavelli's modification of her comment thus has a previous source, even if adopted only in part. The second bridge is found in a local chronicle in which a gesture Sforza supposedly made is indeed represented.

Leone Cobelli's account has long been considered authoritative by Sforza's biographers because he was actually present during many of the events described. In his Cronache forlivesi: dalla fondazione della citta sino all'anno 1498, Cobelli recounts: "Now I went to eat because it was late. However the thing went, Madonna went into the fortress and, according to Lodovico Hercolano, he says that as soon as she mounted on the drawbridge, she turned around and made four figs at them." [29]

The precise gesture and meaning of fare quattro fichi ("to make four figs") is uncertain although it would appear to mean the same thing as fare le fiche ("to make figs"), a gesture known at least since the thirteenth century consisting of placing the thumb between the index and middle finger while making a fist. [30] Dante, among others, attests the gesture on the part of the Pistoiese thief Vanni Fucci: "At the end of his words, the thief lifted his hands both with figs shouting, 'Take them, God, for at you I aim them!'" [31]

In the Discorso o dialogo intorno alla nostra lingua, attributed by most scholars to Machiavelli, Dante's verse is characterized as "osceno" (obscene); [32] the gesture's semantics purportedly mimes the act of sexual intercourse, probably anal, due to the scatological implications in the expression's etymology. The oscillation between singular and plural is irrelevant to the meaning. [33] Nor does the change in gender lend particular significance to the expression: in Boiardo's Orlando innamorato (written in the years immediately preceding 1488) one finds fare un fico, which means the same as Dante's fare le fiche, and, curiously enough, it is again a thief who makes the gesture. [34]

Yet Sforza "fi' gli quatro fichi" (made four figs/made four figs at them). It is the number and, to a lesser degree, the possibility that the "gli" is an indeterminate article rather than a pronoun that creates reasonable doubts as to the meaning of the expression. A possible solution may be that she merely made the gesture twice, although with both hands as Vanni Fucci had done. [35] Although an indisputable meaning is unattainable, the expression is significant because it describes a gesture on Sforza's part aimed against her adversaries and because Machiavelli consulted if not composed a "variant" of it among his personal papers, as I shall illustrate.


Much critical and philological work to understand when and how Machiavelli conceived his historiographical works remains to be done. The first appearance of the Caterina Sforza episode in his texts is found in the Estratto di Lettere al Dieci di Balia, in a fragment known as the post mortem Cosimi group, a series of historical events that begins just after the death of Cosimo de' Medici in 1464 and continues up until 1501. [36] This fragment first appeared in the Ricci apograph, a manuscript compiled almost entirely by a grandson of Machiavelli, Giuliano de' Ricci. [37] Ricci introduces the post mortem Cosimi group with the following explanation:

Fragments, records, and journals belonging to histories, author Niccolo Machiavelli. To be copied in the best order possible, taking them from notebooks and stray pieces of paper in his own hand, inserting here and there other things pertaining to the history of those times. [38]

Both Oreste Tommasini and Roberto Ridolfi identify Machiavelli as the author of the post mortem Cosimi group, the section of the Estratto di lettere al Dieci di Balia where Sforza's ordeal is described, although they differ on the dating and on the fragments' intended use. [39] Tommasini suggests that the Estratto was written in preparation for and as a continuation of the Florentine Histories; given that the commission to write them is dated 8 November 1520, one would surmise that Tommasini assumed they were written after that date. Ridolfi concurs that the notes were in preparation for some unspecified future historiographical work, yet dates them to the years in which Machiavelli wrote the first and second Decennali -- 1504 and 1509 -- because of sylistic similarities between the two. As with other works of Machiavelli, we do not possess the autograph copy of the post mortem Cosimi group and thus can never be sure, with the documents at hand, whether Machiavelli is the author; we can, however, be sure that he was entirely familiar with their contents, not just because they were among his own papers, but because Giuliano de' Ricci was so thorough as to provide us with Machiavelli's comments in the margins, which run throughout the entire document.

Francesco Orso of Forli advised Count Girolamo not to place a tax on the peasants and the Count answered him rudely. Francesco decided together with some relatives to kill the Count and went to visit him one market day. While speaking alone with him, with Parinario's help he killed him, and they killed the captain of the guards. They threw the Count's body out of the window and called nut 'Church and freedom!' They took his wife and children but not being able to have the fortress, because the castellan wanted to hand it over to the

Count's wife, they sent Madonna into the fortress, once they obtained a promise from her that she would give it to them. She shrewdly mocked them by saying to those who threatened to harm her children that her cunt was full. So the conspirators, destitute of the Pope's aid and her being helped by Milan, escaped. And she regained hold, killed women, and raised holy hell. [40]

Sforza's audacious and colorful, if obscene, reply means simply that she said she was pregnant. The Dieci di Balta version, culled from Chancery documents (mostly letters from various Florentine ambassadors in the area), concurs exactly with the historical version discussed previously. Yet both of Machiavelli's published versions of the incident -- first in the Discourses and later in the Florentine Histories -- deviate from it in the replacement of Sforza's politically astute reply with an abstract claim of having the means to make more children or, in the Discourses, by adding the gesture of her lifting her skirts and showing her genitals. To my knowledge, Machiavelli was the first to have added the gesture. [41]

In the Discourses, Machiavelli includes the Sforza story in the chapter devoted to conspiracies, the longest of the entire text. Towards the chapter's end, he discusses one of the dangers a conspirator might encounter after having succeeded in killing the prince: namely, someone who might vindicate his death. The following passage directly precedes the narration of the conspiracy against Girolamo Riario:

Nothing now remains to discuss except the dangers that a conspirator runs after the deed is done. There is but one, namely, that someone is left to avenge the dead prince. Those left can be brothers or sons or other adherents, who would succeed to the princedom. Either through your negligence or through the causes mentioned above, persons can be left who will execute this vengeance. So it happened to Giovanni Andrea da Lampognano who, with other conspirators, killed the Duke of Milan; since the Duke's son and two brothers were left, they stood ready to avenge his death. Truly in such cases conspirators are excusable, because there is no remedy. But when revengers are left alive through their imprudence or their negligence, then they do not deserve excuse. In Forli conspirators killed Count Girolamo their ruler ...." [42]

The examples are intended to illustrate the danger for conspirators in leaving someone alive who might have reason to vindicate the prince's assassination. In the first example, Giovanni Andrea da Lampognano is "excused" (by history, one supposes) for the mistake of having left possible avengers alive because he did so accidentally. [43] Those who killed Girolamo Riario, on the other hand, "do not deserve excuse" because they left someone alive to avenge the prince's death out of their own "imprudence" or "negligence." The examples differ in that one group of conspirators is to be excused and the other is not. Yet both groups failed in their plot and lost their lives as a result. One is thus left wondering what exactly is the lesson to be learned. [44]

Those explicitly mentioned as possible vindicators are siblings, children, or "other adherents, who would succeed to the princedom." No specific mention is made of the prince's wife as a possible avenger for his death although we may assume that she is to be included in the last category. The first example refers to the assassination of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Caterina's own father, which occurred on 26 December 1476. [45] Bona di Savoy, Caterina's stepmother, was immediately declared tutrice of Gian Galeazzo, her firstborn son. She governed together with the trusted Sforza family advisor Cecco Simonetta for four years, from 1476 until 1480, when -- in order to ease political tensions -- she was forced to offer Lodovico il Moro, her brother-in-law, a role in ruling Milan. Thus the political vindication of Galeazzo Maria's death was in the hands of a woman -- his wife, in her role as guardian of a legitimate male heir. As we have already seen, Caterina Sforza also successfully vindicated the death of her husba nd, both physically and spiritually. She too acquired legal guardianship of a legitimate male heir and governed Imola and Forli for thirteen years after Riario's death. [46] Both examples, therefore, present a woman who, in her role as mother and legal guardian, avenged the death of her husband and inherited his political legacy, even though women, whether as wives, daughters, or mothers, are never explicitly mentioned as possible avengers by Machiavelli. [47]

Before considering the implications of Machiavelli's representation of Caterina Sforza, let us consider the last occasion in which he cites the episode. In the Florentine Histories, towards the end of the last book which ends with Lorenzo the Magnificent's death in 1492, [48] Sforza's skirt-raising has been eliminated although her comment remains. The attenuation of the description is entirely consonant with the overall tone and language of the Florentine Histories as Machiavelli himself outlines it in his dedicatory letter to Clement VII. [49] "Yet I avoid, in all places, offensive terms, as unnecessary to the dignity and truth of history." [50] According to Felix Gilbert, Machiavelli was well aware of the expectations of the humanist historiographer: "[h]e was not expected to do original research, no [r] was he to establish new historical facts. He was required to present the extant historical narratives in a stylistically more elevated form" (79). As far as the Sforza incident is concerned, he did exactly that in the Florentine Histories version:

[T]hen they sacked his palace and made the Countess Caterina and all her children prisoners. Only the fortress was left to take, if their attempt was to succeed. Since the castellan would not give it up, they asked the Countess to influence him. This she promised to do, if they would let her enter the fortress; as a pledge of her faith, they were to retain her children. The conspirators believed her talk and allowed her to enter. When she was inside, she threatened them with death and with every sort of punishment in revenge for her husband. When they threatened to kill her children, she answered that she had with her means for producing more. Then the conspirators became terrified, for they were not supported by the Pope and they heard that Signor Lodovico Sforza, the Countess' uncle, was sending men to aid her; so they took such property as they could carry and went to Citta di Castello. Then the Countess, reassuming power, with every sort of cruelty revenged her husband's death. [51]

Although the gesture appears only in the Discourses, the comment that she had the means ("il modo") to have more children is present in both of Machiavelli's published accounts of the events of 16 April 1488. Consideration of the possible significance of Sforza's lifting her skirts and showing her genitals is necessary before questioning the political import of her comment. To understand what Machiavelli might have intended to communicate by adding the gesture, an exploration of its previous appearances and possible meanings is essential.

In an excellent article dedicated to the figure of Agnodike, Helen King discusses several literary precedents of the gesture anasyrmos, or the "lifting of the garments to reveal the lower part of the body" (60-61). [52] King rightly prefaces her interpretation with the comment that the "meaning ascribed to anasyrmos varies according to the frame selected: no gesture ever carries meaning in and of itself' (61). Among the various Greek authors (Hyginus, Plutarch, Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus) who make use of the gesture, King looks most closely at a group of what she calls "war stories" that all share the same basic plot: men run away from the battlefield; the women confront them, ask them two rhetorical questions, and then lift their skirts; the men return to battle out of a sense of shame. One of the sources of the "war stories" most likely known to Machiavelli is Plutarch. [53]

In the Moralia, Plutarch twice recounts episodes of anasyrmos on the part of Spartan and Persian women, in the Famous Sayings of Spartan Women and Mulierum virtutes, respectively:

Another, when her Sons had run away from battle and come to her, said, "Where have you come now in your cowardly flight, vile varlets? Do you intend to slink in here whence you came forth?" And with these words she pulled up her garment and showed them.

At the time when Cyrus induced the Persians to revolt from king Astyages and the Medes he was defeated in battle. As the Persians were fleeing the city, with the enemy not far from forcing their way in along with the Persians, the women ran out to meet them before the city, and, lifting up their garments, said, "Whither are you rushing so fast, you biggest cowards in the whole world? Surely you cannot, in your flight, slink in here whence you came forth." The

Persians, mortified at the sight and the words, chiding themselves for cowards, rallied and, engaging the enemy afresh, put them to rout. As a result of this it became an established custom that, whenever the king rode into the city; each woman should receive a gold coin; the author of the law was Cyrus. But Ochus, they say, being a mean man and the most avaricious of the kings, would always make a detour round the city and not pass within, but would deprive the women of their largess. Alexander, however, entered the city twice, and gave all the women wh o were with child a double amount. [54]

In ancient times, traditional gender roles in the sex/gender system place men as defenders of the community and women as its reproducers. With this in mind, King interprets the gesture on the part of the women as saying to the men "by fleeing from battle, you are not men." A direct connection between cowardice or lack of bravery and the female genitals is provided by a passage from Herodotus. Through an inversion or reversal, King suggests that in the context of war, the display of female genitalia also seeks to communicate to those fleeing from battle that "you too are women." Anasyrmos by reproductive women futhermore serves to remind the men not only of the duty which they are shirking, but also that the women are fufilling their social duty. According to King, anasyrmos is a "tool for category redefinition, a reminder not just of physiological difference but of the roles in the social order which are derived from this. [55] Before certain audiences, anasyrmos can thus be a highly conservative gesture; wom en absorb the definition of themselves as childbearers, and throw it back at the men, in order to restore social equilibrium" (68).

How might one read Caterina Sforza's anasyrmos as presented in Machiavelli's Discourses? Is she adopting the role of childbearer to restore social order? What does she appear to be saying? How might Machiavelli have understood her skirt-raising? As pointed out earlier, contextualizing the gesture is clearly the key to understanding it. First and foremost, it is to be interpreted as being deliberately aimed at a particular target. In this sense, one of its meanings may well be construed as apotropaic, that is, designed to avert or turn aside evil. [56] As such, Sforza is attempting to ward off the conspirators and force them to flee. The sheer immodesty of the gesture may also be intended as a signal to let the conspirators know the boldness and audacity of their adversary.

The gesture's "content" also contributes to its possible meaning. Sforza's display of her genitalia is clearly intended to refer to her reproductive capabilities. She is at once saying, "Look, I'm a potential mother" and "I'll prove it to you." The female role in reproduction is a source of strength for her and her anasyrmos is intended to represent a symbolic display of her power. Unlike Plutarch's Spartan and Persian women, however, Caterina Sforza is contemporaneously the warrior (and thus the man [57]) as well as the child-bearer (or woman.) She has in effect assumed both roles. [58]

One cannot help but note that Machiavelli does not relate that the conspirators' threats against her children provoked her to raise her skirts. He clearly states that she lifted her skirts in order to "show that she did not care about her children." [59] His is the only version to ascribe this motivation to her gesture. As a result, Sforza's behavior is represented as highly atypical both for a mother because of its lack of maternal sentiment and for a woman because of its audacity and immodesty.

Yet at the same time Machiavelli re-genders Caterina Sforza as masculine, he also surreptitiously "disarms" her, paradoxically using the female body and maternity as his weapons. Sforza's anasyrmos serves as a reminder to his readers and to himself that she is, after all, "just" a woman even though she behaves like a man. Furthermore the abstract, potential maternity Machiavelli evokes in the rebuttal that he has her pronounce in both the Discourses and the Florentine Histories eliminates the political cunning of her probable response. That Caterina Sforza "had the means for producing more children" in no way responds to the situation at hand. The ability one day to produce a child of unknown paternity gives her no right to rule Imola and Forli. Her husband had been invested with the two cities and there was no chance of the Church turning them over to her. She needed a Riario male in order to maintain control of the state. With her sons in the hands of the conspirators, the closest she could come was to cla im to be pregnant, glossing over the possibility that she might have a daughter.

I grant that Machiavelli's published versions clearly have a dramatic appeal that the apparent historical truth does not. Yet he had the opportunity of adding the anasyrmos to accompany Sforza's claim of being pregnant. In such a representation, her skirt-lifting would provide the same dramatic impact as in the Discourses version, but would serve to show that part of the female body that now gestates a legitimate heir. Such a hypothetical version makes both literary and political sense in a way that Machiavelli's published versions do not. Yet he chose not to adopt it.

In the Discourses and Florentine Histories versions, Machiavelli takes a perspicacious political move on Sforza's part and turns it into an empty; histrionic gesture -- one that intrinsically does not function politically. [60] By tracing the textual tradition behind the legend of Caterina Sforza, I have attempted to highlight Machiavelli's manipulation of it, how he inverted her potentially real maternity into an abstract, hypothetical one and, as a result, divested her of the political power she was exerting by utilizing her maternal body. Machiavelli's representation of Caterina Sforza skirts the issue of female reproductive power: by eliding Sforza's self-proclaimed maternity (her potential issue, or offspring), Machiavelli implicitly avoids the issue of power expressed by the maternal body.

(*.) For comments on previous drafts of this essay, I would like to thank Douglas Blow, Carla Gabrieli, Giorgio Inglese, Jennifer Selwyn, and, especially, John Najemy and Deanna Shemek.

(1.) Oxford English Dictionary, where the first occurrence of the adjective in English is cited in 1579, the noun as early as 1568. In French and English, and as machiavellico in eariy nineteenth-century Italian, "Machiavellian" negatively denotes the scission of morality from politics; my use here is slightly tongue-in-cheek.

(2.) See the most comptehensive of the biographies on Sforza, Pasolini, 1893, 1: 41, n. 1, where Pasolini claims that a letter written to the Duke of Milan -- Galeazzo Maria Sforza -- reveals that Sforza was educated together with her brothers. For an abridged English translation, see Pasolini, 1898 or, in more recent times, Breisach. For general information on the education of elite women in the Renaissance, see M. King, 164-88; for pertinent comments on the problematics of researching women's education in early modernity, see Whitehead, iv-xv.

(3.) Machiavelli, 1993, 261.

(4.) In a letter to Lorenzo de' Medici, two of Riario's assassasins -- Lodovico and Checco Orsi -- writing to ask for his help, justify their behavior as a vindication of the Medici, for Girolamo Riario had long been considered one of those responsible for the Pazzi conspiracy. They moreover call Riario a "tyrant" and compare him to Nero. Archivio di Stato di Firenze (hereafter ASF), Fondo mediceo avanti il principato, Filza 40, doc. 288; reprinted in Pasolini, 1893, 3:111-12.

(5.) For a detailed account of the conspiracy see Pasolini, 1893, 1:195-262 and Breisach, 77-113.

(6.) Leone Cobelli, a painter and contemporary chronicler, recounts this part of the story as such: "Dice el ditto Lodouico Hercolano che lui arringo e disse cossi per parte del castellano fictivamente: -- O misser Lodouico [Pansecco] e voi tutti altri signori, el castellano ve saluta e dice cossi: che mai niono di soi fo traditore, che non vole essere lui. El dice cossi: che vole fare quello che vole madonna di darvi la rocca; ma vole parlare con madonna e aconciare li fatti soi et essere pagato del suo salario, e che madonna gli faci bona carta che possa andare e venire, che non sia mai chiamato traditore" (The aforementioned Lodovico Ercolano says that he pled and said fictitiously on behalf of the castellan the following: O master Lodovico [Pansecco] and all you other gentlemen, the castellan greets you and says thus: no one in his family has ever been a traitor, and he doesn't want to be one. He says the following: that he wants to do what Madonna wants, to give you the fortress, but he wants to speak wi th Madonna and get his business in order and be paid his salary and for Madonna to give him a pass that he can come and go so that he won't be called a traitor; 322). I have modernized all spellings and, unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

(7.) See Oliva, 1821, 48: "Entro dunque, essendole assegnate tre ore di tempo per termine di ritornar fuori, e fu guidata da un suo cameriere, ch'era gia uscito percio ad incontrarla" (She entered, therefore, having been assigned three hours as the time-limit before having to come back out, and she was led by a servant of hers who had already come out to meet her). Yet, in another manuscript, the very same Oliva writes: "Entro dunque sola dentro prescrittoli tre hore di tempo" (She entered there alone, having been given three hours; Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (hereafter BAV), 42r [Emphasis added]). The seventeenth-century historian Matteo Vecchiazzani recounts: "Consignati li Figli in pegno di quella fede, che mai, o di rado scherza con le Femine, se ne passo Catterina nella Rocca con condittione di ritornare fra tre hore" (Having turned over her children under pledge of that sentiment with which females never or rarely trifle, Caterina went into the fortress with the condition that she had to come out i n three hours; 168).

(8.) Cf. Tommasini, 1:193-94, n. 2, who claims imprecisely: "Che la novella del Machiavelli non uscisse dal capo di lui, ma corresse nella tradizone popolare e provato dal trovarsene menzione nella Cronica di Bologna, ms. della bibl. Estense citata dal Muratori medesimo" (That Machiavelli did not invent the story himself but it was part of a popular tradition is proven by its appearance in the Chronicle of Bologna, a manuscript in the Estense Library that Muratori himself cites). The manuscript in question is Giacomo Dal Poggio's Annali della citta di Bologna, which indeed includes Sforza's quip, but not her gesture. I thank Ernesto Milano, Director of the Biblioteca Estense, for the manuscript identification. For information on Dal Poggio's chronicle, see Ady, 54-55.

(9.) Translation in Machiavelli, 1965, 444. For original, see Machiavelli, 1993, 208: "Ammazzarono, alcuni congiurati Forlivesi, il conte Girolamo loro signore, presono la moglie ed i suoi figliuoli che erano piccoli, e non parendo loro potere vivere sicuri se non si insignorivano della fortezza e non volendo il castellano dana loro, Madonna Caterina (che cosi si chiamava la contessa) promise ai congiurati, che se la lasciavano entrare in quella, di farla consegnare loro, e che ritenessono a presso di loro i suoi figliuoli per istatichi. Costoro sotto quesra fede ve la lasciarono entrare; la quale come fu dentro, dalle mura rimprovero loro la morte del marito e minacciogli d'ogni qualita di vendetta. E per mostrare che de' suoi figliuoli non si curava, mostro loro le membra genitali, dicendo che aveva ancora il modo a rifarne."

(10.) The first biography of Caterina Sforza, inlcuded in a volume of illustrious women, is by Filippo Fonesti da Bergamo and was published in 1497.

(11.) BAV, 42r-v: "L'altra mattina il Savello per sperimentare, se la materna pieta havesse potuto piu del timore mostrato da Caterina della propria vita, fece condurre Ottaviano e Cesare alla fortezza, accio che chiamata la madre ve li fosse minacciato di farli credere un orrendo spettacolo con la morte de figlioli, i quali veduti dal castellano non affacciatasi altrimenti Caterina, disse egli a coloro che se non se li levessero di vista gli haverebbe fatto tirare delle schioppettate. // Alcuni qui dicono, che furono pur mostrati a Caterina figli e minacciatogli la morte se non consegnano la rocca e che ella virilmente rispose, che non era perduta la farina di farne de gli altri; et altri dicono, che alzassi i panni, facesse vedere a coloro che haveva la forma a farne de gli'altri."

(12.) Guicciardini, 104: "Ma la contessa animosa non mutando faccia, alzatasi tostamente i panni davanti con fiero sguardo disse loro: E non vi pare egli, stolti, ch'io abbia le forme da farne delli altri?" For a general overview of Guicciardini and his works, see Jodogne.

(13.) Serdonati, 16: "E dicendo essi [the conspirators] che ucciderebbono i figliuoli; ella per levar loro la speranza, che la tenerezza de' figliuoli la dovesse indurre a far cosa indegna di se, disse: che ringraziava Iddio che non eran guaste le forme da farne degli altri."

(14.) For example, after having drawn the clear distinction between the noble woman who is capable of ruling and the private woman, Tasso writes: "Il regio governo nondimeno, quantunque grande, e nobile, puo, e suole dalla donna eroica esser rifiutato; perciocche ella trascendendo, e trapassando non solo la condizione dell'altre donne, ma l'umana virtu, sol di operare prudentemente, e fortemente si diletta" (Nonetheless, royal rule, although grand and noble, may be and often is turned down by the heroic lady transcending and surpassing not only the condition of other ladies but indeed even human virtue because she delights only in acting prudently and courageously; 64 [emphasis added]). For a discussion of a similar "devious rhetorical strategy" in Boccaccio, see Jordan. For a brief discussion of the Tassian dialogue, see Schiesari. For an early response to Tasso, see Marinella, 128-30.

(15.) Boccalini, 120-21: "Caterina Sforza, signora d'Imola e di Forli, disse a Sua Maesta [Apollo] che, da alcuni congiurati suoi vassalli crudelmente essendole stato ucciso il marito, e che per lei tenendosi la rocca della citta, affine ch'ella con perdira di tutto lo Stato non capitasse in poter dei nimici, seppe dar lora a credere che lora avrebbe consegnara la rocca, quando si fossero conrentati che per dispor que' suoi soldari ad arrendersi vi fosse entrata, e che, per sicurezza della sua fede, in mano de' congiurati aveva lasciati i suoi piccoli figliuoli: e che entrata ch'ella fu nella rocca, dalle mura ai congiurati minaccio che per la sceleratezza che aveano commessa, avrebbe dato lora condegno castigo. Onde i congiurati, vedendosi cosi ingannati, apertamenre le protestarono che in pezzi avanti gli occhi le avrebbono tagliati i suoi figliuoli, s'ella non consegnava loro la rocca nelle mani; e ch'ella per quelle orrende minacce in tanto non si spavenro punto, che anzi, alzatesi le vesti e lora mostra ndo le parti vergognose, disse che de' suoi figliuoli facessero a voglia loro, che a lei rimaneva la stampa di rifarne degli altri. Per la quale risoluzione, che dagli istorici turti sommamente veniva commendata e cebebrata, chiedeva che in Parnaso le fosse consegnato quel luogo che Sua Maesta avesse giudica-to convenirsele. Molto vari furono i pareri de' giudici in questa domanda, perchioche ad alcuni atto di sfacciatezza e di brutta impudicizia parve quello che cosi nobil Signora aveva raccontato. Ma Apollo, che giudico che il sempre contenersi entro i termini della modestia fosse obbligo di donne private, disse che le principesse nate di alto sangue, negli accidenti gravi che occorrevano loro, erano obbligate mostrar virilita. Non deve esser passato con silenzio il voto che in questa causa diede Cino da Pistoia; il qual disse che ben degno di esser veduto da ognuno era quel luogo donde era uscito il famoso campione Giovan de' Medici, padre di quel gran Cosimo che, essendo stato felicissimo fondatore della floridissima monarchia toscana, dalla quale ora l'Italia riceve splendore e ornamento singolare, per tutri i secoli che verranno ha meritato fama gloriosa e immortale."

(16.) For other versions derived from Machiavelli's account, see Bruto, 484-91, Ghirardacci, 3:245, and Dal Poggio, 617v-618r.

(17.) On the theatricality of the anecdote, see Tylus.

(18.) Giovanni Corbizzi to Lorenzo de' Medici, ASF, doc. 275: "Madonna non vole uscire: el popullo po bene dire: noi amazeremo vestri figloli: Lei risponde che non se n'ha a fare, che ad ogni modo l'anno atosichati: et che le ne ha uno in corpo et e atta a farne de gl'altri: imo non ne vole udire niente d'uscire, e tira per tutta la terra sanza remissione." I am grateful to Paolo Cherubini for his help in transcribing Corbizzi's letter which is partially reprinted in slightly altered form in Pasolini, 1893, 1:230, n. 4.

(19.) The letter was first published by Cian, 588-89 and later reprinted in Pasolini, 1897, 97-98: "El Populo ha dimandato a Madona cum molte minacie che gli facij dare el castello ne le mane, a chi S.S. ha risposto che la faciano acompagnare lei in rocha da quatro o sei homini de loro, et tenganose li figlioli ne le mane che vederano lopera che la fara cum el castellano, et cussi havendo facto, lei se ne restata in castello, et ha dicto a li homini che lhanno compagnata che ritornano senza lei, et faciano de suoi figliuoli quanto gli piace, che a lei basta de uno che ha a Milano, che e il maggiore, et de unaltro che ha nel corpo, possa disse il castellano ad essi homini che facessero intendere al populo che se guardasse innanti a far despiacere ad dicti figliolini, et che se li facevano morire, o gli facesse altra molestia, che gli spianaria tuta la terra cum le bombarde."

(20.) See Pasolini, 1893, 3:135-36.

(21.) Other accounts which I have not quoted in my text include Fileno dalle Tuate, cited in Pasolini, 1893, 2:97, n. 1, the anonymous Corpus chronicorum bononiensium, 4:493-94 and 501 (both of which include the claim of pregnancy), and Stefano Infessura, 231-32, who adds the detail of having a son in Imola.

(22.) De' Rossi, 240: "dicieva se voi amazerete chotesti Figliuoli chavete nelle mani fate voi io no uno in corpo, e uno a Milano."

(23.) De Vascho, 542: "Voi havete due miei figli stagi; fatene quello che vi pare che a voi sia meglio, che io ho uno figlia ad Imola di anni circa 9 o X et uno credo haverne in corpo, e di questi ne fo poca stima."

(24.) Allegretti, 823: "dicevano, che se non lo' dava la Rocca gli ammazzarebbeno i figliuoli; lei diceva con ardito animo, che non se ne curava, e che n'haveva uno in corpo, che farebbe le vendette d'ogni cosa, ed altre parole minacciatorie da un Cesare, e non da Donna."

(25.) Cronaca, 461: "La donna, propria virago, ando ne la rocha e gionta fece meter a ordine bombarde e trar ne la terra, dicendo che de figlioli ne facesseno come li pareva, ma che li avixava che quelli erano nipoti del duca de Milano et che lui ben faria vendete del tutto e, quando manchasse, che lei era gravida et che la sperava de haver herede, che faria le lhor vendete; fu, come ditto."

(26.) Zambotti, 196: "[Sforza], finzendo de volere dare la Rocha de Forlia al populo se La lassarano intrare in La dicta racha e che la ge lassaria li fioli; e, intrata che la fu, comenzo a chiamare il duca de Milano in suo alturio e defexa, digando a li Forlivexi che epsa valeva piu presto patire La morte de i fioli che rendere Ia rocha, confidandose epsa in lo alturio del duca de Milano, e che may la renderebbe tal rocha, anzi la ruinarebbe tuta la terra, se loto fara al (sic) despiacere a Li sol fioli, ricordandoli che ne havea anche uno in lo corpo. E in questa modo Li Forlivixi se ritrovono inganati da la astutia de una dana magnanima e sapiente, che fu cosa mirabile dignissima de memoria; che molti consiglieri de citade fosseno superati da una dona. E non hera vero che la fosse gravida, ma finse."

(27.) Breisach, 296-97, n. 100, comments that "[t]he pretense of a new pregnancy is more likely to have been made, since such an assertion could be believed and depreciated the value of murdering Caterina's children."

(28.) Giuseppe Pardi, in a note to Zambotti's text, makes the same point: "L'altra versione che essa dicesse... [that of having the means to make more children] non regge, perche i figli nati posteriormente da altro padre e non da Girolamo Riario, non avrebbero avuto dirirto alla Signoria di Forli" (The other version she said... does not work because children born later by another father and nor by Girolamo Riaria would have had no right to the Signory of Forli; 196, n. 18). Also recall the Anonymous Veronese's version, cited earlier, in which Sforza claimed to be pregnant and thus hoped to "haver erede."

(29.) Cobelli, 322: "Hor io me ne andai a desinare perche era tardi. Como la cosa andasse, madonna ando in rocca; e, secondo Lodovico Hercolano, dice che madonna la contessa, como monto su la ponticella, che si volto indrei' e fi' gli quatro fichi." It is rather curious that Cobelli -- the "otherwise ubiquitous Cobelli," as Breisach describes him (25, n. 89) -- would leave during such a tense moment of negotiating whether Sforza should be allowed entry into the Rocca or not. Perhaps given that he "avea receputo beneficio de la sua signoria" (had received benefit from her rule), he did not want to assume full responsibility for a less than pristine representation of her (Cobelli, 321). On this last point, see also Cian, 588. Clough, on the other hand, states that "[w]e know that Cobelli was antagonistic towards Caterina, because of his imprisonment at her hands" (99). See also Pecci, 203.

(30.) For earlier uses of the expression and more extensive etymological comment, see Lombardi-Lotti and Spitzer, 1923 and 1954.

(31.) Inferno 25.1-3: "Al fine delle sue parole il ladro / le mani alzo con amendue le fiche / gridando: Togli Dio, che a te le squadro!"

(32.) Machiavelli, 1993, 928.

(33.) See fica in the Grande dizionario della lingua italiana or the contemporary Vocabolari degli Accademici della Crusca which reads "far la fica, e piu comunemente le fiche, che vale fare altrui tale atto sconcia e vituperoso" (making a fig, or more frequently, figs, which means making to another an obscene, disgraceful gesture).

(34.) Boiardo, "Marfisa il [Brunello] segue e cridando il minaccia, / -- Giotton, -- dicendo -- e' ti costara cara! -- / Ma lui si volta e fagli un fico in faccia; / E fuggendo dicea: -- Cosi se impara! -"

(35.) I would like to thank both Luca Serianni and Giuseppe Patota for their help in trying to determine the meaning of Cobelli's expression.

(36.) This particular fragment was first published in a section entitled Estratto di Lettere al Dieci di Balia in Machiavelli, 1873-1877, 2:235. Other parts of the Estratto had first been published in Machiavelli, 1782-1783.

(37.) For information on Giuliano de' Ricci, see Procacci, 105-07 and passim.

(38.) Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (hereafter BNCF), fol. 85: "Fragmenti, ricordi et giornali appartenenti a Historie, autore Niccolo Machiavelli. Copierannosi con quel maggiore ordine che si potra, levandoli da quadernucci, et stracciafogi i di sua mano, inserendoci talvolta qualche altra cosa appartenente all'Historie di quei tempi." Reprinted in Tommasini, 1:651. For more information on the manuscript tradition regarding Machiavelli's historiographical texts, see Tommasini, 1:617-64, Carli, and Gerber. Note that Tommasini inverted the folio numbers of the post mortem Cosimi group on the two copies of the Ricci manuscript.

(39.) See Tommasini, 1:104-05 and 651 and Ridolfi, 2:472-74, n. 2. I am grateful to Giorgio Inglese for his help in determining Machiavelli's relation to the Estratto.

(40.) Machiavelli, 1873-1877, 235: "Francesco Orso da Furli avendo consigliato il conte Girolamo che non ponesse il balzello ai contadini, et rispondendoli il conte malamente; si compose co' parenti sua d'ammazzarlo et lo ando a trovare un di del mercato, et parlatogli di segreto, l'ammazzo insieme col Parinario, et cosi ammazzorno il capitano della guardia e gittorno il corpo del conte fuori delle finestre, et gridorno Chiesa et Liberta presono la moglie e figliuoli ma non potendo avere la rocca, perche il castellano la volea dare alla moglie del conte, mandorno madonna in rocca, auta fede da lei d'averlo. La quale savia, se ne fe beffe, e disse a chi la minacciava di far capitare male e' figliuoli che ne aveva piena la fica. Cost i congiurati destiruti delli aiuti del papa et lei soccorsa da Milano, si fuggirono: et lei riprese la tenuta, ammazzo donne e fece il diavolo." In the Ricci apograph the expression "piena la fica" was altered at some point: "Piena" has a line drawn through it and "la fica" has be en scratched out (BCNF, fol. 92). Subsequent copies of the manuscript however all contain the expression; the most likely explanation is a later attempt to expurgate the manuscript of all inappropriate material. Ricci and a homonymous grandson of Machiavelli attempted from 1573 to 1594 to publish an expurgated complete works, but ultimately failed due to the Church's final condition that it appear under another name. See Procacci, 106-21, Migliorini Fissi, 197-98, and, more recently, Godman, 252 and 303-33. For information on these manuscripts, see Tommasini, 1:617-18 and Migliorini Fissi, 135-58.

(41.) Bausi has also noted that Machiavelli was, as far as we know, the first to add the skirt-lifting. I thank Joyce de Vries for the reference to his brief article.

(42.) Translation in Machiavelli, 1965, 443-44. Machiavelli, 1993, 208-09: "Restaci al presente solo a disputare de' pericoli che si corrono dopo la esecuzione; i quali sono solamente uno, e questo quando e' rimane alcuno che vendichi il principe morto. Possono adunque rimanere suoi frategli o suoi figliuoli o aitri aderenti, a chi si aspetti il principato; e possono rimanere o per tua negligenzia o per le cagioni dette di sopra [the "accidenti" of the previous paragraph], che faccino questa vendetta, come interevenne a Giovanni Andrea da Lampognano, il quale insieme con i suoi congiurati avendo motto ii duca di Milano, ed essendo rimaso uno suo figliuolo e due suoi frategli, furono a tempo a vendicare ii motto. E veramente in questi casii congiurati sono scusari, perche non ci hanno rimedio; ma quando ne rimane vivo alcuno per poca prudenza o per la loro negligenza, allora che non meritano scusa. Ammazzarono, alcuni congiurati Forlivesi, il conte Girolamo loro signore...." The excerpt of course says that t here's "solamente uno" danger but after the Sforza story Machiavelli writes "Ma di tutti i pericoli che possono dopo la morte esecuzione avvenire, non ci il piu certo ne quello che sia piu da temere, che quando il popolo e amico del principe che tu hai motto: perche a questo i congiurati non hanno rimedio alcuno, perche e' non se ne possono mat assicurare" (Of all the dangers that can appear after the deed, there is none mote certain or mote to be feated than when people love the ptince you have killed; for this, conspirators have no remedy, because they can never make themselves safe from the people; translation in Machiavelli, 1965, 444).

(43.) Duke Galeazzo Maria actually left two legitimate sons, rather than one, and Giovanni Andrea da Lampognano was not killed "a tempo," but immediately and not by either Galcazzo's brothers or his sons, but by one of his footmen. Machiavelli later corrects some of this information in the version that appears in the Florentine Histories.

(44.) Mansfield, 1979,338 has also noted the "inaptitude" of these two examples, although his comments on Caterina Sforza and Machiavelli's intentions are ultimately ambiguous. For a more general discussion of Machiavelli's use of exemplarity in relation to history, see Hampton, 62-80; for the problematics of his use of example, see Lyons, 35-71; and for his misuse of ancient authors, see martelli, 1998.

(45.) For a reading of this assassination that considers its exemplarity mirrored on a historical precedent, see Hampton, 1-5 ff.

(46.) For a map of Sforza's state, see Clough.

(47.) The Machiavellian narration of the events in these examples illustrates Pitkin's comment that "[a]side from a few historical figures like the ancient Lucreria and the modern Caterina Sfotza, in the political writings women axe conspicuous by their absence" (109). For the absence of women in Italian historiography, see Hughes, and for the absence of women from History (capital "H" intended as document-recording), see Lerner, 4.

(48.) According to Felix Gilbert, Machiavelli was to have continued the Florentine Histories from 1492 up until the time he was writing, but various other papal commissions and finally his death in 1527 prevented him from doing so. This interpretation provoked an acrimonious attack by Carlo Dionisotti. The discussion continued, although dryly, in Gilbert and Dionisotti. Rubinstein has come out in favor of at least an initial project of Machiavelli's to continue the Florentine Histories beyond Lorenzo's death in 1492, see Rubinstein, especially 703-04; whereas recently Godman argues directly counter to such an intention, see Godman, 284-91.

(49.) Pope Clement VII was Giulio de' Medici, an illegitimate son of Giuliano who was killed in the Pazzi conspiracy. For a discussion of Machiavelli's treatment of the Medici in the Florentine Histories, see Najemy. Bausi, 892, attributes the gesture's absence in the Florentine Histories to its historical inaccuracy. Given that Machiavelli's occasional historical inaccuracy has been well-documented, in my view stylistic dignity rather than historical verisimilitude best accounts for the gesture's removal.

(50.) Translation in Machiavelli, 1965, 3:1030. Machiavelli, 1993, 632: "Fuggo bene, in tutti i luoghi, i vocaboli odiosi, come alla dignita e verita della istoria poco necessari."

(51.) Translation from Machiavelli, 1965, 3:1430. Machiavelli, 1993, 842: "... saccheggiate le sue [Count Girolamo's] case, la contessa Gaterina e tutti i suoi figliuoli presono. Restava solo la fortezza a pigliarsi, volendo che questa loro impresa avesse felice fine. A che non volendo il castellano condescendere, pregorono la contessa fusse contenta disporlo a dana. Il che ella promesse fare, quando eglino la lasciassero entrare in quella; e per pegno della fede ritenessero i suoi figliuoli. Credettono i congiurati alle sue parole, e permissonle lo entrarvi. La quale, come fu dentro, gli minaccio di morte e di ogni qualita di supplizio in vendetta del marito: e minacciando quegli di ammazzargli i figliuoli, rispose come ella aveva seco il modo a rifarne degli altri. Sbigottiti pertanto i congiurati, veggendo come dal papa non erano suvvenuti e sentendo come il signore Lodovico zio alla contessa mandava gente in suo aiuto, tolte delle sustanzie loro quello poterono portare, se n'andarono a Citta di Castello. Onde che la contessa, ripreso lo stato, la morte del marito con ogni generazione di crudelta vendico." The use of the phrase "rispose come" as opposed to the more usual "rispose che" represents a curious element in the description. The expression "rispose come" appears just four times in the entire Machiavellian opus (excluding his letters) and only in the Florentine Histories. Each time it describes the words of someone in a position of power who is at some sort of turning point in his/her career and who is implicitly or explicitly being presented in a flavorable light. The four speakers are Neri Capponi, Cosimo de' Medici, Piero de' Medici, and, of course, Caterina Sforza. In the Sforza passage Machiavelli moreover describes the conspirators as "sbigottiti" ("bewildered," "astonished," or "terrified") as a result ("pertanto") of Sforza's response. That the conspirators would be astonished in the case of either the gesture or the comment is entirely plausible. And I do not mean to suggest that Machiavelli wa s necessarily consciously rendering the description ambiguous, nor referring to his previous version although the graphic description of the Discourses is nor easily forgotten. Yet perhaps the "come" here carries with it the grammatical implication for possible action (in this case, a gesture) that a mere "che" clearly eliminates.

(52.) I thank Allison Klairmont Lingo for calling my attention to this article.

(53.) "See Martelli, 1982, 91, who speaks of a "culto di Plurarco" in fifteenth-century Florence. Machiavelli asked his friend and colleague Biagio Buonnacorsi to find a copy of Plutarch's Liues for him in 1502; see Machiavelli, 1993, 1037. See also Tommasini, 2:301, n. 3. It must be stated however that, to my knowledge, no sure indications have ever been found that Machiavelli had actually read either part or all of Plutarch's Moralia. Bausi suggests an additional passage from Herodotus, although the gesture is performed by a man and in different circumstances (891-92).

(54.) Plutarch, 4:461 and 49 1-93.

(55.) "Maurice Olender makes a similar point specifically as regards gender in an article devoted to Baubo: "Since male and female roles are not equivalent in the Greek world, the meaning of obscene words and gestures on the part of either sex cannot be expected to line up symetrically. This asymmetry seems equally significant with reference to the gesture of anasyrma. When a man exposes himself, it is rustic crudeness (agroikia) or grossness (bdelyria), but if a woman acts in the same way, she commits a shameful act (aiskhyne). While the female anasyrma is terrifying -- the Lycian women use it to drive back Bellerophon, and the Persian women to send the army out to fight -- the conventional gesture of Priapos is laughable and generally ineffective" (103-04). Although Olender's generalization is largely true, it is curious to note that Baubo's own anasyrmos occasions laughter on the part of her viewer, Demeter. Is the comic aspect provided by her advanced age? One might surmise that the terror occasioned by anasyrmos derives from the power of fertile women.

(56.) John Freccero, in his reading of Caterina Sforza as a Medusa figure, also attributes apotropaic significance to her gesture; see Freccero.

(57.) H. King cites Nicole Loraux's work on classical Athens who states that "'andreia is the attribute of the aner' and that aner 'designates not so much a period of life, adulthood, as a mode of being, that of the active virility which is most fully realised in combat.' It is in martial courage that a man proves he is an aner, the men in the war stories flee from battle, so they are not men" (66).

(58.) Joan Kelly explains that "[o]nly as viragos, as exceptions to their sex, could women aspire to the Renaissance ideal of 'man'" (71). See also Schiesari, 68. Pitkin describes the figure of the virago as central to Machiavelli's representation of female characters in his fictional writings: "The power of feminity, then, is a complex topic for Machiavelli, centrally intertwined with political concerns. Young women are dangerous as desirable objects, threatening to debilitate men and to privatize them. Older uxorial and matronly women have personality and the capacity for agency, but their purposes are likely to be evil, particularly when they are angry, which they often are. Their powers then approach the superhuman and dwarf those of men. // Obviously the maidens must eventually turn into matrons themselves. One suspects that the transition is mediated by carnal knowledge. Once initiated into adult sexuality, the maiden becomes dangerous in a new way because henceforth she has her own desires, has become a person in her own right. And her desires turn out to be insatiable. Then she appears in twofold guise: as the raging shrew, the virago men fear, and as the lawful matron, subdued by the bonds of patriarchal marriage" (135-36). Although Pitkin twice refers to Caterina Sforza as a virago (249, 305), whether she meant to include her in this particular characterization is unclear. For medieval virile women, see Newman.

(59.) "Translation in Machiavelli, 1965, 444. Machiavelli, 1993, 208: "E per mostrare che de' suoi figliuoli non si curava, mostro loro le membra genitali, dicendo che aveva ancora il modo a rifarne."

(60.) Machiavelli's maneuver may be defined as yet another case of Machiavellian inversion, as described by Pitkin: "Themes and fantasies of inversion, of reversing convention or established authority, are pervasive in Machiavelli's work, both in its substantive content and in its style. Again and again he takes up an established form, a conventional assumption, a familiar doctrine, only to reverse it" (43). Although Pitkin's reading of Machiavelli is extremely persuasive in some areas, it does not give Sforza the consideration she deserves, as Machiavelli mentions Sforza more often in his works than any other woman, ancient or modern. Moreover, in some respects, Pitkin slightly misrepresents Sforza as, for example, when she makes much of Sfotza duping Machiavelli during their diplomatic encounter, yet she offers no documentation to support such an interpretation (249-50). Breisach, 203-05, also implies that Sforza duped Machiavelli. In my view, however, Machiavelli's mission should nor be characterized as a failure. Both Sforza and Machiavelli held out for their own interests - she to obtain a treaty with Florence (which she did not get) whereby they would intervene to help her maintain her state should she be attacked by Cesare Borgia; he to engage her son Ortaviano for less than before, secure soldiers for pay, if possible, and to maintain cordial relations with her state; he accomplishes two of the three goals. Tommasini, 1:192-95, Villain, 1:299-305, and Ridolfi, 1:42-5 all characterize Machiavelli's mission as ultimately successful. Biagio Buonaccorsi, Machiavelli's Chancery colleague, confirms by writing to Machiavelli that a certain Marco "ha sentito molto lodare le vostre lettere" (has heard your letters be highly praised; Machiavelli, 1993, 1017). For the letters from the legation itself, see Machiavelli, 1971-1985, 1:194-219.


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