[Complete first chapter:]
Plus ca change, plus c'est la même chose.
"It is one of the misfortunes of my life that I never learnt it,'' said Machiavelli. "I envy you for having read the Greek authors in the original."
"What use will that be to me?"
"It will teach you that happiness is the good at which all men aim and in order to attain it you need nothing but good birth, good friends, good luck, health, wealth, beauty, strength, fame, honour and virtue."
Piero burst out laughing.
"It will also teach you that life is uncertain and full of tribulation, from which you may conclude that it is only reasonable to snatch what pleasure you can while you are of an age to enjoy it."
"I didn't need to learn the tenses of Greek verbs to know that," said Piero.
"Perhaps not, but it is reassuring to have good authority for following one's natural inclinations."
"But, Messer Niccolò, why are you so certain that she hates him?"
"I'm not certain at all. It may be that she's only a foolish, garrulous woman. The fact remains that she is poor and he is rich, and that she depends on his bounty; the burden of gratitude is very hard to bear. Believe me, it is easier to forgive the offences your enemy does you than the benefits your friend confers upon you."
The sum she asked for rent was high, and Bartolomeo remarked on it, but Machiavelli thought it beneath his official dignity to haggle and said that he would be glad to pay it. He knew that nothing more predisposes someone in your favour than to let him rob you a little.
He [Fra Timoteo] had a fine head. It reminded one of a Roman emperor's whose fine features, not yet debased by luxury and unlimited power, bore notwithstanding a suggestion of the cruel sensuality that would lead to his assassination.
The Pope's jubilee had brought enormous amounts of money into the Vatican's treasury and his somewhat high-handed procedure of seizing a cardinal's property on his decease was continually adding to the sums at his disposal; for the mortality of these princes of the Church was high; and the malicious indeed whispered that His Holiness found it convenient on occasion discreetly to come to the aid of a dilatory Providence.
It has been said that Machiavelli had not married
for love. He
respected her, he appreciated her good qualities, and he approved of her
devotion for him. She was a thrifty housekeeper, an important matter to one of
his small means, and she never wasted a penny; she would be the mother of his
children, and a good mother; there was every reason why he should regard her
with indulgence and affection, but it had never entered his mind that he should
be faithful to her. Marietta
He knew a great deal about women and it was not often that he had failed to satisfy his lust. He had no illusions about his appearance; he knew that other men were handsomer than he and that many had the advantage of him in wealth and station. But he was confident in his powers of attraction. He could amuse them, he knew just how to flatter them, he had a way with him that put them at their ease with him, but above all he desired them; they were very conscious of that and it excited them.
He knew that women appreciated neither irony nor sarcasm, but simple jokes and funny stories. He was amply provided with both.
Monna Caterina gave a low laugh.
"You are a charming man, Messer Niccolò. If I were still desirable and you desired me, I would refuse you nothing."
"The old cow," Machiavelli said to himself, but he pressed her hand and aloud answered: "If I were not so passionately in love with your daughter I should not hesitate to take you at your word."
"It has often struck me as remarkable that businessmen should be able to conduct commercial transactions with success and yet remain so unversed in the affairs of the world."
"What a noble animal is man," he [Machiavelli] reflected, as he walked home. "With audacity, cunning and money there is practically nothing he cannot do."
"Is it possible that you are devoid of ambition?"
"Far from it. Excellency," smiled Machiavelli. "My ambition is to serve my state to the best of my ability."
"That is just what you will not be allowed to do. You know better than anyone that in a republic talent is suspect. A man attains high office because his mediocrity prevents him from being a menace to his associates. That is why a democracy is ruled not by the men who are most competent to rule it, but by the men whose insignificance can excite nobody's apprehension. Do you know what are the cankers that eat the heart of a democracy?"
He looked at Machiavelli as though waiting for an answer, but Machiavelli said nothing.
"Envy and fear. The petty men in office are envious of their associates and rather than that one of them should gain reputation will prevent him from taking a measure on which may depend the safety and prosperity of the state; and they are fearful because they know that all about them are others who will stop at neither lies nor trickery to step into their shoes. And what is the result? The result is that they are more afraid of doing wrong than zealous to do right. They say that dog doesn't bite dog: whoever invented that proverb had never lived under a democratic government."
Machiavelli remained silent. He knew only too well how much truth there was in what the Duke said. He remembered how hotly the election to his own subordinate post had been contested and with what bitterness his defeated rivals had taken it. He knew that he had colleagues who were watching his every step, ready to pounce upon any slip he made that might induce the Signory to dismiss him.
The Duke continued.
"A prince in my position is free to choose men to serve him for their ability. He need not give a post to a man who is incapable of filling it because he needs his influence or because he has a party behind him whose services must be recognized. He fears no rival because he is above rivalry and so, instead of favouring mediocrity, which is the curse and bane of democracy, seeks out talent, energy, initiative and intelligence. No wonder things go from bad to worse in your republic; the last reason for which anyone gets office is his fitness for it."
"Fortune favours audacity and youth," he said. "You will go far. But let me give you some advice. Take care that like me you do not get a reputation for wit, since if you do no one will think you sensible, but notice men's moods and adapt yourself to them; laugh with them when they are merry and pull a long face when they are solemn. It is absurd to be wise with fools and foolish with the wise: you must speak to each one in his own language. Be courteous; it costs little and helps much; to be of use and to know how to show yourself of use is to be doubly useful; it is idle to please yourself if you do not please others, and remember that you please them more by ministering to their vices than by encouraging their virtues. Never be so intimate with a friend that he may injure you should he become your enemy, and never use your enemy so ill that he can never become your friend. Be careful in your speech. There is always time to put in a word, never to withdraw one; truth is the most dangerous weapon a max can wield and so he must wield it with caution. For years I have never said what I believed nor ever believed what I have said, and if it sometimes happens that I tell the truth I conceal it among so many lies that it is hard to find."
But while these old saws and homely commonplaces tripped off the end of his tongue Machiavelli's thoughts were intent on something much more important and he scarcely listened to what he said. For he knew that a public man can be corrupt, incompetent, cruel, vindictive, vacillating, self-seeking, weak and stupid and yet attain o the highest honours in the state; but if he is ridiculous e is undone. Slander he can refute; abuse he can despise; but against ridicule he has no defence. Strange as it may seem, the Absolute has no sense of humour, and ridicule is the instrument the devil uses to hinder aspiring man on his arduous quest of perfection.
He would never have described himself as a good Catholic. He had indeed often permitted himself to wish that the gods of
dwelt in their old abode. Christianity had shown men the truth and the way of
salvation, but it asked men to suffer rather than to do. It had made the world
feeble and given it over, helpless, a prey to the wicked, since the generality.
In order to go to heaven, thought more of enduring injuries than of defending
themselves against them. It had taught that the highest good consisted in
humility, lowliness and contempt for the things of this world; the religion of
the ancients taught that it consisted in greatness of spirit, courage and
strength. But this was a strange thing that had happened. It shook him. Though
his reason revolted he was aware within himself of an uneasy inclination to
believe in the possibility of a supernatural intervention. His head refused to
accept it, but in his bones, in his blood, in his nerves there was a doubt that
he could not still. It was as though all those generations behind him that had
believed took possession of his soul and forced their will upon him.
"You say that Caesar Borgia suffered the just punishment of his crimes. He was destroyed not by his misdeeds, but by circumstances over which he had no control. His wickedness was an irrelevant accident. In this world of sin and sorrow if virtue triumphs over vice, it is not because it is virtuous, but because it has better and bigger guns; if honesty prevails over double-dealing, it is not because it is honest, but because it has a stronger army more ably led; and if good overcomes evil, it is not because it is good, but because it has a well-lined purse. It is well to have right on our side, but it is madness to forget that unless we have might as well it will avail us nothing. We must believe that God loves men of good will, but there is no evidence to show that He will save fools from the result of their folly.''