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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: September 2009

1 - Another philosophy


There is another philosophy that is better suited for political action, that takes its cue, adapts itself to the drama in hand, and acts its part neatly and well.

Sir Thomas More

In Machiavelli's most famous comedy, La mandragola (1518), the desperately love-sick Callimaco asks his clever friend, Ligurio, for help in getting into bed with the beautiful Lucrezia, the childless and unhappy wife of Nicia, a wealthy merchant and “the simplest and most stupid man of Florence.” Ligurio, a former marriage-broker, who now is said to “make his living out of deceiving people,” accepts the assignment. Acting as something of a playwright in the play, at one point likening himself to a military captain giving orders to his troops before going into battle, Ligurio selects his cast, invents his plot, and sets it in motion. Busy attending to things big and small, he provides the other characters with motivations, reasons, and pretexts for their actions, and coaches and supervises their performances. When he first introduces Callimaco to Nicia, presenting him as a famous physician at the court of the king of France, he carefully constructs his friend's fictitious character, his ethos, so that it will impose itself on the merchant, and win his trust. Knowing that unlettered men like Nicia are easily impressed by people who have a knowledge of Latin, he encourages Callimaco to embellish his speech with a store of Latin stock phrases and maxims.

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