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Machiavelli's Art of War: A Reconsideration*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Marcia L. Colish*
Oberlin College


Machiavelli's Art of War contains an unexplored and unexplained paradox: the dialogue's chief interlocutor is Fabrizio Colonna, a condottiere in the employ of Ferdinand of Aragon, who played a critical role in the Spanish conquest of northern Italy and in the collapse of the Florentine republic led by Piero Soderini, in which Machiavelli worked as a civil servant. Yet, Machiavelli chooses Fabrizio to defend the superiority of the citizen militia, which he associates with republican civic virtue, over mercenary troops. This paradox has remained unaccounted for because literary scholars have ignored the historical background underlying the text's assorted political subtexts, while historians have ignored the nature of Quattrocento dialogue, as a literary genre, in contextualizing the work. Once these historical and literary dimensions of the Art of War are brought together, it can be seen why Fabrizio Colonna would have been perceived, by Machiavelli and his audience, as the ideal representative of a military position which he espoused neither in theory or in practice.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1998

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This paper was first presented at the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association meeting in Banff, Alberta, 15 May 1997.


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