For all their boasting, practical men do not know either men or the world; they do not even know the reality of their own works. [If they could return to life], the geniuses of pure politics, the fatalia monstra recorded in histories, would be astounded to learn what they have done without being aware of it, and they would read of their own past deeds as in a hieroglyph to which they had been offered the keys.Benedetto Croce
For many contemporary historians and political commentators, the French invasion of 1494 marked a turning point in Italian history. Taking this year as the starting point of his History of Italy, Francesco Guicciardini claimed that the French invasion had given rise to “innumerable calamities, horrible accidents, and variations of almost all things.” Like “a sudden tempest,” impossible to contain, it had upset Italy's peace and balance of power, and “turned everything upside down.” Not only had the war caused the downfall of republics and principalities, forced people to leave the cities, and destroyed the countryside, it had also brought to Italy new fashions, new customs, new diseases, and new and crueler ways of waging war. Contemporaries like Machiavelli and Vettori were of the same opinion. The vocabulary they used to describe the effects of the invasion bespeaks its rupturing influence and the velocity of cultural change they experienced: movimento, perturbazione, varietà, accidenti, casi, instabiltà, variazioni, rinovazione, rovina, distruzione, and mutazione.