The father of modern political theory, Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, was born in Florence, Italy on May 3, 1469 during a time when Italy was divided into four rival city-states. Machiavelli was born in a tumultuous era—popes waged wars against the Italian city-states and people and cities often fell from power very quickly. Foreign powers such as France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and even Switzerland battled for regional influence and control. Political-military alliances continually switched allegiance, mercenary leaders changed sides without warning and the rise of many governments were short-lived.
The Machiavelli family were believed to be descended from the Marquesses of Tuscany and produced a number of Florentine Gonfalonieres of Justice. Machiavelli was the third child and first son of attorney, Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli, and his wife, Bartolomea di Stefano Nelli. Machiavelli was taught grammar, rhetoric and Latin in his younger years.
In 1494, Florence restored the republic—expelling the Medici family, who had ruled Florence for some sixty years. Machiavelli was appointed to an office in the second chancery, which put Machiavelli in charge of the production of official Florentine government documents. Shortly thereafter, he was also made the secretary of the Dieci di Libertà e Pace. In the first decade of the sixteenth century, he carried out several diplomatic missions: most notably to the Papacy in Rome. From 1502 to 1503, he witnessed the brutal reality of the state-building methods of Cesare Borgia (1475–1507) and Borgia’s father, Pope Alexander VI, who were then engaged in the process of trying to bring a large part of central Italy under their possession. The pretext of defending Church interests was used as partial justification by the Borgias.
After Machiavelli’s involvement in an unsuccessful attempt to organize a Florentine militia against the return of the Medici family to power in 1512 became known, he was tortured, jailed and banished from an active role in political life. Machiavelli then left Florence and moved to his estate at Sant’Andrea in Percussina (near San Casciano in Val di Pesa) and devoted himself to study and to the writing of political treatises that earned him his intellectual place in the development of political philosophy and political theory. Despairing of the opportunity to remain directly involved in political matters, after a time, Machiavelli began to participate in intellectual groups in Florence and wrote several plays that (unlike his works on political theory) were both popular and widely known in his lifetime. Still, politics remained his main passion and, to satisfy this interest, he maintained a well-known correspondence with politically connected friends, attempting to become involved once again in political life.
In a letter to Francesco Vettori, he described his exile:
When evening comes, I go back home, and go to my study. On the threshold, I take off my work clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the clothes an ambassador would wear. Decently dressed, I enter the ancient courts of rulers who have long since died. There, I am warmly welcomed, and I feed on the only food I find nourishing and was born to savor. I am not ashamed to talk to them and ask them to explain their actions and they, out of kindness, answer me. Four hours go by without my feeling any anxiety. I forget every worry. I am no longer afraid of poverty or frightened of death. I live entirely through them.
It was during this time period that he wrote, The Prince, a handbook for politicians on the use of ruthless, self-serving and cunning behaviors, inspiring the term “Machiavellian” and establishing Machiavelli as the “father of modern political theory.” Instead of the more traditional subject of a hereditary prince, this work concentrates on the possibility of a “new prince.” To retain power, the “hereditary prince” must carefully maintain the sociopolitical institutions to which the people are accustomed, whereas a “new prince” has the more difficult task, since he must first stabilize his newfound power in order to build an enduring political structure.
Machiavelli asserted that social benefits of stability and security could be achieved in the face of moral corruption. Additionally, Machiavelli believed that public and private morality had to be understood as two different things in order to rule well. As a result, a ruler must be concerned not only with reputation, but must be willing to act immorally at the right times. As a political theorist, Machiavelli emphasized the occasional need for brute force or deception in order to retain power. In a sense, he established the framework for power and how it can be achieved and maintained in the realm of the political scene. Politics became a separate space in society with its own set of rules, concepts and moral codes.
The main theme of this work about monarchical rule and survival is man’s capacity for determining his own destiny in opposition to the power of fate. This political philosophy has been interpreted to mean that one may resort to any means, in order to establish and preserve total authority.
Many believe that the book’s main character, the prince, was based on Cesare Borgia and still others view it as a work of satire. Pope Clement VIII, however, condemned The Prince for its endorsement of rule by deceit and fear. One excerpt from the book reads: “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” “Machiavellianism” is a widely used, negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort Machiavelli described in The Prince. The book itself gained notoriety and wide readership because the author seemed to be endorsing behavior often deemed as evil and immoral.
In addition to The Prince, Machiavelli wrote the treatise, On the Art of War (1521) and several poems and plays, including The Mandrake. In his later years, Niccolò Machiavelli resided in a small village just outside of Florence. He died on June 21, 1527 and his tomb is in the church of Santa Croce in Florence which, ironically, he had been banned from entering during the last years of his life.
Machiavelli’s ideas had a profound impact on political leaders throughout the modern west and his work was widely published following the invention of the printing press. It was reported that The Prince was spoken of highly by Thomas Cromwell in England and the work had influenced Henry VIII in his implementation of political tactics. A copy was also possessed by the Catholic king and emperor, Charles V. Catholic writers associated Machiavelli with the Protestants, whereas Protestants saw him as Italian and Catholic. In fact, he apparently influenced both Catholic and Protestant kings.
The Italian Renaissance Table
During the Renaissance, Italy had the most skilled, well-known and creative cooks in Europe. They took Italian fine dining to new levels of refinement and prestige. Large, elaborate banquets were held in the dining rooms of the dukes and princes who governed the many small states throughout Italy.
Many of the Medieval flavors and preparations were carried over to the Renaissance, like the generous use of spices, the addition of sugar to savory dishes and the widespread consumption of roasts, stuffed pastas, tarts and pies.
The use of light sauces made of fruit or aromatic plants were mixed or thickened with the soft part of bread, flour, almonds or eggs. Sometimes, these sauces were flavored with acidic juices and mixed spices.
During the Renaissance, people developed a great love for giblets and other offal, poultry and fish. In addition, you could find a large selection of stews, long pasta noodles, stuffed pasta and maccheroni. Milk and dairy products were used often: butter became as important as lard, heavy cream became popular and people began cooking with all types of cheeses.
Fruit and citrus were fundamental flavoring agents and fruit became a popular part of the dishes served at the beginning of a meal.
Here are some recipes as they would have been made during the Renaissance years.
Here is the translation from Latin left by Giovanni Bockenheym, cook to Pope Martin V:
“Take some fine aromatic herbs, such as parsley, marjoram, rue, mint or sage and so on, and pound them in a mortar. Then take some raw egg and fresh cheese and mix with some raisins; add saffron, ginger and other sweet spices together with some fresh butter. Then make the dough; use it to line a greased pan, fill with the mixture and some more butter and cover with more dough. When it is cooked, sprinkle with sugar and whole pine nuts. And this will be superlative for courtiers and their wives.”
The recipe comes from:G. BONARDI, Giovanni Bockenheym e la Cucina di Papa Martino V, Milan, Mondadori, 1995, BIGAB 1. 112. 3.
Cappelletti alla Cortigiana
“Boil 100 grams of belly of pork and half a capon breast and chop them up very finely. Add 200 grams of soft cheese and 50 of matured cheese, two eggs, some spices, very little ginger, pepper and salt and mix everything together carefully.
Cut out some thin discs of pasta and use to enclose the mixture, so that each “cappelletto” is no larger than half a chestnut. Cook the “cappelletti” in a good capon stock, made yellow by adding saffron, and serve sprinkled with sweet spices and grated Parmesan cheese. These special “cappelletti” were also made with a filling of breast of pigeon, pheasant or other birds.”
The recipe comes from:L. BARTOLOTTI, A Tavola con i Malatesti, Rimini, Panozzo, 1988, BIGAB 9. 23. 4.
Panunto con provatura fresca (sweet-sour spicy fried bread with mozzarella)
“Heat some butter and use it to brown some slices of previously toasted bread.
On each of these put a slice of mozzarella and grill. When the cheese has melted and become golden, dust the “crostini” with a mixture of sugar and ground cinnamon, sprinkle with rose water and serve piping hot.”
The recipe comes from:M. SALEMI, La Cucina Rinascimentale, Florence, Libriliberi, 2003, BIGAB 9. 22. 8.
“Take a melon that is not too ripe and clean it; beat eight eggs together with eight ounces of sugar; grate eight ounces of fresh cheese and four of mild matured cheese and mix together with some cinnamon, cloves and pepper.
Amalgamate everything to obtain a homogeneous mixture and put this into a buttered pan lined with a very thin layer of pastry; then cook slowly, covering the pan with a lid and placing some embers on the lid, so that it also receives heat from above”.
The recipe comes from:G.L. ERCOLANI – D. LOSCALZO, La Dieta Ermetica. la Cucina nel Rinascimento, Lugano, Todaro, 2003, BIGAB 9. 23. 7.
Here are some modern interpretations of those old Tuscany recipes.
Swiss Chard and Herb Pie
- 1 pound Swiss Chard – stems and ribs removed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
- 1-17.03 ounce package frozen puff pastry, thawed (two sheets)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9 inch pie pan. Chop the Swiss chard.
Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic. Saute 1 minute. Add chard and cook until just wilted, about two minutes. Transfer chard to large mixing bowl. Let cool. Mix in ricotta and the next 7 ingredients.
Roll out 1 pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface to about a 14-inch square. Transfer pastry to the pie pan. Trim edges leaving a 1-inch overhang.
Fill pastry with the chard mixture. Lightly brush pastry overhang with a pastry brush dipped in water.
Roll out the 2nd pastry sheet to a 13-inch square. Using the pan as a guide, trim pastry square into a 10-inch round. Drape over filling. Seal edges.
Bake about 45 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Cool ten minutes before cutting the tart.
- 1/2 chicken breast sautéed in butter and minced
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk
- A pinch of nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- A pinch of salt and pepper
- Homemade or store-bought pasta sheets or lasagna noodles
Mix the ricotta, cooked chicken, eggs, cheese. nutmeg, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Mix well.
For the pasta, make homemade pasta sheets using 2 1/2 cups of flour and three eggs or purchase several sheets of store-made fresh pasta or lasagna noodles.
To make the cappelletti:
Place a sheet of fresh pasta on a well floured surface. Use a round cookie cutter to cut out 2-inch diameter circles of dough. Put a level teaspoon of the stuffing in the middle of each circle and fold the circles over to make half moons, dampening the edges of the disks a little to make sure they stay stuck together.
Then wrap the half moons around your little finger, giving them a half-twist to turn up one pair of corners and pressing the other pair together to make little rings.
With this recipe you should get between four and five dozen cappelletti.
To serve the cappelletti in broth, you will need two quarts of chicken broth. Gently boil the cappelletti in the broth until they are al dente, about 3-5 minutes.
Serve in pasta or soup bowls and pass extra cheese for topping the soup.
Toasted Garlic Bread
- 1 (1 pound) loaf Italian bread
- 5 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Chopped parsley for garnish
Preheat the broiler.
Cut the bread into slices 1 thick.
In a small bowl, mix butter, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Spread the mixture thinly and evenly on the bread slices.
Place the bread slices on a baking sheet and broil 5 minutes or until slightly brown. Check frequently so they do not burn.
Remove from the broiler. Top with the mozzarella cheese and return to the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese is slightly brown and melted.
Garnish with parsley.
Melon and Lemon Curd Tart
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 lb (10 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled, chopped
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons chilled water
- 1/4 small cantaloupe melon, rind removed, sliced thin
- 1/4 small honeydew melon, rind removed, sliced thin
- 2 passion fruit, halved and chopped
- 10 oz jar of lemon curd
Place flour, sugar and butter in a food processor. Process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add egg yolk and chilled water. Process until dough just comes together.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until just smooth. Shape into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Grease a 9 inch round tart pan. Roll out pastry between 2 sheets of wax paper to fit the tart pan. Line pan with the pastry. Trim excess. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place prepared pan on a baking sheet. Line pastry with parchment paper. Fill with ceramic pie weights or uncooked rice. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove weights or rice and baking paper. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden. Set aside to cool completely.
Spread lemon curd in cooled pastry. Arrange cantaloupe and honeydew melon slices on top of the lemon curd. Sprinkle with chopped passion fruit. Refrigerate for 2 hours to chill before serving.
- Op-Ed Contributors: Why Machiavelli Matters (nytimes.com)