From Petrarch to Machiavelli: the birth of a political ancestry during Fascism
Abstract: This contribution aims to examine the declensions of the connection between Petrarch and Machiavelli, in some studies carried out between the Twenties and Forties of the 20th Century. It is in fact a key critical season which brings such a relationship into sharp focus for defining the terms of Petrarch’s politicalness as well as for bringing into the light some modern sources of Machiavelli’s, indispensable for understanding his vision on history and classical models. In some of the readings of these years, beside a historical-philological address, another one is found, more exquisitely ideological in character, which, in the relationship between the two authors, aims to give value to the nationalistic component, and then a given perception of Italy and its role in history, also with a reference to the politics of the Fascist regime.
Keywords: Machiavelli, Petrarch, Humanism, Modernity, morals, nation, politics, Fascism.
Contemporary critics do not struggle when they have to legitimize, in political terms, the relationship between Petrarch and Machiavelli, two great authors of the civil and literary Italian tradition1.
Nevertheless, the forms of this complex relationship have been exposed to an intense critical labour, over time. In this place, in particular, the intent is to shed light on a period, corresponding to the first half of the last century, when the interest in Petrarch’s politicalness happened to be growing, together with the possibility of verifying its specific character, examining Petrarchan motives present in Machiavellian writing.
The partial involvement of the Aretinian poet in the political events of his time has influenced these judgements and a part of the critics that, at least after the first half of the 19th century, intended to verify the significance of political motives in Petrarchan lyric poems. If on one side 19th century Positivistic culture promoted new research on the whole corpus of Petrarchan literature, promoting also Latin writings – consider the works by Alfred Mézières (1868) and Pierre de Nolhac (1894) –, mostly patriotic “feelings”, and nationalistic ideology, were the ones that set forth the fortune of political Petrarch between the 19th and 20th century2. Between philology and ideology, especially during the Fascist Ventennio, a critical journey is completed, along which Petrarch and Machiavelli shed light on each other.
To this political baptism, the curiosity fed by the spirit of Risorgimento for the national Petrarch absolutely contributed, for the author of the civil songs O aspectata in ciel, Spirto gentil, Italia mia,3 from where there seemed to emerge a hint to the constitution of Italian unity, and from which Machiavelli draws for Il Principe, but also for chapter XXIX in the VI book of Istorie fiorentine. Nevertheless, the possibility to legitimize the political profile of the Aretinian was hindered by a relevant part of the critics, that, especially in the second half of 19th century, still connected Petrarch with Petrarchism. In other words, the poet was mostly considered for that melancholy and slothful character that had made him the first Romantic in Italian literature.4 In dealing with Petrarch’s politicalness, however, interpretational variations and different levels of in-depth analysis turned up: hence, beside the reflections of scholars like Giuseppe Ferrari or Ferdinando Cavalli5, more robust research came up from Bonaventura Zumbini, the author of Studi su Petrarca (1878). Moreover, the swaying of the Aretinian’s political positions, from the participation to Cola di Rienzo’s feat, to his support to Visconti principality, and hence his ostensible distance with respect to the political complexity of the century he lived in, contributed to corroborate his impoliticness. The missed involvement in some key moments of 14th century political life, his unsteadiness in participating to the political clash, made him, especially in De Sanctis’ interpretation, the emblem of a literature that was careless about its civil function.6 This critical perspec-tive, where Petrarch’s commitment is resolved into the formal dawdling of writing to which there corresponds a moving away from political reality, looks outdated at this point and today the political rehabilitation of the poet is fully accomplished.
He is now recognized like the great promoter of a secularization and modernization of politics’ languages and forms, starting from the acknowledgement of the importance gained by the word as an instrument capable of redefining the horizon of the Human and establishhing a new way to approach politics7. As a foundation for this role of rhetoric inferred from the classical world (from Cicero and Seneca, in particular) there is a conception of eloquence as an instrument of human self-teaching and of the role of perfecting men assigned to words. This is about a vision of culture that shifts the individual’s reflection from the investigation on mankind and on the other-worldly perspective of his salvation to a research, enclosed in the discovery of modern conscience, that a man conducts on himself and for himself. Nevertheless, between the 19th and 20th century there passed a season of an overall rethinking of Petrarch’s image, also in the perspective of overcoming the equation between Petrarch and Petrarchism. A role with non-negligible importance was assumed precisely by the critical relationship established between Petrarch and Machiavelli. After all, the Classics’ lesson recovery, their exemplar value, comes to Machiavelli through the Humanistic tradition, heir to that promotion of the ancient, which is a tradition founded on the secular connection between city, politics, and the individual, owed to Petrarch. This cultural perspective assigns an extraordinary importance to the sphere of the Human and its values, no more serving a function in a vision of political order universalistic in character, linked to the role of the Empire, but capable of constituting the coordinates of a particular micro-cosmos, that of civitas and the cives8.
The curiosity to delve the relationship between Petrarch and Machiavelli, after all, is aroused, already in 19th century critics, by the recurrence, in the closing of Il Principe, of the well-known verses of Petrarch’s song Italia mia, benché il parlar sia indarno. Although keeping off certain Petrarchism that consisted in proposing again conventional, as well as stylish, amorous subjects, the Florentine Secretary draws from Petrarch as the inspirer of a concrete political commitment9. In fact, he seals his most fortunate treatise adhering to the Petrarchan exhortation, and so the plea to operate actively for intervening upon reality. On one side, Machiavelli considers Petrarch a modern classic, an innovator in style – remember, for example, the incipit, and the other Petrarchan casts, in the well-known letter to Francesco Vettori of December 151310. On another, this admiration is not disconnected from the awareness of a modernity that emerges especially through Petrarch’s epistolary writings, that are among his most political texts, maybe known directly, or more likely by means of their vulgarization. This is an authentic revolution of thought that addresses that way of reading political and social changes, starting from the renewed vision of the relationship between man and history. A connection from which, beside the anxiety of the individual, the exemplarity of history emerges – that means exploiting the ancient in a new way –, but also the awareness of the incidental, of the finite space where men can operate actively with the aim of change. In this direction, the Aretinian acts as a promoter of a process of secularization, not only favoured by a rereading of auctoritates, but also by the elaboration of a theory of power – fruit of the analysis of his time’s institutional reality – that concerns legitimizing the sovereignty as well as a virtuous government’s practices, and even prefigures, well in advance of Machiavelli, the autonomy of politics and its independence from the sphere of the Sacred. It is a vision that will have a large appeal during the Humanism, and then in the Renaissance, connected with the modern use of the category of time, of its caducity and its wearing action that acts also on politics as a dimension of the Human.
Petrarch, a nostalgic interpreter of an entirely earthly reality, centred on precariousness and on the acedia of everyday life, is a witness of this new horizon, deeply changing already. The crisis of universalistic institutions and of the hierarchical order of the feudal Middle Ages is in fact accompanied by that of major doctrinaire settlements, like Scholasticism, not more capable of interpreting and accept the new questions coming from a changing economic, social, and cultural context. The sunset of Universalism reflects itself also in the new set up of political institutions that witness the rise of bourgeois classes and particularistic state formations. The Humanistic tradition, after all, accumulates a distance from the rigidity of great doctrinaire syntheses of Universalistic inspiration to rethink society starting from the precariousness of human condition, from the finiteness of any earthly experience. In a similar context, even the recovery of auctores and proposing again the ancient knowledge intervene to mark the transition from a communal culture to a super-national one. Petrarch is an observer of this profound change and an interpreter of the innovating character of modern thought.
From Petrarch to Machiavelli: a discontinuous political line
Between the Twenties and the Forties of the last century, however, the one of Modernity is not the only subject adopted to give value to the civil Petrarchan heritage, that is moreover recognized in unmistakably political authors like Machiavelli. The connection between the two acts along a double direction: Petrarch, and a part of Humanistic culture, are studied as sources of Machiavelli’s; the Florentine Secretary, in turn, contributes – sometimes in a more openly ideological fashion, elsewhere in a way more faithful to history – to legitimize Petrarch’s politicalness, sanctioned by 19th century culture. On one side, the intent is to enable the political significance of Petrarchan works by means of Machiavelli; on the other, in Petrarch a source for the Florentine Secretary is recognized, from which even a modern of history and politics would originate. For sure, early 19th century tradition, especially in Actualist Idealism, in the pursuit of a unity between ideal and real, between the evolution of the spiritual forms of thought and the author’s personality, recognized the Aretinian as the first Modern in history, in his role of mediator for the ancient culture, but above all in the one of promoter of a new philosophy of Man.
In particular, during the Fascist Ventennio, although with differing interpretational twists, there was a challenging work on the political Petrarch by Vittorio Cian, Nicola Zingarelli, Arturo Marpicati, Giulio Augusto Levi, Luigi Russo, Attilio Momigliano, Roberto Forges Davanzati, Francesco Ercole, Arrigo Solmi, Guido Mazzoni, Rodolfo De Mattei and, not as the last, Giovanni Gentile, author of two articles, published between 1934 and 1942,11 respectively on Petrarch’s philosophy and political thought. Not a few among those scholars propose again to match Petrarch with Machiavelli. Both, together with Dante, are included in 19th century political canon of the authors of the Italian tradition considered as ideal precursors of national unity, but also as initiators of Modernity, in a historical phase when historiography was questioning itself about the right settling into periods for the concepts of Humanism, Renaissance, Reform. In particular, the Dante-Petrarch matching never fades and, especially in the 19th century, when Dante rises as a symbol to identify with for a national political redemption, for the civil reaction of Risorgimento, Petrarch’s politicalness is obtained accounting for defects, and still De Sanctis’ judgement plays a major role, as he doesn’t consider the Aretinian poet involved enough in the political reality12.
The early-20th-century connection established between Petrarch and Machiavelli, after all, is influenced by the oscillation between an actualizing approach, more political-ideological, and a historicizing one, that brings back the authors to their own time. The Florentine Secretary’s story, in particular, was always superimposed on his fortune’s: if Machiavelli is in fact an author liable to diverse interpretations, Machiavellism, across centuries, demonstrated the extraordinary, and sometimes unexpected, vitality of Machiavellian reflection (among politics, literature, history).
With reference to the context that is examined here, dealing with Machiavelli during Fascism means necessarily putting first the political aspects of his thought, frequently subdued to the regime’s needs, and not always respecting historical and philological truth, but often to identify in the past the premises of the present, of the accomplishment of the national life. Nevertheless, and although it is necessary not to neglect that during the Ventennio in the readings of Machiavelli’s works an actualizing approach prevailed, the voices of those that exactly through the relationship with Petrarch rebuilt an important chapter of the history of criticism in more philologically correct terms were not missing.
The way in which the two authors were read coincides after all with a question made by politics to culture, between the early 19th century and the rise of Fascism. In particular, the ascending regime, to consolidate the identification process activated by the Risorgimento, resorts to literature too. In that way, it encourages a systematic propaganda centred on the actualization of authors from the national political tradition, to sanction their political affinity with the Fascist State.
Some examples in this direction come from the pen of prominent scholars, politicians, intellectuals, who unmistakably recall the political character of Petrarch’s works, leveraging, in primis, on the homeland dominance, and therefore on the preconisation of the imperial future of the third Rome, contained in the pages of Africa. This work in Latin hexameters, dedicated to the Roberto d’Angiò, King of Naples, was in fact considered a true national epic poem, where the celebration of republican Rome’s value and the dominance on Cartago have their place. Through those pages, Petrarch overcame the philosophical dimension of pioneer of Modernity to become an interpreter of Fascist Rome’s modern supremacy and its colonialist ambitions. In many contributions, which appeared in this period, the subject of homeland, exasperated in terms of actuality, although filtered through the myth of Rome, is absolutely crucial. If for some fervent nationalists, who then landed on Fascism, the Aretinian cultivates the ideal of Italy as a dogma, in other words a resurrection of the nation capable of giving back a historical dignity to the Italian people13, for others, Petrarch’s patriotic songs hint at an elegiac feeling, a melancholy one that remains the distinctive style of his writing.14 Rome, in many cases, is recalled as an eternal model of “political greatness”, but also of religious one, seat of both political and spiritual authorities, an absolute ideal of civilization for the Aretinian poet, crowned in the Capitoline Hill and vate of the new Italy, of its rebirth, before Machiavelli.15 In this phase, Machiavelli’s proximity contributes to sanction Petrarch’s Modernity and to confirm his distance from Dante, who is an author of the nation too, but closer to the medieval historical and philosophical context.
In such a horizon, suspended between ideology and history, contributions of different tenor emerge. Consider Vittorio Cian, literary critic, among the founders of the Italian Nationalistic Party and an active supporter of the Fascist regime, who, in the 15th of July 1927 issue of Rivista d’Italia, dedicated to the celebration of the fourth centenary of Machiavelli’s death, measures himself on the connection between the Florentine Secretary and Petrarch.16 He inaugurates a reflection that is not an absolutely new one, but that would elicit further developments and replies, also very explicit ones like Antonio Gramsci’s, who was already locked up in jail. He, even before rejecting the juxtaposition of the two authors in his Quaderni, judging Petrarch’s political thought still embrionale with respect to Machiavelli’s, about the professor from Turin, considered a pedante esasperato, wrote that he embodied the pettegolezzo letterario and the laborious and vacuous academic erudition.17 In his considerations, Cian actually insists on an important theme. He, marking a distinction between Petrarch and Petrarchism, along the path of Arturo Graf’s studies, challenges the traditional and monotonous image of the lyrical Petrarch, Laura’s epic poet.
On the other hand, in a succeeding work, the scholar, with more explicit and rhetorically redundant tones, would insist on the political-patriotic lyrism, replete with Romanism and the cult of Latin civilization, recalling the most significant political proofs of Petrarchan writing to conclude:
Credo che molti ammiratori del suo Canzoniere rinunzierebbero volen-tieri con me ad alcuni dei tanti sonetti sospirosi d’amore per Laura, pur d’avere, in cambio, lumeggiati e commentati in altri sonetti vibranti di nostalgia romana e di profezia, gli eventi, allora tristemente fuggevoli, della storia italiana.18
The rehabilitation of the most integral figure of Petrarch poeta della patria, in Cian, passes through Machiavelli, who already became one of the interpreters of the national rebirth. He, closing Il Principe with the invocation drawn from the song Italia mia, but taking inspiration also from Spirto gentil, makes the Petrarchan feeling of Romanism his own, as well as the message of Italian value and virtue, the theme of a national redemption to be achieved with one’s own weapons. These are motives that strengthen the relationship between the two great classics and qualify the kind of their interaction. Cian writes, about this:
Come i veri poeti sono veggenti […] così l’efficacia del Petrarca poeta sul Machiavelli statista, fu provvidenziale, gli aperse meglio gli occhi, gli scaldò il cuore e ne fece un prezioso alleato del cervello, gli donò una visione più chiara del più remoto futuro a suggello della visione avuta, sulle orme di Tito Livio, del passato dell’Italia romana.19
The Venetian scholar is convinced of Petrarch’s modernity, who, exactly like Machiavelli, has to be considered a precursor of unitary political vision, prelude to the nation. In such a direction he argues with Federico Chabod to question every manifestation of divisionismo critico, emphasizing how the poet Petrarch was not only an inspirer of feelings, but also of thought and political action.20
In the same years, the philologist and linguist Nicola Zingarelli, although recognizing a national author in Petrarch, inspired by homeland love, but preferring a critical setting more respectful of texts, in which however the echo of Gentilian Actualism is heard, would write about Petrarch’s political ideas. With respect to other scholars, Zingarelli without hesitation does consider the Aretinian un politico di professione and, valorising in particular the Petrarchan epistolary, believes that his political tension is not filtered by literature21.
The article goes through places and themes of the Petrarchan journey, delving in the poet’s more political texts, suspended between l’amor degli studi e l’amor della patria22, and shedding light on his connections with the centres of power, but also looking at how the idea of freedom was stated, now with reference to republican Rome, then to the Roman Empire. Here it is not missing the temptation to read the spirit of the nation and of homeland in the Petrarchan journey, although the historical framework is more rigorous. A reference to Machiavelli is not missing either, who assumes Petrarch’s lesson with a view to the accomplishment of the homeland’s political-state-wise ideal. Zingarelli writes:
La fede nella virtù del popolo italiano era un sentimento suo così verace che prestò le sue parole a Niccolò Machiavelli, ha suggerito la profezia a Vittorio Alfieri. Troppo mancava prima che gl’Italiani ritrovassero e sprangassero per sempre le loro Alpi; ma egli era sicuro che lo avrebbero fatto immancabilmente23.
A contribution only a few years later, and that delves into the connection Petrarch-Machiavelli, preserving a philological urgency and the rigorous attention to texts, is the one from Giulio Augusto Levi, published for the first time in 193224. In this case too, the solid link with the contest and the continuous reference to the epistolary ensure an accurate reading of history, less unbalanced towards the nationalistic side.
A refined scholar of Alfieri, Leopardi and Manzoni, literary critic, prevented from teaching in 1938 because of his Hebrew origin, in the Petrarchan epistolary Levi recognizes a precious reserve of political motives and in Titus Livy’s works a fecund historical basin for the Aretinian, as well as for Machiavelli. Petrarchan politicalness is filtered here through literature, therefore Levi is concerned with closing the gap between the writer and his political vision, starting from the recognition of recurring Petrarchan songs’ motives in the Florentine Secretary’s works. The disprezzo delle milizie mercenarie, l’invito a fondare la sicurezza dello Stato nell’amore dei sudditi, il ricordo delle glorie antiche con la fede che possano rinnovarsi, l’aborrimento degli stranieri, e l’invito alla concordia fra gli Stati italiani, become, in this way, together with other topoi extracted from the Familiari, the conceptual plot the two authors have in common, the motives of a political lexicon Modern in taste. This is a Modernity that is derived also from the comparison with Dante and from the different perception of history and the Empire that set the two authors apart from each other: Levi recognizes the perception of the Empire’s weakness in Petrarch, and, in his epistles, he challenges its eternity, as he is already aware of its earthly dimension, passing. In this direction, the scholar poses another critical assumption of great interest developed by succeeding Machiavellian criticism. The political inconsistency for which Petrarch is blamed is not dissimilar from the one attributed to the Florentine Secretary, author of the Discorsi and Il Principe, two works that only to less savvy readers could suggest an ideological oscillation. Petrarch and Machiavelli pursued a common objective, like Levi clarifies: In verità l’uno e l’altro non ebbero dogmi immutabili; cercarono e augurarono il bene dell’Italia per quelle vie e da quegli uomini che di volta in volta sembravano meglio appropriati alle circostanze25. So, Petrarch himself, – witness of an epochal change, represented by the turning of the communal city-State into the model of the Signoria territorial State – encourages tribune Cola di Rienzo’s initiative in the same way in which, some years later, celebrates the power of Milan’s and Padua’s Signori, cultivating the dream of culture’s key role in the process of forming the optimal ruler leading a political reality inspired by Roman res publica. In the collection Da Dante a Machiavelli, not only does Levi propose again his former essay on Petrarca e Machiavelli, that closes with the sign of a political commonality in the “spirit” of the two authors but following up on the subjects already dealt with there, he insists on the Concetto monarchico del Petrarca.26 In this case as well, there stands out an image of the poet immersed in the political events of his time and that had a realistic, lively, perception of reality. The judgements on the government and men of power, from Carlo IV to Roberto d’Angiò, Cola di Renzo, prove this historical farsightedness but also the practical substance of his writing, not that far from the Machiavellian one. In respect to that, an epistle can be regarded as a proof, Senile XIV,1, De republica administranda, addressed to Padua’s lord Francesco da Carrara, which includes a real government program27. Here the spirit of Renaissance can be found to be reflected also in the prominence reserved to the lord’s role in the State’s body, the virtuous administrator, whose image, as the head of the social body, reflects the organicist metaphor of government.
Petrarch as antidote to Machiavelli in Rodolfo De Mattei
On the other hand, among those who, in the historical phase covered here, offered a reading of Petrarch’s politicalness, of singular interest there was the historian of political doctrines Rodolfo de Mattei, known for his studies on Counter-Reformation, and Tommaso Campanella’s political thought, but also on utopianism and the crisis of democracy in Italian Post-Unitary institutions. In the Sentimento politico del Petrarca of 1944, in particular, where some articles published between 1928 and 1937 are reconsidered and examined in depth, in a phase when the scholar’s participation to the cultural initiative fostered by the Fascist regime was most active, Petrarch’s political significance emerges through the contrast with Machiavelli. Although De Mattei didn’t expressly dedicate a work to him, he converses uninterruptedly with the Florentine Secretary along the course of his writings. Through Campanella, Petrarch, Savonarola, Ammirato, the authors that are dearest to him, he puts some distance from a given view of politics embodied by the Florentine. This constitutes an inescapable term of comparison to enter the Modernity of the history of political thought. Even De Mattei’s notion of Machiavellism, as the area of interest where multiple research contributions about cultures and authors who came before Machiavelli can be included, is interpreted as a clue to bad politics that does not realize the synthesis between Men’s practical sphere and the ethical one, and instead embodies the dimension of the state deprived of humanitas as a proof of its being ethical28.
The scholar’s research is, after all, animated by a tension towards Machiavelli and Machiavellism that implies the refusal of the incidental character of politics, its self-sufficiency and so the netta separazione della politica dalla morale29. The same tension is perceived, after all, in the earliest research on Tommaso Campanella, at whom De Mattei looked to recognize, in the tradition of 17th century political thought, an aware and meditated anti-Machiavellism, directed to the followers of the Florentine who had diminished the concepts of religion, hierarchy, authority.30 In those pages, where the metaphysical identity of politics was affirmed, Campanella, exactly like Petrarch, was proposed as an antidote to politics resolved into the techniques and ploys needed to conserve power, in a practice of prudence that coincides with fraud and dissimulation, condensed in Machiavelli, and even more in Machiavellism. The synthesis of De Mattei’s studies on Petrarch, on the other hand, is traversed in a preponderant way by the moral question and by the conviction that the Aretinian poet’s heritage, the essence of a culture of man that is inaugurated with him, consists in a modern vision of politics filtered by ethics. In that way, he recognizes and gives value to the spiritual and universalistic dimension of the poet’s civil writing, derived by contrast through the comparison with Machiavelli. From De Mattei’s works, there emerges a request of ethicalness that responds to an individual political and cultural vision, and implies the refusal to read Men and the forms of civil life with the key of immanence and materiality, but which intercepts well the Petrarchan meaning of a virtuous government, that refers directly to the nature of the one who governs and to the concept of dignificazione divina della responsabilità di governo, where the genesis of a secular political culture can be found, one coming from a syncretism between Classical and Christian traditions.31 However, the problem posed by De Mattei does not pertain to the moral question only; according to the scholar, the Machiavellian lesson opens also to a problem of political order and to a vision of Men in their social dimension. By valorising exponents of that Italian political tradition that repels raw realism, like Petrarch and Campanella, the scholar intends to reaffirm the centrality of the spiritual dimension in the forms of political organization and to propose a conception of Men that is alternative to the Machiavellian one. Petrarch, who celebrates the virtuous governing as almost divine in his nature, whose humanity lies in this moral superiority, responds well to De Mattei’s political question.
However, Machiavelli’s although discreet presence in the pages of Sentimento politico reflects De Mattei’s original concern, because the Florentine Secretary proposes again a concept of Men – also in his pessimistic view on their nature –, and of the politician, who emancipates himself from the idea of the Absolute and refers his activities to a system of irrational forces. He sanctions the lexicon of the scission between moral and politics, making this fracture almost the fundamental characteristic of Modern politics.
If in the last part of the monography the Sicilian scholar reaffirms the terms of the Aretinian’s politicalness, who from ethics comes into politics, and recognizes in Machiavelli the far Petrarchan inspiration, in the central part of the work the distance between the two becomes more relevant.
Since the first chapter, in fact, De Mattei reads a strong ethical structure in Petrarch, that comes from the culture of studia humanitatis, in that knowledge and civil tradition patrimony, which, treasuring the Classics, particularly the Ciceronian Stoicism and the lesson by Plato and Augustine, refers to the highest dimension of the Human. Also, in dealing with political themes, there emerges the specificity of Petrarch’s aristocratic profile, the question he asks an intellectual world very far from the one that Machiavelli, who in San Casciano non disdegna d’ingaglioffirsi coi fornaciai e coi beccai, giocando e rissando32, measures himself with. In an analogous way, in the pages dedicated to Repubblica, Impero, Signoria, De Mattei goes through again the essence of the Aretinian’s political reflection, assuming the conviction, already emerged in Giulio Augusto Levi, that according to Petrarch the forms of government are not rigid models and the option for different ones doesn’t mean an ideological oscillation33. With reference to the lordship model, however, he believes that the real Prince, for the Aretinian, is sketched in the Vite degli uomini illustri, where Caesar is celebrated most. He embodies the ruler, virtuous, magnanimous, not comparable to the Machiavellian Prince. In that sense, De Mattei observes: Questo reggitore petrarchesco è, dunque, aderente all’ideale del Rinascimento […] ma sarebbe arrischiato accostarlo, come fa taluno, al principe machiavellico. Dire che l’amore e la liberalità raccomandati dal Petrarca al principe non rispondono più a un dovere morale dell’ottimo individuo, ma rappresentano “soltanto prevalentemente un’accorta e fine astuzia di governo […]”, significa trascurare tutto il valore della moralità del Poeta da troppe prove documentata.34 In addition, in order to mark the distance from Machiavelli, the scholar recalls Petrarch’s aversion for tyranny and for whatever form of arbitrary and despotic government: the optimal princeps’ human virtues and civil duties that can be learned from the Aretinian are other things with respect to the practical and utilitarian qualities that would emerge from the Florentine Secretary’s work, about whom he writes:
E tanto meno dovremo ritenerci “molto vicini alla teoria del Machiavelli, che il fine giustifica i mezzi, quando si tratta di mantenere il proprio governo e salvaguardarlo dai nemici.” Bisognerebbe, per sottoscrivere ciò, dimenticare i concetti di clemenza e liberalità, espressi in sensi assoluto dal Petrarca e in senso relativo dal Segretario Fiorentino35.
Machiavelli then has not to be considered as having sources in common with Petrarch, especially Plato, Cicero and Seneca, masters of a civil and moral system of classical ancestry, like it can be learned when De Mattei observes:
Dove si possa trovare il punto di contatto fra il Principe del Petrarca e il Principe del Machiavelli veramente non si vede. Si ritrovano, invece, riflessi platonici e senechiani nel richiamo alla voce della coscienza, e al rimorso che rende triste e infelice la vita; e si risentono echi ciceroniani allorché di precisa “nulla poter essere utile che non sia giusto e onesto”. Rammenta ancora Cicerone, e non davvero il Machiavelli, l’elogio che il Petrarca fa della giurisprudenza, cioè dell’attività intellettuale messa a servizio della vera e superiore giustizia. […] Eliminato il distacco fra popolo e sovrano, si comprende come il principe petrarchesco, contrariamente a quello machiavellico, tenga ad essere non temuto ma amato36.
As a consequence, the model of a prince, to whom it is dialectically opposed the Machiavellian one, mantled with moral virtues – historically consistent with the organicist vision of the State’s social body – is strictly connected with the refusal of the incidental character of reality and the immediateness of the political action. In Caesar’s figure as well, magnanimous, clement leader, De Mattei recognizes the absence a system of anti-Machiavellian virtues. The superiority of this ruler’s moral qualities constitutes in fact a homage non a una virtù effettuale di machiavellico sapore, a una capacità utilitaria […] ma a una sorta di divino, testimoniato, presso un uomo d’eccezione, da una somma di virtù spirituali e quasi teologali37.
During his studies, however, De Mattei doesn’t miss the cult of Rome’s centrality as the point of convergence between Petrarch and Machiavelli, and between these and Humanists, although a significant gap exists between the Machiavellian way of feeling and expressing this devotion towards the past and the one that belonged to 15th century culture. The Florentine, in fact, not only bends the lesson of the Ancient to an immediate utility, questioning the Classics to realize their lesson in the present, but doesn’t recognize the link between ethics and politics that, according to De Mattei, is established in the Humanism by means of the exaltation of exemplar figures, of political models characterized by a solid moral stature, but also by practical virtues. Machiavelli, therefore, seems to embody the antithesis of politics as permanently linked to morals and the Sicilian scholar, evidently, although admitting a certain influence of Petrarch on the Florentine Secretary,38 does not accept the notion of politics that with him bursts into the onset of the Modern Age.
With respect to the context examined so far, maybe a volume deserves a concluding remark, one dedicated to Petrarch by the Italianist and English Literature critic John Humphreys Whitfield, published for the first time in Oxford in 1943 and in an Italian edition in 194939. An attentive scholar of Machiavelli, Whitfield, in these pages, that rejects a narration of Humanism widely spread in 19th century, and favoured by Burckhardt’s studies, valorises that cultural revolution started by Petrarch. The Aretinian poet here looks like a giant on the threshold of the new time, the one who even getta le basi di un’indagine positiva dell’universo fisico and for first affirms the social ideal of virtue, that would be developed in the 15th century40. These are two hints that also touch the connection Petrarch-Machiavelli, in part already emerged in the same years, but put in sharp focus here with a singular attention to Petrarch’s incidence in the Humanistic-Renaissance tradition. In particular, the two authors are associated on the level of political arguments, the vision of history, the resort to the Ancient, of their view on Men. Here it can be found, apart from the most known passages of the Aretinian taken by Machiavelli, the final exhortation of Il Principe, and the disapproval of mercenary armies, as well as the affinity on the theoretical choice of monarchy. By comparing Familiare III,7 with Discorsi I,IV and I,XVIII, the necessity of the monarch is emphasized not for ideological reasons, but as a ruling choice that intervenes where corruption, abuse of power and civil struggles do not allow for any other option, except for a strong power that restrains any other41. In an analogous way, Whitfield detects the common attitude of the two authors towards the people, whose favour the ruler has to gain in order to safeguard his power. But it is the role of political power, that in a more substantial way creates an affinity that the English scholar considers deeper than it was believed at the time, and capable of addressing man’s freedom, justice, virtue, like it clearly shows when he writes:
Non sono sicuro, tuttavia, che la concordanza fra il Petrarca e il Machiavelli non vada anche più in là. Coloro che hanno ritenuto che la superficialità e l’incoerenza delle opinioni politiche del Petrarca siano provate dal fatto che egli fece appello successivamente a Roberto di Sicilia, a Cola, all’imperatore e al papa, non sempre hanno ricordato che egli ebbe lo stesso programma da proporre a ciascuno. […] La regia manus del Petrarca e la mano regia del Machiavelli hanno lo stesso ufficio, ed entrambi pensano in termini di una restaurazione dell’ordine in un mondo caotico, con gli stessi mezzi e con lo stesso fine. È probabilmente impossibile determinare quanto del Petrarca il Machiavelli avesse letto, o decidere se possiamo in questo legittimamente parlare di influsso; ma il fatto che essi parlano lo stesso linguaggio vale in certo modo ad attestare la forza e la saldezza dell’umanesimo originato dal Petrarca42.
Whitfield, who rejects the positions of that criticism that is constrained by the classifications of Scholasticism, and reluctant to recognize a connection between Petrarch and Machiavelli, also highlights the proximity between the Aretinian poet, father of Humanism, and the Florentine Secretary, an undisputed realist, on the way of looking at the Ancient. The firm reply to scholasticism, and the break with an important part of Medieval tradition that had “forgotten” Men, make Petrarch a great innovator, il solo vero scettico di tutto il tempo suo43. This research around Men, starting from the ancient knowledge, laical in character, doesn’t reduce itself to emulation: even with Petrarch and with greater vigour in Machiavelli, the Classical tradition filtered by Humanism is not just recovery, but also use of the Ancient44.
The two authors, on the other hand, would have in common an analogous vision of history and the ineluctable mechanisms that regulate human nature. If Machiavelli himself, in the diplomatic report Del modo di trattare i popoli della Valdichiana ribellati (1503), wrote that La istoria è la maestra delle azioni nostre […] e il mondo fu sempre ad un modo abitato da uomini che hanno avuto sempre le medesime passioni, Whitfield even observed: Non c’è niente qua, naturalmente, che sia estraneo alle idee del Petrarca sulla storia come esempio ed aiuto alla virtù: è la nota ispiratrice delle opere storiche del Petrarca stesso. Ma, d’altra parte, che altro sono i Discorsi, se non la realizzazione di questo programma? […] Quel che egli [Petrarca] vide fu che la pianta uomo è potenzialmente la stessa in tutti i tempi, capace perciò di raggiungere lo stesso livello di cultura e di virtù. Per secoli la pianta aveva avuto uno sviluppo deficiente, e il Petrarca le cercò nutrimento dove pensava che dovesse trovarsi nei moralisti dell’antichità45.
These are matters that were investigated in depth and subjected to a careful inspection by the succeeding critics. Nevertheless, it is possible to affirm that the political dialectic between the two authors begins to assume a more mature critical solidity in the first half of the last century, in a historical phase of intense criticality, marked by the rise of the Fascist regime in Italy. And during that critical season, although conditioned by heavy ideological claims, the substance of Petrarch’s, pioneer of Humanism, ethical-political heritage that arrived at Machiavelli, is yet distinguished. It is founded on a renewed culture of Men, on history – that has become a new source of human authority –, on the use of Classical authors in the texture of the political discourse, on the need to think about politics starting from the awareness of time’s mutability and human events’ one. Naturally, Machiavelli, with respect to Petrarch, even in this phase, stands out as an author of rupture for an episteme, having introduced all-round politics in modern history. In front of a past where politics lives in the concept of humanity or in the sense of common good, the Florentine Secretary poses himself in the sign of discontinuity and assigns to politics instead, intended as clash and conflict, the task of controlling and governing the “disunion” for the sake of the State’s constitution.
- A great many scholars are those who, in the last decades, dealt with Petrarch’s politicalness with a reference to Machiavelli and evaluating the whole corpus of the Aretinian’s works. As such a rich critical literature cannot be examined in this work, a key reference to be suggested, among others, is E. Scarpa, “Machiavelli e la «neutralità» di Francesco Petrarca”, Lettere Italiane, Vol. 3, No. XXVII, luglio-settembre 1975, pp. 263-285; G. Sasso, “Sul ventiseiesimo del «Principe». L’uso del Petrarca”, La Cultura, Vol. 2, No. XXXIII, agosto 1995, pp. 183-215; F. Bausi, “Petrarca, Machiavelli, Il Principe”, in J.-J. Marchand (ed.), Niccolò Machiavelli. Politico storico letterato, Atti del Convegno (Losanna, 27-30 settembre 1995), Roma, Salerno, 1996, pp. 41-58; F. Grazzini, “Patriottismo umanistico e strumentalizzazione politica: come Machiavelli adatta le canzoni petrarchesche”, in G. Rizzo (ed.), L’identità nazionale nella cultura letteraria italiana, Lecce, Congedo, I, pp. 115-123; F. D’alessandro, “Il Principe di Machiavelli e la lezione delle Familiares di Francesco Petrarca”, Aevum, Vol. 3, No. 80, settembre-dicembre 2006, pp. 641-669; EAD., Petrarca e i moderni. Da Machiavelli a Carducci: con un’appendice novecentesca, Milano ETS, 2007; M.C. Frigorilli, Machiavelli moralista. Ricerche su fonti, lessico e fortuna, Napoli, Liguori, 2006, in particular, pp. 3-43; R. Rinaldi, “Lettere rubate. Il Petrarca di Machiavelli”, in ID., Scrivere contro. Per Machiavelli, Parma, Unicopli, 2009, pp. 11-26; L. CHINES, “Petrarca Francesco”, in Machiavelli. Enciclopedia machiavelliana, Roma, Istituto Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani, 2014, pp. 298-301; M. Simonetta, Rinascimento segreto. Il mondo del Segretario da Petrarca a Machiavelli, Milano, FrancoAngeli, 2015.
- See G. Baldassarri, Unum in locum. Strategie macrotestuali nel Petrarca politico, Milano, LED, 2006, p. 12.
- Songs XXVIII, LIII, CXXVIII in Rerum vulgarium fragmenta.
- Naselli, Il Petrarca nell’Ottocento, Napoli, Società editrice Francesco Perrella, 1923, p. 202.
- See G. Ferrari, Corso sugli scrittori politici italiani, Milano, Manini, 1862, pp. 103-145 and F. Cavalli, La scienza politica in Italia, I, Venezia, Reale Ist. Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, 1865, pp. 39-48.
- De Sanctis’ interpretation, actually, was not limited to a political reduction of Petrarch, however acknowledged as the father of Modernity. L. Mitarotondo, “Storia, letteratura, identità. Interpretazioni di Petrarca nel Risorgimento”, in S. Suppa (ed.), L’inquietudine del cambiamento, Roma, Carocci, 2012, pp. 33-44.
- The literature about political Petrarch is rather rich today. In this paper, among other contributions, a key reference is M. Feo, “Politicità del Petrarca”, Quaderni petrarcheschi, Vol. IX-X, 1992-1993, pp. 115-128; G.M. Cappelli, “Petrarca e l’umanesimo politico del Quattrocento”, Verbum, Vol. VII, No. I, 2005, pp. 153-75; G. Ferraù, Petrarca, la politica, la storia, Messina, Centro di Studi Umanistici, 2006; G. Baldassarri, Unum in locum. Strategie macrotestuali nel Petrarca politico,; U. Dotti, Petrarca civile. Alle origini dell’intellettuale moderno, Roma, Donzelli, 2001; Petrarca politico, Atti del Convegno (Roma-Arezzo, 19-20 marzo 2004), Roma, Nella sede dell’Istituto, 2006; F. Furlan – S. Pittaluga (eds.), Petrarca politico, Milano, Ledizioni, 2016.
- Some passages reported here are in L. Mitarotondo, Percorsi italiani. Variazioni sul pensiero civile: dal “canto petrarchesco alla prosa gramsciana, Bari, Palomar, 2005, pp. 19-44.
- E. Scarpa, “Machiavelli e la «neutralità di Francesco Petrarca»“, cit., pp. 271-273.
- About this subject, refer to, among others, Ch. BEC, “Dal Petrarca al Machiavelli: il dialogo tra lettore e autore”, in ID., Cultura e società a Firenze nell’età della Rinascenza, Roma, Salerno, 1981, pp. 228-244; E. Scarpa, “Machiavelli e la «neutralità di Francesco Petrarca»“, cit.; G. Sasso, “Sul ventiseiesimo del ‘Principe’. L’uso del Petrarca”, cit.
- Gentile, “Il carattere della filosofia del Petrarca”, Nuova Antologia, Vol. CCCLXXIV, No. XII, luglio-agosto 1934, pp. 488-499. Id., “Il pensiero politico del Petrarca”, Nuova Antologia, Vol. CDXIX, No. XX, 16 gennaio 1942, pp. 107-116. Today the two papers are included in volume XIV of Gentile’s Opere complete. Cfr. G. Gentile, Il pensiero italiano del Rinascimento, Firenze, Sansoni, 1967, pp. 400-39.
- de Sanctis, Saggio critico sul Petrarca, edited by N. Gallo, Torino, Einaudi, 1952, p. 154.
- Marpicati, “Il pensiero politico del Petrarca”, Educazione fascista, Vol. XI, No. 6, 1933, p. 503. About the vitality of Petrarchan works, capable of anticipating the ideal of the Italian nation, cf. also R. Forges Davanzati, “L’importanza nazionale di Francesco Petrarca”, Annali della cattedra petrarchesca, Vol. I, 1930, pp. 135-46.
- A. Momigliano, “L’elegia politica del Petrarca”, in ID., Introduzione ai poeti, Firenze, Sansoni, 1964, pp. 12-13.
- See A. Baccelli, “Roma ai tempi del Petrarca”, Annali della cattedra petrarchesca, Vol. VII, 1937, pp. 61-75, but also G. Mazzoni, La vittoria di Roma su l’Affrica nel poema del Petrarca, ibid., pp. 29-57.
- Cian, “Machiavelli e Petrarca”, Rivista d’Italia, Vol. XXX, No. 6, 15 June 1927, pp. 279-88.
- A. Gramsci, “Per un mandarino dell’Università”, in ID., Sotto la Mole: 1916-1920, Torino, Einaudi, 1960, pp. 143-144. About this point, see F. Tateo, “Vittorio Cian fra Petrarca e petrarchismo”, Levia Gravia, Vol. VI, 2004, p. 7.
- Cian, Politica e poesia in Francesco Petrarca, Atti del Convegno Petrarchesco (Arezzo, 25-26 novembre 1928), Presso la R. Accademia Petrarca, Arezzo 1929, p. 4.
- , “Machiavelli e Petrarca”, cit., p. 285.
- Ibid., p. 287.
- N. Zingarelli, “Le idee politiche del Petrarca”, Nuova Antologia, Vol. CCLIX, No. VII, maggio-giugno 1928, p. 410.
- Ibid., p. 413.
- Ibid., p. 424.
- The essay, published in the Annali della cattedra petrarchesca, appeared later in a collection of essays, from which the citations are made. G.A. Levi, “Petrarca e Machiavelli”, in ID., Da Dante a Machiavelli, Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1935, pp. 94-104.
- Ibid., p. 98.
- Idem, “Il concetto monarchico del Petrarca”, in Da Dante a Machiavelli, pp. 105-17.
- ibid., p. 111.
- On this subject, see R. DE Mattei, Dal premachiavellismo all’antimachiavellismo, Firenze, Sansoni, 1969.
- Idem, “Per la storia del premachiavellismo”, Storia e politica, Vol. II, No. 2, 1963, p. 193. On the matter see also Idem, “Politica e morale prima di Machiavelli”, Firenze, Giuntina, 1944, pp. 5-16, then in Giornale critico della filosofia italiana, Vol. XXIX, No. I, 1950, pp. 56-67.
- Idem, “Campanella contro Machiavelli”, Rivista d’Italia, Vol. XXVII, No. X, 15 ottobre 1924, p. 271.
- See G.M. Cappelli, “Deo similis”: La “dignità del Principe” nell’Umanesimo politico”, in La dignità e la miseria dell’uomo nel pensiero europeo, Atti del Convegno internazionale (Madrid, 20-22 maggio 2004), Roma, Salerno, 2006, p. 172.
- Mattei, Il sentimento politico del Petrarca, Firenze, Sansoni, 1944, p. 13.
- On the subject, it has been observed: repubblica e signoria, Chiesa e Impero, erano non forme ideali, ma fatti pratici, contingenti, tutti di volta in volta accettabili, purché in grado di largire agli uomini pace e giustizia, e, a lui, Petrarca, otium, possibilità di raccoglimento studioso. G. Petronio, “Storicità della lirica politica del Petrarca”, Studi petrarcheschi, 1961, p. 254; and more recently: Di fatto, il pensiero politico del Petrarca non si riduce alle prese di posizione puntuali nei riguardi di temi generali e pur rilevanti, quali l’Impero, la Chiesa, Roma repubblicana, la libertas dell’Italia o la rivolta di Cola di Rienzo, problemi attuali riferentisi alla ”cronaca” politica; esso ha una sua autonomia propositiva in virtù della quale pervade in profondità il pensiero umanistico anche e soprattutto nel campo della teoria, dall’educazione dell’uomo di Stato alla riproposizione di concetti e terminologie etico-politiche di lunga durata e sicuro successo. M. Cappelli, “Petrarca e l’umanesimo politico del Quattrocento”, cit., p. 154.
- de Mattei, Il sentimento politico del Petrarca, cit., pp. 75-76.
- Ibid., p. 79.
- Ibid., pp. 81-2.
- Ibid., p. 125.
- ibid., p. 135.
- H. Whitfield, Petrarca e il Rinascimento, transl. by V. Capocci, Bari, Laterza, 1949 (orig. ed., Petrarch and the Renascence, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1943).
- ibid., pp. 138-139.
- ibid., pp. 44-45.
- Ibid., pp. 46-48. In more recent times the gap between the Humanistic model, that legitimizes sovereignty over the system of moral virtues, and the Machiavellian, that subverts the former, has been detected. See, G. Cappelli, “Machiavelli e l’umanesimo politico del Quattrocento”, Res Publica. Revista de Historia de las Ideas Políticas, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2017, p. 83.
- Gentile, Storia della filosofia italiana, edited by E. Garin, I, Firenze, Sansoni, 1969, p. 132.
- H. Whitfield, Petrarca e il Rinascimento, cit., p. 1.
- Ibid., pp. 151-152, 135.
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