Girolamo Savonarola – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Girolamo Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo, ca 1498

Girolamo Savonarola (September 21, 1452 – May 23, 1498), also translated as Jerome Savonarola or Hieronymous Savonarola, was a Dominican priest and, briefly, ruler of Florence, who was known for religious reformation and anti-Renaissance preaching and his book burning and destruction of art.

Oddly, Lorenzo de Medici, the previous ruler of Florence and patron of many Renaissance artists, was both a former patron of Savonarola and eventually, the target of Savonarola’s preaching.

After the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, Savonarola was the sole leader of Florence, setting up a democratic republic. Characterizing it as a “Christian and religious Republic”, one of its first acts was to make sodomy, previously punishable by fine, into a capital offence. His chief enemies were the Duke of Milan and Pope Alexander VI, who issued numerous restraints against him, all of which were ignored. [funny… with a nose like that, he looks very obstinate]

In 1497 he and his followers carried out the famous Bonfire of the Vanities. They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, gaming tables, fine dresses, and the works of immoral poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence. Fine Florentine Renaissance artwork was lost in Savanarola’s notorious bonfires, including paintings by Sandro Botticelli thrown on the pyres by the artist himself.

Florence soon tired of Savonarola’s hectoring. During his Ascension Day sermon on May 4, 1497, bands of youths rioted, and the riot became a revolt: taverns reopened, and men gambled publicly. [ah yes, no bread/grape juice + no circus = riots. Will this simple math equation ever change?]

On May 13, 1497 he was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI, and in 1498, he was simultaneously hanged and burned, in the same place and manner that he had condemned others. He was charged with uttering prophecies, sedition, and religious error. Jacopo Nardi, who recorded the incident in his Istorie della città di Firenze, said that his executioner lit the flame crying, “The one who wanted to burn me is now himself put to the flames.” Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince, also witnessed and wrote about the execution. The Medici regained control over Florence.

Oh jeez, do I feel like everyone in the whole world has always known about the above or what? I had absolutely never heard where the origin of the expression “Bonfire of the Vanities” came from… until today. I am sure all of you had read Savonarola’s complete biography by the time you were 2. At that age, when I was asking my mom, “Can you tell me the Pooh story once again?” you were asking your mom, “Can we do a comparative analysis between the 3 most famost historians of the Italian renaissance with a special focus on the struggle between Pope Alexander, the Medicis, and Savonarola, I want to discuss a point with my teddy bear. And then can we have Spaghetti-Os for supper?”

Not only had I never heard of the BoftV origins, I had also never heard of Savonarola either (sounds like a big brand pasta sauce to me :-).

And Pope Alexander VI… makes Bill Clinton look like an altar boy…

Bring in Machiavelli and it’s party time 🙂

From sparknotes:

[…] After returning to Florence in 1494, he witnessed the expulsion of the Medici family, oligarchic despots who had ruled Florence for decades, and the rise of Girolamo Savanorola, a Dominican religious zealot who took control of the region shortly thereafter.

Italy at that time became the scene of intense political conflict. The city-states of Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples fought for control of Italy, as did the papacy, France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. Each of these powers attempted to pursue a strategy of playing the other powers off of one other, but they also engaged in less honorable practices such as blackmail and violence. The same year that Machiavelli returned to Florence, Italy was invaded by Charles VIII of France—the first of several French invasions that would occur during Machiavelli’s lifetime. These events influenced Machiavelli’s attitudes toward government, forming the backdrop for his later impassioned pleas for Italian unity.

[…] but it was Borgia who would do the most to shape Machiavelli’s opinions about leadership. Borgia was a cunning, cruel, and vicious politician, and many people despised him. Nevertheless, Machiavelli believed Borgia had the traits necessary for any leader who would seek to unify Italy.

In 1500, Machiavelli married Marietta di Lodovico Corsini, with whom he had six children.

Meanwhile, Machiavelli helped raise and train a Florentine civil militia in order to reduce Florence’s dependence on mercenaries. Later that year, he served as Florentine diplomat to Pope Julius, whose conduct as the “warrior pope” he observed firsthand. In 1512, the Medici family regained control of Florence, and Machiavelli was dismissed from office. A year later he was wrongly accused of participating in a conspiracy to restore the republic, held in jail for three weeks, and tortured on the rack. He left Florence for the quiet town of Sant’Andrea and decided to pursue a career in writing. In 1513 he began writing his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, a book that focused on states controlled by a politically active citizenry. It was not finished until 1521, mainly because he interrupted his work on Discourses to write The Prince.

Machiavelli desperately wanted to return to politics. One of his goals in writing The Prince was to win the favor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, then-governor of Florence and the person to whom the book is dedicated; Machiavelli hoped to land an advisory position within the Florentine government. But Medici received the book indifferently, and Machiavelli did not receive an invitation to serve as an official. The public’s reaction to The Prince was also indifferent at first. But slowly, as word spread, the book began to be criticized as immoral, evil, and wicked.

Besides the Discourses, Machiavelli went on to write The Art of War and a comedic play, The Mandrake. After Lorenzo’s premature death in 1519, his successor, Giulio, gave Machiavelli a commission to write The Florentine History as well as a few small diplomatic jobs. Machiavelli also wrote The Life of Castruccio Castracani in 1520 and Clizia, a comedic play. In 1526, Giulio de’ Medici (now Pope Clement VII), at Machiavelli’s urging, created a commission to examine Florence’s fortifications and placed Machiavelli on it.
In 1527, the diplomatic errors of the Medici pope resulted in the sack of Rome by Charles V’s mercenaries. The Florentines expelled their Medici ruler, and Machiavelli tried to retake the office he had left so before. But his reputation got in the way of his ambitions. He was now too closely associated with the Medicis, and the republic rejected him. Soon, Machiavelli’s health began to fail him, and he died several months later, on June 21, 1527.

Philosophical Context

“[A]nyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved.”

The most revolutionary aspect of The Prince is its separation of politics and ethics. Classical political theory traditionally linked political law with a higher, moral law. In contrast, Machiavelli argues that political action must always be considered in light of its practical consequences rather than some lofty ideal.
Another striking feature of The Prince is that it is far less theoretical than the literature on political theory that preceded it.

Machiavelli’s book also distinguishes itself on the subject of free will. Medieval and Renaissance thinkers often looked to religion or ancient authors for explanations of plagues, famines, invasions, and other calamities; they considered the actual prevention of such disasters to be beyond the scope of human power. In The Prince, when Machiavelli argues that people have the ability to shield themselves against misfortune, he expresses an extraordinary confidence in the power of human self-determination and affirms his belief in free will as opposed to divine destiny. [this is interesting]

Since they were first published, Machiavelli’s ideas have been oversimplified and vilified. His political thought is usually—and unfairly—defined solely in terms of The Prince. The adjective “Machiavellian” is used to mean “manipulative,” “deceptive,” or “ruthless.” But Machiavelli’s Discourses, a work considerably longer and more developed than The Prince, expounds republican themes of patriotism, civic virtue, and open political participation.

This I had known, how Machiavelli has been vilified. Regarding “The Prince,” he did nothing more than to put into a manual format what rulers, politicians, and other power-hungry folks have been strategizing and carrying out, sometimes in much more ruthless and insane ways, for ages. That’s why Machiavelli’s vilification is quite unfair. I found a text that says the same (in a more elegant way):

An anomalous seventeenth-century commentator, philosopher Pierre Bayle, found it “strange” that “there are so many people, who believe, that Machiavel teaches princes dangerous politics; for on the contrary princes have taught Machiavel what he has written.”

Furthermore, anyone who firmly believes in free will versus religious destiny gets points with me. Not that I would put it in the exact same way (but I would have to read what he specifically wrote on the subject first). I don’t think we have a “free” will, but we do have a will. Human beings are not “free” in the classical sense, they can control and decide much less in themselves and in their lives than some people posit (specially those theorists and philosophers of past times). But this imperfect, bound, conditioned, yearning will is all we have against “destiny” and that is precisely why it is so precious.

from wikipedia:

Machiavelli contava su di un principe capace di costruire un forte Stato nell’Italia centrale e di promuovere la liberazione dalle dominazioni straniere assicurando poi la vita indipendente della Penisola. Tale speranza era connessa al giudizio storico sulle cause della catastrofe italiana, da lui ricondotta alla viltà dei principi che non avevano saputo e voluto armare eserciti propri, preferendo assoldare le pericolose e destabilizzanti milizie mercenarie. Nella sua opera il richiamo al riordinamento delle forze politiche e militari è, infatti, costante.

In conclusione, il pensiero di Machiavelli tende ad uno Stato che sia riorganizzato e reso saldo dalla capacità (virtù nel senso latino di virtus = coraggio, abilità) del Principe, uno Stato forte per armi proprie e saldo per fermezza di propositi, con volontà d’azione e sagacia nel governo di chi lo regge. Tali caratteristiche – sottolinea Machiavelli nella sua opera – consentirebbero al Principe di imporre la propria supremazia agli altri governanti italiani, riportando nella Penisola pace ed unità di intenti, sì da scoraggiare ogni minaccia straniera

Seems like some countries I know of today… although many modern “democracies” like to have their strong army AND hire mercenaries…

Le plus ça change…