Italy Literature – The Great and the Minor Prose of the 16th Century Part I

By | February 22, 2022

With the Folengo the material of chivalry finished fulfilling the office, to which the fashion of the century had called it. XV, to welcome and express spirits of poetry. With Machiavelli and Guicciardini the moral and political thought of that same century, enriched by studies and personal experiences, ended in doctrines and designs that in vain grew intellectually in the historical moment that marked the ruin of the independence of Italy; and the great prose of the century was nourished by those strong thoughts, rising to its peak. XVI.

The Florentine secretary, an expert in the observation of reality and the meditation of ancient and recent historical facts, derives from the concept, already affirmed by the fifteenth-century moralists, of the man who dominated fortune and the architect of his own destiny, the concept of “virtue” understood as pure energy of will directed and valid for the achievement of an end. But with profound novelty of views, he opposes, unfortunately in vain, the abstractness of the humanistic dream of individual freedom, by which Italians segregated themselves from the world of history, the inexorable limit of that freedom; and to the morality that does not look beyond the relationships between individuals, he substitutes a morality that condemns the selfish ends of “virtue”, and exalts the collective goal, the interest of the state,

Thus were born his two major works, the  Prince  and  the Discourses on the first decade of Tito Livio, in which he gives precepts for the foundation, organization, conservation of a state, inculcating the fundamental maxim that in the good of this is the supreme goal of the actions of the leader and of the citizens, to which every other good must be subordinated . Clear, straight, exact, inflexible in deductions, the reasoning proceeds, whereby the style is molded into forms of perfect classicism without the agile popularity of the language stumbling into periodic complications or being adhered to by vain ornaments. A fervor of deep conviction smolders under the austere severity of the scientist and flashes here and there in the luminous energy of phrases, because a great love animates Machiavelli’s thought, the love of Italy, which flares up in the  Prince ‘s lock.; and for Italy, which would like to be saved by the “virtue” of a prince educator and unifier of Italians, formulates his doctrine.

According to TIMEDICTIONARY.COM, the two major works prepare the reports of the missions and some short monographs that gather the ideal juice of the reports; they are crowned by the dialogues  of the Art of War  (1520) which initiate the science of strategy and carry out widely and particularly the concept that Machiavelli had endeavored to implement as secretary of the Nine of the militia, that military service must be a moral obligation of all citizens; the  Life of Castruccio Castracani , with which Machiavelli wanted, rather than tell a truthful story, to demonstrate with an example the goodness of his theories; the eight books of the  Florentine Histories which narrate the history of the city, and in particular of the internal upheavals, from its origins to 1492 with admirable strength of synthesis governed by the same ideas that Machiavelli had exhibited in his theoretical works.

From the same virtues of profound observation of reality and from the same intuition of life as energy and will, which are revealed in political writings, the comedies, the  Clizia  and above all the  Mandrake are born . In this, the dispositions to joke, to wit, to irony, which Machiavelli shows in his family letters and in the short story  Belfagor archdevil, are admirable , and they excel in the figuration of the characters, in the structure of the scenes, in the progress of the action, those artistic attitudes, which give so much vivacity and so much vigor to his scientific prose itself.

High individuality strongly operating in the history of his time, Francesco Guicciardini shares with Machiavelli the love of the Italian homeland, the attitude and habit of acute observation of reality, the penetrating sagacity of historical judgments. But he loves more than his friend to come to terms with history and has no faith in that profound renewal of morality and conscience on which the lofty political ideal of Machiavelli rests. He does not ask much of the Italians of his time, and aims at restoring the balance between the Italian states to strengthen them against foreigners, rather than at the state unification of the peninsula, which is the great omen of Machiavelli. In him too, the square solidity of style is the daughter of the clear solidity of thought. In  the history of Italy, then, the great work that crowns Guicciardini’s multiple and fruitful activity as a writer (two  Florentine stories , reports, the dialogue  of the regiment of Florence ,  Considerations on Machiavelli’s speeches ,  Civil and political memories , etc.) the style emulates the majesty of the Livian tale, not out of foolish rhetorical intent, but because the organic complexity of a thought that sees facts as unitary results of converging or contrasting forces and as such wants it to perceive them, albeit with a mental effort , the reader. Machiavelli’s style is simpler, which in the course of history gives greater importance to individual “virtue”.

Together with the great prose of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, they flourish in the century. XVI the prose, more modest in conception and construction, but also well balanced and firm, of the moralists, who from the classics and from a by now traditional tradition of classically tempered life have learned the wisdom of their teachings, and the prose of minor historians , to whom that same custom of life and the calm observation of political reality suggest a broad and penetrating vision of the facts, even if sometimes tainted with flattery. And here and there, a prose emerges that does not mirror the classics, but through an acquired affinity of spiritual attitudes with the classics, gives rule and dignity to common speech: it is the latest refinement of Alberti’s moralizing prose. and Palmieri “elimata” mirror of the Latins,

Italy Literature - The Great and the Minor Prose of the 16th Century 1