Machiavelli Between East and West
By John M. Najemy
From Florence to the Mediterranean and beyond: essays in honour of Anthony Molho, edited by Ramada Curto, et al. (Florence, 2009)
Introduction: Renaissance scholarship has in recent years turned ever more fruitfully to the cultural encounters and global perspectives that were changing contemporaries’ sense of Europe’s place in the world. From studies of both the dramatic transatlantic discoveries and of contacts with cultures east and south of Europe, the Renaissance can now be seen as a time of widening perceptions of, and influences from, a host of cultural others. This essay adds Machiavelli to the discussion, asking how he absorbed, refracted, and contested familiar perceptions of East and West. Machiavelli wrote nothing about the epochmaking discoveries that were transforming ideas and maps of the world. His one apparent, indirect reference to the voyages, in the preface to the first book of the Discourses on Livy, compares the «dangers» involved in his selfassigned task of finding new political «modes and orders» with those of searching for «unknown seas and lands». His silence is all the more curious in view of the fact that much significant searching of «unknown seas and lands» was done by a fellow Florentine, the explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, from the same family of Machiavelli’s friend and chancery colleague Agostino Vespucci. Amerigo’s famous letters describing the peoples he encountered spread the astonishing news of a «new world» as early as the first decade of the sixteenth century.