Biography thread

Nov 2016
Descartes , the man who invented modern thinking
He made a decisive step in philosophy, true. What is highly controversial about his person is his opinion on animals. He is often regarded as one who hindered the development of animal rights by asserting that animals have no soul but are mere automata. Whether he actually hold this view is discussed here:
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Nov 2016
Some unsystematic remarks on Machiavelli:

He was able to move freely around his inherited Tuscan estate after three weeks of imprisonment for alleged conspiracy (1513). The banishment from Florence was cancelled after two years, which enabled him to give lectures in Florence in the palace of his friend Cosimo Rucellai in front of an educated audience, for which his patrons paid him, and also to take part in discussions from which, among other things, his main work, ´Discorsi´ (Discussions of the First Ten Livius Books), emerged. In 1517 Machiavelli dedicated the Discorsi to two of his patrons, Zanobi Buondelmonti and Cosimo Rucellai. In addition to his marriage to Marietta Corsini (six children), Machiavelli had countless affairs with other women tolerated by Marietta.

The hypothesis of the Machiavelli biographer Maurizio Viroli about an alleged bisexuality of Machiavelli has no reliable basis. According to Viroli, he is said to have had a relationship with Riccio, a lover of M.'s homosexual friend Donato, which can be interpreted from two ambiguous letters, but does not have to be. In 1510 M. was anonymously accused of heterosexual sodomy, i.e. anal intercourse with a woman, which was punishable at the time of the Renaissance, mainly because this practice was considered a gateway drug for forbidden homosexual anal intercourse, which at that time was punished in Florence with temporary banishment or fine. Oral sex was also forbidden, both with prostitutes and with the wife.

M. had been elected second chancellor of a republican Florence in 1498 at the age of 29, almost out of nowhere, six years after the expulsion of the anti-republican Medici (and five days after the burning of Savonarola, without which M. would not have received the job).

He owed his three-week imprisonment to the naivety of conspirators who, without his knowledge, had put his name on a list of names of (in their opinion) potential supporters of the conspiracy. All listed men, including Machiavelli, were subjected to torture by hanging them from their wrists tied behind their backs, resulting in dislocation of their shoulder joints. Machiavelli insisted on his innocence and was released in the course of a general amnesty when the Medici finally realized the insignificance of the list of names.

There are two reasons why Machiavelli dedicated the ´Principe´ 1513 first to the Medici in general and from 1516 at the latest specifically to Lorenzo (i.e. Lorenzino de Medici, nephew of Lorenzo ´il Magnifico´).

The text was a letter of application. M. had two passions, politics and sexuality. The latter, as I said, he lived out uninhibitedly, but the former was put on hold from 1512. It was not until 1521 that M. regained political office in Florence under the Medici pope Clement VII. After the second expulsion of the Medici in 1527, however, he lost it again, this time for the opposite reasons as in 1512, i.e. collaboration with tyrants instead of republicans as before. The renewed frustration was so unbearable that M. died in the same year at the age of 58.

The second reason is Machiavelli's request to build Lorenzo, according to the (questionable) model of Cesare Borgia, into a realizer of the national unity of Italy longed for by M., which he calls for to be realized in chapter 26 of the Principe.

Machiavelli's "History of Florence" was not completed until 1525 as a commissioned work (by Giulio de Medici) and printed posthumously in 1532. At the time of Machiavelli's exile (1513) Lorenzo could not know the text at all, moreover he already died in 1519. The reason for the exile was simply Machiavelli's 14-year-old intensive political engagement for the republican Florence abhorred by the Medici.

Of course, a causality cannot be proven, but it is striking that Machiavelli died only 11 days after his failed election as Second Chancellor (June 10, 1527 - only 12 votes of 567) from the severe gastric peritonitis (June 21). Today, genetic and psychosomatic factors are discussed as the general causes of this disease, although the cause can also be purely psychosomatic. Machiavelli suffered from it for a long time and was also treated wrongly (harmful pills), but the fact that death occurred so shortly after M.'s existential defeat makes an acute psychosomatic crisis very likely.
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Jan 2019
Montreal, QC
Fantastic post, @Tammuz. Machiavelli has always been one of my favourite historical figures.

The hypothesis of the Machiavelli biographer Maurizio Viroli about an alleged bisexuality of Machiavelli has no reliable basis. According to Viroli, he is said to have had a relationship with Riccio, a lover of M.'s homosexual friend Donato, which can be interpreted from two ambiguous letters, but does not have to be. In 1510 M. was anonymously accused of heterosexual sodomy, i.e. anal intercourse with a woman, which was punishable at the time of the Renaissance, mainly because this practice was considered ´Einstiegsdroge´ for forbidden homosexual anal intercourse, which at that time was punished in Florence with temporary banishment or fine. Oral sex was also forbidden, both with prostitutes and with the wife.
Is Viroli the only person who is calling Machiavelli bisexual? I've certainly never heard that assertion. I do know that, despite looking like a weasel, he was quite the ladies' man. Your mentioning of his promiscuity reminds me of a story he told in 1509 to one of his friends. Having not had sex in some time as he was away with his wife, he grew rather desperate and visited a washerwoman, who was also a prostitute. Wearing a towel over her hair and face, she managed to lure poor Machiavelli into her hovel, wherein a sordid series of events unfolded. I'd like to warn the more innocent or weak-stomached readers now to avert their eyes:

I was now completely terrified, however since I was alone with her in the dark, I gave her a good hump. Even though I found her thighs flabby, her genitals greasy and her breath stinking a bit, my lust was so desperate that I went ahead and gave it to her anyway... My God, she was so ugly that I almost dropped dead… a tuft of hair, half white and half black, the top of her head was bald which allowed you to see several lice taking a stroll… Her eyebrows were full of nits; one eye looked down and the other up. Her tear ducts were full of mucus… her nose was twisted into a peculiar shape, the nostrils were full of snot and one of them was half missing. Her mouth looked like Lorenzo de Medici’s, twisted on one side and drooling since she had no teeth to keep the saliva in her mouth. Her lip was covered with a thin but rather long moustache… [when she spoke, I heaved so much that] I vomited all over her. And so having paid her with the kind of money she deserved, I left.
Superb, Niccolo. Now whenever I encounter The Prince or Discourses, the political philosophy isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Rather, I vividly and horrifically imagine poor Machiavelli throwing up on an ugly old woman.

Interestingly enough, sodomy was called the "Italian vice" in France. It's like how the English called syphilis the French pox, and the French called it the Spanish pox.

I apologise for that rather disgusting addition, but your posting about his sexuality made me remember that story, which I had well blocked out of mind for about two years since.

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Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
I've always though Machiavelli had the typical crush for ruthless men of action bookish scholars often have
the object of his fascination was glamorous enough

Caesar Borgia , referred in his "the Prince " as duke of Charolais , his honorific French tittle
the man was the ultimate renaissance Prince in Machiavelli mind
the man , or someone alike , he saw as capable to realise Italy unification

His most notorious display was by walking alone among his revolting soldiers and terrifying them into obedience
accused ( probably with a slight exaggeration) of all the sins the fertile imagination of Italians could devise
he was a by-word for successfully double crossing people everyday of the week and triple crossing them on Sunday

he was a champion of springing surprises , running circles around less nimble opponent
his style was the iron glove on one hand , the velvet one on the other
problem is nobody knew which one was which

Men of action act from their own will without debate or committee ,
their though is action , their action is a furthering of their thoughts
to them is all the glory and all the blame , as things turn out .
and they would not have it in any other way
Nov 2016
Is Viroli the only person who is calling Machiavelli bisexual? I've certainly never heard that assertion.
Another biographer with similar speculations is Roberto Ridolfi (The Life of Niccolo Machiavelli, 1963). Part of the basis for this hypothesis is a letter by Machiavelli to his close friend Francesco Vettori, the Florentine ambassador in Rome. In this letter (5 January 1514) Machiavelli answers a request by Vettori ("voglio mi diciate vostra oppenione") whose guests Filippo Casavecchia and Giuliano Brancacci had confronted him with contradictory reproaches. The first, a gay, criticised that too many women were visiting Vettori´s house, while the other, a womanizer, complainted about too many gays in the house.

Now, many friends of Machiavelli were homosexual, in fact sodomy was called the "Florentine vice". In his answer certain phrases, as underlined below, seem to suggest, at least in the view of interpreters like Viroli and Ridolfi (and the internet gay scene, anyway...), that Machiavelli not only tolerated sodomy but wouldn´t have been disinclined to practise it himself. Such alleged indications together with the fact that strikingly many friends of him were gay are taken as a basis for those homosexuality speculations. But as I suggested in my post, this is far from being sufficient evidence or even proof of a homosexual inclination of Machiavelli.

(Italian "seguite gli instituti vostri" is translated into English "stick your natural disposition" - my Italian is not comprehensive enough that I could judge the adequacy of this translation, but I think it´s ok)

Ambassador, you are going to be ill; I don’t think you’re allowing yourself any
diversion; there aren’t any boys here, there aren’t any girls here; what kind of ******* house is this anyway?

Magnificent Ambassador, there are nothing but crazies here; only a few are familiar
with this world and are aware that whoever seeks to act according to others will accomplish nothing because no two men who think alike can be found. These people are unaware that whoever is considered wise by day will not be considered crazy by night and that whoever is deemed a decent, able man will occasion honor, not blame, whatever he does to refresh his spirit and live happily; instead of being called a sodomite or a lecher, people will say he is well-rounded, easy going, and a boon companion. They are also unaware that he gives of himself and takes nothing from others and that he acts as the must does when it boils; it imparts its own pungency to dishes that reek of mold without taking on the mold from the dishes.

Therefore, Mr. Ambassador, do not be afraid of Ser Sano’s mold or of Mona Smeria’s rotten mess, and stick your natural disposition and (…) attend to yours affairs as you see felt.

The Italian original text:

Magnifico oratore, e’ non ci è se non pazzi; et pochi ci sono che conoschino questo mondo, et che sappino che chi vuol fare a modo d’altri non fa mai nulla, perché non si truova huomo che sia di un medeximo parere. Cotestoro non sanno che chi è tenuto savio il dì, non sarà mai tenuto pazzo la notte; et che chi è stimato huomo da bene, et che vaglia, ciò che e’ fa per allargare l’animo et vivere lieto, gli arreca honore et non carico, et in cambio di essere chiamato buggerone o puttaniere, si dice che è universale, alla mano et buon compagno. Non sanno anche che dà del suo, et non piglia di quel d’altri, et che fa come il mosto mentre bolle, che dà del sapore suo a’ vasi che sanno di muffa, et non piglia della muffa de’ vasi.

Pertanto, signore oratore, non habbiate paura della muffa di ser Sano, né de’ fracidumi di mona Smeria, et seguite gli instituti vostri, et lasciate dire il Brancaccio, che non si avvede che egli è come un di quelli forasiepi, che è il primo a schiamazzare et gridare, et poi, come giugno la civetta, è il primo preso. Et Filippo nostro è come uno avvoltoio, che quando non è carogne in paese, vola cento miglia per trovarne una; et come egli ha piena la gorga, si sta su un pino et ridesi delle aquile, astori, falconi et simili, che per pascersi di cibi delicati si muoiono la metà dell’anno di fame. Sì che, magnifico oratore, lasciate schiamazzare l’uno, et l’altro empiersi il gozzo, et voi attendete alle faccende vostre a vostro modo.

In Firenze, addì 5 di gennaio 1514.
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Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
Nice Idea.
From my own country we have Michiel de Ruyter, whose life seems to have been a mix of a picaresque novel, Treasure Island, family man and Fabius Cunctator.
He was born in Vlissingen and seems to have been a problem child. Kicked out of the ropery (where ropes for sails were made) and school (due to some stunts like climbing the church tower), he was basically forced to take to sea at 11. This was during the 80-years war. At one of his travels he got captured, escaped with some others and subsequently walked back from La Coruna. He then joined the army for a short while and took part in the siege of Bergen op Zoom.
The same year he joined the navy and after some 10 years he turns up in Ireland as a trading agent. From that period there is the famous story that he avoided boarding by Dunkirk pirates by greasing the deck with Irish butter and having his sailors walk on socks. His career kept going better and better and a huge amount of travels and exploits are known, ranging from whaling in the north to trips to the west-indies and fights with the Barbary pirates. After this he retired (he was rather rich already), but was begged by the Zealand province to rejoin the navy, which he rejoined the navy in the 1st war with England, where in his first battle as commander he became instantly famous (as he was the only one who actually won).
After the war he was asked to become main admiral but refused. In stead he became vice-admiral of Amsterdam. As Vice admiral, he started of by beating Swedes in Denmark and the Baltic Sea. Then as commander he went plundering and looting English colonies in west Africa, traversed the Atlantic and there did the same. His small fleet managed to avoid the English fleet on the return voyage. During the trip the Dutch had managed to lose about every other engagement in the 2nd English war, so that when he returned he directly was promoted to admiral in chief. He made some drastic changes to the navy (to be fair some of them were already started), from using signing flags and training line tactics to a building program for bigger ships and the establishment of the Marine Corps.
The direct result was the 4-days-battle which was a victory and the later humiliation with the Chatham raid, where the Marine Corps saw its first real action.
In the disaster year 1672 (and 1673) he 3 times saved the country by beating off a combined French-English naval invasion.
His last battle was in the Mediterranean against the French (where he was sent despite the fact that no admiral was needed and the squadron was too small) in which he was killed. Louis XIV (his enemy) gave orders to every French port to fire salutes when the ship with his body passed. This in sharp contrast with the cathedral of Syracuse (which he died defending), which refused to bury his intestines (which were removed for the embalming) on the grounds that he was a protestant.


Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
In my lounge there is a reproduction of an drawing of "council of war on board the de zeven provincen "

this battle has a great fascination for me , it was a bit of a shamble with sudden turn of fortune occurring everyday

as the English fleet limped home they were pursued by dutch ships
for several years , many English sailors from the ex- Commonwealth navy had joined their Dutch religious brothers
.....and were paid for a change
they were throwing abuse from the dutch ships at the pathetic papist dogs fighting for James