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THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES - BIOGRAPHY
RETURN OF THE MEDICI
The Medici then reentered the city of Florence after an absence of eighteen years. Within weeks the free republic of Florence was dissolved in favor of an oligarchy-a government where ruling power belongs to a few-and the Medici family assumed absolute power. With the downfall of the republic, Machiavelli's own political career also collapsed. In November 1512, he was dismissed from his government post and forbidden to leave Florentine territory for a year. In February 1513 came another blow: Machiavelli was falsely accused of taking part in an unsuccessful conspiracy against the Medici and was imprisoned. The one responsible for Machiavelli's imprisonment-Lorenzo de' Medici, grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent-is the same person to whom Machiavelli dedicated The Prince. Do you think this explains why some readers believe the dedication was intended to help Machiavelli win a pardon and regain his position in the new government? Or do you think Machiavelli's dedication was meant to be ironic and sarcastic?
Early in the same year, the Medici family scored its most impressive triumph when Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici was elected pope as Leo X. The election greatly strengthened the new regime in Florence. The city held public celebrations for nearly a week. The election of Leo X also prompted the government to declare an amnesty as part of the rejoicing, and Machiavelli was freed along with many other political prisoners.
As soon as he was released, Machiavelli sought reappointment to his former government post. When his pleas went unanswered, he withdrew to his farm at Sant' Andrea. At the age of forty-three, he saw little prospect of reversing his fortunes now that the Medici held power. His letters from this period reveal a sense of despair and isolation. He reports that he is pondering the insights he acquired during the fifteen years he served the Florentine government. The outcome, he says, is that "I have composed a little book On Principalities." This "little book" was Machiavelli's masterpiece, The Prince. It was started in the second half of 1513 and completed by Christmas of that year.
Machiavelli hoped that The Prince would bring him to the notice of the "Medici lords." One reason-as the dedication to the treatise makes clear-was his desire to offer the Medici "some proof" that he was still their loyal subject. His other concern was to emphasize that he was a man worth employing, an expert who might prove useful to them.
But Machiavelli never won the trust of the Medici, and he was not restored to his official position. From 1513 to the time of his death in 1525, he wrote historical narratives (The History of Florence, 1525), satirical plays (Mandragola, 1518), political treatises (The Discourses, 1519), military manuals (The Art of War, 1520), biographies of political figures (Life of Castruccio Castracani, 1520), and poems.
On June 21, 1525, Machiavelli fell ill and died. He was buried in the small churchyard at Santa Croce, where other great Florentine artists and thinkers, such as Michelangelo and Galileo, also rest. In the eighteenth century, the citizens of Florence erected a monument to his memory; the inscription is simply, "No praise can enhance such a great name."
One of Machiavelli's reasons for writing The Prince was to provide an Italian ruler with the skills necessary to unite the fragmented peninsula against foreign domination. Italy's rulers tended to expend as much effort fighting among themselves as against non-Italian invaders.