Posts Tagged ‘Machiavelli’

The Continuing Borgia Report

Posted in General on May 12th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Neil Jordan knows a good story, and he never lets the facts interfere.  I should be outraged by his travesty of history in “The Borgias” but his fabrications are actually quite entertaining.  For example, Jordan imagines the Borgias murdering an exiled Turkish prince for a bounty that will pay for Lucretia’s dowry.  There actually was a Turkish prince living in Rome, a pampered prisoner whose upkeep was paid by his surprisingly kindly brother the Sultan.  (The usual etiquette for superfluous Turkish princes was to have them strangled with a bowstring.)  However, this prince died–of natural causes– in 1495 but Lucretia’s first marriage was in 1493.  So much for that dowry plot, however clever.

Jordan also appreciates a great historical character and will include him in the series, even if it is wildly inaccurate.  Apparently Nicolo Machiavelli was prime minister of Florence in 1494, and the brains behind the Medici.  Well, Machiavelli was alive at the time but he didn’t enter the Florentine civil service until 1498.  And the Medici couldn’t stand him.  The Florentine bureaucrat was a committed republican and only had steady work when the Medici were out of power.  The fact that he would dedicate “The Prince” to an idiot scion of the family, vainly hoping for patronage, shows how desperate and destitute Machiavelli had become.

However, I truly marvel at the series’ depiction of the French King Charles VIII.  We see an old, ugly, shrewd, remorseless cynic, the type of horrible person who makes an excellent king.  But the real Charles VIII was a young, attractive, vacuous jock–and the series already has one of those:  Juan Borgia.  So who was the inspiration of this horrible but fascinating character?  We actually are seeing a portrayal of Louis XI, the father of the dumb jock.  Unfortunately, the repellent but brilliant Louis inconvenienced Neil Jordan by dying in 1483, nine years before the story begins.  But, as we certainly know, historical accuracy is expendable–especially when it interferes with the story.  The Spider King–as the crafty Louis was known–was too interesting to exclude from the series.  Neil Jordan simply grafted Louis’ character onto the dumb jock.  France should have been so lucky.

Showtime has commissioned a second season of “The Borgias”, so expect Jordan to arrange guest appearances by Thomas More, Erasmus and Michelangelo.  (Leonardo actually worked for the Borgias, so for lack of a creative challenge Jordan may skip him.)  And I imagine this scene.  Cardinal Cesare Borgia, after smoking hashish with the Ottoman ambassador, wolfs down an entire platter of consecrated wafers.  This occurs in front of a young German theology major who had hoped to take communion.  Between us, I bet that young German keeps a grudge.

p.s.  Let’s not forget the romantic significance of this day:

Machiavelli’s Role Model

Posted in General, On This Day on August 11th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 6 Comments

Donald Trump could have warned the College of Cardinals about cheap Hispanic labor. However, on this day in 1492, the College elected Roderigo Borja as Pope. Obviously, the Italian boys were not so eager to have the job. Their bribes were only half as much as Roderigo’s, and Roderigo was willing to assimilate. His mistresses were Italian, and he even adopted a more Italian pronunciation of his surname: Borgia. (But his green card would have identified him as Pope Alexander VI.)

But as Donald Trump could have warned them, you let one of them in….Yes, Roderigo had a big family; and with six children, a Pope can’t get by just from skimming the profits of bingo nights. His daughter Lucretia was attractive, so he had no trouble arranging three lucrative marriages for her–and he oversaw her becoming a widow in time for the next marriage. (Annulments took too long, even for a Pope’s daughter.) Then, there was the irrepressible Cesare. Dad made him a cardinal when Cesare was 17, but the boy showed secular interests: murder, pillage and conquering all of Italy. Well, Roderigo could hardly refuse his son (especially if the son might kill him), and the Pope actually liked the idea of Italy as a family heirloom.

Such a conquest was, however, a rather daunting goal. The Italian city states were always at war, but the wars barely amounted to misdemeanors. Ferrara would seize an acre from Rimini, and Rimini might retaliate by defacing a fresco. And the Papal States definitely were not supposed to attack anyone. But Roderigo was not much for etiquette. (For instance, he referred to his children as his children; every other pope pretended that his spawn were only nephews and nieces.) He invested Cesare with the full military resources of the Papal States (Stop laughing; you could buy a lot of mercenaries with purloined Church funds.) But, yes, that would not be enough to quickly conquer the peninsula.

Fortunately, the Pope was a man of faith: he fervently believed in his own craftiness and everyone else’s gullibility. So, Roderigo encouraged the King of France to invade Italy. Once the French invaded in 1494, the Pope then began encouraging Spain to defend its possessions in Southern Italy. Roderigo was even negotiating with the Ottoman Empire. Somehow, he expected to play everyone off against each other and end up with all of Italy. He might have even succeeded but for one miscalculation. Seventy-year-old men have a tendency to die, and in 1503 men usually died at 45. Roderigo had beaten the actuarial table but he couldn’t do it indefinitely. Without Dad, Cesare was without an empire and Lucretia was stuck in her third marriage.

Nonetheless, Roderigo definitely left an legacy. The name Borgia is still remembered. And Spain, allied with the Holy Roman Empire, would be fighting France over the control of Italy for another 30 years. In fact, the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire were so preoccupied with Italian politics that when a German theology professor complained about the Church’s corruption, no one paid any attention to Martin Luther (except the population of Northern Europe).