Machiavelli versus Dante: Larry Peterman 2

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Aug 9, 2019 13:20
Machiavelli versus Dante: Larry Peterman 2

Peterman sets the theoretical debate between Machiavelli and Dante on the basis of their idea of bestiality, which was a complex topic, coming from the middle age tradition of measuring men with beasts; comparing animals and humans`s virtues and vices used to be a canonical way of praise (or scorn) men`s morality. Machiavelli harshly criticizes the Comedy episode in which Dante represents the five thieves from Florence as transformed in viscid snakes (the image comes from Aristotle, who thought that man can raise from bestiality through virtue and descends to it as a consequence for their bad actions.)
Now, if Dante considers the transformation into beasts as the lesser degree of human condition, Machiavelli encourages the prince to use his double nature of lion and fox in order to get what he wants or need. The division between the two remains such when it comes to the judgement of Florence, which is the point of the disagreement that many critics find more important.
Machiavelli rebukes Dante`s opinion that their city was ingloriously famous, overturning completely such a statement. He claims in favor of Florence`s splendor and decor. This opinion puzzled critics who saw in it a too drastic shift in Machiavelli`s consideration of his own city. However, it has to be take into account that the Dialogue is a resented rebut of Dante`s ideas on Florentine language and was not meant to be published, or, at least, not in its actual form.
Their different point of views on morals and politics are mirrored by their ideas of a possible linguistic unity for Italy. Machiavelli thought that the linguistic frontiers were decided by the countries expansions and conquests and that, despite some examples of mutual intelligibility, Italy was a collection of linguistically autonomous political parts. On the other opposite side, Dante claims for an Italian identity and for a linguistically homogeneity superseding political division. This is an old debate about what keeps people together (politic religion language etc.) and lays, still, immutable, at the core of Italian contemporary discussion on identity and language.
Dante`s claim rests on the Aristotle`s idea that some people (like Hellenic) were apt to rule his neighbors in account of their superior cultural value and homogeneity. It is the classic idea Greeks never reached their constitutional power becoming a unified country. Dante saw in the Roman empire the premises for an Italian unification, which was based on culture and religion more than politics and/or race. Machiavelli, is also a precursor of a national identity, but in all a different way.
Dante felt himself part of a decaying empire, whose center was supposed to be still Rome. Romans were the dignified part of the first inhabitants of Florence, while for Machiavelli Florentine people could take the control of Italy and based their domain on it as anybody else.