The lighter face of Machiavelli
Of late it has become almost a routine for one of my friends to be burdened to notify us with dreary messages of some our friends and family passing away or being grievously ill. With the C-19 in full fury, we can expect more in the days ahead. The grim and depressing times that we are enduring notwithstanding, I thought of writing something for the sake of making a departure This is not to say that that there was indeed an initial hesitation considering the literary flair of some of my friends But I overcame the fear telling myself that sharing the write up is not intended to impress them and the confidence that they too will not take a seat of judgement while reading this piece...
The 16th century Italian diplomat/politician, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is universally celebrated albeit with a fair share of controversy, for his policy of putting morality in the backburner to achieve a desired goal, .or in simpler words, "the ends justifying the means" . He expounded his theory in his book "The Prince "in which he left little space for morality in governance on the assumption the man by nature is wicked.
To a large majority, Machiavelli is the proponent of ruthlessness in diplomacy that sanctions and asserts cunning, deceit, deviousness in statecraft and political power. His influence was definitely unprecedented for which the word "Machiavellian" became legitimized in the English dictionary to underscore the attributions that I have mentioned above. Despite all of this, neither Machiavelli nor his doctrine could ever be dismissed by scholars, politicians and diplomats and his policies continue to be an option in the interplay of present day international relations.
To this very day and his treatise, THE PRINCE is a compulsory textbook for students of politics and international relations. Of course for those of us in the subcontinent are passionate in holding the view Machiavellianism was preceded by centuries by Kautilya or better known as Chanakya of 300 BC and Counselor to Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya's " The ARTHSHASTRA" avouched that the means by which a state should be established and maintained by enhancing the prosperity of the people, increasing the power of the state, and expanding the territory through conquest and endorsed to use deceit and intrigue in governance.. But I am digressing as my post here is not to initiate in a discourse of Machiavelli or Chanakya's political treatises but to engage on the lighter side of Machiavelli's genius that may have eluded many, including Yours Truly.
That Machiavelli was also a poet and novelist were not known to me and that he had indeed written some of Italy's most popular comedies including the one entitled "THE DEVIL TAKES A WIFE". To enjoy it one has to read the story it in its entirety. I did and it was nothing less than hilarious. I could not resist myself from sharing and decided to write a synopsis to get my readers interested to read the original. But I have to mention that Machiavelli wrote the story sometime in the 15th Century AD when prejudice against women was omnipresent and his story might lead my women readers to judge him harshly as women feature as the "villain" in his story. But when you get to the end, I would give Machiavelli credit of upholding women as the stronger gender empowering her to prevail over the all powerful Devil.
The story that has its setting in ancient Roman mythology goes like this:
Roman god PLUTO presiding over a council with his lesser gods expressed his exasperation that all who were cast to Hell were blaming their wife for their fate and wanted to know if it was indeed the case. The Council decided that the Archdevil BELFAGOR who was in charge of Hell, be tasked to go down to Earth to investigate into the allegation. Devil Belfagor was initially reluctant but could not dare incurring the wrath of Pluto by any show of defiance... He was provided with an expense account of one million Ducats to spend as he wanted to verify the accusation of women being responsible of men ending up in Hell. The Devil descended on the city of Florence in human form under assumed name of RODERICK. He convinced the city dwellers that he was living in Spain for a while but then left for Aleppo in Syria where he made his fortune.
His youth, wealth and handsome looks inspired many fathers with eligible daughters to approach him with marriage proposals. Devil Roderick finally fell for a very beautiful young woman named HONESTA, daughter of a local merchant Amerigo Donati. Roderick did not have to wait long to be acquainted with humans and their emotive and cultural peculiarities: love and hate, quarrels, conspiracies, jealousy and extravagance in spending. Honesta was merrily spending Roderic's money and as if this was not enough, the Devil also had to put with Honesta's mood swings, bickering, whining and naggings. Honesta spent all of Devil Roderick's money in no time and forced him into borrowing heavily.
Roderick's debts grew by the days and he was being pursued incessantly by his debtors. Roderick could not take this anymore and was desperate for a respite. He fled one night with his debtors in pursuit. He met a labourer tending horses named GIANOMATTEO to whom he opened up about his miserable plight and sought his help. Gianomatteo was a kind man and immediately gave him shelter and helped Roderick to escape his debtors. The Devil felt eternally grateful to Gianomatteo and decided to reveal his true identity of being the Arch Devil BELFAGOR and promised Gianomatteo to make him very rich. He told Gianomatteo that he will use his superpowers of being the Devil in curing suffering women and that Gianomatteo can keep the money charged for the cure.
Now this was a windfall for Gianomatteo and he did not waste time in this endeavour,. He found a woman in severe mental stress and with Devil Roderick (Belgfagor) 's help, cure her and earned 500 Florins. . The Devil felt that the amount 500 Florins was too insignificant to make Gianomatteo really wealthy, He told him that he will enter into the daughter of the King Charles of Milan' daughter and make her really sick. When the Princesses' condition became acute and unbearable, Gianomatteo should go to the King and demand for 50,000 ducats for curing his daughter. The King agreed readily and with Devil Rodricck/Belfagors's help, the Princess wsa cured and Gianomatteo became a fabulously wealthy man.
This change in fortune also made Gianomatteo turn greedy to an extent that went beyond the Devil's tolerance. He decided that Gianomatteo had to be taught a lesson. After a while it became known that the daughter of King Louis of France was possessed by the Devil and had to be cured of the curse. Gianomatteo immediately knew it was the work of Devil Roderick (Belgfagor). He went to the King Louis declaring that he would cure his daughter for a fee of a huge amount. King Louis agreed but with a warning that if Gianomatteo failed, he would be put to death. Gianomatteo went up to to the Princesses' ears and reminded the Devil Roderick/Belfagor (who was inside her body) of his promise and asked him to cure the Princess. But the latter refused and remained firm on Gianomatteo's repeated pleas and adjurations. Gianomatteo was in mortal fear as failing to cure the Princess would bring sure death to him.
Gianomatteo kept thinking and thinking until he came up with an idea which he knew would save him from the death penalty. He urged the King to arrange an elaborate festival with together with the loudest band party in the Kingdom. This was done and the band was made to palsy before the Princess with as loud a pitch as possible. The Devil could sense that it was a trick by Gianomatteo to scare him. He said to himself "What does he think? Can he scare the Devil who rules over Hell!.
Gianomatteo was however calm and in a soft voice said that the commotion was not his doing but that of Devil's wife Honesta who had come to take him home. The name of his wife HONESTA took the wind out of the Devil and immediately fled for the heavens freeing the Princess. He reported his plight to Pluto and said that Hell was a better place to be than to remain on Earth with his wife.
The writer is former foreign secretary and ambassador