Of asses and nymphs: Machiavelli, Platonic theology and Epicureanism in Florence

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Abstract

Is Machiavelli an Epicurean in his political and religious thought? Recent scholarship has identified him as the foremost representative of Epicureanism in Renaissance Florence. In particular, his incomplete epic poem, The Ass, is read as an expression of his adherence to Lucretian naturalism. This article offers a new reading of the poem and shows that its teaching reveals that Machiavelli is closer to a Platonic variant of classical naturalism linked with the idea of a natural virtue modelled on the lives of animals which has been lost through human civilization and progress and to which it is necessary to return periodically. The article focuses on the poem’s claim that civil religion is a necessary component for good laws that maintain a free republic and argues that Machiavelli offers a poetic reflection on the role of Numa as the founder of Roman religion on the model of a neo-Pythagorean philosophical religion that was instrumental in the rise of constitutional government. More than Lucretius’s critique of religion, Machiavelli’s poem can be read as an extended reflection on Plutarch’s texts – above all, his Life of Numa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-127
Number of pages27
JournalIntellectual History Review
Volume29
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Niccolò Machiavelli
  • religion
  • animals
  • epicureanism
  • Platonic theology

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