By GUY LAMOLINARA
According to Rare Book and Special Collections Division Chief Larry Sullivan, "Machiavelli has been with the Library from its early beginnings."
He was referring to the fact that Thomas Jefferson's library, which he sold to LC in 1815, contained a copy of a 1589 Latin translation of The Prince, Machiavelli's 1513 classic work about power and politics.
The occasion of Dr. Sullivan's remark was the third in a series of lectures at the Library on the influence of Italian culture in America. The lecture was jointly sponsored on May 1 by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, the Embassy of Italy, the Italian Cultural Institute and the National Italian American Foundation.
When introducing the "distinguished man of letters," Dr. Sullivan told the capacity crowd that in addition to being Italy's ambassador to the United States, Boris Biancheri had also in 1987-91 been ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Mr. Biancheri humbly noted that the "unexpectedly large audience" had come to hear someone who is "not a Machiavelli specialist, not a historian, or even a scholar.
"Worse, I suppose, I am a diplomat," he joked, as the audience burst into laughter. "Diplomats know little about many things. Scholars eventually know nothing about everything.
"You may ask yourself why I came here to talk about the nothing I know about Machiavelli," he said, before beginning a lecture that belied his words.
Mr. Biancheri believes that, 500 years after Machiavelli (1469-1527), there is still no general assessment as to "who he was or what he had to say."
The fact that infamous people such as Mussolini were his admirers "did not add much to Machiavelli's reputation," either.
To understand Machiavelli and his political philosophy, said the ambassador, one must be familiar with Italian history. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the growth in commerce fueled the formation of mini-states on the Italian peninsula. In 1494, when Machiavelli was 25, the peninsula was invaded by France, leading to a series of wars among France, Spain and the Austrian Habsburgs for control.
Machiavelli entered politics and from 1498 until 1512 served in the chancellery of the Florentine republic. His efforts to introduce military conscription in Florence eventually led to his exile from his homeland, as the troops he had organized opposed the emperor unsuccessfully in 1512. No longer able to influence politics directly, Machiavelli took to writing. His experiences greatly influenced his ideas about politics. As Mr. Biancheri said, Machiavelli believed that "cruelty may be necessary" to achieve a worthy goal. "Some have it in-born, it can't be helped."
Stating this idea in more modern terms, in Machiavelli's world "the ends justify the means."