Friday, May 23, 2014

The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior by Paul Strathern


After watching the Borgias and Borgia, two separate shows based on the infamous Italian family of the 1500s, I was curious to see what others had written about them. Seeing The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior, a book discussing Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia, three figures fairly well known to modern audiences, I was curious as to their historical importance to one another.

In the Showtime special, I don't remember Da Vinci at all to be honest. Machiavelli showed up mind you and was well played. In the Borgia series though, Da Vinci is part and present with Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia. There is a great scene in the later where Cesare is atop an armored carriage with his famous slogan, "Caesar or Nothing" in all his prime and power while Da Vinci quickly sketches him.

Written by Paul Strathern, the author of Napoleon in Egypt among others, I'd never read anything by Paul before. Fortunately, his writing voice is easy and flows nicely. Reading the book is a pleasure. The author presents several sources of information and informs the reader when these sources are questioned and provides a massive "Notes" section which provides where the information is drawn from.

Paul brings the reader to prior to the three meeting, as well as what happens when they meet, and what their eventual ends are. The author notes that in their own time, they were often considered failures. While Da Vinci was known for his impressive and wide ranging talents, his inability to FINISH things was well known to his many patrons who often grew tired of that. He was fortunate to die under the patronage of the current king of France who treated Da Vinci almost like a father figure and kept him around only for company and didn't expect anything from him.

Machiavelli, best known perhaps for his writing of the Prince, which is based off of his meeting with Cesare Borgia. It even notes where exactly that Machiavelli believes that Cesare failed in not realizing his power base from his father the Pope was more important to Cesare that he realized and helping to elect the man who would wind up being his doom, Julius II.

Machiavelli, due to what he refers to as "Fortune" is cast down from his lofty position and winds up living much of his end days out on his familial lands in poverty and away from 'the action' of the court. Even when he manages to write the Prince, it turns out that the people of the time are more shocked and horrified of it then awed by it. The Prince, and all books by Machiavelli, wind up going into a books banned by the Church list. Going against the church is never a good thing, and in an Italy where the Pope is actively engaged in things? Even worse.

Cesare? After many years of what must seemed to have been almost super human 'Fortune', suffers setback after setback when he no longer has Papal forces at his command. After taking over much of the Romagna, and installing law that brought its own peace and even a level of joy to the people who lived there, the Romagna is taken from Cesare and Cesare suffers capture.

To me, it's interesting that the author speculates that Cesare, after having suffered these many setbacks, including almost dying of the same disease (or perhaps poisoning) that killed his father, in effect commits suicide through recklessness. This is a theme I've seen played out when Police Officers start taking unnecessary risks, or firefighters or any occupation that is inherently dangerous in the first place. Even comic books don't escape this theory as it was recently decided that Cyclops of the X-men, was committing "Suicide by Supervillain."

While Paul doesn't provide a ton of depth to the information here, he does bring out a lot of the interesting aspects and speculates on others backed up with the information on hand. In addition, with all of the reference work at the back of the book, I can't imagine anyone who wants to know more about this time period and these people, would be leaving the book with no further place to go.

If you're looking for more information about three three and the world they shared and some of those they shared it with, like  Louis XII, Alexander VI,  della Rovere, the Sforzas, Orsinis, and Medicis. Many of these famous in and of themselves, but together, forming an impressive tapestry of historical significance.