The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
GIANNOTTI AND CONTARINI
Venice as Concept and as Myth

[I]

DANATO GIANNOTTI (1492–1573) is known, if at all, to readers of English as “the most excellent describer of the commonwealth of Venice” (the phrase is Harrington's 1656)1 and by less specific statements to the effect that he was the intellectual heir of Machiavelli and the last major thinker in the Florentine republican tradition. No detailed study of his thought has yet been written in English,2 but we have gone far enough in the present analysis to have uncovered an anomaly in his received reputation: it is odd, on the face of it, that the same man should have been at once an admirer of Venice and an admirer of Machiavelli. And the oddity grows as we look deeper, for Giannotti proves to have employed his detailed knowledge of Venetian procedures to construct a model of Florentine government which was both markedly popular and founded upon a citizen militia; both concepts very far removed from the aristocratic città disarmata discerned by Machiavelli and Guicciardini. The fact is, as already indicated, that his conception of Venice is rather instrumental than ideal; he does not set up the serenissima república as a model to be imitated, but treats it as a source of conceptual and constitutional machinery which can be adapted for use in the very difficult circumstances of Florentine popolare politics. He is aided to do this by the fact that the Aristotelian-Polybian model of mixed government, which Venice

____________________
1
At the beginning of the Preliminaries to Oceana; see Toland, ed., p. 35 (above, ch. I, n. 28).
2
For his life and career, see Roberto Ridolfi, Opuscoli di Storia Letteraria e di Erudizione (Florence: libr. Bibliopolis, 1942); Randolph Starns, Donato Giannotti and his Epistolae (Geneva: Libr. Droz, 1968); and the publication by Felix Gilbert described in the next note. R. von Albertini (op.cit.) devotes pp. 14–66 to a study of his thought, as does Starns in “Ante Machiavel: Machiavelli and Giannotti” (Gilmore, ed., Studies on Machiavelli) and there is a short account, which seeks to relate him to English thought of the Shakespearean age, in C. C. Huffman, Coriolanus in Context (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1972), pp. 17–20.

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