May 2017

Timeless Thinking: Machiavelli’s Letter to Francesco Vettori

By Carlos Fuentes

Niccolo Machiavelli (May 3, 1469 to June 21, 1527) was a Florentine Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer. He has often been called the founder of modern political science. His most important political work is the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy, but he is better known for The Prince, a book that few have read, but many condemn.

The fragment below is part of a famous letter written to his friend Francesco Vettori on Dec. 10, 1513:

“When evening comes, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door, I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and courtly garments; and decently re-clothed, I enter the courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.”*

*Source: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, Norton Critical Edition, 2n Ed., 1992, p. 128.

Carlos Fuentes, FSA, MAAA, is president at Axiom Actuarial Consulting. He can be reached at