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Fortune Is a River: Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli's Magnificent Dream to Change the Course of Florentine History
     

Fortune Is a River: Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli's Magnificent Dream to Change the Course of Florentine History

by Roger D. Masters
 


Few people know that Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli crossed paths when Leonardo worked -- ostensibly as an engineer, possibly as a spy -- in Cesare Borgia's court and Machiavelli was Florence's ambassador there. Soon thereafter, they formed a friendship and an alliance. Astonishingly, during the rich first decade of the sixteenth century, the pair

Overview


Few people know that Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolò Machiavelli crossed paths when Leonardo worked -- ostensibly as an engineer, possibly as a spy -- in Cesare Borgia's court and Machiavelli was Florence's ambassador there. Soon thereafter, they formed a friendship and an alliance. Astonishingly, during the rich first decade of the sixteenth century, the pair joined together under the inspiration of one of Leonardo's most fantastic dreams: to build a system of canals that would make the Arno River navigable from Florence to the sea. Under Machiavelli's supervision, the Florentine government tried -- and ultimately failed -- to realize a portion of this plan in 1504.


The first canal in the scheme had a military purpose, to cut off the water supply of Pisa, Florence's enemy -- but that was only the beginning. Leonardo dreamed of irrigating the Arno valley and controlling its water in order to fill Florence's coffers with tax revenues. He and Machiavelli foresaw the day that Amerigo Vespucci and other explorers would be able to sail from the city center to the sea, to travel over new lands and enrich Florentine merchants. Had the taming of the Arno succeeded, Florence might have become the center of a great world power. Unfortunately, in one of history's most tantalizing might-have-beens, the plans for the Pisa diversion were altered by the engineer in charge, not enough workmen were hired, and the ditches were not dug deeply enough. Not long after a sudden flood destroyed some of the work, the project was abandoned.


It was one of a series of failures for Leonardo, who ultimately would depart Florence for Milan, Rome, and France, newly convinced that political power was essential for an engineer and artist to thrive. For Machiavelli it was another military failure in a roller-coaster political career. If the project had materialized, the Republic might never have been overthrown, and Machiavelli might not have fallen from power and been imprisoned.


Roger Masters's account of the friendship between two of history's greatest geniuses starts with this tale of a magnificent lost dream and spirals outward to the art, politics, intrigue, and sexual scandals of Florence. Leonardo's preoccupation with the Arno project explains many of the tantalizing mysteries of his work. It is the reason for the startling bird's-eye view of the valley in the background of the Mona Lisa; it is part and parcel of both his obsession, in the Notebooks, with understanding the dynamics of water, and his work on canals and swamp drainage in Milan, Rome, and France. As for Machiavelli, were it not for his time spent in prison, he might never have been compelled to write The Prince. Fortune Is a River is at once a study of genius and a rich and delightful introduction to the wonders of the Renaissance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Providing a remarkable window on the birth of the modern age, this meticulous study examines the little-known collaboration of Leonardo da Vinci and Niccol Machiavelli. The two worked together in Florence between 1503 and 1506, where Machiavelli, the Florentine republic's second chancellor, enlisted Leonardothen military architect and engineer to warlord Cesare Borgiain a grandiose scheme to redirect the Arno River's course and make Florence a seaport. Machiavelli's strategic goal was to deprive Florence's bitter rival Pisa of water from the Arno, which flowed through that city. Beyond this, Leonardo envisioned a transformation of the Arno valley into an irrigated flood-control system that would generate wealth and security for Tuscany. Leonardo and Machiavelli also collaborated on the renovation of a fortress and other military projects, yet most of their joint projectsincluding the ill-conceived scheme to divert the Arnowere failures. Nevertheless, through parallel biographies of his two famed protagonists, Masters, a Dartmouth professor of government, presents architect-inventor Leonardo as a visionary who sought a rational society based on science, while Machiavelli is defended here for his realistic worldview that stressed the inevitability of selfishness and conflict. This surprising dual portrait is beautifully illustrated with Leonardo's architectural and engineering drawings, urban-planning sketches and maps. (June)
Library Journal
Masters (government, Dartmouth Coll.; Beyond Relativism, LJ 9/15/93) examines Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli's cooperative efforts on behalf of the Florentine government in the early 1500s. Their assignment was to make the Arno River navigable from Florence to the Ligurian Sea for military and economic purposes. Masters reveals the reasons for the project's failure and shows the politics and intrigue of the time. Other major events of Leonardo's and Machiavelli's lives also figure in the narrative, in addition to interesting highlights of the lives of other prominent people and events. One example is his treatment of Amerigo Vespucci and the impact of his New World explorations on Florence. The scope of this interesting book makes it suitable for academic libraries. This volume bears comparison to R.W.B. Lewis's The City of Florence (Farrar, 1995).Norman Malwitz, Queens Borough, Jamaica, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684844527
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
06/15/1998
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.63(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.07(d)

What People are Saying About This

James Cowan
Fascinating....It takes a fine historian, sensitive to the nuance of the human condition, to bring alive what in the end delights us most -- the way men dream dreams, even when they fail.

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