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Skirting the Issue: Machiavelli's Caterina Sforza

Julia L. Hairston
Renaissance Quarterly
Vol. 53, No. 3 (Autumn, 2000), pp. 687-712
DOI: 10.2307/2901494
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2901494
Page Count: 26
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Skirting the Issue: Machiavelli's Caterina Sforza
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Abstract

This essay examines the creation of a notorious anecdote about a Machiavellian mother - Caterina Sforza. The adjective "Machiavellian" functions on two levels: first, Sforza often simply appears in her role as mother in Machiavelli's works; second, her behavior in this particular instance might well be characterized as "practising duplicity in statecraft." Yet if one considers the pertinent historical documents and Machiavelli's very first, although virtually forgotten, version of the events, it becomes apparent that Machiavelli "de-Machiavellizes" Caterina Sforza. The historical record offers a narrative in which Sforza provides a localized, targeted political response to undermine her children's would-be assassins. Machiavelli, however, rewrites the episode by altering Sforza's quip to her enemies and adding the audacious gesture of lifting her skirts; as a result, he creates a version in which she no longer responds to the political predicament in which she finds herself. This essay juxtaposes Machiavelli's long-ignored first version of the tale with his other two more well-known prose versions and contextualizes all three in relation to contemporary sources.

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