Francesco Vettori to Niccolo Machiavelli Rome, 23 November 1513


To the Notable Niccolo di Messer Bernardo Machiavelli.

In Florence.


My dear compare. As Cristofano Sernigi says, I have treated you so sparingly with my pen that I cannot recollect where I was. I do seem to recall that the last letter I had from you began with the story of the lion and the fox; I have looked around for it among my letters, and not finding it right away, I decided not to search any more. For in truth I did not reply back then because I was afraid that what has sometimes happened to me and Panzano would happen to you and me: we would begin playing with dirty old cards and send for new ones, and when the messenger came back with them, one of the two of us had already lost money. And so we were talking about bringing the princes together, and they went right on playing, so I was afraid that while we were wasting our letters bringing them together, some of them would have lost money. And since we last wrote, several events have occurred. Even though the party is not over, still it seems to have quieted down somewhat; and I believe it is a good idea not to talk of it until it has started up again.


So in this letter I have decided to describe to you what my life in Rome is like. It seems fitting for me to let you know, first of all, where I am living, since I have moved and I am no longer near as many courtesans as I was last summer. My residence is called San Michele in Borgo, and it is quite near the palace and Saint Peter’s square; but it is in a somewhat secluded place, because it is toward the hill the ancients called the Janiculum. The house is very nice and has many rooms, though small ones; and it faces toward the north wind, so that the air is just right.

From the house you enter the church, which, what with my being as religious as you know, comes in very handy for me. It is true that the church is used more for walking in than it is for anything else, since neither mass nor any other holy service is ever said there, except once in an entire year. From the church you enter a garden, which formerly was clean and pretty but is now largely abandoned; still, it gets tidied up regularly. From the garden you go up the Janiculum, where you can walk at leisure through lanes and vineyards without being seen by anyone; according to the ancients, this was the site of Nero’s gardens, vestiges of which are still visible. I am staying in this house with nine servants and, in addition to them, Brancacci, a chaplain, a scribe, and seven horses; I easily spend all the salary I get. When I first came here, I began by trying to live lavishly and elegantly, inviting out-of-town guests, serving three or four courses, eating out of silver dishes, and so forth. Then I realized that I was spending too much and that I was not at all better off for it; so I decided to stop inviting people and to live at a good, normal level. I returned the silver plates to those who had lent them to me, both so that I would not have to watch over them and also because they would often request me to speak to O[ur] L[ordship] about some need of theirs. I would do it and they would not be helped; so I determined to rid myself of this chore and not to annoy or to burden anyone else, so that I would not be annoyed or burdened by them.


Mornings, these days, I get up at ten o’clock, and after dressing, I go over to the palace; not every morning, however, but once out of every two or three. There, on occasion, I speak twenty words with the pope, ten with Cardinal de’ Medici, six with Giuliano the Magnificent; and if I cannot speak with him, I speak with Piero Ardinghelli, then with whatever ambassadors happen to be in those chambers; and I hear a thing or two, though little of any moment. Having done that, I go back home; except that sometimes I dine with Cardinal de’ Medici. When I get home, I eat with my household and sometimes a guest or two who come to see them, such as Ser Sano and that Ser Tommaso who was in Trent, Giovanni Rucellai, or Giovanni Girolami. After eating, I would play cards if I had someone to do it with; but since I do not, I walk through the church and the garden. Then, when the weather is fine, I go for a short horseback ride outside of Rome. At nightfall I return home; and I have arranged to get quite a few histories, especially of the Ron1ans: for instance, Livy with the epitome of Lucius Florus, Sallust, Plutarch, Appianus Alexandrinus, Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, Lampridius, and Spartianus, and those others who write about the emperors—Herodian, Ammianus Marcellinus, and Procopius. And with them I pass the time; and I consider the emperors that this poor Rome, which once made the world tremble, has put up with, and so it is no wonder if it has also put up with two pontiffs of the kind that the last have been. Once every four days, I write a letter to Their Lordships of the Ten, and I relate some tired and irrelevant news, since I have nothing else to write for reasons that you yourself can understand. Then I go off to sleep, after I have had supper and exchanged some bits of news with Brancacci and with M. Giovan Battista Nasi, who often stays with me. On holidays I hear mass; I do not do as you, who sometimes do not bother. If you asked me whether or not I have any courtesans, I would tell you that when I first came here I did have a few, as I wrote you; then, frightened by the summer air, I abstained. Nevertheless, I had accustomed one so that she often comes here on her own; she is reasonably pretty and pleasant in speech. Even though this place is secluded, I also have a neighbor whom you would not find unattractive; and although she is of noble family, she does carry on some business.


Niccolo my friend, this is the life I invite you to; and if you come, you will give me pleasure, and then we shall go back up there together. Here you will have no other business than seeing the sights and then coming back home to joke and to laugh. And I do not want you to think that I live like an ambassador, because I have always insisted on being free. Sometimes I dress up, and sometimes I do not; I go riding by myself, with my servants on foot, and sometimes with them on horseback. I never go to the cardinals’, because I have no one to visit except Medici and sometimes Bibbiena, when he is well. And let anyone say what he will, if I do not satisfy them, let them recall me. For in conclusion, I intend to go home at the end of a year and to have held on to my capital, once my clothes and horses have been sold off I would prefer not to be out of pocket if I can help it. I want you to believe one thing, which I say without any flattery: although I have gone to no great trouble, nonetheless the throng is so great that one cannot help meeting a great number of people. In point of fact, few of them satisfy me, and I have not found any man of better judgment than you. Sed fatis trahimur. [“but we are drawn along by the Fates”]  For when I speak at length to some, when I read their letters, I find myself astonished that they have attained any rank whatsoever, since they are nothing but ceremony, lies, and tales, and there are very few of them who are at all out of the ordinary. Bernardo da Bibbiena, who is now a cardinal, has a well-bred mind, in truth, and he is a witty and discerning man and has done his share of labor in his day. Nonetheless, he is ill now, and he has been so for three months; I do not know if he will ever again be as he was wont to be. And thus we often labor to find rest, and it does not turn out. So let us be merry, come what may. And remember that I am at your service and that I send my regards to you, to Filippo and Giovanni Machiavelli, to Donato, and to Messer Ciaio. Nothing more. Christ watch over you.


Francesco Vettori ambassador

23 November 1513, in Rome.