Machiavelli Had Man Crush on Pope’s Scion Borgia: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "Machiavelli: A Biography," by Miles J. Unger. Source: Simon and Schuster via Bloomberg

During the reign of Pope Alexander VI, the Vatican hosted “bunga bunga” parties each evening when more than 25 young women would be brought to the palace. Unlike other Popes, the lusty Alexander openly acknowledged his many children, the oldest of whom was Cesare Borgia.

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In 1493, at the age of 18, Cesare was elevated to the College of Cardinals, but he chafed at the limitations of his scarlet robes. What he wanted was secular power, more like his brother, Juan, the Pope’s favorite son.

After the two brothers dined together one evening, Juan disappeared -- his body was later dredged up from the bottom of the Tiber. Turning in his vestments, Cesare succeeded Juan as commander of the Papal armies, killing with characteristic brutality and efficiency, and so conquering one territory after another.

For Niccolo Machiavelli, here, finally, was a “real man.” The model for “The Prince,” Cesare represented the pure will to power that drives the engines of history. Machiavelli was smitten and had a “man crush” on him.

I spoke with Miles Unger, author of “Machiavelli: A Biography,” on the following topics:

1. Turmoil & Violence

2. Cesare Borgia

3. Political Realism

4. Finger of Satan

5. Attack on the Church

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)


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