In Book I, chapter 2 of the



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It is the argument of this essay that Machiavelli offers a political account of ingratitude that positions such behavior as necessary and beneficial to a prince or republic. This essay begins with Machiavelli’s account of the origin of ingratitude in Discourses, Book I, chapter two, then moves to the examination of Roman and Athenian ingratitude in Book I, chapter 28, and ends with the examination of ingratitude in a people and a prince in Book I, chapter 29. This essay will show that an uncorrupt republic should harm those who benefit it despite notions of justice to the contrary.

In Book I, chapter 2 of the Discourses, Machiavelli shows the origins of justice while seeming to follow Polybius’ origin of society and account of regime types.1 In the beginning, according to Machiavelli, men lived dispersed like beasts. Here, man seems no different from a gregarious beast, and quite different from Adam and Eve or Aristotle’s account of zoon politikon.2 As generations multiplied, men gathered together and “began to look to whoever among them was more robust and of greater heart, and they made him head, as it were, and obeyed him” (D I 2.3). The need for security compelled men to come together. Political life has its beginnings not in Genesis or by nature, but in human beings facing necessity and choosing to live together.

Necessity and the desire for preservation led to the “necessary consequence that the man who [excelled] in bodily strength and in courage [led] and [ruled] over the rest” (Polybius VI 5.7, D I 2.3). The recognition of the benefits this man offered lay at the foundation of his rule. Polybius suggests that one regard this as “a most genuine work of nature” (VI 5.8). Conversely, Machiavelli shows that these beginnings were a matter of choice in the face of necessity. Men looked to the robust man of greater heart to “be able to defend themselves better” (D I 2.3). Machiavelli continues to diverge from Polybius after this point.

From this arose knowledge of things honest and good, differing from the pernicious and bad. For, seeing that if one individual hurt his benefactor, hatred and compassion among men came from it, and as they blamed the ungrateful and honored those who were grateful, and thought too that those same injuries could be done to them, to escape like evil they were reduced to making laws and ordering punishments for whoever acted against them: hence came the knowledge of justice (D I 2.3).

It seems likely that Machiavelli means to indicate the ruler as benefactor here, for he has not shown any benefit other than safety. If this is correct, then the first man warranting gratitude was he who kept the people safe. Justice comes to light with the recognition that one ought not to harm the beneficent prince. Injustice comes to light as harming the prince. Whether or not the individual who hurt his benefactor saw him as such is not immediately clear, but the city’s laws show that it was capable of deciding. Men come to see that any injury the beneficent prince receives is injury that they too receive. Harming the benefactor harms the beneficiaries. The informal nature of gratitude is a flaw in its very foundation. One must rely upon the good nature of men for gratitude to flourish. Yet the nature of men is what compelled men to come together into political society. Therefore, political society must construct positive reinforcements for gratitude and punishments for ingratitude. Justice seems to be not harming the beneficent ruler or any other beneficent being. Man’s knowledge of justice and injustice rests on the premise that men ought not to harm those who benefit them, but should harm those who harm them, as exemplified in the punitive system.3

Machiavelli shows that men can recognize a benefactor by showing that they can recognize ingratitude. It was not divine command or contemplation of justice that “reduced [men] to making laws and ordering punishments” (D I 2.3). Rather, it was the recognition that men ought to be grateful to those who benefit society. Moreover, the experience of ingratitude did not direct men to produce laws demanding that men honor their benefactors. Gratitude and honor continued to have an informal nature. Witnessing the harm of ingratitude “reduced” men to making laws to keeping this from happening to themselves. Hence, the foundation of justice and positive law was the negative experience of ingratitude.

Machiavelli arrives to knowledge of justice by describing the vice and not the virtue. One might argue that sometimes the negative is more impressive, or sometimes the negative is first to come to sight. Yet both of these arguments seem to presuppose that Machiavelli is looking for the positive and merely using the negative to get a foothold on the matter. This does not seem to be the case. There is an express interest in ingratitude. Justice is the worldly response to the harm witnessed as ingratitude. It is clear why ingratitude sparks “hatred and compassion among men” (D I 2.3). Simply put, ingratitude is harmful, and men hate that which is harmful. Just as harm led men to come together in political society, harm understood as ingratitude led men to notions of justice. The tendency of men to harm other men left humans in need of political society and laws. Hence, justice is the formal effort to make up for the informal nature of man, as he who originally lived like beast.

One should note that Machiavelli diverges from Polybius on at least two counts. Polybius does not argue that men lived dispersed from the beginning, as does Machiavelli, but came to live dispersed due to flood, famine, or other such causes (VI 6.5). Secondly, Polybius shows the first public display of ingratitude to be that which a child showed his parents. The second abstraction directly bears on this essay’s consideration of ingratitude. Polybius argues quite reasonably that men are naturally inclined to sexual intercourse, which of course produces children.

Whenever one of those who have been reared does not on growing up show gratitude to those who reared him or defend them, but on the contrary takes to speaking ill of them or ill treating them, it is evident that he will displease and offend those who have been familiar with his parents and have witnessed the care and pains they spent on attending to and feeding their children (Polybius VI 6.2).

Reason and imagination forced men to recognize that they could fall victim to the same treatment. A notion of the meaning and theory of duty, “which is the beginning and end of justice,” came from this recognition (Polybius VI 6.7). Polybius goes on to show that the man foremost in defending his people naturally received marks of favor and honor, while the man who acted in the opposite manner received reprobation and dislike. “From this again some idea of what is base and what is noble and of what constitutes the difference is likely to arise among the people” (VI 6.8-9). This beginning reveals that men admire and imitate that which is noble because it is advantageous and avoid that which is base because it is harmful.

Both Machiavelli and Polybius argue that bearing witness to a display of ingratitude led men to form notions of justice. Yet Machiavelli differs from Polybius in his silence on the relationship between parents and children. Machiavelli abstracts from the family in order to focus on ingratitude in politics.4 Were one to begin with ingratitude within the family, one might look to refine duty to solve the problem. Yet Machiavelli is not Cicero, and working through a notion of duty to teach men to be grateful is not his intention.

Machiavelli’s abstraction from the family spurs one to wonder if he abstracts from anything else. Leo Strauss suggests, “He may well have adopted Polybius’ account of the beginnings of civil societies because that account is silent about gods and religion” (TM 134). Were Machiavelli to follow Livy’s beginnings, he would have to account for Romulus’s gratitude to his home and to the gods. “Romulus’s first act was to fortify the Palatine, the scene of his own upbringing. He offered sacrifice to the gods, using the Alban forms except in the case of Hercules, where he followed the Greek ritual as instituted by Evander” (Livy 1.7). It is only after showing gratitude to hearth and the gods that Romulus gave Rome a body of laws (Livy 1.8). These laws did not issue from the collective witnessing of the harm of ingratitude. Rather, Rome’s laws were a matter of Romulus’s clarity of vision, for he knew that his people needed common laws backed by symbols of power (lictors) to unite them (Livy 1.8). Thus, Rome does not fit the pattern advanced by either Polybius or Machiavelli. Recognition of the benefits conferred by the gods would lead men to see ingratitude in light of the divine.5 This would lead men to seek the solution to earthly problems in another world. For example, if one worked from original sin to show man’s ingratitude to God as underpinning all other displays of ingratitude, one would not likely seek the solution through politics, but through God’s forgiveness and the clergy.6

One can argue that Machiavelli’s silence on the gods and religion is as intentional as his silence on parents and children because both take away from the political phenomenon of ingratitude. Ingratitude seems too much a “trans-historical” subject to solve with abstract notions of duty or piety, that is, if one can even solve it at all.7 This beginning seems necessary for Machiavelli to teach how ingratitude merits excuse. Beginning with ingratitude in the family and notions of duty only stirs indignation towards such behavior. Beginning with gratitude towards the gods implies a notion of piety that necessarily stirs indignation towards ingratitude and impiety. To teach that ingratitude is necessary, beneficial, and good, one must abstract from nature and religion and ground the phenomenon in the political.

Machiavelli titles Book I, chapter 28 of the Discourses, “For What Cause the Romans Were less Ungrateful toward Their Citizens Than the Athenians.” All republics show “some species” of ingratitude towards their citizens, yet Athenian ingratitude bit more fiercely than Roman ingratitude. The main reason seems to be that Rome had less cause than Athens for suspecting its citizens. Machiavelli lets readers understand the matter in terms of political history.8 The tyrant, Pisistratus deprived Athens of liberty during “its most flourishing time and under a deception of goodness” (D I 28.1). Upon regaining its freedom, and with the bitter memory of its past servitude, Athens became a “very prompt avenger” of any errors or shadows of error in its citizens (D I 28.1). It is the nature of suspicion to bite those who have a mere shadow of error. One need only look to the treatment of Alcibiades to see Athens’s suspicion and fear at work.9

Conversely, from the time of the expulsion of the kings until Sulla and Marius (roughly 450 years), Rome’s freedom was not taken away by “any of its citizens” (D I 28.1). During this time, there was no great cause within Rome for suspecting citizens or for offending them inconsiderately (D I 28.1). “Whoever considers then, how much has been said will neither blame Athens in this nor praise Rome, but will accuse only necessity because of the diversity of accidents that arose in these cities” (D I 28.1). One should note, however, what Machiavelli has not said. About 100 years after the expulsion of the Tarquins, ten citizens took away Rome’s freedom for roughly three years. Machiavelli is silent here on what he admits only seven chapters later in 35, which he titles “The Cause Why the Creation of the Decemvirate in Rome Was Hurtful to the Freedom of that Republic, Notwithstanding That it was Created by Public and Free Votes.” There is a blatant contradiction between chapters 28 and 35 of Book I, for Machiavelli outright states that the Decemvirate “became tyrants of Rome and without any hesitation seized its freedom” (D I 35.1).

Machiavelli seems to overstate his case in chapter 28 to show a subtle difference between the tyranny of the Decemvirate and the tyranny of Pisistratus.10 As Machiavelli suggests, Pisistratus came to power when Athens was flourishing. The Decemvirate, however, came to power when Rome was trying to make laws to settle disputes between the consuls and tribunes.11 It seems that any republic is potentially as ungrateful as Athens. If freedom had been taken away from Rome as it was from Athens, Rome would have been no more merciful than Athens (D I 28.1). Yet the degree of ingratitude in a republic is not simply a matter of accident as something outside of human control. Rather, a republic’s ingratitude depends upon its founding and its responses to accidents.12 For if a republic does not have a perfect order, but has “taken a beginning that is good and capable of becoming better, [it] can by the occurrence of accidents become perfect” (D I 2.1). From the tumults between the plebs and Senate to the creation of the dictatorship, Rome consistently proves able to deal with accidents in an exemplary way.13

The Roman advantage stems from its founding, for “if its first orders were defective, nonetheless they did not deviate from the right way that could lead them to perfection” (D I 2.7). The founding of Rome, although kingly, was of such a mixed nature that it only became more stabilized with accidents that necessitated the addition of the plebs (D I 2.7). Athens, however, did not have such sound beginnings. Solon ordered a popular state with no provisions for a prince. One should note that Solon left Athens for ten years after giving its laws and the tyranny of Pisistratus was born before his death. After expelling Pisistratus’ heirs, Athens returned to freedom and once again took up popular government. “To maintain it, [Athens] made many constitutions that had not been considered by Solon, by which the insolence of the great and the license of the collectivity were repressed” (D I 2.6). Because Athens did not mix these constitutions with the power of the principality and the aristocrats, it had to check the freedom of its people and treat its great men harshly (D I 2.6). One can see Athens’s difficulty with accidents and ingratitude rooted in its founding. The unmixed nature of Athenian government, as well as its experiences with tyrants, seems to have rendered it unable to see the virtue of its great men.14 No accident seemed capable of making Athens see otherwise, for there was no kingly foundation that could lead it to trust in anything other than popular government. Therefore, Athens was consistently more ungrateful to any successful individual than Rome.

Nonetheless, Machiavelli offers the examples of Tarquinius Collatinus and Publius Valerius to show that had Rome lost its freedom, it would have been no more merciful than Athens. Tarquinius Collatinus’ “sole offence was that his name—Tarquin—was universally detested,” (Livy 2.2, D I 28.1). Even though Brutus claimed Rome remembered Collatinus’ role in the expulsion of the kings, he asked that Collatinus “crown that service by now ridding us of the royal name” (Livy 2.2). Out of fear of public disgrace and the confiscation of his property, Collatinus “resigned the consulship and went into voluntary exile at Lavinium, taking with him everything he possessed” (Livy 2.2).15 Although one might wonder what is in a name, Rome could not bear this name with anything other than suspicion and disdain. Rome’s ingratitude towards Collatinus seems excusable insofar as it was in the service of freedom.

With the help of Publius Valerius, Rome then exiled all of the Tarquin family. There was no ambiguity: Rome would not bear another Tarquin. Publius Valerius then joined Brutus as consul. Brutus soon died in the battle against Tarquinius Superbus, the Veii, and the Tarquinii. Machiavelli notes Valerius gave “suspicion of himself by building a house on the Caelian Hill” (D I 28.1).16 In addition to building a house, Valerius raised suspicion by not taking immediate steps to replace his dead colleague (Livy 2.7). The problem seems to have been that a house in such a location could become an impregnable fortress. Valerius had the lictors lowered to symbolize that the power belonged with the people and addressed them. “Will you never find in any man merit so tried and tested as to be above suspicion…Can my reputation be blown away by so light a breath?” (Livy 2.7). The answers seem obvious: no man is above suspicion and no reputation is fixed. Such motion seems to be the nature of the mob and the nature of the men who compose it. Valerius overcame Rome’s suspicion in two moves. First, he built his home at the bottom of the hill. Second, he proposed new measures that gave the right of appeal to the people against a decision of the magistrates and a loss of civil rights for anyone convicted of attempting to restore the crown (Livy 2.8). Afterwards, Valerius held elections and Sp. Lucretius became consul (Livy 2.8).

Rome’s actions show the power of suspicion and, as a study of Discourses I 29 will show, that ingratitude merits excuse. The ingratitude Rome showed these men resulted in further security from a loss of freedom. One need not see Rome’s treatment of Collatinus and Valerius as petty. Rome’s ingratitude symbolized to its ambitious citizens that it would not abide any threats to its freedom. Further, an obvious deficiency with the account of Rome in Discourses I 28 is the absence of Scipio and Caesar. One must turn to Discourses I 29 for an account of the ingratitude Rome showed to these two great men.

Machiavelli entitles chapter 29 of Book I of his Discourses, “Which Is More Ungrateful, A People or a Prince.” Consistent with his poem, On Ingratitude, Machiavelli argues, “This vice of ingratitude arises either from avarice or suspicion” (D I 29.1, OI 25). This expands the consideration of chapter 28, which offered examples where suspicion underpinned the ingratitude shown to Collatinus and Valerius. In Discourses I 29, Machiavelli argues that avarice holds men back from gratitude insofar as avaricious men are greedy and not munificent. Both a prince and a people join in bargains of rewarding successful captains that they send out on expeditions. “If, instead of rewards, he either dishonors or offends him, moved by avarice and not wishing to satisfy him since he is held back by this greed, he makes an error that has no excuse but rather brings with it an eternal infamy. Yet one finds many princes who sin in this way” (D I 29.1).17 Not only is ingratitude rooted in avarice an error, but it is a sin. “And Cornelius Tacitus tells the cause in this sentence: One is more inclined to make return for an injury than for a benefit, because gratitude is held to be a burden and revenge a gain” (D I 29.1).18 Machiavelli moves from the holding back of rewards to the action of revenge. This motion seems to prepare readers for the deliberate use of ingratitude rooted in suspicion.19

Machiavelli argues that ingratitude rooted in suspicion is not a sin, but in fact merits excuse. “But when he does not reward him—or, to say better, offends him—moved not by avarice but by suspicion, then he merits—both the people and the prince—some excuse” (D I 29.1). It is difficult to understand how a prince or a people could not be suspicious of a successful captain, for his reputation stands to undercut the prince’s or the people’s power. As Machiavelli puts it, a successful captain’s newfound reputation “cannot taste good to the lord who has sent him” (D I 29.1). Ingratitude from suspicion merits excuse because it maintains the ruling body. If so, suspicion is different from avarice insofar as suspicion serves to maintain in a positive way while avarice acquires by holding back.

Machiavelli offers the nature of man to support his argument that ingratitude rooted in suspicion merits some excuse. “Because the nature of men is ambitious and suspicious and does not know how to set a limit to any fortune it may have, it is impossible for the suspicion suddenly arising in the prince after the victory of his captain not to be increased by that same one because of some mode or term of his used insolently” (D I 29.1). Machiavelli quietly drops the people from the discussion. Suspicion increases with insolence, which suggests that the prince was already suspicious of the captain for his reputation gained through victory. Machiavelli offers two solutions to this successful captain: a prince may kill the captain or he may take away his reputation (D I 29.1).

The look to human nature does not seem to show the difference between ingratitude rooted in suspicion and ingratitude rooted in avarice as much as a look to the treatment of the captain. The difference between the two foundations of ingratitude seems to lie in fear. If the prince comes to suspect and fear the captain, he will either ruin or kill the captain. If the prince does not fear the captain, his suspicion subsides, and avarice simply prohibits the issuing of the reward. While ingratitude rooted in suspicion merits some excuse, it undoubtedly issues in greater injury for the successful captain. Suspicion drives a prince to ruin or kill the captain, while avarice simply keeps the prince from rewarding him. Yet one can view the matter from the perspective of the common good and see how avarice is a sin and suspicion is excusable. A prince’s avarice-fueled ingratitude seems to benefit only the prince. As such, one may see that he more resembles a tyrant than a prince. If a suspicious prince operates for the good of the principality, then his ingratitude seems to merit excuse. If people’s avarice-fueled ingratitude harms the common good, then this people is more licentious than popular (D I 2.2). If a suspicious people are ungrateful in service of the common good, then it merits excuse. In this way, Machiavelli decries the breaking of a bargain as a sin, but allows one to see that defamation and killing merit excuse.

Machiavelli offers an ancient and a modern example of ingratitude rooted in suspicion to further his point, for the “histories are full of these examples” (D I 29.2). During the year of the four emperors (69AD), Antonius Primus traveled from Illyria to Rome, virtually destroyed Vitellius’ two armies, and took Rome. Machiavelli notes that through his virtue, Antonius acquired all and conquered every difficulty (D I 29.2).

The reward that Antonius received for it was that Mucianus at once took away the obedience of the army and little by little reduced him to being without any authority in Rome. So Antonius went to meet Vespasian, still in Asia, by whom he was so received that in a brief time, reduced to no rank, he died almost in despair (D I 29.2).

Readers of Tacitus’ Histories will note that Machiavelli overstates the fate of Antonius. Vespasian, received Antonius “not indeed as he expected, but in a not unfriendly spirit” (H IV, 80). Antonius’ virtue positively influenced how Vespasian received him, for the Emperor recognized “the merits of Antonius, under whose conduct the war had beyond all doubt been terminated” (H IV, 80). On the other hand, Mucianus’ letters negatively influenced the emperor.20 “Everyone else inveighed against [Antonius], as an ill-affected and conceited man, nor did they forget the scandals of his early life…Thus by degrees he came to be thought of less weight and worth, though his friendship with the Emperor to all appearance remained the same” (H IV, 80). Mucianus’ ambition led him to work to reduce Antonius’ rank. While this did influence Vespasian, Antonius’ merits were nonetheless recognized. This recognition precluded Antonius from receiving much harsher treatment. Nonetheless, Machiavelli’s point holds. No matter the gratitude owed to a successful general, the ambition, suspicion, and avarice of men compels them to be ungrateful. Luckily, for Antonius, Vespasian was less ungrateful than Mucianus and did not see the need to behave as Machiavelli advises suspicious princes to behave.

To show that history is full of these examples, Machiavelli moves to the modern example of Gonsalvo Ferrante (1453-1515). Serving as a captain for Ferdinand, king of Aragon, Ferrante conquered and overcame the French in Naples with much industry and virtue (D I 29.2). “As a reward for that victory, what he got was that Ferdinand left Aragon and, having come to Naples, first deprived him of the obedience of the men-at-arms, then took the fortresses away from him, and next brought him back with him to Spain, where he died, dishonored, a short time later” (D I 29.2). As with Antonius, Machiavelli seems to exaggerate the example of Ferrante. Mansfield and Tarcov note, “Guicciardini rightly protests that Gonsalvo Ferrante died rich and honored” (D 66, nt. 5). This might be why Machiavelli speaks of Ferrante’s treatment in slightly softer words than Antonius’ treatment. Although Ferdinand was suspicious of Ferrante, his ingratitude does not own up to model offered at the end of paragraph one of chapter 29.

Perhaps Ferdinand failed to use ingratitude well because “very rarely do men know how to be altogether wicked or altogether bad” (D 27 T). If so, the argument of chapter 29 occurs on at least two levels. The first level is offered by the title of the chapter, which positions the inquiry as one investigating whether a prince or a people are more ungrateful. The argument shows that a prince deprives a general of rewards due to avarice or suspicion. The argument does not obviously show that a people deprives a general of rewards due to avarice. Machiavelli offers two modes of proceeding: either avarice holds a prince back, or the reputation the captain acquires through his victory raises the suspicion of a people or a prince (D I 29.2). Avarice in a people has yet to be addressed, but it seems impossible for a victorious captain not to raise a prince’s or a people’s suspicion.

The second level of the argument offers a teaching that seems directed to modern princes. More specifically, this teaching seems directed to modern, Christian princes. “The outstanding contemporary Christian prince is inferior in goodness to the good Roman emperors and inferior in badness to the bad Roman emperors: he does not “know how to be altogether bad or altogether good”” (TM 187). The treatment Machiavelli offers for successful captains, namely their death or their public ruin, requires being both a fox and a lion. The prince must use industry to ruin the captain or have him killed (D I 29.1). The balance the prince must find is to inflict punishments on the popular captain, but not incur the hatred of the people. Ferdinand might have been a fox, but unlike the Roman emperor Severus, he was not a fox and a lion (TM 187). Suspicious princes must use ingratitude and punish a successful captain. Moreover, they must punish him unambiguously. Any man that stands to usurp the order of the realm must be met with the loss of reputation or death, if not both. To do so would be to be altogether wicked. Princes, and for that matter, all men, have a natural suspicion of others (D I 29.2). While “it is impossible that they use gratitude to those who have made great acquisitions through victory under their banners,” it is possible that they use ingratitude well (D I 29.2).21 For if not, some men might take by force what half-hearted ingratitude denies them.

Machiavelli moves on to weave back together the ingratitude of a prince and the ingratitude of a people. “It is not a miracle, nor a thing worthy of the greatest memory, if a people does not defend itself from what a prince does not defend himself” (D I 29.3). Although Machiavelli often refers to the vice of ingratitude, he here speaks of ingratitude as a defensive measure. Any city that lives free has two ends, namely to acquire and to maintain its freedom. “It must be in one thing or the other it errs through too much love” (D I 29.3). Machiavelli means to indicate something quite general here. Of course, he speaks of “any city,” but the use of “city” indicates any civilization tied to a place living under any sort of state. The only qualification here is that the city be free. If so, no matter its type of state, that city will seek to acquire and maintain its freedom. Further, that city is bound to err. Machiavelli postpones addressing erring in acquiring until chapter 30 in order to concentrate on the city’s erring in maintaining itself free.22

“As to errors in maintaining itself free, there are these among others: to offend those citizens whom it ought to reward; to have suspicion of those in whom it ought to have confidence” (D I 29.3). There is a dual nature to these errors, for they can cause either great evils or great goods. Machiavelli drops the discussion of princes altogether and discusses republics for the first time in this chapter. This move occurs so that he can show how ingratitude can cause great evils in a corrupt republic and great goods in an uncorrupt republic. Ingratitude stemming from suspicion often causes a corrupt republic to come “all the sooner to tyranny—as happened to the Rome of Caesar who took by force what ingratitude denied him” (D I 29.3). Corrupt Rome did not hold to the bargain of rewarding Caesar. Machiavelli corroborates this argument in On Ingratitude. “Often a citizen becomes a tyrant and goes beyond the bounds of his country’s law in order not to suffer ingratitude’s injury. This made Caesar snatch the throne; and what ingratitude did not bestow, rightful anger and rightful resentment gave him” (OI 151-155).

Machiavelli recommends Caesar’s behavior in Discourses I 30, where he looks at ingratitude from both the side of the prince and the captain. The captain may take up the opposite mode if he judges putting himself into the hands of the prince to alleviate suspicion improper. The opposite mode is that which makes the prince’s acquisitions his own. The captain’s first step is to make the soldiers and subjects well disposed to him (D I 30.1). “He may make new friendships with neighbors, seize fortresses with his men, corrupt the princes of his army, and secure himself against those he cannot corrupt; and through these modes seek to punish his lord for the ingratitude that he would have used to him” (D I 30.1). There are no other ways for the captain to respond to the prince’s ingratitude other than to put himself into the prince’s hands or to punish him (D I 30.1). Yet because men do not know how to be altogether good or altogether bad, they are crushed by their ambiguity (D I 30.1). One will note, of course, that ambiguity did not crush Caesar, but might have crushed Rome.

Evil befalls a corrupt republic that is suspicious of and ungrateful towards its great men. This evil comes as a loss of freedom that likely leads to tyranny. Conversely, an uncorrupt republic’s suspicion and ingratitude can cause great goods and make it live free (D I 29.3). Through ingratitude, “men are kept better and less ambitious longer through fear of punishment” (D I 29.3). The uncorrupt republic is ungrateful due to its fear that great men will no longer let it live free. The corrupt republic might be ungrateful for the same reason, but because the fear of punishment does not exist in its ambitious citizens, great evils are likely to follow its ingratitude.

Although Machiavelli does not discuss it here, the solution to the corrupt republic’s error is to temporize with its Caesar. A corrupt people should consider the strength of the man whom they intend to bite with ingratitude. “Many times a citizen is allowed to gather more strength than is reasonable, or one begins to corrupt a law that is the nerve and the life of a free way of life; and the error is allowed to run on so far that it is a more harmful policy to wish to remedy it than to allow it to continue” (D I 33.2). Sadly, it is difficult to recognize such inconveniences before they arise. Favor for successful men can turn to fear of him too late. In Rome, “that fear made them think about remedies; and the remedies they made accelerated the ruin of their republic” (D I 33.4). A corrupt republic must have the wherewithal to see the ends of great men. It seems that its licentiousness precludes such clarity of vision. If such recognition does occur, the corrupt republic would do well to consider if less evil would come with temporizing with a man like Caesar.

Returning to Discourses I 29, one finds Machiavelli redoubling his argument that Rome was less ungrateful than Athens. “It is true that among all the peoples that ever had empire, for the causes discoursed above, Rome was the least ungrateful. For one can say of its ingratitude that there was no example other than that of Scipio, because Coriolanus and Camillus were made exiles for the injuries that both had done to the plebs” (D I 29.3). Although Gaius Marcius earned the glory and the courtesy-title Coriolanus by defeating the Volscians and taking Corioli, his excessively harsh attitude towards the plebs led to his exile (Livy 2.33-35). Undoubtedly, Coriolanus aroused the pleb’s suspicion and brought about their ingratitude. Although it was a close call, Rome’s treatment of Coriolanus did not issue in a great evil, which implies that Rome was not corrupt at the time. The treatment of Coriolanus is not an example of Roman ingratitude because it was an act in an uncorrupt republic that maintained freedom.

The ingratitude Rome showed Camillus, however, seems rooted more in avarice than suspicion. The tribune Apuleius indicted Camillus on the charge of mishandling the booty taken in Veii. While fellow-tribesman and dependants of Camillus declared that they would pay any fine imposed upon Camillus, none would plead his innocence (Livy 5.32). Although Camillus could make the Gaul’s capture of Rome impossible, the concern for plunder overtook its concern for safety.23 This seems a sign of Rome’s corruption.

Camillus went into voluntary exile in Ardea. Later, after many Roman defeats and the time was ripe to recover Rome from the Gauls, “no one could be in Veii without thinking of Camillus” (Livy 5.46). The Senate passed a resolution that Camillus, although in exile, would once again become Roman dictator. Ultimately, “Camillus returned in triumph to Rome, his victorious troops roaring out their bawdy songs and saluting their commander by the well-merited titles of another Romulus, father of his country and second founder of Rome” (Livy 5.49). Although Roman ingratitude bit Camillus many times, his reputation remained such that he was able to come to its aid when it truly mattered.24 Camillus’ success in Rome suggests that its ingratitude was not a total error. Perhaps Rome was not completely corrupt and quite fortunate during the times of Camillus (D II 1).

Scipio, however, did receive the same treatment as Camillus. Machiavelli claims, “One can say of [Rome’s] ingratitude that there was no example other than that of Scipio” (D I 29.3). One can say this, but Machiavelli has already given four examples of Roman ingratitude, namely Tarquinius Collatinus, Publius Valerius, Antonius, and Caesar. These examples led to the question of how Rome’s treatment of Scipio is the example of its ingratitude. The problem of Scipio lay in the problem of Hannibal. None of the aforementioned men had so many accidents coincide in their greatness.

But the ingratitude used to Scipio arose from a suspicion that the citizens were beginning to have of him that had not been held of the others, which arose from the greatness of the enemy that Scipio had overcome, from the reputation that victory in so long and dangerous a war had given him, from its rapidity, and from the favor that his youth, prudence, and other memorable virtues acquired for him (D I 29.3).

Scipio seemed to be a god among men. Indeed, as in On Ingratitude, Machiavelli says of Scipio that he was “sent from Heaven, a man divine,” “godlike,” “and among those who are dead and those who live, and among all peoples ancient and modern, there is not a man who equals Scipio” (76-76, 107-108). Therefore, one can see the problem of Scipio to be more than simply the problem of Hannibal. This is the problem of the man of outstanding virtue among a free people, which is a problem Aristotle takes quite seriously in Book III of his Politics.25 The difference, however, is that Machiavelli does not take up this problem with the preference for justice. Rather, Machiavelli takes up this problem with a preference for freedom. The definition of justice that one ought not to harm a benefactor loses to one that excuses, if not demands, that one harm a benefactor who stands to usurp freedom. In a crude way, the love of freedom demands that men be unjust. Somehow, men know that they cannot be free with a man of god-like virtue in the city.

Machiavelli allows one to suggest that the Romans saw Scipio in a similar light as the robust man of great heart from Discourses, Book I, chapter two. Yet the difference between these two men is that one was chosen as a monarch and the other was chosen consul of a republic. Rome simply could not bear a king (D I 2.7). The city of chapter two had the end of maintaining itself, whereas Rome had the end of maintaining itself free and acquiring. Thus, the two ends of the city are themselves in tension as well as in tension with justice understood as not harming a benefactor. A republic needs great men to acquire and meet its avarice. Yet this avarice opens the way for a loss of freedom with the gratitude the republic owes its beneficiary. Justice suggests that men should not harm those who benefit them, but if they do not, they stand to become slaves. In this situation, the previous benefits become moot. One must overcome the notion that ingratitude is always unjust and see the justice of the ingratitude that maintains freedom. If freedom is a city’s greatest love, then ingratitude is a city’s greatest defense of its beloved against those who stand to steal her away.

Cato Priscus “was the first to act against [Scipio] and to say that a city could not call itself free where there was a citizen who was feared by the magistrates” (D I 30.3). Scipio’s greatness reversed the direction of fear necessary in a free republic. In III 1 of the Discourses, Machiavelli discusses the good of the laws that “went against the ambition and insolence of men” (D III 1.3). This chapter iterates the argument of Discourses I 30 that the use of ingratitude in an uncorrupt republic is “the cause of great goods and make it live free, since men are kept better and less ambitious longer through the fear of punishment” (D I 30.3). Machiavelli explicitly claims that the accusations of the Scipios served this purpose (D III 1.3). The loss of the fear of punishment for ambition and insolence gives “more space for men to corrupt themselves and to behave with greater danger and more tumult” (D III 1.3). Without the fear of accusation, exile, or execution, delinquents will join together in such number that they cannot be punished without bringing danger to the republic. Therefore, even if Scipio was deserving of all the honors Rome could bestow upon him, the ingratitude shown to him served the greater good of Rome. At this time, no man was above punishment in Rome. Rome’s ingratitude to Scipio is the true example because he did not deserve it, but truly deserved it all the same. Rome had to either lose freedom or lose Scipio (OI 121-123).

Not only must a free city kill the sons of Brutus, but it must also punish those most deserving reward. History shows that a city that wishes to expand in dominion or riches must be free (D II 2.1). Machiavelli claims the reason is easy to understand, “for it is not the particular good but the common good that makes cities great” (D II 2.1). Of all types of state, republics operate for the common good more than any other does. “Since all that is for that purpose is executed, and although it may turn out to harm this or that private individual, those for whom the aforesaid does good are so many that they can go ahead with it against the disposition against the disposition of the few crushed by it” (D II 2.1). If the city operates with a view to the common good, its ingratitude towards great men seems not only excusable, but also necessary. “So if the people of Rome followed the opinion of Cato in this case, it merits the excuse that, as I said above, those peoples and those princes merit who are ungrateful through suspicion” (D I 29.3).



A city’s ingratitude merits excuse when it is a defensive mechanism performed out of suspicion for the sake of the common good. A free city cannot be maintained on the notion of justice that one ought not to harm one’s benefactors. This dangerous truth cannot operate as justice between men in the city for it to remain civilized, but it must regularly operate on great men for that city to remain free (D III 1). Men must know and fear the harm of the republic to keep their ambition and avarice from compelling them to snatch what might be rightfully theirs. Hence, ingratitude is something harmful to those who receive it, but necessary and beneficial to those uncorrupt republics that use it well. The use of ingratitude in greedy, corrupt republics can bring about great evils. If a city cannot kill the sons of Brutus, that city must temporize with Caesar. One should not view the use of suspicion-fueled ingratitude in uncorrupt republics with moral indignation. The understanding that the greater good lies in freedom precludes as much. Thus, the vice of ingratitude merits excuse when done in service of the proper end.

1 C.f. Discourses I 2.2 and Polybius’ Histories, Book VI, Chapters 5-10. One should note that Polybius begins with men living dispersed because of “floods, famines, failure of crops or other such causes” (VI 5.4). Machiavelli, however, begins simply with men living dispersed.

2 Genesis I:27-28 and Aristotle’s Politics 1253a1-20.

3 It is difficult to discern how just men treat those who simply do not benefit them, but one might note that Machiavelli speaks of charity twice in the Discourses (D III 20.1, 47.1). The look to charity does not immediately reveal how men treat those who do not benefit them. Camillus’ charitable act was in service of his acquiring Falisci (D III 20.1). The example in Discourses III 47.1 allows the argument that, regardless of if Fabius’ ambition overpowered his hatred of Papirius, it is likely that Rome benefited him during his life. Machiavelli suggests Fabius was a good citizen in putting the good of his fatherland before his individual good (D III 47.1). Indeed on can see being a good citizen as a show of gratitude, but what originally causes one to be charitable is not clear. The example of Camillus’ charity shows ambition setting charity in motion. This charity was acting with a meager amount of violence. The origin of benefiting those who have not benefited you could come down to the dictum “you’ve got to give to get.”

4 One might note that something akin to this occurs in Plato’s Crito. In the final speech of this dialogue, the city and city’s laws abstract from the natural place of the family to insist upon the role of the city in Socrates’ coming into being. In doing so, the city and city’s laws commandeer nature, family, and friendship in order to elevate the city to the venerable status that ultimately convinces Crito that Socrates ought not to escape jail.

5 Machiavelli makes this plain in his works On Ingratitude and Exhortation to Penitence. In On Ingratitude, Machiavelli sings to the muses to try to relieve his sorrows. The first ingratitude relates to the pride human beings showed to the heavens and the stars (OI 22-24). In an Exhortation to Penitence, men who are either ungrateful to God or their neighbors must pray to God for forgiveness (171). Machiavelli, Niccolo, An Exhortation to Penitence, as found in Machiavelli: Major Works, Vol. II.

6 God’s forgiveness does not seem to solve the problem of ingratitude between neighbors. One might argue that penitence undercuts being charitable and forgiveness only leads to toleration of ingratitude. The “offenses against one’s neighbor are grave; ingratitude against God is very grave. Because into these two vices we often fall, God the gracious creator has showed us the way for raising ourselves up, which is penitence. The might of this he has shown with his works and words: with words when he commanded Saint Peter to forgive seventy times seven in one day the man who asked forgiveness from him; with his works when he forgave David for his adultery and murder, and Saint Peter for the offense of having denied him not once but three times. What sin will God not forgive you, my brothers, if you sincerely resort to penitence, since he forgave these to them?” (EP 173-174). While God killed David and Bathsheba’s son and then forgave David, Jesus forgives Peter’s ingratitude with no penalty. Machiavelli’s examples allow one to see the difference between Old Testament forgiveness and New Testament forgiveness. It seems that wicked Christians can have their cake and eat it too.

7 Speaking of what Machiavelli might mean by “a matter,” Leo Strauss suggests “For in itself “a matter” may of course mean both a historical subject like the Roman Decemvirate and a trans-historical subject like ingratitude” (TM 101). Strauss offers a footnote to this argument suggesting readers compare Discourses “I 28 end, 29 beginning and 42 beginning” (TM 314, nt. 32). As a trans-historical subject, ingratitude has likely not “varied in motion, order, and power” from what it was in antiquity (D I preface).

8 I am indebted to Professor Nichols for this turn of phrase.

9 Plutarch notes, “Aristophanes has well expressed the people's feelings toward him- “They love, and hate, and cannot do without him.” And still more strongly, under a figurative expression- “Best rear no lion in your state, 'tis true; But treat him like a lion if you do” (Plutarch Alcibiades). Alcibiades’ enemies turned the Athenian people against him by implicating him in the mutilation of the mysteries. “He was condemned as contumacious upon his not appearing, his property confiscated, and it was decreed that all the priests and priestesses should solemnly curse him” (Plutarch Alcibiades). This treatment led Alcibiades to betray Athens and join Sparta. This show of ingratitude might have been well founded, but it was poorly executed.

10 Leo Strauss suggests that “this self-contradiction makes doubtful Machiavelli’s explanation of Roman gratitude and Athenian ingratitude” and “Machiavelli indicates the difficulty by saying in I 28: “he then, who will consider as much as has been said,” (i.e., he who disregards, among other things, the Decemvirate) will agree with Machiavelli’s explanation” (TM 38, 303 nt. 42). This essay attempts to make headway on this contradiction.

11 “Commissioners were sent to Athens with instructions to make a copy of the famous laws of Solon, and to investigate the institutions, customs, and laws of other Greek States” (Livy 3.31). A year later, the commissioners returned, “With the laws of Athens; the tribunes, in consequence, were more insistent that a commencement should at last be made in the compilation of the laws. It was decided that a body of Ten (hence called the "Decemvirs") should be created, from whom there should be no appeal, and that all other magistrates should be suspended for the year” (Livy 3.32).

12 It seems that one must also explore necessity and choice in order to come to any solid ground on accident. Such an examination, along with an examination of the founding of the order, might be what Leo Strauss meant in his reference to “other things” one must disregard in order to agree with Machiavelli’s assessment of Roman gratitude and Athenian ingratitude.

13 See D I 3, 34, and D III 1, 14.

14 One might note an exception to this statement is Pericles.

15 Machiavelli claims Collatinus “was sent into exile,” which is the case in a particular light. Although Livy states that this exile was voluntary, one might retort that it was voluntary in the same way that an employer offers one the opportunity to leave a job instead of being fired. Nonetheless, there is a bit of civility and respect in this behavior, even if it is ingratitude stemming from suspicion. After all, Collatinus left Rome with both his property and his head.

16 Whereas Machiavelli indicates the construction site as the Caelian Hill, Livy notes the “top of the Velia” (2.7).

17 It seems that Machiavelli means to indicate only the prince when speaking of “he” who either dishonors or offends the captain. Three sentences later Machiavelli refers to “he,” but clarifies that he means to indicate both the people and the prince. Regardless of this subtlety, Machiavelli’s direct mention of princes as sinning in this way and silence on the people allows one to wonder if only princes act out of avarice. Since all free cities have two ends, namely to remain free and to acquire (D I 29.3), they have the potential to use ingratitude out of avarice. It seems that one will find avarice overtaking the love of freedom in a corrupt republic that has lost its true love of freedom (D I 29.2).

18 Machiavelli originally quotes in Latin from Tacitus, Histories, IV 3.

19 One should note the use of revenge by a formerly free people against those who have seized it in D II 2.

20 Tacitus writes, “Some there were among the generals who were contriving delays, for Antonius in fact was now becoming too great a man, and their hopes from Mucianus were more definite. That commander, troubled at so speedy a success, and imagining that unless he occupied Rome in person he should lose all share in the glory of the war, continued to write in ambiguous terms to Varus and Antonius…with expressions so worded that he could, according to the event, repudiate a disastrous, or claim a successful policy. To Plotius Griphus…as well as to all others on whom he could fully rely, he gave plainer instructions. All these men sent replies reflecting unfavorably on the precipitancy of Varus and Antonius, and suiting the wishes of Mucianus. By forwarding these letters to Vespasian he had accomplished this much, that the measures and achievements of Antonius were not valued according to his hopes” (Histories III, 52).

21 If the prince is firmly established, as he was in France, he can show gratitude and maintain his position. The French king could maintain himself insofar as the order of the state was a sort of constitutional monarch with republican elements peppered throughout. In the Prince, Machiavelli suggests that the order of France “could not [have been] better, or more prudent, or a greater cause for the security of the king and the kingdom” (XIX 75). This French king found security in keeping the favorable things for himself and having a “third judge” do the things that were blamable. Yet France is an exceptional case. Machiavelli’s concern here is general principalities. One cannot rely on such institutions where they do not exist.

22 As one might have sensed, Machiavelli concentrates on suspicion much more than avarice in chapter 29; there are twice as many references to suspicion as there are to avarice.

23 Of course, the tale that “the Gauls are coming” was “more or less laughed off, partly because Caedicius, who told it, was a person of no consequence, and partly because the Gauls lived a long way off and were therefore little known” (Livy 5.32).

24 See D II 29.

25 See Politics, 1283a37-1284a33, where the consideration of justice as equal things to equals and unequal things to unequals results in the man of complete virtue deserving to rule. Of course, this is only half of Aristotle’s consideration of the matter. The other half is a consideration of the common good. Aristotle reveals this tension to be between the notion of justice as equal things to equal people and the common good. Machiavelli reveals this tension to be between the notion of justice that one ought not to harm one’s beneficiary and freedom.



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