Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Let us observe that the arrangements, the marching, and the evolutions of battalions, nearly as they are now practised, were revived in Europe by one who was not a military man — by Machiavelli, a secretary at Florence. Battalions three, four, and five deep; battalions advancing upon the enemy; battalions in square to avoid being cut off in a rout; battalions four deep sustained by others in column; battalions flanked by cavalry — all are his. He taught Europe the art of war; it had long been practised without being known.

The grand duke would have had his secretary teach his troops their exercises according to his new method. But Machiavelli was too prudent to do so; he had no wish to see the officers and soldiers laugh at a general in a black cloak; he reserved himself for the council.

There is something singular in the qualities which he requires in a soldier. He must first have gagliardia, which signifies alert vigor; he must have a quick and sure eye — in which there must also be a little gayety; a strong neck, a wide breast, a muscular arm, round loins, but little belly, with spare legs and feet — all indicating strength and agility.

But above all the soldier must have honor, and must be led by honor alone. “War,” says he, “is but too great a corrupter of morals,” and he reminds us of the Italian proverb: War makes thieves, and peace finds them gibbets.

Machiavelli had but a poor opinion of the French infantry, and until the battle of Rocroi it must be confessed that it was very bad. A strange man this Machiavelli! He amused himself with making verses, writing plays, showing his cabinet the art of killing with regularity, and teaching princes the art of perjuring themselves, assassinating, and poisoning as occasion required — a great art which Pope Alexander VI., and his bastard Cæsar Borgia, practised in wonderful perfection without the aid of his lessons.

Be it observed that in all Machiavelli’s works on so many different subjects there is not one word which renders virtue amiable — not one word proceeding from the heart. The same remark has been made on Boileau. He does not, it is true, make virtue lovely, but he represents it as necessary.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01