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Chapter 43

That Men born in the same Province retain through all Times nearly the same Character.

The wise are wont to say, and not without reason or at random, that he who would forecast what is about to happen should look to what has been; since all human events, whether present or to come, have their exact counterpart in the past. And this, because these events are brought about by men, whose passions and dispositions remaining in all ages the same naturally give rise to the same effects; although, doubtless, the operation of these causes takes a higher form, now in one province, and now in another, according to the character of the training wherein the inhabitants of these provinces acquire their way of life.

Another aid towards judging of the future by the past, is to observe how the same nation long retains the same customs, remaining constantly covetous or deceitful, or similarly stamped by some one vice or virtue. Any one reading the past history of our city of Florence, and noting what has recently befallen it, will find the French and German nations overflowing with avarice, pride, cruelty, and perfidy, all of which four vices have at divers times wrought much harm to our city. As an instance of their perfidy, every one knows how often payments of money were made to Charles VIII. of France, in return for which he engaged to restore the fortresses of Pisa, yet never did restore them, manifesting thereby his bad faith and grasping avarice. Or, to pass from these very recent events, all may have heard of what happened in the war in which the Florentines were involved with the Visconti, dukes of Milan, when Florence, being left without other resource, resolved to invite the emperor into Italy, that she might be assisted by his name and power in her struggle with Lombardy. The emperor promised to come with a strong army to take part against the Visconti and to protect Florence from them, on condition that the Florentines paid him a hundred thousand ducats on his setting out, and another hundred thousand on his arrival in Italy; to which terms the Florentines agreed. But although he then received payment of the first instalment and, afterwards, on reaching Verona, of the second, he turned back from the expedition without effecting anything, alleging as his excuse that he was stopped by certain persons who had failed to fulfil their engagements. But if Florence had not been urged by passion or overcome by necessity, or had she read of and understood the ancient usages of the barbarians, she would neither on this, nor on many other occasions, have been deceived by them, seeing that these nations have always been of the same character, and have always, in all circumstances, and with all men alike, used the same methods. For in ancient times we find them behaving after the same fashion to the Etruscans, who, when overpowered by the Romans, by whom they had been repeatedly routed and put to flight, perceiving that they could not stand without help, entered into a compact with the Gauls dwelling in the parts of Italy south of the Alps, to pay them a certain sum if they would unite with them in a campaign against the Romans. But the Gauls, after taking their money, refused to arm on their behalf, alleging that they had not been paid to make war on the enemies of the Etruscans, but only to refrain from pillaging their lands. And thus the people of Etruria, through the avarice and perfidy of the Gauls, were at once defrauded of their money and disappointed of the help which they had counted on obtaining.

From which two instances of the Etruscans in ancient times and of the Florentines in recent, we may see that barbaric races have constantly followed the same methods, and may easily draw our conclusions as to how far princes should trust them.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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