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Chapter 29


That Fortune obscures the minds of Men when she would not have them hinder her Designs.


If we note well the course of human affairs, we shall often find things come about and accidents befall, against which it seems to be the will of Heaven that men should not provide. And if this were the case even in Rome, so renowned for her valour, religion, and wise ordinances, we need not wonder if it be far more common in other cities and provinces wherein these safeguards are wanting.

Having here a notable opportunity to show how Heaven influences men's actions, Titus Livius turns it to account, and treats the subject at large and in pregnant words, where he says, that since it was Heaven's will, for ends of its own, that the Romans should feel its power, it first of all caused these Fabii, who were sent as envoys to the Gauls, to act amiss, and then by their misconduct stirred up the Gauls to make war on Rome; and, lastly, so ordered matters that nothing worthy of their name was done by the Romans to withstand their attack. For it was fore-ordained by Heaven that Camillus, who alone could supply the remedy to so mighty an evil, should be banished to Ardea; and again, that the citizens, who had often created a dictator to meet attacks of the Volscians and other neighbouring hostile nations, should fail to do so when the Gauls were marching upon Rome. Moreover, the army which the Romans got together was but a weak one, since they used no signal effort to make it strong; nay, were so dilatory in arming that they were barely in time to meet the enemy at the river Allia, though no more than ten miles distant from Rome. Here, again, the Roman tribunes pitched their camp without observing any of the usual precautions, attending neither to the choice of ground, nor to surround themselves with trench or Palisade, nor to avail themselves of any other aid, human or Divine. In ordering their army for battle, moreover, disposed it in weak columns, and these far apart: so that neither men nor officers accomplished anything worthy of the Roman discipline. The battle was bloodless for the Romans fled before they were attacked; most of them retreating to Veii, the rest to Rome, where, without turning aside to visit their homes, they made straight for the Capitol.

Meanwhile, the senate, so far from bethinking themselves how they might defend the city, did not even attend to closing the gates; and while some of them made their escape from Rome, others entered the Capitol along with those who sought shelter there. It was only in the defence of the Capitol that any method was observed, measures being taken to prevent it being crowded with useless numbers, and all the victual which could be got, being brought into it to enable it to stand a siege. Of the women, the children, and the men whose years unfitted them for service, the most part fled for refuge to the neighbouring towns, the rest remained in Rome a prey to the invaders; so that no one who had heard of the achievements of the Romans in past years, on being told of what took place on this occasion, could have believed that it was of the same people that things so contrary were related.

Wherefore, Titus Livius, after setting forth all these disorders, concludes with the words, "So far does Fortune darken men's minds when she would not have her ascendency gainsaid." Nor could any juster observation be made. And hence it is that those who experience the extremes whether of good or of evil fortune, are, commonly, little deserving either of praise or blame; since it is apparent that it is from Heaven having afforded them, or denied them opportunities for acting worthily, that they have been brought to their greatness or to their undoing. Fortune, doubtless, when she seeks to effect great ends, will often choose as her instrument a man of such sense and worth that he can recognize the opportunities which she holds out to him; and, in like manner, when she desires to bring about great calamities, will put forward such men as will of themselves contribute to that result. And all who stand in her way, she either removes by death, or deprives of the means of effecting good. And it is well seen in the passage we are considering, how Fortune, to aggrandize Rome, and raise her to the height she reached, judged it necessary, as shall be more fully shown in the following Book, to humble her; yet would not have her utterly undone. For which reason we find her causing Camillus to be banished, but not put to death; suffering Rome to be taken, but not the Capitol; and bringing it to pass that, while the Romans took no wise precaution for the defence of their city, they neglected none in defending their citadel. That Rome might be taken, Fortune caused the mass of the army, after the rout at the Allia, to direct its flight to Veii, thus withdrawing the means wherewith the city might have been defended; but while thus disposing matters, she at the same time prepared all the needful steps for its recovery, in bringing an almost entire Roman array to Veii, and Camillus to Ardea, so that a great force might be assembled for the rescue of their country, under a captain in no way compromised by previous reverses, but, on the contrary, in the enjoyment of an untarnished renown. I might cite many modern instances to confirm these opinions, but since enough has been said to convince any fair mind, I pass them over. But once more I repeat what, from all history, may be seen to be most true, that men may aid Fortune, but not withstand her; may interweave their threads with her web, but cannot break it But, for all that, they must never lose heart, since not knowing what their end is to be, and moving towards it by cross-roads and untravelled paths, they have always room for hope, and ought never to abandon it, whatsoever befalls, and into whatsoever straits they come.


Niccolo Machiavelli

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