Dino Compagni's View of FLorentine Discord

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorCollege, Undergraduate February 2008

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In Dino Compagni's diatribe of the Florentine demise, it is clear that he believes the internal strife among her citizens was the backbone of a beautiful city's undoing. Contemporaries who have read Machiavelli's works, without a proper grasp of Italian life at his time, tend to think Machiavelli a cruel and ruthless man. Comparing Machiavelli's thoughts and beliefs on the subject of human nature with that of Compagni, however, lead to a very converging view of mankind. As Compagni disserts, he believes the citizens of Florence to be intrinsically wicked and duplistic. Thus, the 'wicked citizens' and 'wicked deeds' were the main cause of discord, coupled with the universal truth that men of different classes have different political and economic agendas. Compagni's fault however lies in his limited view and perspective. As a citizen at the time his writing concerns, he has tunnel vision which modern historians today do not.

Compagni has not felt the rule of an absolute monarch like other Europeans of his time, nor was he brought up in a part of medieval Europe where power was thought to radiate downward, from God, to the clergy, and finally to the king or emperor. In the communes that Compagni inhabited, power radiated upward from the popolo to its leaders. Compagni's belief that bad politics caused Florentine discord was true, but the guilt is misplaced on corrupt and irresponsible leaders, rather than a flawed political system.

Though Italian communes were extremely patriotic and incredibly loyal, they were wrent apart by internal discord. If a commune was threatened by an outside force they would quickly ban together. However, in times of peace they were quick to quarrel with each other. Internal division is essentially the internal history of Italian communes. Compagni detests both the Guelf and Ghibelline parties as he states in chapter three of his first book. While both parties were under a cloak of peace, the Guelfs, who were the more powerful party, slowly but surely began to contravene the peace pacts, leading to growing discord. These events set in motion what Compagni asserts divided the Florentines and caused internal strife. Compagni was member of the popular party, and thus was not in favor of the power the Guelfs were usurping. Furthermore, he was concerned that the weak would be oppressed by the rich and powerful, thus the arrangement with the Priors of the Guilds was very beneficial to the popolo. This situation had an adverse effect however, as the citizens who held power were quickly corrupted. In addition they also sought to plunder the wealth of the commune, so it can be noted that there is considerable evidence all around Compagni leading to his belief that men are wicked. Compagni hatred the powerful citizens, labeled magnates, also stems from the attempt to win the side of the Pope and to crush the popolo. Compagni could only believe that mankind was extremely fickle and corrupt, as he gives proof with his tell of how the popolo turned against the podesta. The podesta found himself in such a predicament because he had been deceived by a Florentine judge who had the notary condemn messer Simone, rather than the guilty messer Corso. To the Florentine popolo, all the holders of power along with the enforcers of justice, must have been viewed duplistic villains. By examining Compagni's writing, one can see that he too must have shared the same train of thought. Further proof, as Compagni gives it, can be found in his description of how Giano left the city on the false advice of his relatives, the Magalotti's, only to be banished while his goods and his person were condemned.

Florentine discord, as seen by Compagni, is therefore the essential wickedness imbued in her citizens. Solidifying this argument is a six day period of anarchy in which the Blacks caused total chaos: The men who feared their foes hid themselves in their friends' houses. One enemy attacked the other; houses were set afire, robberies were committed, and belongings fled from the homes of the powerless. The powerful Blacks extorted money from the Whites; they married young girls by force; they killed men.

With such doings happening all around Compagni, it can also be determined that Compagni believed that men gained and became great from evil deeds. Compagni witnessed the destruction of his city in a time where kinship and friendship meant nothing, nor could pity, accord, or mercy be found in anyone. These inhumane events and malicious acts are the very one which imbued Compagni with the notion all men are wicked as well as duplistic.

Although Compagni may give a quite accurate historical account of events, because he was a citizen at the time, his writing must be considered biased. Waley places much more fault on the lack of a solidified government and on the lack of a type of person called a burgher. This is significant because landowners were the people responsible for most Italian politics. This was a major cause of discord between the magnates and the communes, a point of discord that Compagni fails to give reason for. In addition to the aforementioned problems, there was always a power struggle between ecclesiastical control, and those who opposed it. Florentine's were for the large part able to resist this only because such a high percentage of her citizens were involved in government. Power was essentially handed out without limiting body that could keep them in check, and as shown by both Compagni and Waley, power corrupts. Compagni, as a member of the popolo, would also be in favor of her rule of the communes, but he fails to point out as Waley does, that communes were essentially set up as a counter-balance to the rich and powerful enabling the popolo to check the power of the magnates if such a crisis arose. Compagni's fault is therefore his own limited view and lack of first hand knowledge about other forms of government prevalent throughout the rest of Europe. Compagni's political wishes could not be possible in a society with so much discord and lack of a firm social and political structure.

There were many reasons for the political turmoil of Florence, but the importance of this essay is pointing out that Compagni views the wickedness of men to be at the forefront of Florentine discord. Compagni, however, grew up and lived in a world where one could come to these conclusions without a better grasp of universal politics. Even if he knew of such things, he had never experienced such rule and he himself was a member of the popolo, trying as hard as anyone to have their share of power. He would place blame on the nobles, foreigners and commoners, stating that they have destroyed a beautiful city. These are Compagni's beliefs, and even if they are biased and perhaps somewhat ignorant, they are of importance to the matter at hand. The intrinsic wickedness and duplicity of men, as Compagni describes, was the backbone of Florentine discord.