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  • Preferring Hell to Heaven: Machiavelli August 25, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Modern , trackback


    We all dream every night – a simple physiological fact – and yet most of these dreams are forgotten by the individual and even those that are remembered rarely enter history. However, on occasion a dream slips through into record, either because it changes the world or because it represents a life. ‘Machiavelli’s dream’ is one of the latter. It begins banally enough. Machiavelli, the villainous mid-wife of the modern world and notorious teacher of evil (bad on the surface but worse underneath), was coming to the end of his days. But before crossing the bar he was given a dream (21 June 1527) from the Gates of Horn. He saw a ragged bunch of poorly dressed men who told him: ‘we are holy and are heavenbound’. Afterwards he saw a group of great philosophers, Plato and Tacitus among them, and these stated: ‘We are damned and are hellbound’. The most interesting thing about the dream is not the banal opposition between the ignorant saints and the learned sinners, but Machiavalli’s reaction to it. Nicky noted that he personally would be far happier in hell with the great minds of the ages rather than passing through the hellish boredom of heaven.

    Others in the Middle Ages had proved irreverent or daring about hellfire: Gottfried of Strasbourg and Heloise (if those letters are genuine) jump to mind. But Machiavelli is not doing this for sex or for love or even for principle. He is doing this to get some cheap laughs from his friends at the end of a life in which he always enjoyed treading on the toes of convention: one of the reasons for believing this story is that it echoes thoughts in Machiavelli’s own writing, particularly a memorable passage in his play Mandragola. He may, of course, have invented the dream for kicks or more likely one of his friends did. Coming at the very beginning of the modern age, this dream, in any case, spells as well as anything else the collapse of the medieval order that had held Europe together for a thousand years from the end of the Roman Empire to the discovery of the Americas. Others who came after including Swedenburg, Blake and even Emily Bronte would wonder about the benefits of hell and this entered the culture – my grandmother used to worry aloud about the tedium of paradise – but Machiavelli started the trend of blurring good and evil in the afterlife. Other example of hell lovers: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    31 Aug 2014: S&B writes ‘your latest post reminded me with a quote usually attributed to Mark Twain: heaven for the climate and hell for the company’; Chris S writes along similar lines an old joke, ‘Basically, I’d hear people remark that if they went to hell they’d be far too busy shaking hands and catching up on old times to care where they are.’ Thanks, guys!