Excerpt from The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Malice of Fortune

by Michael Ennis

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2012, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2013, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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To Messer Francesco Guicciardini
Lieutenant-general, statesman, and historian
9 January 1527

Magnificent One. I have sent you this great pile of pages in order to provide a more faithful account of the final weeks of the year 1502, when that plague of mercenary warlords known as the
condottieriviolently conspired against Duke Valentino and his father, Pope Alexander VI. As you know, my intimate witness of those events inspired my little pamphlet, The Prince; what you do not know is that there was considerably more to the entire matter than I have ever allowed. Hence I submit to you this lengthy "confession," with the hope that you will not judge me--or attempt to write your own history--until you have read these pages entirely. Only then can you begin to grasp the terrifying nature of the secret I deliberately buried, let us say, between the lines of The Prince.

You will find here a narrative divided into four parts, all but one in my own hand. The exception is the account that precedes my own, authored twenty-four years ago by a lady I knew as Damiata. Over the span of scarcely a fortnight, this learned woman recorded in every particular a number of conversations and occurences that I am certain will intrigue you. She wrote not only to indemnify herself against the accusations that were made against her, but also to provide a last testament to her boy, Giovanni, although she intended that it be withheld from him until he was a young man of sufficient maturity to understand both the truth and the lies.

My dear Francesco, I should remind you that Fortune, that ancient goddess of malign fate who now reigns without compassion over this sad world, achieves her worst ends by relying on our own willfull blindness, as we proceed upon her twisting and obscure paths. When you read these pages, you will marvel at how cleverly Fortune led us on a perilous road to the Devil's doorstep. And you will see how blind we remained, even as we stared into the face of evil.

Your Niccolo Machiavelli
Author of histories, comedies, and tragedies.


I
BE CAREFUL OF THE TRUTH
YOU SEEK.

Rome and Imola: November 19–December 8, 1502

I

My dearest, most darling Giovanni,



We lived in two rooms in the Trastevere. This district of Rome lies across the Tiber from the old Capitol Hill, on the same side of the river as the Vatican and the Castel Sant' Angelo. Gathered around the Santa Maria church, the Trastevere was a village unto itself, a labyrinth of wineshops, inns, tanneries, dyers' vats, and falling-down houses that were probably old when Titus Flavius returned in triumph after conquering Judea; many of the Jews who lived there claimed to be descended from his captives. But our neighbors came from everywhere: Seville, Corsica, Burgundy, Lombardy, even Arabia. It was a village where everyone was different, so no one stood out.

Our rooms were on the ground floor of an ancient brick house off a narrow, muddy alley, with little shops and houses crowding in on every side, their balconies and galleries so close overhead that we always seemed to go out into the night, even at noon. I kept my books and antique cameos hidden, displaying nothing that might tempt a thief--or reveal who I had formerly been. But we whitewashed the walls once a year and always swept the tiles, and you never slept on a straw mattress but always on good cotton stuffing; there was never a day we didn't have flowers or fresh greens on our tiny table--or wanted for bacon in our beans.

In the evening, before you slept and I went out, I would read Petrarch to you or tell you stories. That was what we were doing on our last night together--19 November, anno domini 1502. I showed you this bronze medallion stamped with a portrait of Nero Claudius Caesar, about whom I recited tales I had read in Tacitus when I was little more than a girl. Hearing of his crimes, you gave Signor Nero a very stern look and wagged your finger at his engraved visage, telling him, "Even an emperor does not have lice . . . lice . . . ."

Excerpted from The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis. Copyright © 2012 by Michael Ennis. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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