What can Machiavelli tell you about prevailing in the face of poverty?

Financial hardships are a fact of life for many people. With job cuts, housing unaffordability, and financial strain from credit card companies and bills stress; you may find that perhaps you’re not where you wanted to be in your life right now.

Niccolò Machiavelli was one such man whose life didn’t go quite according to plan. Once a distinguished politician, philosopher and gentleman scholar, Machiavelli found himself accused of conspiring against the state.

Now tortured, disgraced and exiled to the countryside – far away from his hometown, and longing for the life that was deprived to him, Machiavelli found solace in books. In a letter to his friend Francesco Vettori in December 1513, Machiavelli confided that:

‘When evening comes, I return home, and I go into my study; and on the threshold, I take of my everyday clothes, which are covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and curial robes; and dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient courts of ancient men and am welcomed by them kindly, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born; and there I am not ashamed to speak to them, to ask them the reasons for their actions, and they, in their humanity, answer me; and for four hours I feel no boredom, I dismiss every affliction, I no longer fear poverty nor do I trouble at the thought of death: I become completely part of them.’ [p. 26]

For Machiavelli, the troubles of life could easily be set aside with the aid of a good book. Although the world’s changed a fair bit since the 1500’s perhaps there’s still some merit to Machiavelli’s solution.

Although you may not be able to afford to go on holiday, you can still read about far away places. And perhaps if the idea of going to the pub with friends carries a price tag that you might not otherwise be inclined to bear, you can still find a sense of humour and camaraderie with the characters in a novel.

So if you can’t afford to go to the movies, or wear a gown to the theatre, perhaps a visit to your local library will give you that sense of adventure and solace that Machiavelli found with his books.

Thomas Green

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