Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

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Zuccolo, Ludovico

  • Tiziana ProvvideraEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_770-1


Ludovico (Lodovico) Zuccolo (1568–1630), also known as the Picentino because he lived for almost 9 years in the Marche territory (Picenum), was a political theorist and philosopher. His oeuvre includes moral, philosophical, and political dialogues, poems, and works on economics and utopian ideals. He was most renowned for his treatise On the Reason of State.


Lodovico Zuccolo was born on September 18, 1568, at Faenza, an Italian town in the province of Ravenna, then part of the Papal States. Little is known about his life. He was the son of Alessandro, a Faentine nobleman who died on a papal galley while serving a 5-year sentence for heresy (Nediani 1953–1954; Firpo 1969; Frajese 1995). In 1607–1608 he graduated and taught philosophy at the Università degli Artisti of Bologna and published his first book, the Gradenico. In July 1608, he entered the service of Francesco Maria II della Rovere, last Duke of Urbino, as secretary and tutor to his son Federico Ubaldo. However, the ill-will of several men of letters at court as well as his impatience with the rigid rules of courtly life eventually led him to look for appointments and patrons elsewhere. At the end of 1616, he moved to the Republic of Ragusa, in Dalmatia, where he taught philosophy (Nediani 1960, 1969), but in April 1617 he was again in Urbino, or so the dedicatory letter to his Venetian edition of the Discorsi seems to indicate (Zuccolo 1617). After 9 years “of ill-fated servitude,” as he himself defined his stay at the ducal court (Zuccolo 1625), he left Urbino sometime around March for the last time and returned to Ragusa, where he stayed until early 1618. From 1618 to 1623 Zuccolo travelled between Venice and Faenza, where he frequented the Accademia degli Smarriti and the Accademia dei Filoponi, the latter being the town’s most illustrious and enduring literary academy; founded in 1612, it continued into the early nineteenth century. After trying unsuccessfully to obtain a university chair, first at Bologna and later at Padua (Nediani 1960), in December 1623 he found himself in Spain with the Papal nuncio, Monsignor Innocenzo Massimi, bishop of Bertinoro, and later bishop of Catania. Once back to Italy in Rome at the end of 1625, Zuccolo was reported by a young Portuguese called João Monteiro to the Holy Office on suspicion of heterodoxy. He denied it was alleged, the immortality of the soul and to have spoken favorably of the views of Epicurus, Galen, and Fra Paolo Sarpi, as well as having suggested that “religion was a pretext for the princes for keeping the people in check” (Ginzburg 1967; Nediani 1968; Frajese 1995). His family’s long-standing religious stance also made him a target of the Venetian Inquisition, which viewed his works with grave suspicion. In the event, it was the Venetian ecclesiastical censors who prohibited the publication of an essay due to be included in the first collection of his Discorsi (1617), chiefly on account of its criticism of Thomas More’s Utopia and its author. The dialogue, called L’Aromatario, ovvero della repubblica d’Utopia, was eventually published 8 years later in the second edition of his Dialogues (Nediani 1960; Firpo 1969). Over the next 2 years, he moved from one city to another; first he goes to Rome, then to Naples, and eventually to Sicily, perhaps in the hope of finding a safe haven following the proceedings instituted against him by the Congregation of the Holy Office. In the last months of 1627, he was employed in the service of the legate cardinal Bernardino Spada in Bologna, where he probably died in 1630 from the plague (Nediani 1960).

Well-versed in ancient Greek and Roman culture, with a preference for Aristotelian philosophy, and devoid, it seems, of any interest in Christian authors, Zuccolo developed a political philosophy and utopianism that was remarkably original and unconventional. Neglected for many centuries by scholars, his merits as a political theorist were revived, early in the twentieth century by the German historian Friedrich Meinecke and the Italian idealist philosopher Benedetto Croce. The latter presented him as “the most profound political philosopher of his time and a forerunner of the theories of the autonomy of politics from morality” and declared his Della ragion di Stato to be “the most sharp and original work written on the subject in his time» (Croce 1927). In more recent years, Zuccolo has been portrayed by critics as a utopian thinker (Pissavino 1993, 2000, 2007a), a heretic and libertine (Ginzburg 1967; Firpo 1969).

The earliest of Zuccolo’s many works is the unpublished De quantitate solis contra vulgatas astrologorum et philosophorum disceptatio, written in 1606. The treatise is an apology for Epicurus’s astronomic theories, prompted perhaps by his bid for a post at the court of Duke Francesco Maria II, who had shown great interest in the sciences and the arts (Nediani 1957; Pissavino 1984). In the first of his printed dialogues, the Gradenigo (1608), Zuccolo severely condemned Platonic love or the courtly love tradition of Petrarch and those following him, particularly Judah Leon’s Dialoghi d’amore. His dialogue L’Alessandro, published in 1613 together with three eclogues, the Edulio, the Critio, and Dorinda, is a defense of pastoral drama based on the idea that its “youth” compared favorably to the “decrepitude” of comedy and tragedy. According to Zuccolo, the most popular of the three genres was the pastoral drama, inasmuch as it satisfied contemporary taste for spectacles befitting princely decorum (Zuccolo 1613). Both Gradenigo and L’Alessandro were reprinted in his first edition of Dialoghi published in Perugia in 1615. In the same year, Zuccolo dedicated the Heroica virtus sive de honesto gloriae studio to his disciple, Federico Ubaldo della Rovere. The treatise, didactic in tone, encouraged the young prince to aspire to virtue and glory and underlined the philosopher’s civic role (Pissavino 1984). The topics of virtue and glory reappear in his Discorsi dell’Honore, della Gloria, della Riputatione, del buon Concetto, printed in 1623 (but already completed by 1616). In these treatises, Zuccolo criticized Botero’s idea that the best way for a ruler to maintain stability in the state and concomitantly keep hold of power was to gain a good reputation among his subjects. Instead, the indispensable conditions for peaceful coexistence and good government were, he insisted, honor and virtue. Religion might be the most effective means, but honor of a ruler or ruling body was a viable alternative for encouraging social cohesion. In the Discorso delle ragioni del numero del verso italiano (1623), a short work on poetics, he examined the forms, criteria, and examples of Italian versification and mourned the progressive decadence of Italian poetry (Zuccolo 1623b; 2005).

Zuccolo’s most important innovations were in the field of political theory and more specifically his interpretation of “reason of state” and the methods for building a consensus in an ideal state. In 1621, he published the Considerationi politiche, e morali, in which he discussed, “following the teachings of Aristotle, the authority of Cornelius Tacitus, and other political writers, various matters related to the government of the States, to the spreading of good customs, and to the understanding of History” (Zuccolo 1621). The work, dedicated to the archbishop of Ravenna, Cardinal Luigi Capponi, was printed at Venice by Marco Ginami, the printer of almost all his books, whom he had probably first met in Urbino or Ragusa (Pissavino 1984). It comprises a commentary of a hundred “oracles,” these “oracles” being quotations from classical Latin authors, with his translations into Italian. The most famous writing of the collection is the eleventh oracle containing the short tract Della ragion di Stato. It became popular in Italy and abroad, partly thanks to the Latin translation by the German jurist Johannes Garmers (Dissertatio de ratione status, 1663). A revised and corrected edition of the Considerationi (1623), dedicated to the Genoese poet and writer Giovanni Vincenzo Imperiale, contains a reply to an unknown “Accademico Pellegrino” in Rome who had criticized the first edition of his tract.

Political theory became a popular topic in Counter-Reformation Europe, particularly in Italy, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Zuccolo’s Della ragion di stato was an innovative example in several respects. According to him, “reason of state” was no more than the understanding and application of the means for establishing and maintaining any given state. That is to say, there was not one “reason of state,” but many, as many, in fact, as there were existing forms of state. The ratio status of a good monarch differed from that of a tyrant and differed too from that practised in a republic (Zuccolo 1621). Taking issue with Machiavelli that the end justified the means, Zuccolo relates the question of political authority and right political conduct to the different forms and practices of governments. “Reason of state” did not necessarily entail breaches of the law. It tended to occur in corrupt states. By contrast in healthy states, civil law and “reason of state” could coexist. In general, as Meinecke pointed out, “the raison d’état of good State forms was itself respectable and good; and the opinion that all raison d’état was evil applied only to bad forms of the state” (Meinecke 1924). The novelty of Zuccolo’s interpretation was that “reason of state” did not have an intrinsic moral or amoral status. It had been Machiavelli and others in his train, “wicked and sinful writers,” who taught “the ways and means to act in accordance with reason of State in evil governments” (Zuccolo 1621). True, good governments are rare, as Aristotle had declared, but this did not prove that good versions of “reason of state” were impossibilities. In keeping with this interpretation, Zuccolo concluded that republican government was preferable to any other since, more than any other type of state, it encouraged the coincidence of “reason of state” and good government.

Zuccolo’s classification between “good” and “bad” forms of state introduced the Aristotelian principle that politics should provide for the public welfare of those who obey and those who command. “Reason of state,” following his definition, served to defend the state and not (as Machiavelli had said) the interest of the ruler. It constituted, that is, only a part of the art of government, the other part being “political pragmatism” (prudentia politica) founded on popular approval. Hence, in response to Botero and to the leading Italian political theorists of his time, he contrasted the “reason of interest” with a reason “that is proper to the state alone,” the latter being confined “those interests which affect the constitution and form of the republic” (Zuccolo 1621).

In 1625, a second edition of Zuccolo’s Dialoghi, containing old and new texts revised and enlarged by the author, was published in Venice. The collection includes the so-called utopian writings, Il Belluzzi, overo della Città felice and Il Molino, overo della Amicitia scambievole fra’ Cittadini, in which he extolled the republics of San Marino and Venezia, respectively, Il Porto, overo della Repubblica d’Evandria, in which he sketched of an utopian community, and L’Aromatario, overo della Republica d’Utopia, in which he laid bare the inaccuracies and contradictions in More’s Utopia. The collection also included a critical analysis of Aristotelian doctrines and a summa of the practical wisdom that he had accrued during his many years of service at Italian courts. Even so, it was the aristocratic republic that he identified as the best form of government (optimus status), with freedom praised as the indispensable condition for its property. Granted that there were different types of “reason of state” according to the type of state, and granted too that maintaining power was the more likely the more that a ruler, irrespective of the kind of state, governed well (bene operare), conversely it was also true that the ideal state could be adapted to the needs of statecraft as it was actually practised, as in fact utopian models also required (Pissavino 2007b).

Like his works dealing with the “reason of state,” Zuccolo’s utopian works proposed a secular response to the political issues posed by Counter-Reformation ideology. In the Molino and in later works, he argued that that political stability was guaranteed by friendship and harmony among the citizenry. Other themes appear in his late works. In Nobiltà commune et heroica (1627), dedicated to Pietro Contarini, Zuccolo attacked Alessandro Tassoni’s views on nobility, provoking a literary dispute in which outstanding academicians of the time, such as Camillo Baldi and Scipione Chiaramonti, became involved. In the Secolo dell’Oro rinascente nell’amicizia fra Nicolò Barbarigo e Marco Trivisano (1629), he celebrated the friendship of two influential Venetian patricians, Nicolò Barbarigo and Marco Trevisano. The work did not endear the author among the literati of contemporary Venice, who had written, in an unflattering vein, of the relationship between the two men.

Zuccolo’s last printed work is the Discorso dello amore verso la Patria, posthumously published in 1631. The book contains a covert criticism of temporal power in the form of a diatribe against Charles V, particularly his failure to curb the spread of Lutheranism in Germany and his focus, instead, on the conquest of Italian states (Firpo 1969). Deploring the decline of the mores and national pride, even more evident when compared with the state of affairs in other European lands, Zuccolo expressed his disdain for the wretched circumstances of the small Italian States and city-states that had been occupied by foreign armies. More provocatively still, he identified the Roman Church and the Catholic religion itself as the reason why Italians had not recognized themselves as a free people, a view strongly reminiscent of Machiavelli.



Primary Literature

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College LondonLondonUK

Section editors and affiliations

  • Luca Bianchi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversità degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly