Machiavelli: Rules for a Social Club

Rules for a Social Club by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). This translation (c) 2017 Chris DiMatteo. All rights reserved. 

The original title is “Capitoli per una compagnia di piacere.” This is a parody of the charter and rules for a social club. It is not widely known among Machiavelli’s writings. It is valuable to us because it shows his sense of humor, which is also present in Belfagor the Archdevil, La Mandragola/The Mandrake Root, Carnival poems and his incomplete poem The Golden Ass. I love this piece among Machiavelli’s writing because it is one of the silliest and funniest things he wrote. Special thanks to some friends in Italia – Sonia, Lina, Stefano and especially Arturo – for reading and editorial assistance. 

niccolo machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli

Whereas men and women are known to get together every so often to chatter and converse with each other, and

Whereas it so happens that many times they have conducted pleasant business, and often tease each other, and

Whereas there has not yet been found a way to increase the pleasure of the pleasant business, and to temper the pain inflicted by their teasing, and

Whereas they have at times conjured up some magnificent pranks, and

Whereas due to lack of properly diligent effort the aforementioned pranks have not always produced their intended effect:

It is therefore obvious to anyone with some brains, or with even a little experience with men and women, to attempt to bring order, or we might say some regulation in order for a club or any group of friends that one can think of, who are thinking of putting into play among men and women anything they wish to. However it is decided that the aforesaid club be and be understood to be subject to the below-written rules and regulations, laid down and deliberated by common consent, which are as follows, that is:

No man younger than 30 years old may belong to the club, and the women may be of any age.

The club will have a leader, who may be man or woman, for a term of eight days. The men will be chosen in order by the one who has the biggest nose, and the women will be chosen in order by who has the smallest feet.

Any one, man or woman, who does not spread the gossip within one day of whatever the members of the club have done, will be punished in the following way: if a woman, she shall have her slippers hung out in full view of everyone with a sign bearing her name attached to them, and if a man, his socks shall be displayed inside out in full view of everyone.

All must spread every bit of gossip about one another, and if you meet any strangers, you must repeat any of their private matters publicly without respect for anyone.

Nobody from the aforesaid club may go to confession in any time other than during Holy Week, and whoever is found in violation shall be obliged, if a women, to bring with her, and if a man, to accompany, the leader of the group, in any way that he or she desires, and the confessor shall be blindfolded, and if he has poor hearing, so much the better.

No one may ever tell anything good about any other members, and whoever violates this rule may be punished as in the paragraph above.

If a woman member is found be too pretty to any other man or woman member, may that women be obliged to show her naked leg up to four finger’s width above the knee; if he be a man, be he required to show to the group that he has no handkerchief or similar thing stuffed in his pants.

The women of the group shall be obliged to attend mass in Florence at Santa Maria dei Servi, at least four times per month, and furthermore as many times that the members of the club shall require, upon penalty of double the obligation.

Whenever a man or woman member of the club shall begin to say something, if the others allow him or her to finish saying it, they shall have to perform such penance as the person who was telling the story shall command.

After discussing and deliberating upon all of these issues, once a minority of them have agreed, the smaller number of them shall be the ones that prevail.

If a member of the club should be told any secret by another member or by anyone, and if after two days that person has not repeated that secret in public, be it understood that whether man or woman, he or she shall have to do everything backwards, without any chance in any way of getting out of it.

Silence must not and may not ever be maintained in the club, and the more shooting of the bull done by greater numbers assembled together, the more they are to be commended. And whoever is the first to cease chattering shall have to explain why he or she has shut up, to the others.

No member of the club may, nor shall anyone, provide assistance to or do any favor for any other member, and if anyone is given a message to another, he or she shall every time refer the opposite of the news that was sent.

May each member be obliged to feel envy of everyone else’s goods and to perform as many pranks as possible; any one who can not perform any and fails to do so, shall be punished at the leader’s discretion.

Any member, anywhere and at any time, must turn away from any laughing, spitting or other sign, and respond in kind under penalty of not being able to refuse anything requested of him or her, for the duration of the month.

Not wishing to deny anyone’s comfort, be it so ordered that a man must stay away from, he without a wife and she without a husband, shall they sleep together at least fifteen days of the month, under penalty of having to sleep together for two months in a row.

He or she who uses the most words and reaches the fewest conclusions, shall be the most honored and respected in the group.

The men and the women members of the club must attend every public act of repentance, parish festival and other church events, as well as all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, vigils and other similar events put on in people’s homes, under penalty, if a woman, to be confined to a convent of monks, and if a man, to a convent of nuns.

The women shall be obliged to spend three quarters of their time either at the windows or the doors of their homes, either in front of them or behind them as they wish, and the men who are members of the club shall be required to pass by at least twelve times each day.

Be it ordered that the women of the club shall not have a mother-in-law around, and if any one still has one, she must within six months get rid of her by taking a scammony (1) purge, or some similar medicine, which may also be used against husbands who do not perform their duties.

The women members of the club may not wear bloomers or other underwear that would act as a barrier, and the men must go around without using drawstrings, and in place of those may they use small pins, which are prohibited to the women to wear, under penalty of having to view the giant statues in the piazza while wearing glasses.

Everyone, male or female, in order to further the reputation of the club, must boast of things that he or she does not have and does not do, and whoever actually tells the truth about ones poverty or something else, may be punished in whatever way the Prince of the club may decree.

One must never display on the outside what is inside ones soul, and instead practice the complete opposite, and whoever is best at faking or telling lies shall deserve commendation.

One shall spend the bulk of ones time washing and grooming oneself, under penalty that no one is ever to stare at whoever violates this rule.

Whoever repeats in a dream anything that he or she said or did during the day, shall be obliged to stand up for half an hour, and the members of the club shall fart at them.

Anyone, while hearing Mass, who does not often look all around in every direction, must move to a place where he or she can not be seen by anyone and be guilty pro peccato of lesae maiestatis.

Neither a man or woman, especially one who desires to produce children, may put the right shoe on first, on pain of having to go barefoot for one month or however long the club leader decides.

No one, upon going to sleep, may close both eyes at the same time, but rather, close one eye first, and then the other, which is a fine way to maintain ones eyesight.

The women, while walking around, shall not allow their feet to show whether their shoes are cut high or low over the ankle.

No one may blow their nose in view of anyone, unless absolutely necessary.

Everyone is required by rule to scratch himself or herself whenever they have an itch.

The members of the club must have pedicures and manicures every four days.

The women, when sitting down, must always put something beneath them to make them look taller.

The club must elect a medical officer who shall tend to no one, so that illnesses persist against his efforts.

  1. Scammony (Convolvulus Scammonia) is a plant of the morning glory family native to the eastern Mediterranean; its dried roots make a strong purgative.