Belfagor arcidiavolo

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Belfagor arcidiavolo is a novella by Niccolò Machiavelli. It was written between 1518 and 1527 and published with Machiavelli's collected works in 1549. It is also known under the titles La favola di Belfagor Arcidiavolo and Il demonio che prese moglie.

An abbreviated version of Machiavelli's "favola" (tale) was issued under the name Giovanni Brevio in 1545. Giovanni Francesco Straparola included his own version as the fourth story of the second night in his Le piacevoli notti (1557). Other versions followed, including a poem by Luigi Pirandello and a stage adaptation by Morselli that was produced in 1921.

The "devil takes a wife" story influenced several English works: a version of it occurs in the conclusion of Rich His Farewell to Military Profession (1581) by Barnabe Rich. The popular play Grim the Collier of Croydon (published 1662) shows Machiavelli's influence. An English translation of Machiavelli's work was published in London in 1647 as The Devil a Married Man: or The Devil Hath Met with His Match. This was adapted into a play called The Devil and the Parliament (1648), which was followed by John Wilson's Belphegor, or The Marriage of the Devil (1691).

In the nineteenth century, William Makepeace Thackeray produced his own version of the tale. An adapted version of the tale is the basis for Ottorino Respighi's 1923 opera Belfagor.


The story derives from Medieval Slavic folklore (and gave birth to a German and North-European version featuring a Friar Rush). In Machiavelli's account, Pluto notes that crowds of male souls arrive in Hell blaming their wives for their misery. He summons a parliament, which decides to send the former-archangel-now-archdevil Belfagor to the Earth to investigate. Belfagor assumes a human form as one Roderigo of Castile, and comes to Florence with a hundred thousand ducats; he marries a woman named Onesta Donati. Soon, her vanity and wasteful spending, combined with the demands of her relatives, reduce him to poverty and debt. He flees imprisonment, pursued by creditors and magistrates; rescued by the peasant Gianmatteo, Belfagor grants his rescuer the power to drive devils out of possessed women – which eventually causes major problems for the peasant himself. In the end, Belfagor gratefully returns to Hell, denouncing the institution of marriage.


  • Hoenselaars, A. J. "The Politics of Prose and Drama: The Case of Machiavelli's Belfagor." In: The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality. Edited by Michele Marrapodi; Newark, DE, University of Delaware Press, 1998.
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  • Scott, Mary Augusta. Elizabethan Translations from the Italian. Baltimore, Modern Language Association of America, 1895; reprinted New York, Burt Franklin, 1969.
  • Spiering, Menno, and Joep Leerssen, eds. Machiavelli: Figure-Reputation. Yearbook of European Studies, Vol. 8; Amsterdam and Atlanta, Rodopi, 1996.
  • Villari, Pasquale. Niccolò Machiavelli and His Times. Translated by Linda White Mazini Villari; London, Kegan, Paul, Trench & Co., 1883.
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