LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT
 THE thousand years between the downfall of the Roman Empire and the Discovery of America are called the
Middle Ages—which means the ages between ancient and modern times.
This was a very stormy period. In the early part, the barbarians overran Europe and destroyed almost
every sign of civilization. They were brought under some control through the efforts of the Church,
and, as time advanced, there was progress in the arts of civilized life.
Schools were established in monasteries, and here and there in large cities, but there was no
general popular education as we consider it now. This is not so strange, for there were no printed
 The printing press had not been invented; all books at that time were manuscripts, that is they were
written by hand, for that is what the word manuscript means. They were written on parchment, which
was sheepskin specially prepared so that it would take ink.
Of course books written by hand were expensive, for it took a great deal of time to write them. Most
of the people in Europe, therefore, lived and died without ever having a book in their hands. In
only a few of the largest cities and monasteries was it possible to find a library containing as
many as five hundred volumes.
When at length the printing press was invented, the desire for knowledge became widely spread.
People felt that they must have books to read, and to study. They saw the necessity for schools in
which their children might be taught.
Of all the countries of Europe none was more thoroughly awakened than Italy; and among the places
that were thus aroused to a desire for knowledge of all kinds, one of the first was the city of
Florence. Florence early became the home of many learned men, and no city did more for the
enlightenment of Europe than she.
Here lived the famous family of the Medici
 (med' e chee). For several generations the Medici had been engaged in what was then almost the only
commerce of the world. This was trade with India. Caravans of camels brought silks and shawls,
spices and precious stones from the far East to the shores of the Mediterranean. Ships transported
them to Florence. Trains of pack horses and mules carried them from Florence across the passes of
the Alps to the cities of northern and western Europe.
This traffic had made the Medici very wealthy; and not only wealthy but powerful. For three hundred
years the family ruled the city and people of Florence. But it was not their wealth alone that gave
them their power. Their political influence based on industrial conditions was great also.
The city was, like ancient Athens, a state. It made its own laws, and had the right to coin its own
money; it made war or peace with foreign countries.
The government of the state was republican. But Florence was one of the strangest little republics
that ever existed. It had this peculiar law, that no man should hold the office of chief magistrate,
unless he belonged to one of the guilds, or "arts" as they were called.
These were about the same as our modern
 trades unions. But the Florentines had even more such unions than we have. Not only were there
unions of carpenters and masons and others who worked with their hands, the people who worked with
their heads were also united. There were "arts" or unions of the bankers, the merchants, the
doctors, and the lawyers.
From the members of the "arts" the Florentines chose their officers. The government of the city was
vested in the "Great Council of Nine." These Nine consisted of seven who were head workers, and two
who were hand workers. This arrangement brought those who worked with their heads and those who
worked with their hands very close together. It caused the lawyers and merchants and bankers to have
a friendly feeling for the carpenters and masons and others who made their living by "the sweat of
their brows;" and no man could long be ruler in Florence who did not love the working people.
LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT
The Medici family were famed for doing good with their money among the people of Florence. And
therefore one after another of them found it easy either to be made the "standard-bearer" as the
president of the republic was called; or to have men put into office who would carry out his wishes.
In 1449, just about the time when Europe was
 preparing to enter upon a period of renewed activity, one of the Medici line was born who was named
Lorenzo. He died in 1492, the very year in which Columbus discovered America.
His grandfather, Cosimo de Medici had given many fine buildings to Florence, among which was its
Lorenzo's father had also spent immense sums of money for the benefit of Florence. He had been
really the ruler of the city for many years, although he very seldom held the office of
standard-bearer, or had any official title.
When he died the people of Florence desired that another Medici should manage the republic, and
therefore they invited Lorenzo to do for them as his father had done. He accepted their invitation,
and became their ruler.
He proved to be much like the famous Athenian, Pisistratus—a tyrant who was not tyrannical. He
ruled for the welfare of the people. He did not think that the first duty of a good ruler was to
make his people soldiers.
He saw that the best thing to be done for the Florentines was to enlighten them—to furnish
them with books and schools.
But where were books to be procured? There were monasteries in various parts of Europe in
 which were large numbers of books; and among these were manuscripts of many works of the old Greeks
and Romans. But the principal hiding-place of manuscripts, especially those of Greek writers, was
Constantinople. And it happened in a very strange way that the books of Constantinople were at that
very time being brought to Western Europe.
The inhabitants of Constantinople were Greeks. They read the writings of Homer and Plato, and the
Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, in the original Greek.
The Turks who had long been menacing the city cared nothing for Homer and Plato; and they hated the
books of the New Testament. They thought that men needed no book but the Koran of Mohammed. Many of
them believed that no one ought to read any other book.
At length, in 1453, Constantinople was actually taken by the Turks, and a great number of its people
escaped and went forth to seek new and peaceful homes in Western Europe. Many went to Italy; and of
these, several found their way to Florence.
Some of these men brought manuscripts with them; and they told their new Italian friends that others
might be obtained in Constantinople.
 After this the Medici, and men like them, carried on for years a diligent search for books. They
sent men to the monasteries of Italy, Germany, and England, and to Constantinople to purchase
whatever ancient manuscripts they could find. One of those who went to the old Eastern capital
brought back two hundred and thirty-eight, among which were the writings of Plato and Xenophon, who
lived in Athens four hundred years before Christ.
Lorenzo caused many of the old manuscripts to be copied; and, what was better, he had them printed.
For just before Lorenzo's birth, Gutenberg had perfected his printing press; and, three years after
Lorenzo was born, the first book printed in Florence had made its appearance. It was an edition of
Vergil, the great Latin poet; and very likely Lorenzo used a copy of it when he studied Latin.
He lived to see books wonderfully multiplied. By the time he was thirty years old, Vergil and
Horace, Homer and Xenophon could be printed so cheaply that they were bought for school boys.
Like other merchant princes of the time, Lorenzo established a famous school in Florence. It was a
Greek high school. So many learned men graduated from it and became celebrated teachers, that
 the people said it was like the wooden horse at the siege of Troy, out of which came so many Greek
warriors fully armed for the fight.
Although Lorenzo was called "The Magnificent" by the people of Florence, and was apparently so
generous toward them, yet Florence was not really enriched by him. He only made it grander and more
famous by his administration, but he completed that subversion of the Florentine republic for which
his father and his grandfather had well prepared the way.
Florence, although so splendid, was full of corruption, her rulers violating oaths, betraying
trusts, and living only for pleasure. From the days of Lorenzo de Medici her power has steadily