Mary Emma Baxter

Haggling Their Way out of Hell

Medici Money

By

Profile Books 273pp £15.99 order from our bookshop

When Giovanni di Bicci de’Medici, founder of the Medici Bank, died in 1429, he advised his children to ‘stay out of the public eye’. Never can paternal advice have been so ignored. Giovanni’s descendants left monuments to themselves all over Florence, and changed the political and financial scene in Italy for ever.

Giovanni registered the Medici Bank in Florence in 1397. Immediately he was told by a fellow merchant, ‘Nobody will ever think of you as an honest trader again.’ In the Divine Comedy, Dante reserves the third ditch of the seventh circle of hell for the usurers, the blasphemers, and the sodomites. Why was it, Tim Parks asks, that usury was not just a sin, but the sin on the minds of wealthy men approaching their deathbeds? He quotes Thomas Aquinas: ‘God creates work to complete man’s nature. Refusing work, the usurer rejects nature, rejects the way God has chosen for him.’

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,