53 pages 1 hour read

Salman Rushdie

The Enchantress Of Florence

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2008

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Summary and Study Guide


The Enchantress of Florence is a 2008 magical-realist novel by Salman Rushdie. The story incorporates many fantastical, folkloric elements as it portrays life in the Mughal Empire and Renaissance Florence in the 16th century. In the novel, a mysterious European man arrives in the Mughal court with a story which can only be told to the emperor. Rushdie described the novel as his most heavily researched work and The Enchantress of Florence was praised by critics on publication.

This guide uses the 2009 print edition by Vintage.

Content Warning: The source text contains references to sexual violence and death by suicide.

Plot Summary

The Enchantress of Florence begins with a mysterious yellow-haired stranger traveling through India in the 16th century. He journeys toward Sikri, the capital of the Mughal Empire, which is ruled by Akbar the Great. The stranger has tasked himself with delivering a letter to Akbar from Queen Elizabeth I of England. He acquired the letter by stowing away on a Scottish ship. When he is discovered, the stranger, calling himself Uccello, spends several weeks entertaining the captain with his magic tricks and stories. He begins poisoning the captain with laudanum, eventually killing the man and taking the Queen’s diplomatic letter for himself and vanishing into the Indian port.

Emperor Akbar rules over the Mughal Empire. He is surrounded by concubines and wives but his favorite is Jodha, a fictional woman who he has dreamed into existence. Akbar reflects on the nature of his empire and his own self-identity. The stranger, now calling himself Mogor dell’Amore, meets with a master potion-maker named Mohini the Skeleton. She prepares a special scent for him that she says will allow him to distract the guards at the palace and gain an audience with the emperor. He tells Akbar that he has a message from Queen Elizabeth.

Akbar takes Mogor into his company; Mogor makes an enemy of the emperor’s son, Prince Salim. Later, Mogor reveals his real name—Niccolo Vespucci—and that he is the emperor’s long-lost uncle. Vespucci claims that his mother, whom he calls Angelica, was the sister of the first Mughal emperor, Akbar’s grandfather. She was kidnapped first by an Uzbeg warlord, then by a Persian shah, who later met defeat at the hands of an Ottoman Sultan. Akbar confers with his mother and his aunt about this story. They confirm that there was a missing princess who was written out of the family records.

Vespucci claims that in time, after the Shah was defeated, Angelica traveled to Italy alongside the warrior Argalia. Then, his story shifts back in time to three young friends in Florence: Niccolo (nicknamed Il Machia), Antonino Argalia, and Ago Vespucci. Argalia’s parents die and he runs away from home. Niccolo and Ago remain in Florence. They spend many years apart until a woman appears in Florence who seems to have another person’s memories stored in her mind. Il Machia gradually unfurls Argalia’s life story from the woman. As a child, Argalia stows away on a ship captained by Andrea Doria. The crew later abandons him to act as a decoy. Argalia is captured and trained as a child soldier in the Ottoman Empire. He rises to become an elite Janissary fighter, successfully campaigning against Vlad the Impaler, among others. For his service, Argalia is freed.

In Niccolo’s story, Qara Koz and Argalia meet. At the battle of Chaldiran, Argalia defeats the Persian army; he takes Qara Koz as his mistress and renames her Angelica. When they return to Istanbul, Argalia thwarts a plot against him and must run away, eventually returning to Florence with Angelica and her servant, the Mirror. In Florence, the Medici family has risen to power for the second time. Niccolo, a former official, has been exiled to his farm. Soon, the people of Florence fall under Angelica’s spell. Angelica becomes known as the Enchantress of Florence. Lorenzo de Medici plots to have Argalia killed. Soon after, Lorenzo dies of syphilis. The people of Florence claim that Angelica must be a witch. Meanwhile, Argalia returns to the city and helps Angelica and the Mirror escape with Ago, though he dies in the process. Ago travels with the women to the Americas. Niccolo Vespucci claims that there, she was able to cast a powerful spell to keep her young forever.

Akbar is so entranced by the story that he forgets about his imaginary wife, who is replaced by Qara Koz. Akbar insists that Ago and Angelica must have had a daughter, whom Ago then slept with to conceive Niccolo. Since Niccolo is the product of incest, he can no longer share the emperor’s company. Prince Salim’s wife hatches a plot against Niccolo, but he escapes danger across the lake, which begins to go dry. Akbar is forced to abandon Sikri. Finally, Qara Koz appears to him, telling him that it was the Mirror who had a daughter with Ago. Akbar realizes Niccolo was innocent and that he has lost his city for punishing him unjustly. Qara Koz says, however, that his belief in her has brought her back home at last and that she will be his.