Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote “The Prince” (1513), a guidebook to power and how to use it. He said a prince’s first duty is not justice or doing what is right, but the freedom and prosperity of his country. The ends justify the means.
He wrote the book for Lorenzo de Medici, but Lorenzo was more interested in his dogs.
Machiavelli loved Florence and Italy and wanted a prince who could unite the country and free it from the barbarians – the French and Spanish.
In 1494 the Medicis, who had ruled Florence, were overthrown and a republic of Florence was established. In 1498 Machiavelli became its secretary.
This took him all over Europe: all through Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. He talked to popes, princes, generals and cardinals. He saw how political power worked in the real world.
But then in 1512 the republic fell. The Medicis were back and threw him in prison. Later they let him go. No longer foreign secretary, Machiavelli returned to his estate in the country.
There he read the books of ancient history in his library and wondered what went wrong.
Cicero and others throughout history had told rulers to be just, prudent and seek the love of their subjects. Machiavelli saw first hand that this does not work. The republic of Florence had been ruled by just such a man and yet it fell. What to do?
Machiavelli noticed that the acts of princes and men were driven by the same passions all throughout history. Therefore through a knowledge of the acts of great men learned from long experience in the present and endless reading of the ancient, Machiavelli figured out what worked and saved a country and what did not.
In 1513 he wrote down his findings as a handbook for rulers called “The Prince”. It was shocking: Machiavelli told princes to be immoral if that is what it took, as it sometimes did. He even told them to seem good but be evil; that it was better to be feared than loved.
Of all the ancients, Machiavelli loved Livy most. Livy’s history of the Roman republic became his touchstone for everything. So he wrote a book about it: the “Discourses” (1519). In it he lays out his own philosophy of history and how a strong, enduring republic can be founded. Something he wished for Florence and all of Italy.
He wrote books on the art of war and the history of Florence, a play, “Mandragola”, and some verse.
His verse was nothing great, but his prose was excellent. He wrote in the Italian of Florence, not in Latin. His Latin was excellent – he was foreign secretary and had read Livy in Latin – but what he wrote was for Italy not for the West as a whole.
Machiavelli loved to read, especially Lucretius, Dante, Virgil and, above all, his Livy. He also read Thucydides, Tacitus, Plutarch, Ovid, Tibulus, Terence, Diogenes Laertius, Petrarch and Boccaccio. He loved to read about his two great passions: history and love.
Machiavelli knew Leonardo da Vinci. The two met when they both worked for Cesare Borgia.
– Abagond, 2007.