the prince


It was a daring political move that the exiled Niccolo Machiavelli, his career in ruin, made in 1512 from his family farm south of Florence. He had sent a short treatise, “The Prince” (Il Principe), as an offering of counsel to the most powerful man in Florence, Lorenzo (called “the Magnificent”) de Medici, the man who himself had ordered Machiavelli’s dismissal and exile. The cover letter is as masterly as the treatise. “Take this little gift,” Machiavelli wrote, “in the spirit I send it, and if you read it diligently you will discover in it my urgent wish that you reach the eminence that fortune and your other great qualities promise you.”

Renaissance sycophancy aside, it is held that this letter was Machiavelli’s pitch for employment with the Medici family. He closed by citing his reduced condition and couching a veiled plea, “And . . . you will realize the extent to which, undeservedly, I have to endure the great and unremitting malice of fortune.” It is an irony and a contradiction that “The Prince,” the classic handbook on power politics and the guide to gaining and maintaining that power, should have owed its birth to the collapse of the author’s political career.

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