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From A Literary Source-book of the Italian Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 84-90.



Born at Florence, 1469. Entered at the age of twenty-nine into the service of the Signory. Was prominent in the affairs of the republic, after the banishment of the Medici, until their return in 1512. Driven from Florence, he retired to his patrimony near San Casciano, and devoted himself to literary work. Resumed his official career under Clement VII. Died, 1527. His greater works are the Prince, the History of Florence, the Discourses of Livy and a treatise on the Art of War.


Chapter XVIII. How far a Prince is obliged by his Promise.

How honorable it is for a prince to keep his word, and act rather with integrity than collusion, I suppose everybody understands: nevertheless experience has shown in our own times that those princes who have not pinned themselves up to that punctuality and preciseness have done great things, and by their cunning and subtilty not only circumvented, and darted the brains of those with whom they had to deal, but have overcome and been too hard for those who have been so superstitiously exact. For further explanation you must understand there are two ways of contending, by law and by force: the first is proper to men; the second to beasts; but because many times the first is insufficient, recourse must be had to the second. It belongs, therefore, to a prince to understand both, when to make use of the rational and when of the brutal way; and this is recommended to princes, though abstrusely, by ancient writers, 85 who tell them how Achilles and several other princes were committed to the education of Chiron the Centaur, who was to keep them under his discipline, choosing them a master, half man and half beast, for no other reason but to show how necessary it is for a prince to be acquainted with both, for that one without the other will be of little duration. Seeing, therefore, it is of such importance to a prince to take upon him the nature and disposition of a beast, of all the whole flock he ought to imitate the lion and the fox; for the lion is in danger of toils and snares, and the fox of the wolf; so that he must be a fox to find out the snares, and a lion to fright away the wolves, but they who keep wholly to the lion have no true notion of themselves. A prince, therefore, who is wise and prudent, cannot or ought not to keep his parole, when the keeping of it is to his prejudice, and the causes for which he promised removed. Were men all good this doctrine was not to be taught, but because they are wicked and not likely to be punctual with you, you are not obliged to any such strictness with them; nor was there ever any prince that wanted lawful pretence to justify his breach of promise. I might instance in many modern examples, and show how many confederations, and peaces, and promises have been broken by the infidelity of princes, and how he that best personated the fox had the better success. Nevertheless, it is of great consequence to disguise your inclination, and to play the hypocrite well; and men are so simple in their temper and so submissive to their present necessities, that he that is neat and cleanly in his collusions shall never want people to practice them upon. I cannot forbear one example which is still fresh in our memory. Alexander VI. never did, nor thought of, anything but cheating, and never wanted matter to work upon; and though no man promised a thing with greater asseveration, nor confirmed it with more oaths and imprecations, and observed them less, yet understanding the world well he never miscarried.

A prince, therefore, is not obliged to have all the forementioned good qualities in reality, but it is necessary to 86 have them in appearance: nay, I will be bold to affirm that, having them actually, and employing them upon all occasions, they are extremely prejudicial, whereas, having them only in appearance, they turn to better account; it is honorable to seem mild, and merciful, and courteous, and religious, and sincere, and indeed to be so, provided your mind be so rectified and prepared that you can act quite contrary upon occasion. And this must be premised, that a prince, especially if come but lately to the throne, cannot observe all those things exactly which make men be esteemed virtuous, being often necessitated, for the preservation of his State, to do things inhuman, uncharitable, and irreligious; and, therefore, it is convenient his mind be at his command, and flexible to all the puffs and variations of fortune; not forbearing to be good while it is in his choice, but knowing how to be evil when there is a necessity. A prince, then, is to have particular care that nothing falls from his mouth but what is full of the five qualities aforesaid, and that to see and hear him he appears all goodness, integrity, humanity, and religion, which last he ought to pretend to more than ordinarily, because more men do judge by the eye than by the touch; for everbody sees, but few understand; everybody sees how you appear, but few know what in reality you are, and those few dare not oppose the opinion of the multitude, who have the majesty of their prince to defend them; and in the actions of all men, especially princes, where no man has power to judge, every one looks to the end. Let a prince, therefore, do what he can to preserve his life and continue his supremacy, the means which he uses shall be thought honorable, and be commended by everybody; because the people are always taken with the appearance and event of things, and the greatest part of the world consists of the people; those few who are wise taking place when the multitude has nothing else to rely upon. There is a prince at this time in being (but his name I shall conceal) who has nothing in his mouth but fidelity and peace; and yet had he exercised either the one or the other, they had robbed him before this of both his power and reputation.


Chapter XXVI. An Exhortation to Deliver Italy from the Barbarians.

Having weighed, therefore, all that is said before, and considered seriously with myself whether in this juncture of affairs in Italy the times were disposed for the advancement of a new prince, and whether there was competent matter that could give occasion to a virtuous and wise person to introduce such a form as would bring reputation to him and benefit to all his subjects, it seems to me that at this present so many things concur to the exaltation of a new prince that I do not know any time that has been more proper than this; and if, as I said before, for the manifestation of the courage of Moses it was necessary that the Israelites should be captives in Egypt; for discovery of the magnanimity of Cyrus, that the Persians should be oppressed by the Medes; and for the illustration of the excellence of Theseus that the Athenians should be banished and dispersed; so to evince and demonstrate the courage of an Italian spirit it was necessary that Italy should be reduced to its present condition; that it should be in greater bondage than the Jews, in greater servitude than the Persians, and in greater dispersion than the Athenians; without head, without order, harassed, spoiled, overcome, overrun, and overflown with all kinds of calamity; and some persons that might give it hopes that God had ordained them for its redemption, yet it was found afterwards that in the very height and career of their of their exploits they were checked and forsaken by fortune, and poor Italy left half dead, expecting who would be her Samaritan to bind her wounds, put an end to the sackings and devastations in Lombardy, the taxes and expilations in the kingdom of Naples and Tuscany, and cure her sores which length of time had festered and imposthumated. It is manifest how she prays to God daily to send some person who may redeem her from the cruelty and insolence of the barbarians. It is manifest how prone and ready she is to follow the banner that any man will take up; nor is it at present to be discerned 88 where she can repose her hopes with more probability than in your illustrious family, which by its own courage and interest and the favor of God and the Church (of which it is now chief), may be induced to make itself head in her redemption; which will be no hard matter to be effected if you lay before you the lives and actions of the persons above named; who though they were rare and wonderful were yet but men, and not accommodated with so fair circumstances as you. Their enterprise was not more just nor easy, nor God Almighty more their friend than yours. You have justice on your side; for that war is just which is necessary, and it is piety to fight where no hope is left in anything else. The people are universally disposed, and where the disposition is so great the opposition can be but small, especially you taking your rules from those persons which I have proposed to you for a model.

Besides, many things that they did were supernatural, and by God’s immediate conduct the sea opened, a cloud directed, a rock afforded water, it rained manna; all these things are recompensed in your grandeur, and the rest remains to be executed by you. God will not do everything immediately, because He will not deprive us of our free will and the honour that devolves upon us. Nor is it any wonder if none of the aforenamed Italians have been able to do that which may be hoped for from your illustrious family; and if in so many revolutions in Italy, and so long continuation of war, their military virtue seems spent and extinguished, the reason is, their old discipline was not good, and nobody was ale to direct a better. Nothing makes so much to the honour of a new prince as new laws and new orders invented by him, which, if they be well founded, and carry anything of grandeur along with them, do render him venerable and wonderful; and Italy is susceptible enough of any new form. Their courage is great enough in the soldier if it be not wanting in the officer; witness the duels and combats, in which the Italians have 89 generally the better by their force and dexterity and stratagem; but come to their battles, and they have often the worse, and all from the inexperience of their commanders; for those who pretend to have skill will never obey, and every one thinks he has skill, there having been nobody to this very day raised by his virtue and fortune to that height of reputation as to prevail with others to obey him. Hence it came that, in so long time, in the many wars during the last twenty years, whenever an army consisted wholly of Italians it was certain to be beaten; and this may be testified by Tarus, Alexandria, Capua, Genoa, Vaila, Bologna, and Mestri. If therefore, your illustrious family be inclined to follow the examples of those excellent persons who redeemed their countries, it is necessary, as a true fundamental of all great enterprises, to provide yourself with forces of your own subjects, for you cannot have more faithful nor better soldiers than they. And though all of them be good, yet altogether they will be much better when they find themselves not only commanded, but preferred and caressed by a prince of their own. It is necessary, therefore, to be furnished with these forces before you can be able with Italian virtue to vindicate your country from the oppression of strangers. And though the Swiss and Spanish infantry be counted terrible, they have both of them their defects; and a third sort may be composed that may not only encounter but be confident to beat them; for the Spanish foot cannot deal with horse, and the Swiss are not invincible when they meet with foot as obstinate as themselves. It has been seen by experience, and would be so again, the Spaniards cannot sustain the fury of the French cavalry, and the Swiss have been overthrown by the infantry of Spain. And though of this last we have seen no perfect experiment, yet we had a competent essay at the battle of Ravenna, where the Spanish foot being engaged with the German battalions (which observe the same order and discipline as the Swiss), the Spaniards, by the agility of their bodies and the protection of their bucklers, broke in under their pikes, and killed them securely, while the poor Germans 90 were incapable to defend themselves; and had not the Spaniards been charged by the horse, the German foot had been certainly cut off. It is possible, therefore, the defect of both those foot being known, to institute a third which may buckle with the horse and be in no fear of their foot; which will be effected not only by the variation of their arms, but by changing their discipline. And these are some of those things which, being newly reformed, give great grander and reputation to any new prince. This opportunity, therefore, is by no means to be slipped, that Italy, after so long expectation, may see some hopes of deliverance. Nor can it be expressed with what joy, with what impatience of revenge, with what fidelity, with what compassion, with what tears such a champion would be received into all the provinces that have suffered by those barbarous inundations. What gates would be shut against him? What people would deny him obedience? What malice would oppose him? What true Italian would refuse to follow him? There is not anybody but abhors and nauseates this barbarous domination. Let your illustrious family, then, address itself to the work with as much courage and confidence as just enterprises are undertaken; that under their ensigns our country may be recovered, and under their conduct Petrarch’s prophecy may be fulfilled, who promised that —

Virtù contra furore
Prenderà l’ arme, e fia’l combatter corto:
Che l’ antico valore
Negl’ Italici cor non è ancor morto.

Virtue shall arm ’gainst rage, and in short fight
Prove the Roman valour ’s not extinguished quite.


*  Morley’s edition in the Universal Library, in which the reading of the folio of 1674 has been reproduced.

   “The Prince” was addressed to Lorenzo, son of Piero de’ Medici.

[For a very, very funny story by Machiavelli, on this site, see Belphagor, translated by Thomas Roscoe and go here for one of his poems in both Italian and English, translated by Lorna de’ Lucchi, also on this site. — Elf.Ed.]

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