Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 to a wealthy family in Florence, Italy. At the time of his birth Florence was an important city because of the banking business of the Medici. Machiavelli became a diplomat and was introduced to kings and popes.
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He worked behind the scenes to keep the Medici from returning to power. He wasn’t successful, however. He then decided to promote himself for a position in Giovanni de’ Medici’s new administration. That was also a failure. He was jailed and then exiled for life. During his exile Machiavelli spent his time drinking and writing. He was set to return to Florence after the Medici were once again exiled but took ill and died June 22, 1527.
Machiavelli wrote one of the most well-known books of the 16th century in 1513. It was called ‘The Prince ‘and was thought to have been based on Cesare Borgia’s life and adventures. There is a chapter added to the end of the book that was written by Machiavelli specifically about Cesare. Machiavelli also spent a few months at Cesare Borgia’s court in France as an ambassador and witnessed many of the actions Cesare Borgia was famous for. The book was dedicated to Lorenzo di Piero de ’Medici. This was probably a way for Machiavelli to endear himself with the Medicis after his treachery. This literature drew criticism, however, and led to it being denounced by Pope Clement VIII.
‘The Prince’ seems to argue against humanism, which are the ideals that brought the Renaissance to life in Florence. It has advice for princes such as, “It is better to be stingy than generous” ? and “It is better to be cruel than merciful.” ? Another popular quote from this writing is “Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”? It contradicts his advice that, “Princes must avoid making themselves hated and despised; the goodwill of the people is a better defense than any fortress.”? Machiavelli also chose not to discuss republics and focused instead on the rule of princes. A strange concept for someone that lived in Florence and worked in an administrative capacity during the Renaissance. It almost seems as if ‘The Prince’ purposely rails against everything that the Medicis were about and in my opinion sounds like there could have been some bitter feelings toward either the Medici or the Humanist influence or maybe both.
The last actual chapter of the book, chapter twenty-six is called, ‘An Exhortation to Liberate Italy From the Barbarians’? and was supposed to work as a letter of counsel and detailed to do list for the Medici upon their return to power.
‘The Prince’ is a brutally honest piece of work and shows some of the attitudes in Florence at the time after the Medici were exiled and Savonarola was executed. Florentines believed that Humanism failed them as a society and they then looked elsewhere for leadership. A Medici was put in charge of the city, but it was no longer a republic.
Niccolò Machiavelli, “The Prince,” Internet Medieval Source Book, July 1998, accessed December 20, 2018, https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/machiavelli-prince.asp
Machiavelli, “The Prince”, chap.3
Machiavelli, “The Prince”, chap.17
Machiavelli, “The Prince,”
Machiavelli, “The Prince,” chap. 26
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