Literature/The Prince


Hi, so the other day i was with my friends who were discussing the book and they said that Machiavelli򳬠The Prince is a starting point for  the "modern era". I read The Prince in high school but didn't really understand it, anyway I started reading it over again and couldn't figure out what they meant so i gave up and came here, can you help me?


Machiavelli's The Prince (written in 1513) is just a starting point for  the modern era and modern politics, because Niccolò Machiavelli's work  rejects the medieval way of analyzing politics by considering how  things should be,  and chooses to consider  how things really are, instead.

Therefore Machiavelli recommends that a prince must consider the effectual truth of things, if he wants to avoid his ruin, and insists on importance of good and bad fortune in politics, and the way in which a skilful statesman should have the ability to make use of the fortuitous events which might occur in his career.

In short, Niccolò Machiavelli's theory was not only something new  at that time, but was also somehow influential upon kings, princes & politicians  through the  ages.

Anyway, in order to better explain Machiavelli’s thought so that you can understand the genesis of his political theory, I have to tell you the historical background that originated such a theory, just I myself did in one of my previous answer to a questioner some years ago.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) lived in a tumultuous and divided Italy, in a city like Florence where he held many important public offices between 1494, after the expulsion of the Medici family,and 1512, when the Medici, helped by Pope Julius II and Spanish troops, defeated the Florentine Republic that  was dissolved, so that  Machiavelli, suspected of conspiracy, was imprisoned and later sent into exile in 1513 to his father’s small property in San Casciano, just south of Florence, where he wrote one of his  major works,"Il Principe"(“The Prince”), published after his death.

That being stated, the most efficient way for someone like you to read The Prince and understand how Machiavelli  has developed his thought  on political philosophy and conduct is just to know the historical background of Italy at that time when foreign armies, especially French and Spanish, overran the disunited peninsula, since the Italian city-states like the Republic of Florence, Venice and Genoa, as well as  the kingdom of Naples and Sicily, the duchy of Savoy,  the duchy of Milan, the duchy of Ferrara, and finally the Papal States, were often at war and always hostile to one another.
It is just this historical background that convinced Machiavelli to formulate his political theory  which  recommends that a prince must consider the effectual truth of things and must be guided by necessity and then must "not depart from good when possible, but...know how to enter into evil when forced by necessity”( .."non partirsi dal bene, potendo, ma sapere intrare nel male, necessitato".Chapter 18).

Hence the dilemma “whether it is better to be loved than feared” (“s’elli è meglio esser amato che temuto”, chapter XVII, paragraph 2) and the necessity of being “the fox and the lion, because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves”(“la volpe e il leone, perché il lione non si difende dai lacci, la volpe non si difende dai lupi”, chapter XVIII, paragraph 3).

In short, the prince, who must be hard, deceitful, and malicious when required, has to consider the actual state of the world and thus learn to exercise many of the vices of human nature in order to maintain his power and hopefully to seize  Italy and  free her from the barbarians,i.e. the foreign armies, as Machiavelli writes in the last chapter of The Prince, where he says:” To all of us this barbarous dominion stinks” ( “A ognuno puzza questo barbaro dominio”, chapter XXVI, paragraph 5).

Hope this brief outline can be helpful to you so that you can comprehend power and politics and the nuances of it, according to Machiavelli's way of thinking that has been often misinterpreted.
(See e.g. the saying "the end justifies the means" which has been erroneously deduced from his disenchanted view of politics, strictly related to the political conditions of Italy at those times).

Best regards,



All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts




I am an expert in Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek Literature.


Over 25 years teaching experience

I received my Ph.D. in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy). My graduation thesis was about ancient Greek drama: I carried out a detailed research on Aeschylus.

This expert accepts donations:

©2017 All rights reserved.