Welcome to Machiavelli’s Masterpiece
I created this site to help you more easily understand Machiavelli’s masterpiece: The Prince. The “you” that I have in mind here is, not a scholar, but a normal educated reader. I am concerned with Machiavelli’s ideas and making those ideas accessible to a general audience.
I felt that some help would be useful because, Machiavelli explains his ideas by means of examples from Ancient Rome, and Renaissance Italy which were familiar to his readers, but are merely confusing to us. To make Machiavelli’s ideas more accessible, I will supply comments that explain the things that Machiavelli assumes that you know. I will not attempt to explain every reference that he makes, but there are a handful of people and events that are absolutely critical. I will add notes and comments to make these things clear.
Why is Machiavelli Important?
I believe understanding Machiavelli is important and rewarding for two reasons.
He is one of the chief founders of an important school of political science known as Political Realism and reading The Prince can give you an unparalleled intuitive understanding of this school of thought.
Machiavelli is much misunderstood, partly because of the historical obstacles to understanding his writing. Most people view Machiavelli as a colorful villain. In fact, he was a warm person with many friends, a cultured man who wrote comedies and poetry as well as political analysis, a dedicated civil servant, and an honest man who told the truth about power. Although his reputation suffered at the hands of critics who resented his candor, his books are still in print, and well worth reading.
How it Works
I will provide notes and comments that are imbedded in the text of The Prince. For that text, I will use an edited version of the translation by W. K. Marriott, which is in the public domain and is freely available from The Guttenberg Project. My edits to Marriott’s text are limited to modernizing the spelling, and adding items, such as a rulers’ title or his birth and death dates, in square brackets. The text of The Prince is in serif font on a white background.
For information that is critical for understanding the text, I have added notes, with gray background and san-serif type. These may appear before or after the text. I insert preliminary comments where I think that one cannot fully understand the text without the information. I put comments after the text when I think the information is important for understanding how the chapter fits into subsequent material.
For example, The Prince is dedicated to Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici, Duke of Urbino. It is not enough to include a footnote explaining that this Lorenzo is not the famous Lorenzo the Magnificent. To truly understand the significance of the Dedication and the final chapter of The Prince, you must know why and how Machiavelli’s career is tied up with the Medici, how Lorenzo Di Piero relates to the family, and how he came to power. I provide this information in the Comments on the Dedication.
For information that is in the nature of a footnote, I placed a link in the text. When you click on the link, a hidden section will pop out.
For matters of translation, I take the Alvarez translation of The Prince to be authoritative.
To facilitate lookup, I have used the spelling of people and places given in the Wikipedia. For the same reason, I have tried to use the Wikipedia’s names for events such as the War of the League of Cambrai. In addition, working on the theory that any errors would be quickly caught and corrected, I have taken the Wikipedia’s dates to be reliable. Finally, to convey an intuitive feeling for the time and place in which Machiavelli lived, I have also made extensive use of public domain images of Renaissance art from Wikimedia Commons.