Today's Memory

Today’s Memory – Niccolò Machiavelli

Photo: Statue of Niccolò Macchiavelli, by Lorenzo Bartolini – Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him

Statue of Niccolò Macchiavelli, by Lorenzo Bartolini, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, ItalyNiccolò Machiavelli

3 May 1469, Florence – 21 June 1527, Florence


Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer during the Renaissance.

He rose to power after the overthrow of Girolamo Savonarola in 1498. Working as a diplomat for 14 years, he came in contact with the most powerful figures in Europe. He was dismissed when the Medici family returned to power in 1512, and during the next year he was arrested and tortured for conspiracy. Though soon released, he was not permitted to return to public office. His famous treatise The Prince (1513, published 1532) is a handbook for rulers; though dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence from 1513, it failed to win Machiavelli his favour. Machiavelli viewed The Prince as an objective description of political reality. Because he viewed human nature as venal, grasping, and thoroughly self-serving, he suggested that ruthless cunning is appropriate to the conduct of government. Machiavelli's Cenotaph in the Santa Croce Church in FlorenceThough admired for its incisive brilliance, the book also has been widely condemned as cynical and amoral, and Machiavellian has come to mean deceitful, unscrupulous, and manipulative. His other works include a set of Discourses on Livy (completed 1518), the comedy The Mandrake (completed 1518), The Art of War (published 1521), and the Florentine Histories (completed 1525).

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