Niccolo Machiavelli. 3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527. Italian thinker, philosopher, writer, politician, political scientist.
Life and Work:
1. When Catherine de’ Medici married the king of France at the age of fourteen, she took a rich collection of poisons and a large library with her. The confessor of the future queen was very surprised that there was no place for a prayer book in the extensive luggage of the noble Florentine. But the girl showed him another book. “Won’t this replace the Bible for me?” she asked. This book was Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. Surely, Valentin Pikul’s works should not be trusted unconditionally. But this could be true: Machiavelli’s main work had been already printed by that time.
2. The famous Italian was born in 1469 in the village of San Casciano in Tuscany, which is located near the city-state of Florence. He was the third child and the eldest of two sons of the lawyer Bernardo di Niccolo Machiavelli.
3. He was a true son of the Renaissance, the smartest man of his time. Niccolo’s name is rather symbolic – Machiavelli means “a mean nail” in Italian. He received a remarkable classical education.
4. He could take up anything with that classical education, but Machiavelli chose an unrewarding and poorly paid public service. In the Florentine Republic, he was engaged in military and diplomatic affairs, was responsible for the city defense.
5. Machiavelli’s biographer, the Italian historian Roberto Ridolfi describes Machiavelli as follows: “He was a slender man, of medium height, of a thin build. He had black hair, white skin, small head, thin face, high forehead. Very bright eyes and thin compressed lips, which always seemed to grin a little ambiguously.”
6. Between 1499 and 1512, Machiavelli undertook numerous diplomatic missions to the court of Louis XII, Ferdinand II, and to the Papal Court in Rome.
7. At that time Machiavelli acquired an invaluable knowledge of human psychology and studied the experience of various rulers’ political institutions.
8. During this period, Machiavelli came up with the idea of universal conscription, which survived six centuries: he did not trust mercenaries, and believed that the homeland should be protected with militia formed from citizens.
9. In 1501, Machiavelli married Marietta di Luigi Corsini. Five children were born in this marriage, which did not prevent the politician from having mistresses when he left home for a long time for the sake of diplomatic affairs.
10. Niccolo Machiavelli lived in an era of fragile alliances, conspiracies, coups. In 1512, the House of Medici regained control of Florence, and the republic was abolished.
11. Machiavelli fell into disgrace, was accused of conspiracy, arrested, and tortured. He managed to prove his innocence, and after his release, Machiavelli retired to an estate in Sant’Andrea in Percussina near Florence to devote himself to political philosophy entirely.
12. Machiavelli’s philosophy is characterized by empiricism, that is, the belief that all our knowledge is based on experience. And also, immoralism, that is, the belief in the relativity of good and evil, the belief in the weakness and imperfection of the human nature.
13. The notorious Machiavellianism, that is, simply put, cynicism and the belief that the end justifies the means, while in politics everything is decided by profit and force, is not quite in line with the real views of Machiavelli. This is nothing more than an image, and it took root because Machiavelli was honest and called things by their proper names.
14. In his famous book The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, “To understand the nature of the people one must be a prince, and to understand the nature of the prince, one must be of the people.” “There are two ways of fighting, by law, and by force. The first is proper to men, the second to beasts.” “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
15. “Those who strive to obtain the good graces of a prince are accustomed to come before him with such things as they hold most precious, or in which they see him take most delight; whence one often sees horses, arms, cloth of gold, precious stones, and similar ornaments presented to princes, worthy of their greatness.” In his turn, he gifted Duke Medici with a jewel worthy of a great ruler – this very book.
16. Apart from The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote the poem The Golden Ass, treatises On the Art of War, Florentine Histories, Discourses on Livy, and other works.
17. Niccolo Machiavelli died in 1527 at home, in San Casciano, a few kilometers from Florence. His grave is lost, but in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, next to the tombs of other great men of Italy, there is a cenotaph in his honor. The inscription on the monument reads: “No elegy is equal to such a name.”