Primary Source: Excerpts from Machiavelli’s The Prince Background

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Primary Source: Excerpts from Machiavelli’s The Prince


Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian political philosopher, historian, poet, and playwright from Florence. Serving in public office as a political advisor and diplomat for 14 years, he went on almost 30 diplomatic missions for the Florentine city-state. During his diplomatic career, he gained much insight into the world of politics.

In 1512 a change in the regime in Florence caused Machiavelli to lose his job. He had been suspected of involvement in an assassination plot against the new ruler, and was imprisoned, tortured, and finally exiled to live in the country. He would work in the fields during the day, but at night was said to transform himself. He would put on his robes that he had worn as a government official. He had been reading the works of the ancient Greek and Roman historians. At night while in his robes, he is said to have had “conversations” with the ancients, asking them reasons for their actions in the political realm. Supposedly, he applied their answers to his experiences as a diplomat, and the result was The Prince, a book of advice to rulers on how to found a state and how to stay in power. He is considered to be the father of modern political thought. The following excerpt shows Machiavelli’s views on how a ruler should build his reputation.

(For further background on Machiavelli, consult page 476 in your text and the notes you took on Machiavelli in our class discussion on February 8, 2012).

See attached document


  1. Based upon the reading here, what does Machiavelli advise a ruler do to build up his reputation?

  1. Based upon the reading here, does Machiavelli’s advice require a ruler to engage in some arguably immoral acts to solidify a reputation? If so, what are those acts as described here?

  1. Based upon the reading here, what appears to be of overriding importance for a ruler?

  1. In one sentence, summarize the advice that Machiavelli gives in this excerpt.

  1. How does Machiavelli’s advice differ in kind to the instructions and obligations discussed in the primary source reading concerning the duties of lords and vassals?

  1. Why would Machiavelli be considered to be a humanist?

  1. Today, to be “Machiavellian” means to be cunning, deceitful and immoral. Make an argument that it is unjust to accuse Machiavelli of solely promoting Machiavellian type behavior. Was there arguably a greater good at stake?

  1. Do you think that some modern rulers operate according the instruction that he gives in The Prince? If so, give an example of a ruler who seems to apply the advice from The Prince and explain why you think this. If you do not believe that modern rulers follow Machiavelli’s advice, why do you think they reject it? (Note: this is a personal opinion question, meaning it is asking you for your personal thoughts. If you want to consult an outside source to help you form a personal opinion, you may, but it is not necessary to do so.)

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