In This Article Niccolò Machiavelli

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources
  • Biographical Studies
  • General Introductions
  • Machiavelli and Antiquity
  • Renaissance Context
  • Major Themes in Machiavelli’s Thought
  • The Prince
  • Republicanism
  • Machiavelli’s Lesser-Known Writings
  • Straussians and Their Critics
  • The Cambridge School and its Critics
  • Machiavelli and Religion
  • Receptions and Applications

Philosophy Niccolò Machiavelli
by
Cary J. Nederman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0268

Introduction

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was a civil servant in the 1498 Florentine Republic who, after he lost his position in the Medici coup of 1512, wrote two of the most influential works of Renaissance Italian political theory, The Prince (1513/1514) and the Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy (1514/1515–1518/1519). Both works were published only posthumously—in 1532 and 1531, respectively—but they appear to have circulated widely prior to their printing. Although Machiavelli wrote numerous other works, including poetry and plays as well as history and a treatise on warfare, his reputation as an important author rests primarily upon the two major political compositions just mentioned. The Prince is a short tract that proposes to teach rulers the “actual” precepts that will lead them to govern effectively. The Discourses, by contrast, is a far lengthier tome that defends the superiority of republican government, especially that of Rome. Machiavelli’s thought engendered controversy almost immediately upon its dissemination, and it continues to do so today. He has been condemned, for instance, for founding the doctrine of Realpolitik and for teaching the political necessity of doing “evil.” He has also been venerated for his contributions to the origins of political science and to the formulation of modern republican theory. The scholarly literature on Machiavelli is enormous. A useful guide to 20th-century interpretations is Niccolò Machiavelli: An Annotated Bibliography of Modern Criticism and Scholarship, compiled by Silvia Ruffo Fiore (New York: Greenwood, 1990), which covers research from 1935 to 1988 in all major languages. Also valuable is The Cambridge Companion to Machiavelli, edited by John M. Najemy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), which reviews the current state of scholarship on Machiavelli. There have been a host of online efforts to survey recent literature on Machiavelli, but they have proven ephemeral; it may be best to conduct a web search for currently available bibliographies.

Primary Sources

It seems that translations of The Prince are published almost annually, making it difficult to compare and recommend one over the very many others. Machiavelli 1977 and Machiavelli 1994 may be commended for including helpful resources beyond the translation itself. Virtually every word written by Machiavelli has received one or more rendering into English, These may be found, for instance, in Atkinson and Sices 1996, Machiavelli 1970, and Machiavelli 2008. Nearly the entirety of Machiavelli’s corpus (including his Discourses, Art of War, History of Florence, and minor prose and poetic and theatrical works) are translated by Allan Gilbert in the three volumes of Machiavelli 1965. Machiavelli’s Italian is notoriously difficult to capture in translation, however, due to his highly ambiguous and playful use of language, among other factors. Even readers who have facility in the original find his expression challenging to comprehend. Thus, it is useful to compare translations with the original Italian, if one has the linguistic facility to do so. One widely available and often-cited edition is Machiavelli 1971, translated by Mario Martelli.

  • Atkinson, James B., and David Sices, eds. Machiavelli and His Friends: Their Personal Correspondence. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996.

    E-mail Citation »

    Gathers into a single, well-annotated volume the sum total of all Machiavelli’s known private (as distinct from professional) letters, covering the period from c. 1497 through 1527.

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Chief Works, and Others. Translated by Allan Gilbert. 3 vols. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1965.

    E-mail Citation »

    Collects together in English translation nearly all of Machiavelli’s writings. Although the renderings tend toward the literary, rather than the literal, the volume is extremely useful to readers who lack knowledge of Italian.

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. The History of Florence and Other Selections. Edited by Myron B. Gilmore. Translated by Judith A. Rawson New York: Twayne, 1970.

    E-mail Citation »

    A selection of Machiavelli’s often underappreciated historical and quasi-sociological works, although the version of the History of Florence is heavily edited.

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. Tutte le Opere. Edited by Mario Martelli. Florence: Sansoni, 1971.

    E-mail Citation »

    Among the many Italian editions of Machiavelli’s complete works, Martelli’s single volume collection is one of the most cited and very reliable, although it lacks a critical apparatus that more advanced scholars would find useful.

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince: A New Translation, Backgrounds, Interpretations, Peripherica. Edited by Robert M. Adams. New York: Norton, 1977.

    E-mail Citation »

    Contains a serviceable translation of The Prince as well as selections from Machiavelli’s other prose and poetic writings and a sampling of major modern-day lines of interpretations.

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. Selected Political Writings. Edited and Translated by David Wootton. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    Contains perhaps the best English translation of The Prince, an extremely readable yet accurate rendering, together with a small selection from the Discourses. A freestanding version of Wootton’s translation of The Prince is also available from the same publisher.

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. Discourses on Livy. Translated by Julia C. Bondanella and Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    A complete translation of the Discourses by two eminent Italianists that succeeds in bridging the fraught divide between literal and accessible renderings.

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