The Classical Influences Behind The Works Of Niccolo Machiavelli

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The House of Borgia is depicted here as “A glass of wine with Cesare Borgia,” a painting that clearly shows the wealth and power (church power) of this illustrious and infamous family. Photo source: John Collier /  Public domain

The Classical Influences Behind The Works Of Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli, a 16th-century man, is today still feared and yet revered. Machiavelli has come to represent the archetype of a scheming and conniving mastermind and even modern psychology refers to Machiavellianism as one of the Dark Triad personality traits. He is perceived as one who deceives, plays tricks, and shows no mercy. However, this profile of the man may be biased.  Niccolo Machiavelli did not invent and manufacture what many consider his nefarious ideas on his own accord. Rather, sourcing his education, experience, knowledge, and wisdom, he penned three books. His first book was The Art of War (1519), his second book Discourses on Livy (1531), and his most famous work, The Prince (1532), which earned him his notorious reputation. The last two books were published post-mortem in 1527. In order to find who and what philosophies influenced this man, it is best to look at his early life and publications in chronological order. 

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli. ( Public Domain )

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli. ( Public Domain )

The Early Life And Education Of Niccolo Machiavelli

On May 3, 1469, Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence Italy. He was the son of attorney Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli. It was in Florence that his first steps towards mastering the art of statecraft began. Given that his father was an attorney, Machiavelli would have been exposed to law and the justice system. He mentioned he was seven years old when he his first tutor was appointed. At 11, he learnt how to use the abacus. At the age of 12 years, he was taught Latin. His Latin teacher was both a priest and a member of the lawyers’ guild. With this teacher, Machiavelli's education progressed as he had access to literary circles and the Chancery. While books were hard to come by for most and relatively expensive, he would have bought or bartered for books. There is no doubt that he had access to his father’s books.  Some of the books mentioned are Aristotle's Ethics, fragments of Topica, Cicero’s Philipics, De Officils and De Oratore, Ptolemy’s Cosmography and the work of Titus Livy to name a few. He also borrowed the book On Divisions by Boethius. Overall, he was well educated and he transported his mini library in saddlebags.

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