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Prefatory Letter

Prefatory Letter to Lorenzo the Magnificent

Machiavelli begins his treatise on the ideal Prince with a dedication to an actual prince, Lorenzo de'Medici. He declares that courtiers who wish to earn a prince's favor do so by presenting the prince with items which they themselves hold particularly dear: usually gold, jewels, horses, etc. Machiavelli tells Lorenzo that, after racking his brain for an appropriately valuable gift, he decided that what he felt was most precious was his knowledge of great men, knowledge gained from history books, as well as from current events. He will present Lorenzo with this knowledge, in the form of the treatise to follow. Machiavelli claims to worry a bit about whether Lorenzo will be pleased with such a gift, but then reminds himself that any prince would be glad to receive, in short handbook form, knowledge which the author has taken years to acquire. Machiavelli promises that his will be a "small volume," written not in pretentious academic language, but in the common language of men. He then excuses himself for having presumed to write about princes at all, since he is simply an ordinary man; furthermore Machiavelli actually suggests that being a commoner is actually an advantage to one who wishes to write about princes, since that distance of rank gives the commoner a perspective that princes themselves lack. Machiavelli, then, is an outsider looking in - offering deliberately common-sense explanations for how particular men are able to become and to remain great. Lest we forget, though, that the Prince was intended as a gift to earn Lorenzo's favor, this preface concludes with a specific, pointed request: if his noble recipient likes the gift of this book, Machiavelli gently suggests, then he might best show his appreciation by helping the author return to court from his current position of exile and disgrace. Rather than considering this simply a work of political theory written for its own sake, we should realize that the suffering Machiavelli had some very practical reasons for writing this book and dedicating it to Lorenzo!

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Important Persons
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Summary of the Argument
Prefatory Letter
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapters 13 and 14
Chapters 15 and 16
Chapters 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21, 22, and 23
Chapters 24, 25, and 26


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