Notes on Characters from The Prince

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The Prince Major Characters

Niccolo Machiavelli: The author of the book, he served as a government official in the Republic of Florence until the Medici family regained control. Forced out of his position, Machiavelli utilized his new found extra time to write The Prince. He dedicated the book to Lorenzo de' Medici in hopes that the prince would read it and restore Florence, Italy, and possibly his political career to former glory. Machiavelli draws upon ancient and modern examples of leaders in order to draw conclusions, generalizations, and opinions regarding how to acquire, govern, and maintain power.

Lorenzo de' Medici: The Duke of Urbino and the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent, he is the recipient of Machiavelli's work. Machiavelli originally intended to dedicate the work to Lorenzo the Magnificent's son, Giuliano de' Medici, but he died in 1516. Machiavelli dedicates the book to Lorenzo de' Medici in hopes that the young prince would restore Italy to its former glory. Machiavelli believes that Lorenzo de' Medici is in the best situation to unite the Italians because of his family's great influence in Florence and over the Church-Lorenzo's uncle being Pope Leo X.

King Ferdinand II : The king of Spain at the time Machiavelli wrote The Prince, King Ferdinand established his throne by marrying Isabella, uniting the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Known as The Catholic, King Ferdinand was closely associated with the Church, joining the Holy League in order to defeat France. He also succeeded in driving the Moors out of Spain in the name of religion. Machiavelli refers to King Ferdinand throughout the book, using him as an example of a ruler who has, through his shrewd political maneuverings, accomplished great things. King Ferdinand is said to preach peace and faith but his actions clearly betray his words. Yet, Machiavelli considers the king's apparent hypocrisy to be acceptable and even necessary. Machiavelli also praises King Ferdinand for undertaking great endeavors as to arouse awe in his subjects.

Francesco Sforza: Francesco Sforza is the primary example of a new prince who acquires his principality by his abilities. He was a soldier who rose through the ranks to become Duke of Milan in 1450 with the help of the Venetians. Machiavelli has high regard for Francesco Sforza because he was a mighty military leader. His sons, however, lost the throne because they rejected the life of military discipline. Machiavelli criticizes the castle Francesco Sforza built in Milan because the family's reliance upon it has kept them insulated from the people. This violates one of Machiavelli's most cherished rules: do not be hated by the people.

Cesare Borgia: The son of Pope Alexander VI who inherited much power and territory from his father, known as Duke Valentino, Cesare Borgia is considered by Machiavelli to have been a most capable leader and the embodiment of what a prince should be. Machiavelli suggests that an ambitious prince looking for a recent model to follow should imitate Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli uses many events of Cesare Borgia's life to illustrate how and why he was successful. Machiavelli believes that Cesare Borgia would have succeeded in uniting all of Italy had he not fallen ill. Examining Cesare Borgia's life, Machiavelli concludes that in order for a prince to ultimately succeed, he needs both ability and fortune.

Pope Alexander VI: Father to Cesare Borgia, Pope Alexander VI was a great leader who used his position and abilities to empower his son and consequently, the power of the Church. Cesare Borgia inherited much power and territory from his shrewd father. Machiavelli considers Alexander VI a master at the art of political deception. Through the military success of Cesare Borgia, Pope Alexander VI not only brought respect and prestige to the position of the pope and the Church, he helped establish his son as the most powerful prince in Italy until they both fell ill. Pope Alexander died soon after and Cesare Borgia, deathly ill, could not prevent his eventual downfall.

Pope Julius II: The successor to Pope Alexander, he continued to increase the power of the Church through military conquests and political maneuverings. Machiavelli commends the Pope for finding a novel way to raise money-the sale of ecclesiastical offices. Pope Julius succeeded in expanding the territorial boundaries of the Church and driving the French out of Italy by joining the Holy League. Machiavelli uses Pope Julius as an example of a ruler who succeeded because his political methods corresponded well with the times. Known to have acted impetuously in his military decisions, Machiavelli suggests that Pope Julius's successes were largely due to his impetuousness. Machiavelli concludes that being impetuous is usually better than inaction.

Minor Characters

King Louis XII: Machiavelli uses the military and political exploits of Louis XII in Italy as examples of what not to do in maintaining power over a newly conquered territory. Louis XII makes several crucial mistakes in his attempts to take Italy. Machiavelli, in describing the king's mistakes, emphasizes one key point: that he who causes another to become powerful ruins himself.

Moses: The biblical figure who led the Israelites out of Egypt. Machiavelli considers Moses to be one of the great princes who came to power through abilities rather than fortune. Although Moses is a special case because he was commanded by God, Machiavelli finds his leadership skills admirable. Machiavelli likens the current state of Italy to the Israelite's bondage in Egypt. Machiavelli pleads for a strong leader to lead the Italians to a similar Exodus from the hands of the 'barbarians.'

Cyrus: The founder of the Persian Empire (558-529 B.C.), Cyrus, in finding the Medes soft as a result of a long period of peace, defeated them and established an empire. Machiavelli lists Cyrus as one of the great princes who came to power by his abilities rather than fortune.

Romulus: The legendary founder of Rome. Machiavelli includes Romulus as one of the great princes who came to power through abilities rather than fortune.

Theseus: The legendary hero of Athens, Theseus is included as one of the great princes who came to power through abilities rather than fortune.

Savaronola: The Dominican friar who held power over Florence before the takeover by the Republican government that Machiavelli served under. Savaronola is an example of an unarmed prophet that falls.

Hiero of Syracuse: Machiavelli uses Hiero as a modern example of a prince who came to power by his abilities rather than fortune. Hiero was a private citizen who rose to power because of his remarkable leadership abilities. Hiero is an example of a ruler who relied on his own troops.

Pope Leo X: Lorenzo de' Medici's uncle. Machiavelli believes that the young Medici prince has the opportunity to unite all of Italy because he has all the resources available to succeed, including his uncle's support as head of the church. Machiavelli, in examining the successes of Pope Alexander VI and Pope Julius II, advises Pope Leo X to continue building up the church through his goodness.

King David: The biblical figure who becomes king of Israel after King Saul. Machiavelli recounts the story where David rejects King Saul's weapon and armor before going out to battle the giant, Goliath. The story is used to illustrate that one should never rely on the strength of another's army. A great prince should always command his own troops.

Philopoemen: Ancient general of the Achaean League (253-183 B.C.), Philopoemen is an example of a prince who was always engaged in the thoughts of military strategy. Because he studied the art of warfare, Philopoemen is said to have never experienced a situation in war where he did not know how to act. Plutarch calls him 'the last of the Greeks.' Machiavelli states that the primary task of a prince is to prepare for warfare, especially in times of peace.

Achilles: The legendary hero of Greek mythology, Achilles trained under Chiron, a centaur (half man, half beast). Machiavelli states that the ancient writers meant to show that a warrior needs to be trained in the fighting ways of both man and beast. The ways of man is through laws. The ways of the beast is through force.

Marcus Aurelius: A Roman Emperor who ruled fairly and moderately, he is the only Roman Emperor who did not come to ruin for not siding with the army. Machiavelli suggests that a wise prince must know how to rule judiciously like Marcus Aurelius, but only when his power is already established.

Septimus Severus: A Roman Emperor who, unlike Marcus Aurelius, ruled with force and cruelty, Septimus Severus knew how to be both the fox and the lion. He was respected by his soldiers and not hated by any of his people. A prince with similar abilities should imitate Septimus Severus in establishing his power.

Emperor Maximilian II: Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, he was considered to be a ruler who was not respected because he was given to changing his mind and never being decisive. Machiavelli warns that a prince who is not resolute in his decisions will never gain honor, especially among his advisers.

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