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Niccolo Machiavelli

Birthdate: 3. May 1469
Date of death: 21. June 1527

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer of the Renaissance period. He has often been called the father of modern political science. He was for many years a senior official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned in the Italian language. He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his most renowned work The Prince in 1513.

"Machiavellianism" is a widely used negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians of the sort Machiavelli described most famously in The Prince. Machiavelli described immoral behavior, such as dishonesty and killing innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. He even seemed to endorse it in some situations. The book itself gained notoriety when some readers claimed that the author was teaching evil, and providing "evil recommendations to tyrants to help them maintain their power". The term "Machiavellian" is often associated with political deceit, deviousness, and realpolitik. On the other hand, many commentators, such as Baruch Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, have argued that Machiavelli was actually a republican, even when writing The Prince, and his writings were an inspiration to Enlightenment proponents of modern democratic political philosophy. In one place, for example, he noted his admiration for the selfless Roman dictator Cincinnatus.

Works

The Prince
The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli
Discourses on Livy
Discourses on Livy
Niccolo Machiavelli
The Art of War
Niccolo Machiavelli
Florentine Histories
Niccolo Machiavelli

„Women are the most charitable creatures, and the most troublesome. He who shuns women passes up the trouble, but also the benefits. He who puts up with them gains the benefits, but also the trouble. As the saying goes, there's no honey without bees.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli

Le più caritative persone che sieno sono le donne, e le più fastidiose. Chi le scaccia, fugge e fastidii e l'utile; chi le intrattiene, ha l'utile ed e fastidii insieme. Ed è 'l vero che non è el mele sanza le mosche.
Act III, scene iv
The Mandrake (1524)

„Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Variant trans: Everybody sees what you seem, but few know what thou art.
Ch. 18
Variant: Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are
Source: The Prince (1513)
Context: Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them.

„The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 18
Variant translations of portions of this passage:
Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word.
Ch. 18. Concerning the Way in which Princes should keep Faith (as translated by W. K. Marriott)
A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.
You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second.
Context: A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this.
Context: How laudable it is for a prince to keep good faith and live with integrity, and not with astuteness, every one knows. Still the experience of our times shows those princes to have done great things who have had little regard for good faith, and have been able by astuteness to confuse men's brains, and who have ultimately overcome those who have made loyalty their foundation. You must know, then, that there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second. It is therefore necessary to know well how to use both the beast and the man. This was covertly taught to princes by ancient writers, who relate how Achilles and many others of those princes were given to Chiron the centaur to be brought up, who kept them under his discipline; this system of having for teacher one who was half beast and half man is meant to indicate that a prince must know how to use both natures, and that the one without the other is not durable. A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.... those that have been best able to imitate the fox have succeeded best. But it is necessary to be able to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler.

„The Romans never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don't just go away, they are only postponed to someone else's advantage.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 3 (as translated by RM Adams). Variants [these can seem to generalize the circumstances in ways that the translation above does not.]: The Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only put off to the advantage of others.
There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.
Context: The Romans never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don't just go away, they are only postponed to someone else's advantage. Therefore, they made war with Philip and Antiochus in Greece, in order not to have to fight them in Italy... They never went by that saying which you constantly hear from the wiseacres of our day, that time heals all things. They trusted rather their own character and prudence — knowing perfectly well that time contains the seeds of all things, good as well as bad.

„Anyone who studies present and ancient affairs will easily see how in all cities and all peoples there still exist, and have always existed, the same desires and passions.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book Discourses on Livy

Book 1, Chapter 39
Discourses on Livy (1517)
Context: Anyone who studies present and ancient affairs will easily see how in all cities and all peoples there still exist, and have always existed, the same desires and passions. Thus, it is an easy matter for him who carefully examines past events to foresee future events in a republic and to apply the remedies employed by the ancients, or, if old remedies cannot be found, to devise new ones based upon the similarity of the events. But since these matters are neglected or not understood by those who read, or, if understood, remain unknown to those who govern, the result is that the same problems always exist in every era.

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„The demands of a free populace, too, are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicious that it is going to be oppressed…“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book Discourses on Livy

Book 1, Ch. 4 (as translated by LJ Walker and B Crick)
Discourses on Livy (1517)
Context: The demands of a free populace, too, are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicious that it is going to be oppressed... and, should these impressions be false, a remedy is provided in the public platform on which some man of standing can get up, appeal to the crowd, and show that it is mistaken. And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields when a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.

„How laudable it is for a prince to keep good faith and live with integrity, and not with astuteness, every one knows.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 18
Variant translations of portions of this passage:
Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word.
Ch. 18. Concerning the Way in which Princes should keep Faith (as translated by W. K. Marriott)
A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.
You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second.
Context: How laudable it is for a prince to keep good faith and live with integrity, and not with astuteness, every one knows. Still the experience of our times shows those princes to have done great things who have had little regard for good faith, and have been able by astuteness to confuse men's brains, and who have ultimately overcome those who have made loyalty their foundation. You must know, then, that there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second. It is therefore necessary to know well how to use both the beast and the man. This was covertly taught to princes by ancient writers, who relate how Achilles and many others of those princes were given to Chiron the centaur to be brought up, who kept them under his discipline; this system of having for teacher one who was half beast and half man is meant to indicate that a prince must know how to use both natures, and that the one without the other is not durable. A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them.... those that have been best able to imitate the fox have succeeded best. But it is necessary to be able to disguise this character well, and to be a great feigner and dissembler.

„I say that every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel. He must, however, take care not to misuse this mercifulness.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 17, as translated by Luigi Ricci (1903)
Variant translations of portions of this passage:
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.
He ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.
The prince who relies upon their words, without having otherwise provided for his security, is ruined; for friendships that are won by awards, and not by greatness and nobility of soul, although deserved, yet are not real, and cannot be depended upon in time of adversity.
Context: I say that every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel. He must, however, take care not to misuse this mercifulness. … A prince, therefore, must not mind incurring the charge of cruelty for the purpose of keeping his subjects united and confident; for, with a very few examples, he will be more merciful than those who, from excess of tenderness, allow disorders to arise, from whence spring murders and rapine; for these as a rule injure the whole community, while the executions carried out by the prince injure only one individual. And of all princes, it is impossible for a new prince to escape the name of cruel, new states being always full of dangers. … Nevertheless, he must be cautious in believing and acting, and must not inspire fear of his own accord, and must proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence does not render him incautious, and too much diffidence does not render him intolerant. From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved more than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting. For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger, and covetous of gain; as long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours; they offer you their blood, their goods, their life, and their children, as I have before said, when the necessity is remote; but when it approaches, they revolt. And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined, for the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is merited but is not secured, and at times is not to be had. And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

„It is undoubtedly necessary for the ambassador occasionally to mask his game; but it should be done so as not to awaken suspicion and he ought also to be prepared with an answer in case of discovery.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli

"Instructions given by Niccolo Machiavelli to Rafael Girolami, Ambassador to the Emperor," The History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy: From the Earliest Times to the Death of Lorenzo the Magnificent; Together with The Prince, and Various Historical Tracts, H.G. Bohn, Editor, p.505–06 (1854).
Context: Now, in order to execute a political commission well, it is necessary to know the character of the prince and those who sway his counsels;... but it is above all things necessary to make himself esteemed, which he will do if he so regulates his actions and conversation that he shall be thought a man of honour, liberal, and sincere. The latter point is highly essential, though too much neglected, as I have seen more than one so lose themselves in the opinion of princes by their duplicity, that they have been unable to conduct a negotiation of the most trifling importance. It is undoubtedly necessary for the ambassador occasionally to mask his game; but it should be done so as not to awaken suspicion and he ought also to be prepared with an answer in case of discovery.

„They trusted rather their own character and prudence — knowing perfectly well that time contains the seeds of all things, good as well as bad.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 3 (as translated by RM Adams). Variants [these can seem to generalize the circumstances in ways that the translation above does not.]: The Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only put off to the advantage of others.
There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.
Context: The Romans never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don't just go away, they are only postponed to someone else's advantage. Therefore, they made war with Philip and Antiochus in Greece, in order not to have to fight them in Italy... They never went by that saying which you constantly hear from the wiseacres of our day, that time heals all things. They trusted rather their own character and prudence — knowing perfectly well that time contains the seeds of all things, good as well as bad.

„Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred; for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together, and will be always attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 17
Context: Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred; for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together, and will be always attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women. And when he is obliged to take the life of any one, to do so when there is a proper justification and manifest reason for it; but above all he must abstain from taking the property of others, for men forget more easily the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Then also pretexts for seizing property are never wanting, and one who begins to live by rapine will always find some reason for taking the goods of others, whereas causes for taking life are rarer and more quickly destroyed.

„This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 6
Context: It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

„For war is made on a commonwealth for two reasons: to subjugate it, and for fear of being subjugated by it.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book Discourses on Livy

Book 1, Ch. 6 (as translated by LJ Walker and B Crick)
Discourses on Livy (1517)
Context: I am firmly convinced, therefore, that to set up a republic which is to last a long time, the way to set about it is to constitute it as Sparta and Venice were constituted; to place it in a strong position, and so to fortify it that no one will dream of taking it by a sudden assault; and, on the other hand, not to make it so large as to appear formidable to its neighbors. It should in this way be able to enjoy its form of government for a long time. For war is made on a commonwealth for two reasons: to subjugate it, and for fear of being subjugated by it.

„And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields when a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book Discourses on Livy

Book 1, Ch. 4 (as translated by LJ Walker and B Crick)
Discourses on Livy (1517)
Context: The demands of a free populace, too, are very seldom harmful to liberty, for they are due either to the populace being oppressed or to the suspicious that it is going to be oppressed... and, should these impressions be false, a remedy is provided in the public platform on which some man of standing can get up, appeal to the crowd, and show that it is mistaken. And though, as Tully remarks, the populace may be ignorant, it is capable of grasping the truth and readily yields when a man, worthy of confidence, lays the truth before it.

„I do feel this: that it is better to be rash than timid, for Fortune is a woman, and the man who wants to hold her down must beat and bully her.“

—  Niccolo Machiavelli, book The Prince

Source: The Prince (1513), Ch. 25 (as translated by RM Adams)
Context: I conclude, then, that so long as Fortune varies and men stand still, they will prosper while they suit the times, and fail when they do not. But I do feel this: that it is better to be rash than timid, for Fortune is a woman, and the man who wants to hold her down must beat and bully her. We see that she yields more often to men of this stripe than to those who come coldly toward her.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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