by Larry Peery

That’s right; Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince turns 500 this month! Is that important, you might wonder? In a word — YES! If you studied Italian, The Classics, History, Political Science, Diplomacy, or Literature in college or university the chances are very high that you met Machiavelli’s The Prince along the way. In fact, you may still have a copy of the book or the game Machiavelli in your bookcase or attic, even if you haven’t looked at either in a generation. Still, it’s a book and game gamers, and especially Dippers, hang on to. If you visit any respectable new or used bookstore, especially on a college campus, the chances are extremely high that you’ll find a few new and a lot of used copies of The Prince on their bookshelves. Just look in the History or Political Science sections. gives The Prince its highest rating with some 14,000 mentions on its web site and scores, if not hundreds, of versions of this literary classic and political primer. Interesting, The Prince has been translated into more languages and published in more editions than any other book by an Italian author. So, in light of all this it is totally appropriate that the 500th anniversary of The Prince be celebrated in style; which means as only the Italians can do it. As for the game Machiavelli, copies of it are available all over the internet, including and eBay. You can even find the rules and such online. Chris told me he’s running some kind of Machiavelli event online as well, which is what prompted this article. I liked the quote, from Wikipedia, I think, that described Machiavelli as being “like Diplomacy, only harder.”

Perhaps the only thing more prevalent than editions of The Prince are biographies of the author, Niccolo Machiavelli, and small wonder, he’s a fascinating subject for a biographer and reader. Every generation seems to rediscover Machiavelli and find its own way to interpret his masterpiece and his life. One recent biography, by an Italian naturally, I found interesting is Niccolo's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli by Maurizio Viroli, translated by Antony Shugaar (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000). A good review of Viroli’s book appears in The Original Spin Doctor: A new biography of Niccolo Machiavelli by Alexander Stille in the New York Times, 3 December 2000. After reading the Viroli book, other information and reviews online, I came to the conclusion that Machiavelli may have been writing about a Prince (e.g. Borgia) but that his own life was the real story for Dippers. In fact, reading his biography and then reading The Prince through the eyes of a Diplomacy player brings a whole new peerispective to both.

Other good reads on Machiavelli are Machiavelli’s The Prince: Still Relevant after All These Years by John O’Rourke, in a piece for the Boston University newspaper. O’Rourke writes, “In a recent interview with the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond was asked which book he would require President Obama to read if he could. His answer? Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, written 500 years ago.” The article also includes an interview with historian James Johnson on The Prince. Just a few weeks ago the New York Times revisited Machiavelli just in time for The Prince’s 500th anniversary in a story, Why Machiavelli Matters by John T. Scott and Robert Zaretsky. It’s a typical NY Times piece, good writing and good research. The authors tell the story of Machiavelli dedicating to Lorenzo Medici, a member of the family who had ordered his torture just before he wrote his work after being banned from his second rank position in the Florentine bureaucracy. Machiavelli tried to persuade Lorenzo that he was a friend and would make a good advisor because of his experience in politics and knowledge of the ancients. Sort of reminds me of something Edi Birsan would write if he’d been around then. History does not tell us if Lorenzo bothered to read the book. But if he had, he would have learned from his would be friend that there are, in fact, no friends in politics, and true friendships are few and far between among players of Machiavelli and Diplomacy.

Perhaps not since the visit of the Mona Lisa to Washington in 1962 that I mentioned in an earlier piece has a single Florentine captured the attention of Washington’s powerhouses and glitterati, if not the hundreds of thousands that flocked to see the Mona Lisa, the way The Prince did. Instead, a few hundred movers and doers among Washington’s “insiders” gathered at the Italian embassy one night last November to attend the opening of “The Prince and Its Era, 1513-2013,” fresh from an exhibit in Rome where it drew large crowds. After remarks by the Italian ambassador, a member of the Italian Constitutional Court, and various Machiavelli scholars, the doors were opened and the American politicos trooped in. One picture says it all, I think, although I can’t think of anyone who would compare Nancy Pelosi’s shark-like smile with the inscrutable one of either the Mona Lisa or The Prince:

The exhibit is divided into four sections: “The historical background of The Prince, “About The Prince”, where one of the nineteen original manuscripts is displayed (property of Perugia’s Public Library) — and if you’re in the market for one a first English language edition published in London shortly after its original Italian publication will cost you about USD 75,000 from a dealer, not on eBay. The third section is “worldwide copies of The Prince” and the exhibition ends with a final section showing how Machiavelli became part of popular culture, featuring stamps, movies and even video game representations of the author. One pundit at the opening was heard telling the story he heard in Naples that when one Mafioso got mad at another he would send him a “Machiavelli Special” pizza — which came with double-edged razor blades embedded in the crust.

For more information on the exhibit check out the Aspen and Treccani Institutes join forces for Machiavelli showcase article, which is available online at the Aspen Institute Italia website.

While The Prince tours in Washington this month; Florence is opening its own tribute to Machiavelli in an exhibit entitled “Machiavelli, The Prince from Florence to San Casciano.” Catch it if you can.

The Italian ambassador described Italy in the 16th century (which seems strange as Italy did not yet exist at that time, so let’s assume he means Florentines” as “sanza capo, abbuta, spogliata” (without head, beaten, despoiled). But he believes Italy could be redeemed. On the other hand, an Italian scholar from Perugia who curated the exhibit described Machiavelli as an ambiguous figure, an ambassador, a politician and a novelist all at once.” Combine the two and you have a true Renaissance man and, I suspect a typical Machiavelli and Diplomacy player then and now.

Those of you who are National Public Radio fans may recognize the name Sylvia Poggioli. You’ll certainly know her voice if you listen to her broadcast of 27 May, 2013 available on in At 500, Machiavelli’s The Prince Still Inspires Love And Fear. She points out, as no one at the Italian embassy exhibit opening ceremonies did, that the there was no love lost between Machiavelli and the Church (e.g. in other words, The Borgias) and that in fact The Prince was banned by the Inquisition and spent years on the index of banned books.

I’ve avoid the temptation to sprinkle quotes from The Prince through this article in the hopes you’ll seek them out yourself, But here are three things Machiavelli did write and one he did not:

  • “My view is that it is desirable to be both loved and feared; but it is difficult to achieve both and, if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

  • “The promise given was a necessity of the past, the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

  • “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”

  • “The end justifies the means.” (he came close, but he never wrote that)

For lots more on the exhibit just do a Google search on “Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince and its Era”. And if you’re planning on attending WACCon in Seattle this month be sure to bring a copy of Machiavelli with you, and be on the look-out for Italians with inscrutable smiles…

Larry Peery

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