The Prince

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The Ancient World Symbol Analysis

The Ancient World Symbol Icon
Like his fellow Renaissance humanists, Machiavelli celebrated the achievements of the ancient world, championing the writings and accomplishments of Ancient Greek, Roman, and other Mediterranean civilizations. Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli invokes the great deeds and writings of the ancients, citing the Roman emperor Julius Caesar, the Greek historian Xenophon, the Persian ruler Cyrus, and the Carthaginian general Hannibal, among many others. Machiavelli frequently employs well-known ancient examples in order to illustrate the strategies and tactics outlined in The Prince, using the triumphs and foibles of ancient leaders in order to communicate and support his views on contemporary statecraft and warfare. Notably, Machiavelli uses antiquity in order to justify his call for Italian unification at the end of The Prince, quoting the Italian Renaissance poet Petrarch. Petrarch's pronouncement that the "old Romane valour [sic]" lives in the hearts of contemporary Italians suggested that Italians would soon take up the banner of unification, restoring the divided Italian peninsula to its Roman-era grandeur. Likewise, Machiavelli believed that he and his Italian countrymen were the rightful heirs of the Roman Empire and he sought to inspire Lorenzo dé Medici to fulfill his duty to reunify Italy and thus reclaim the rich cultural inheritance of antiquity.

The Ancient World Quotes in The Prince

The The Prince quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Ancient World. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Prince published in 2003.
Chapter 3 Quotes

The Romans did what all wise rulers must: cope not only with present troubles but also with ones likely to arise in the future, and assiduously forestall them. When trouble is sensed well in advance it can be easily remedied; if you wait for it to show itself any medicine will be too late because the disease will have become incurable. As the doctors say of a wasting disease, to start with it is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; after a time . . . it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. So it is in politics.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ancient World, Disease
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli praises the Roman politicians of antiquity for their attention to the details of society. By studying society carefully, the Roman leaders gave themselves a huge advantage: they could spot a potential problem early on and nip it in the bud.

The passage is important for a number of reasons. First, it exemplifies the Renaissance's emphasis on antiquity. During Machiavelli's lifetime, Italy rose to cultural prominence by reviving the spirit of the pre-Christian era; the era of Rome and Greece (and, in Machiavelli's opinion, a time before the vanilla rules of mercy and love were celebrated). Second, the passage establishes Machiavelli as one of the founders of modern political science. Machiavelli recognizes the importance of careful observation and study for governors and rulers. By understanding historical precedents and also getting the most current information about their subjects, rulers can use these tools to maintain power. In short, Machiavelli wants rulers to treat governing like a science--political science.


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The Romans . . . never, to avoid a war, allowed them [their troubles] to go unchecked, because they knew that there is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ancient World
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Machiavelli praises the Roman rulers of antiquity for their willingness to fight to the death to maintain power. Machiavelli proposes a rule for politics: once war becomes a possibility, it is inevitable.

Why is war inevitable? Machiavelli implies that it's the natural instinct of all rulers to maintain and expand their power--thus, when two sides become locked in a conflict for power, neither side will ever really back down. The only way to settle the conflict is to fight to the death.

Machiavelli's analysis of war is surprising because it's so amoral. Machiavelli never brings up concepts like right and wrong, good and evil, or justice and mercy--whatever one believes about love, Christianity, etc., violence is inevitable. Critics debate over whether Machiavelli is being prescriptive or descriptive here; i.e., whether he believes that the world really is an amoral, unmerciful place, or whether he thinks there's a place for religion, love, and affection, but it's outside the scope of politics.

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The Ancient World Symbol Timeline in The Prince

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Ancient World appears in The Prince. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Fortune and Prowess Theme Icon
The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon
...that he has gained through "long acquaintance with contemporary affairs and a continuous study of the ancient world ." The work is a summary and analysis of Machiavelli's hard-won wisdom. (full context)
Chapter 20
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
Goodwill and Hatred Theme Icon
The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon
...asserts, "I approve of this policy, because it has been used from the time of the ancient world ." Nonetheless, Machiavelli cites several modern examples that contradict this policy, referencing multiple leaders who... (full context)