The Prince

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The Fox and The Lion Symbol Analysis

The Fox and The Lion Symbol Icon
Machiavelli uses the metaphor of the fox and the lion to explain the combination of cunning and strength that a prince must possess in order to maintain control of his state. Machiavelli stresses that a prince must learn how to imitate both the fox and the lion so that he may draw on the necessary attributes of these "beasts" when circumstances demand it. According to Machiavelli, a prudent ruler must adapt to new situations and problems, acting as a fox "in order to recognize traps" and as a lion when he must "frighten off wolves." Machiavelli argues that the lion "is defenseless against traps" while the fox "is defenseless against wolves" and other physical threats; therefore, a prince must mimic the behavior of both types of beasts in order to benefit from their complementary talents and to overcome their differing weaknesses. As a fox, the prince can use cunning statecraft and diplomacy to sidestep traps and other pitfalls. As a lion, the prince can use physical force in order to maintain his power over his subjects and enemies. Taken individually, neither of these talents will spell a prince's success; but combined, the diversified skillset – political cunning backed by the threat of physical force – is formidable. The fox and the lion represent a meeting of opposites and a wise ruler will strive to master and combine the unique skills of both beasts.

The Fox and The Lion Quotes in The Prince

The The Prince quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Fox and The Lion. 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 18 Quotes

So, as a prince is forced to know how to act like a beast, he must learn from the fox and the lion; because the lion is defenseless against traps and a fox is defenseless against wolves. Therefore one must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Fox and The Lion
Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the most famous passages in The Prince, Machiavelli argues that a good leader must be both clever and powerful. Throughout history, leaders have ruled because of the strength of their armies; other leaders have stayed in power because of their cleverness and wiliness. The ideal ruler, however, will use every resource at his disposal--i.e., he'll be both strong and clever.

The passage sums up the argument about war and force that Machiavelli has been making throughout his book. The ideal prince, we've seen, mustn't be afraid to use his army to crush his opponents. And yet too many princes are too quick to use their armies--they're too much like a lion and not enough like a fox. It's better for a ruler to be perpetually prepared to go to war, while using his charisma and "soft power" to prevent such a possibility.

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The Fox and The Lion Symbol Timeline in The Prince

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Fox and The Lion appears in The Prince. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 12
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
..."sound foundations" or he will "come to grief." The main foundations of all states "are good laws and good arms ." Because it is impossible to have good laws without good arms (military power), and... (full context)
Chapter 18
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
Fortune and Prowess Theme Icon
Virtue vs. Vice Theme Icon
...a ruler must learn to act like a beast, Machiavelli urges princes to study " the fox and the lion ." The lion is "defenseless against traps" but can easily "frighten off wolves." Conversely, the... (full context)
Chapter 19
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
Fortune and Prowess Theme Icon
Goodwill and Hatred Theme Icon
Virtue vs. Vice Theme Icon
The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon
Machiavelli elevates Severus, who as a new prince ably acted "the part of both a fox and a lion ," as an "outstanding" example for new rulers. Under the pretext of avenging Pertinax's death,... (full context)