Machiavelli’s The Prince as a Satire:
An Exploratory Look at Machiavelli’s Works to Determine His True Political Inclinations
Relationship to The Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy
During his exile, Machiavelli began to draft the first chapters of a work on republics known as The Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy. This work relied partially on the conversations and discussions held at the Orti Oricellari meetings Machiavelli attended and partially on Livy’s history of Rome. The Orti Oricellari conversed about political matters and historical and literary ideals, creating a wonderful opportunity for Machiavelli to discuss ideas with his fellow literati.33 The three-book work that emerged from these discussions uses historical examples and Machiavelli’s own observations about republics to supplement the commentary on Livy’s history of Rome. The first book focuses on the “development of Rome’s constitution,” Book Two covers Roman expansion mainly through the act of war, and the third book is most similar to The Prince with its commentary on “Rome’s great men” and their individual leadership.34 It is important to keep in mind that the same author wrote both The Prince and The Discourses on Livy; a juxtaposition of the two works gives the reader an idea of the conflict in Machiavelli’s views and life that should be kept in mind.
Based on the evidence, Machiavelli intended to write about states of all types, but because of the wide topic, he divided it into two works. The Prince starts out broad, stating that there are only two types of states – republics and principalities; he goes on to divide principalities further into hereditary or newly acquired and then divides these further. In Book Three, Discourse Three of The Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli writes that he has already discussed a tyrant “at length elsewhere,” referring to The Prince.35 He saw that politics deals with only two different types of government and discussed one in The Prince and the other in The Discourses on Livy. This two-volume work idea is not new; Pasquale Villari writes that The Discourses on Livy and The Prince would “form together a single and more complete work.”36 He believed that critics who view the works separately do not see the entire picture and hinder their interpretations. If the works should be considered one larger work, then studying only The Prince or just The Discourses on Livy could be likened to reading only half of a novel or watching half of a movie and then critically analyzing the media—it just does not make much sense.
The Discourses on Livy describes the historical events that the Roman historian Livy wrote about and commented on in his history of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita); Machiavelli’s work is an “extended meditation on maintaining republican rule,” quite the opposite of The Prince.37 With The Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli discussed specific examples found in Livy’s works and applied them to Renaissance politics and history. The nineteenth-century historian Jacob Burckhardt expressed how many “wonderful insight[s]” about “principles, observations, comparisons, political forecasts, and the like” can be found in The Discourses on Livy.38 These ideas meld the characteristics of a true republic with some traits to make the government more successful. For example, Machiavelli recommends ways to keep the republican constitution while maintaining its ability to change with the times. According to Garrett Mattingly, the main theme of the discourses is that “popular rule is always better than the rule of princes.” 39 This contradiction to The Prince seems to be the theme of most of Machiavelli’s other works as well. It is also an ideal that Machiavelli believed in and recommended to others. The most interesting and useful part of his political career occurred when the government was a republic, encouraging the people to participate. He also suggested to the Pope that Florence should be given back to its people, allowing Florence to become a republic again after the death of the ruling Medici leaders. This suggestion comprises Machiavelli’s Discourse on the Florentine Government.