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Niccolò Machiavelli (3 May 1469 - 21 June 1527) a Florentine patriot, diplomat and political scientist. His books were one of the first ever to be placed on the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books by the Jesuits.

His famous book Il principe (The Prince, written 1513 and published 1532) is a technical book on politics that was more realistic than anyone likes to admit, even today. Dedicated to Lorenzo de' Medici, it offered advice to rulers as to what they must do to achieve their aims and secure their power. Its significance lies in the fact that Machiavelli's advice ignores the usual ethical rules. There had not been so frank a rejection of morality since the Greek Sophists. Machiavelli was an early political scientist, concerned only with setting out what human beings are like and how power is maintained, with no intention of passing moral judgment on the state of affairs described. In any case, Il principe gained instant notoriety, and Machiavelli's name became synonymous with political cynicism and deviousness. In spite of the chorus of condemnation, the work has led to a sharper appreciation of the difference between the lofty ethical systems of the philosophers and the practical realities of political life.

One of the reasons why Machiavelli is so difficult to translate is that he is such a stylish writer. We are told that he always put on his best clothes before he sat down to work at his desk, and one can well believe that he did, for he is so elegant, and ceremonious, while allowing himself the utmost freedom in the play of words.

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Last modified: September 04, 2002