Essay about Virtù in Machiavelli’s Prince

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For most contemporary readers, Niccolò Machiavelli is a name synonymous with deceit, cunning, and manipulation, a reputation which stems almost entirely from his authorship of one of the central works of modern political philosophy: The Prince. Given this image, it is incredibly ironic that the Italian word virtù and its derivatives appear no less than seventy-two times throughout the work. While the translator goes to great lengths to adapt this versatile word to the context of the situation, it is nevertheless clear that virtù is closely related to its English cognate virtue. This, along with the political nature of Machiavelli’s work, shapes the discourse about the nature of princedoms into one in which the author explores the more …show more content…
There is, however, a troubling aspect to this kind of scale, leading to an important question for those seeking more virtù. If one copies the actions of another person, how is it that one can ever be greater than the person whom he imitates; at the very least, how can human history itself escape being a story of increasingly mediocre statesmen? The only way to resolve this seeming issue is to understand how Machiavelli first conceives of virtù. In Chapter Six, the majority of the discussion regarding virtù centers on the value of the abstract notions of skill and strength of character. Even in the passages that deal with Moses, Romulus, Cyrus, Theseus, and Hiero, the only tangible, imitable advice the reader receives is to disband an old militia, drop old friends, and arise at an opportune moment. This hardly seems enough to take over a state given the immense difficulties with which such an action is associated. Machiavelli, at least in the beginning, has removed the scaffolding from the building he has created, leaving the reader to wonder what exactly he should replicate to gain virtù.
Chapter Eight provides a crucial insight with respect to virtù in the work. In it, Machiavelli advises the reader that “one ought not, of course, to call it virtù [virtue or manliness] to massacre one’s fellow citizens, to
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