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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 26

The last chapter serves as both a summary of Machiavelli's major thoughts and a final patriotic call for Lorenzo to seize the initiative and move swiftly to free Italy of foreign domination.

Reviewing his previous discussions, and thinking the time is right for Italy to be led by a new prince, Machiavelli wishes that the opportunity to liberate Italy be given to a prudent and virtuous man who would establish a new form of government that would bring honor to himself and happiness to the people. He cites past examples of heroic leaders who heeded similar calls and rose to the heights of glorious victory: Moses, who came forth to lead the enslaved people of Israel to freedom and the Promised Land; Cyrus, who arose to free the Persians from their slavery to the Medes; and Theseus, who emerged to unite the Athenians.

Now, he says, it's time for another heroic figure to step forward and save the Italians, who are in worse bondage than the Jews, more enslaved than the Persians, more scattered than the Athenians.

Although there once had been someone who seemed ordained to redeem Italy (an allusion to Cesare Borgia?), he was checked by fortune-at the very peak of his career-and Italy remains today lifeless, waiting for someone else to heal her wounds. And there is no one at present in whom Italy could place more hope than in the house of Medici-which, with its virtue and fortune, is favored by both God and the Church. It will be an easy task to win, says Machiavelli, if Lorenzo will first carefully study the lives and actions of the three men just named.

NOTE:

The impassioned "exhortation" to liberty that concludes The Prince again underscores the role of virtu in Machiavelli's scheme of thought. He reverts to the leaders mentioned in Chapter 6 to imply that nothing less than a union of their astonishing abilities with the greatest good fortune and virtue will save Italy from destruction. He also adds that the "glorious family" of the Medici possesses all the qualities necessary for leadership.


The obvious note of patriotism has led some readers to interpret the chapter as an open invitation to any prince or party capable of assuming power to seize the opportunity and attack the foreign intruders. Most readers, however, accept Machiavelli's effort in the concluding chapter as a sincere attempt to speak directly to Lorenzo, so that there is no misunderstanding about the author's call to arms. The use of poetry at the end, the biblical references, and the historical names only seem to enhance the urgent nature of his plea.

The Italian people have great courage, he reminds Lorenzo, even if their leaders do not. Look at their duels and their encounters when there are but a few on either side, and discover how superior they have shown themselves to be in strength, dexterity, and ability. But when it comes to their armies, these qualities do not appear because of the inferiority of their leaders, who cannot command obedience from those versed in the art of war. That is why, Machiavelli warns Lorenzo, he will have to provide himself with a national army as the foundation of his enterprise. And Italian soldiers will become even better when they are united and know that they're led by their own prince, who will honor and support them.

Machiavelli also points out that Lorenzo should remember from history that the infantry of both the Swiss and the Spaniards have noticeable defects, which would permit the newly organized Italian forces not only to resist them, but also perhaps to vanquish them. For example, the Spaniards cannot withstand the attack of cavalry, and the Swiss dread well-trained, resolute infantry. Machiavelli tells Lorenzo that, knowing these defects, he can organize a new system of infantry that will be effective against both. This is one of the things, he says, that will bring fame and greatness to a new prince.

Having given his final advice, Machiavelli expresses the gratitude and love that all Italians will feel when their nation is finally liberated. The moment must not be allowed to pass, he repeats. With what thirst for vengeance, with what persistent faith, with what devotion, and with what tears, he says, the people will rush to greet Lorenzo when Italy is at last freed from these foreign foes! To seal his patriotic plea that Lorenzo help Italy recover its ancient fame, Machiavelli offers a stirring quotation from the beloved Italian poet Petrarch:

Courage will take up arms Against the barbarian, and may the struggle be brief; For the valor of old is not yet extinguished In Italian hearts.

NOTE:

Although the final chapter is the most eloquent in The Prince, it is also one of the most misunderstood. The obvious change in style, especially the frequent use of imagery, has led some readers to suggest that it may have been added to the book as an afterthought some years later. Far more important, it seems, are the compassion and dignity that Machiavelli exhibits here. Who could fail to be motivated to action after being compared to Moses, or other well-known and revered heroic figures?

This passionate tone in the last chapter is a glimpse beyond the cold, calculating portrait of Machiavelli seen in most of The Prince and is also an indication of how tragic the political situation in Italy had become. The nation was being ravaged by foreign invaders, such as the Swiss, the French, and the Spaniards, and the only salvation for the people would be the emergence of an imaginative and forceful leader who could appeal to all the factions of the Italian city-states and give the nation a common goal. Unfortunately, there was to be no such redeemer during Machiavelli's lifetime. The passionate handbook of the art of ruling dedicated to Lorenzo was apparently dismissed by the Medici. It is quite possible that Lorenzo never even read The Prince and that he died unaware of what Machiavelli had so carefully tried to spell out for him.

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