Read an Excerpt
Art of War
By Niccolo Machiavelli
University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2003 Niccolo Machiavelli
All right reserved.
BOOK ONE - OF THE ART OF WAR
by Niccolo Machiavegli, Florentine Citizen and Secretary, to Lorenzo di Filippo Strozzi, Florentine Patrician Because I believe that one can praise any man without reproach after his death, since every cause and suspicion of adulation have passed away, I will not hesitate to praise our Cosimo Rucellai, whose name will never be recalled by me without tears, since I knew in him those things that can be desired by friends in a good friend and by his fatherland in a citizen.  For I do not know what was so much his (not even excepting his soul) that it would not have been willingly spent by him for his friends; I do not know of any undertaking that would have frightened him wherein he had recognized the good of his fatherland.  And I confess freely that I have not found among the many men I have known and dealt with, a man in whom there was a spirit more on fire for great and magnificent things.  Nor in his death did he complain to his friends of anything else but of being born to die young in his own houses and unhonored without having been able, as accorded with his spirit, to help anyone. For he knew that nothing else could be said of him except that a good friend had died.  It does not stand because of this,however, that we, and anyone else who knew him as we did, cannot vouch for his praiseworthy qualities because his works did not appear.  It is true that fortune was not, however, so much an enemy to him that he did not leave any brief record of the dexterity of his talent, as some of his writings and compositions of love verses show. In these, although he had not been in love, he used to train himself in his youthful age so as not to consume his time in vain, until fortune had conducted him to higher thoughts. Therein one can clearly understand with how much felicity he would have described his concepts and how much he would have been honored in poetry if it had been practiced by him as his ultimate purpose.  Since, therefore, fortune has deprived us of the use of one [who was] so much a friend, it appears to me that one cannot make other remedies--the best that are possible for us to seek--than to enjoy his memory and repeat anything that may have been subtly said or wisely disputed by him.  And because nothing regarding him is more fresh than the discussion that Lord Fabrizio Colonna had with him in his gardens in recent times (where the things of war were disputed at length by that lord, both subtly and prudently questioned in good part by Cosimo), and having been present with some other friends of ours, it seemed [well] to me to recall it to memory so that by reading it the friends of Cosimo who convened there may refresh the memory of his virtue in their spirit, and others may, on the one hand, complain about not having been there and, on the other hand, learn many things useful not only for military but also civil life, wisely disputed by a very knowledgeable man.
 I say, therefore, that while returning from Lombardy, where he had soldiered for a long time for the Catholic King to his own great glory, Fabrizio Colonna decided as he passed through Florence to stay in that city for some days so as to visit His Excellency the Duke and to see again some gentlemen with whom he had had some acquaintance in the past.  Hence it seemed [well] to Cosimo to invite him to a banquet in his gardens, not so much to use his liberality as to have cause to speak with him at length, and to understand and learn various things from him in accordance with what one can hope for from such a man, since it appeared to him to be an opportunity to spend a day discussing those matters that satisfied his spirit.  So according to his wish, Fabrizio came and was received by Cosimo together with some other of his trusted friends, among whom were Zanobi Buondelmonti, Batista della Palla, and Luigi Ala-manni, all youths loved by him and very ardent for the same studies, whose good qualities we will omit because every day and every hour they are their own praise.  Therefore, according to the times and the place, Fabrizio was honored by all of them with the greatest honors possible. But convivial pleasures passed, the tables cleared, and every order of celebration concluded--which are concluded promptly in the presence of great men who have turned their minds to honorable thoughts--since the days were long and the heat great, Cosimo, so as better to satisfy his desire, judged that it would be well to go to the most secret and shady part of his garden, using the opportunity of fleeing the heat.  Having arrived there and taken seats, some on the grass, which is very fresh in that place, and some on the benches ordered in those parts under the shade of very tall trees, Fabrizio praised the place as delightful. And considering the trees individually and not recognizing some of them, he stopped, his spirit un-certain.  Having discerned this, Cosimo said: "You perhaps do not have knowledge of some of these trees. But do not marvel at this, for some of these are more celebrated by the ancients than by the common usage today."  And [Cosimo] having told him their names and how his grandfather Bernardo had exerted himself so much in cultivating them, Fabrizio replied: "I was thinking that what you say might be so; and this place and this study were making me remember some princes of the Kingdom who delight in these ancient growths and shades."  And at this, having stopped speaking and been for a while in reflection as if uncertain, he added: "If I did not believe I would offend, I would state my opinion; but I do not believe I would, since I am speaking with friends so as to dispute things and not to calumniate them.  How much better they would have done, may it be said with everyone's leave, to seek to be like the ancients in the strong and harsh things, not in the delicate and soft ones, and in those that they did under the sun, not in the shade, and to take up the modes of the true and perfect antiquity, not the false and corrupt one. For after these studies pleased my Romans, my fatherland went to ruin."  To which Cosimo responded... But so as to avoid the trouble of having to repeat many times "this one said" and "the other one added," only the names of the speakers will be noted, without recounting anything else.  Thus said
COSIMO.  You have opened the way to a discussion such as I was desiring, and I beg you to speak without respect, because I will question you without respect. If while questioning and replying I excuse or accuse someone, it will not be for the sake of excusing or accusing, but for understanding from you the truth.
FABRIZIO.  And I will be very content to tell you what I understand of all that you will ask me; whether it will be true or not, I will refer to your judgment.  And I will be grateful for your questioning of me, because I am going to learn as much from your questioning me as you from me in responding to you. For many times a wise questioner makes one consider many things and recognize many others that one would never have recognized without having been asked.
COSIMO.  I want to return to what you said before: that my grandfather and those [princes] of yours would have acted more wisely by being like the ancients in harsh rather than in delicate things. I want to excuse my family because the other I will leave to you to excuse.  I do not believe there was, in his times, a man who detested the soft life as much as he, and who was so much a lover of that harshness of life that you praise. Nonetheless, he recognized that he was not able to make use of it personally or with his own children, since he had been born in an era of so much corruption, wherein one who wanted to part from the common usage would be defamed and vilified by everyone.  Because if in the summer, under the highest sun, an individual were to roll around naked on the sand, or on the snow in the winter in the frostiest months, as Diogenes used to do, he would be held to be crazy.  If, like the Spartans, an individual were to raise his children in the country, make them sleep in the open, go with head and feet naked, and wash in cold water so as to harden them to be able to withstand evil and so as to make them love life less and fear death less, he would be jeered and held to be a beast rather than a man.  If one were also seen to eat vegetables and to despise gold, like Fabricius, he would be praised by few and followed by no one.  So, frightened by these present modes of living, he left behind the ancients, and in that which he could with less amazement imitate antiquity, he did so.
FABRIZIO.  You have vigorously excused him in this regard, and certainly you speak the truth. But I was not speaking so much of those hard modes of living, as of other more humane modes and those that have more conformity with life today, which I do not believe would have been difficult to introduce for one who is numbered among the princes of a city.  I will never depart from my Romans as the example for anything.  If one were to consider their life and the order of that republic, one would see in it many things not impossible to introduce into a city where there was still something good.
COSIMO.  What are these things, similar to the ancient ones, that you would like to introduce?
FABRIZIO.  To honor and reward the virtues, not to despise poverty, to esteem the modes and orders of military discipline, to constrain the citizens to love one another, to live without sects, to esteem the private less than the public, and other similar things that could easily accompany our times.  These modes are not difficult to persuade [men of] when one thinks about them much and they are entered into by due degrees. For in them truth appears so much that every common talent can be capable of it. Whoever orders that thing plants trees under the shade of which one resides more happy and more glad than under this.
COSIMO.  I do not want to make any reply to what you have said; rather, I wish to allow the judgment of it to be given to these, who can easily judge it. And thinking by this path to be more easily satisfied in my intention, I will turn my speech to you, the accuser of those who are not imitators of the ancients in grave and great actions.  I would therefore like to know from you whence it arises that, on the one hand, you condemn those who are not like the ancients in their actions, and on the other, in war, which is your art and in which you are judged [to be] excellent, one does not see that you have used any ancient means or [ones] that bear any likeness to them.
FABRIZIO.  You have turned up exactly where I was expecting you, for my speech merited no other question, nor did I desire another.  And although I might save myself with an easy excuse, nonetheless, since the season allows it, I want to enter into a longer discussion for my and your greater satisfaction.  Men who want to do something must first prepare themselves with every industriousness to be set to satisfy that which they have set themselves to do when the opportunity comes.  And because when the preparations are made cautiously they are not recognized, one cannot accuse anyone of any negligence if it is not discovered before the opportunity. But after that, by his not taking action, one sees either that he did not prepare well enough or that he has not thought in any way of this.  And because no opportunity has come to me to make it possible to show the preparations made by me so as to be able to bring back the military to its ancient orders, if I have not brought it back, I cannot be blamed for it by you or others.  I believe that this excuse should be enough as a response to your accusation.
COSIMO.  It would be enough if I were certain that the opportunity had not come.
FABRIZIO.  But because I know that you can doubt whether or not this opportunity has come, I want to discourse at length, if you want to listen to me with patience, on what preparations are necessary to make before, what opportunity must arise, what difficulty impedes so that preparations do not help and so that the opportunity does not come, and how this thing is, though the terms seem contrary, at once very difficult and very easy to do.
COSIMO.  You cannot, both for me and for these others, do anything more welcome than this. And if speaking will not be tiresome to you, listening will never be tiresome to us.  And because this discussion must be long, with your permission I want help from these friends of mine. And they and I beg one thing of you, that you not be annoyed if sometimes we interrupt you with some importunate question.
FABRIZIO.  I am very content, Cosimo, that you with these other youths here should question me. For I believe that youth makes you more friendly to military things and more ready to believe what will be said by me.  By already having white heads and ice in their veins, some of these others are accustomed to being enemies of war; some [are] incorrigible, like those who believe that the times and not wicked modes constrain men to live thus.  So all of you, question me securely and without respect. I desire this both because it would be a little rest for me and because I will be pleased not to leave any doubt in your minds.  I want to begin from your words, where you said that in war, which is my art, I had not used any ancient means.  About this I say that as this is an art by means of which men cannot live honestly in every time, it cannot be used as an art except by a republic or a kingdom. And the one and the other of these, when it was well ordered, never consented to any of its citizens or subjects using it as an art, nor did any good man ever practice it as his particular art.  Because he will never be judged good who engages in a career in which, by wanting to draw utility from it in every time, he must be rapacious, fraudulent, violent, and have many qualities that of necessity make him not good. Nor can the men who use it as an art, the great as well as the small, be made otherwise, because this art does not nourish them in peace. Hence they are necessitated either to plan that there not be peace or to succeed so much in times of war that they can nourish themselves in peace.  And neither one of these two thoughts dwells in a good man. For from wanting to be able to nourish oneself in every time arise the robberies, the acts of violence, and the assassinations that such soldiers do to friends as well as to enemies. And from not wanting peace come the deceptions that the captains use on those who hire them so that war may last. If peace does indeed come, often it happens that the heads, being deprived of their stipends and living, set up a flag of fortune without restraint and pillage a province without any mercy.
Excerpted from Art of War by Niccolo Machiavelli Copyright © 2003 by Niccolo Machiavelli. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.