De principe libellum.

Basel, Pietro Perna, 1560


FIRST EDITION thus. 8vo, pp. (16), 176, (14). Dedicatory letter and main text in Roman letter, indexes in Italic, a little Greek. Large printer’s woodcut device on title-page, woodcut historiated initials. Light age yellowing, very rare spotting, t-p a little dusty, small tear to lower margin of p. 9, p. 99 slightly misprinted. A very good, clean copy in early to mid-1700’s calf, spine gilt, cover edges gilt, paper edges sprinkled red, wear to corners.

First Latin translation of the most celebrated political treatise, by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), Florentine historian and the founder of modern political science. The “Prince” (Il Principe) was written in 1513 but not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death.  The work was dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence from 1469 to 1492, and had a deep influence on political thinking throughout Europe. Machiavelli believed that “politics was a science to be divorced entirely from ethics, and nothing must stand in the way of its machinery. Many of the remedies he proposed for the rescue of Italy were eventually applied” (“Printing & the mind of man”, p. 37).

Commissioned by the Italian printer Pietro Perna, this Latin edition was by the reformed Umbrian exile Silvestro Tegli and published as a work of reformist propaganda in Basel, an investment centre attracting a large number of exiles from all over Europe. After moving from Lucca as a refugee in 1542, Perna became one of the outstanding figures in the Basel book trade. Machiavelli’s writings, and particularly the “Prince”, placed by the Catholic Church on the “Index of Forbidden Books” (1559), embodied the ideal of political and religious freedom, in contrast with Calvin’s theocratic ideas (L. Perini, Gli eretici Italiani del Cinquecento e Machiavelli, “Studi storici”, 10, 1969, pp. 877-910). At a time when Latin was still considered the universal language of science and government, despite the flowering of the vernacular, this edition made Machiavelli’s “Prince” accessible for the first time to the whole cosmopolitan community of intellectuals. The translation was essentially faithful to the original, except for the omission of some too compromising passages and a stylistic reworking, marked by the use of rhetorical formulas.

This edition includes 26 chapters and an opening dedication to the Polish noble Abraham Zbąski, a pupil of Curione, replacing the original preface to Lorenzo de’ Medici. The chapters can be divided into four sections: 1-11 on the four types of principalities or states (hereditary; mixed; new principalities which can be acquired by several methods, including criminal; ecclesiastical, namely the Papal states); 12-14 on the different types of armies (mercenaries or hired soldiers, considered dangerous and unreliable; auxiliaries; native troops; mixed) and the proper conduct of a Prince as a military leader; 15-23 on the ruler’s character and behaviour; 24-26 on the critical situation of Italy under foreign powers. The final chapter is an exhortation to the Medici to supply the Prince who will lead Italy out of humiliation. Machiavelli mantains that ruling could occasionally require methods including brute force and deceit so the Prince had better be cruel and able to break promises when keeping them would be against his own interest. At the same time the Princes must avoid making themselves hated as the goodwill of the people is a better defence than any fortress. Machiavelli explained that the rulers of Italy have lost their states by ignoring fundamental political and military principles and that only a few of them can face Fortune which controls half of human affairs. The political commentary extensively drawn from examples of current political and social events, as well as from ancient history, mentions many political leaders of the time, and particularly Francesco Sforza, mercenary general who became Duke of Milan, and his son Ludovico the Muurish; Pope Alexander VI, corrupt leader of the Catholic church, and his son Cesare Borgia, Duke of Valentinois and conqueror of Romagna, who represented Machiavelli’s ideal Prince.

Only a copy of this edition recorded in Italy (Lecce, Biblioteca Innocenzo XII), according to ICCU. USTC 677992; VD16 M9; Adams, M 46. Not in BM STC It. Not in Brunet or Graesse.


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