Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: September 2009

6 - The strategy


Since the Senecan princely ideology which I have been so far examining was by no means the only classical vocabulary available to Renaissance monarchical regimes wishing to couch their claims to political authority in a humanist idiom, I am not about to suggest that a deconstruction of the theory of De clementia is Machiavelli's sole preoccupation in Il Principe. The Roman theory of monarchy has almost nothing to say, for example, about any of the basic ideas which Machiavelli is attacking in Chapter XVI in his comments on the evils of princely liberality. We might do better, as Skinner indicates, to turn instead to the seven books of Seneca's De beneficiis for further illumination of conventional thinking on this subject, since the treatise had for centuries provided pre-humanist and humanist writers with an incomparably sustained philosophical treatment of the quality. Nor does De clementia really focus on the dilemma of flattery at court, the subject of Chapter XXIII of Il Principe, although even here, as Skinner also notes, Machiavelli is certainly involved in reversing at least one of the more usual pieces of advice proffered to princes on a Senecan basis. Although my concluding section will concentrate on the ways in which Machiavelli is engaged in controverting a specifically neo-Senecan political and moral argument in his theory, its aim is not to minimise the importance of his engagement with a host of other Roman classical writers, from Sallust to Tacitus.