bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

The real Machiavelli

If you are studying Machiavelli, you are most likely to want to hold in your hand a copy of at least two of his three most significant works: The Discourses, The Prince and The Florentine Histories. But every translation has its flaws, every edition has its own character, reflecting the interests of the editor and the competence of the printer as much as the author’s original intentions, so you should want to supplement your hard-copy by comparison with other versions available on-line.

It is also worth remembering that Machiavelli’s works began to be available in English from the later sixteenth century, with The Art of War being the first to be printed (and The Prince having to wait until nearly the onset of the Civil War). It can be worth comparing more recent attempts to render Machiavelli’s Italian with those of earlier generations, available through EEBO.

As often with popular texts, there can be more than one copy of the same edition or translation floating in the internet. On those occasions, the viewer’s choice can depend on personal taste, decided by factors like how you like to see the text presented, what background you find distracting. What follows is not an exhaustive listing, but attempts to guide you to what will be most useful. Here is some suggestions for each text in turn:

Discorsi sopra la prima Deca di Tito Livio (1513 – ?1519)

Unpublished in Machiavelli’s lifetime, the Discourses were printed twice soon after his death (in Rome and Florence, both in 1531). The modern critical edition was provided by Guido Mazzoni in the 1920s, and that is basis of the Italian text which is readily available. You can also read the text as it was presented in the Rome printing of 1531 (which, of course, does not include the dedication).

The first English translation, by Edward Dacres, appeared in 1636. The most widely available translation on-line is another seventeenth-century version by Henry Neville (1675), in the 1772 edition. Modern scholarly discussion would not cite that version but would refer to one of the four modern translations that compete for attention: the oldest is the Penguin edition by Leslie Walker, now revised; the second (and perhaps least often used) is by Allan Gilbert; the two most recent appeared nearly simultaneously (like the first editions of the work): the OUP World Classics by Julia & Peter Bondanella, and the Chicago translation by Harvey Mansfield. All of these are available through Google Books, with limited preview, meaning just a few pages are frustratingly missing.

If you are studying the Discourses, it is worth considering Francesco Guicciardini’s crabby response to the work, his Considerations, which are available on-line in Italian.

Istorie fiorentine (1520 – 25)

Machiavelli presented the eight books of the Florentine Histories in manuscript in May 1525; they were printed after his death in Florence in 1532. The Italian text best-known on the internet is, as for all the texts of Machiavelli on Biblioteca Italiana, taken from Martelli’s 1971 edition of Machiavelli’s Opere which, itself, is based on the 1929 edition by Guido Mazzoni and Mario Casella; this version is also available on Wikisource,

The Histories were the second work to appear in English, being printed in a translation by Thomas Bedingfield in 1595. A further translation appeared in 1674, and was reprinted in the eighteenth-century. In 1847, a new anonymous translation, entitled The History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy, appeared; it is this which, from later printings, is often posted on sites. It has had a long publication history, in part, perhaps, because the translator also provided other texts, including The Prince, but it has been superseded by two twentieth-century translations. One, by Allan Gilbert, is not available on-line; the other, and the one more usually cited, is the Princeton translation by Laura Banfield and Harvey Mansfield (once more, however, only available in limited preview from Mr Google — and this excludes all of books V to 8).

Il Principe (1513)

Unsurprisingly, this little work with an outsize reputation has a large presence on the web — which is more a bane than a boon to the student of Machiavelli. The democracy of the internet does not allow for a rigorous selection of candidates for public attention: poor scholarship which would be best left to die quietly is given a new lease of life, and good scholarship can be too precious (as in, too expensive) to venture more than momentarily into this marketplace.

As with the Histories, the Italian text of The Prince is available both on Biblioteca Italiana and Wikisource, once again taken from the Martelli edition. As I have mentioned, it was the last of Machiavelli’s main works to be translated into English, appearing in 1640 in a translation by Edward Dacres, who had already rendered the Discourses into English. The most widely available version on-line is that of W. K. Marriott, which appears with minimal annotation. The version you will want to use is that in the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series, edited by Quentin Skinner and Russell Price, but, sadly, only a limited preview is available on Google.

If you are studying The Prince, you will also be interested in Machiavelli’s letter to Francesco Vettori of November 1513, about his work ‘de principatibus’ that he was then writing. The letter is available on-line in Italian. In print, the Skinner & Price edition provides a translation of half the work; the web has the full text  in two translations. One of them presents the version by J. B. Atkinson and D. Slices from the 1996 edition of his correspondence, Machiavellli and his Freinds; the other provides a translation which is uncredited but is actually more fluent.

There are other works of Machiavelli’s that can deepen an historian’s understanding of his intellectual preoccupations. The most substantial of these is Dell’ Arte della Guerra, which was printed in his own lifetime, in 1521. The most faithful edition is based on that first printing (the editio princeps); it was published in 2001 and its text (though without notes) is available on-line; this is now preferable to the version provided by Biblioteca Italiana. Neither, it should be noted, reproduces the diagrams which appeared in the print version. The Art of War was also, as I have mentioned, the first of his texts translated into English, appearing in 1562 in a version by Peter Whitehorne which re-appears on-line. More frequently available, however, is the seventeenth-century translation by Henry Neville, which is in its most readable format on the University of Adelaide website. In hard copy, the rather loose rendition by Ellis Farneworth, first printed in 1762, is often re-printed but this does not appear on-line. The modern translation, published by Chicago in 2003 and produced by Christopher Lynch, is another of those available only in limited preview.

Another relevant work, written at about the same time as the Art of War but much shorter, is his Vita di Castruccio Castracani, an unlovable character whom Machiavelli manages to make entertaining. As well as the Italian text, there are several English versions on-line. Two renditions were made in the seventeenth century, but translators whom we have already mentioned: first Edward Dacres and later Henry Neville. W. K. Marriott’s translation, which appeared with his version of The Prince, is the most readily accessible on-line. A more recent and usable version is that by Allan Gilbert which, for once, Google allows you to read in full (it is in vol. ii, pp. 533 – 559).

For these and other works by Machiavelli, there are a few websites which can provide links to a range of texts. For the original Italian, as well as the Biblioteca Italiana, visit Progetto Manuzio. There is the personal site of Timo Laine; this Finnish student provides an impressive listing of texts available in Italian and English (though it exemplifies the problems of keeping up-to-date in the digital world). There is also the University of Adelaide e-book site, which usefully collects together texts in English, though it does not always cite which edition it is using (that of the Discourses, for instance, is the Neville translation).

Finally, wary of what I have just said about keeping up-to-date, I should provide a timeline for this listing: it was produced in September 2008.

One Response

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  1. ianchadwick said, on 17 May, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for your comments and the history. I have been studying Machiavelli extensively for my book on municipal politics, and have collected many translations of all of his works. I found the Constantine and Bondanella translations of The Prince the most approachable, but I have also come to appreciate Tim Parks’ recent translation. Parks clearly presents some of Machiavelli’s more convoluted passages. Mansfield I find very much like Marriott; at times a little too literal. Skinner’s version is also good. I have been reading Walker’s translation of The Discourses, the revised edition, but have ordered the Bondanella version as well, to compare both (I have the Detmold version as well). I like the Christopher Lynch translation of The Art of War, and appreciate his extensive notes. I have not read Gilbert’s translations except the letters, but he’s on my list for the near future. The most interesting work I found in my research was Bishop Stephen Gardiner’s treatise of 1555 that quotes extensively from Machiavelli, without attributing the material to him.


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