Machiavelli and traditional renaissance humanist ideas

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The late 14th through 16th centuries were a period of substantial political, economic, and religious reform in the European continent. The reform movement occurring at this time would later be coined the Renaissance or Rebirth, referring to the revival of antiquity and the humanities within European society. Renaissance scholars, artists, and writers were infatuated with the ancient Greek and Roman cultures and in particular, the emphasis of the ancient texts on the individual and statesmanship.

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Two Renaissance scholars who were particularly outspoken in their interest of these texts from antiquity were Niccolo Machiavelli and Baldassare Castiglione. Both authors were devout students of Roman literature from the likes of Thucydides and the famous orator and humanist Cicero. Cicero and the two renaissance authors had much in common which is perhaps why Cicero’s work had such a profound impact on them. In the year 60 BC, the empire of Rome was facing imminent threats from Lusitania and many other rogue nations. Cicero was very outspoken in his opposition of enemies of the state such as Mark Anthony and made very clear to the people of Rome in his speeches the guidelines for what an honorable and virtuous ruler and citizen must look like. Similarly, in Machiavelli and Castiglione’s time, Italy was under constant siege from nations such as England and France and Machiavelli made it a point in his The Prince to thoroughly lay out the parameters for an ideal individual and strong ruler of Italy. Ultimately, the common thread amongst the works of Castiglione, Machiavelli, and Cicero is the emphasis on how self-improvement and human achievement can benefit society and the individual.

The 1430’s were a tumultuous time in the Italian empire. Alexander Borgia had bribed his way into the papal office and there was a large power vacuum within which no central government or monarchy existed.

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