A prince ought to follow the nature of the lion and of the fox, not of the one without the other. (The Prince, chapter 18, 19)
You must understand that men fight in two manners; one with laws, when matters are handled by reason, the other with force. The first is proper to men who have the use of reason, the second pertains to beasts, which have neither reason nor intelligence. But because the first is not sufficient to keep men and to maintain them, enjoining things belonging to them, one must often have recourse to the second, which is force. Wherefore it is needful that a prince can well play the beast and the man together, as our elders have taught, when they wrote that Chiron the centaur, half man and half beast, was given as an instructor to the prince Achilles. For hereby he gave to understand that a prince ought to show himself a man and a beast together. A prince then being constrained to know well how to counterfeit the beast, he ought among all beasts to choose the complexion of the fox and of the lion together, and not of the one without the other. For the fox is subtle, to keep himself from snares, yet he is too weak to guard himself from wolves; and the lion is strong enough to guard himself from wolves, but he is not subtle enough to keep himself from nets. A man must then be a fox to know all subtleties and deceits, and a lion to be stronger and to make wolves afraid. The emperor Didius Julianus knew well how to play the fox, in promising soldiers great sums of money to obtain the empire. For after he was chosen he then played a fox’s part, deceiving them in giving them much less than he promised; but not knowing withal how to play the lion, he was soon overthrown. For Severus, who was cunning to play both, came against him with great force, and he was slain by his own soldiers of his guard, who went to Severus’ side. Meanwhile Severus, seeing the captain Albinus was in Gaul with a puissant army, and the captain Niger in the Levant likewise with a great army, he played the fox, to allure them by fair words, so they would not hinder him in obtaining the empire; for he feared them because they had great forces in their hands, and because they were more noble and of more ancient houses than he. He made them great promises, especially to Albinus to associate him the in empire, and to give him the name and authority of Caesar, which was the like title as at this day is King of the Romans. And as for Niger, he held his children in hand as hostages, under color of honor and favor, so that he feared him less. As soon as he had thus by playing the fox with deceit stayed Albinus and Niger, he ended his enterprise to make himself known a peaceable emperor; but after this, taking unto him the nature of the lion, he turned his forces against Albinus and Niger and overcame them both, one after another. So that by knowing well how to play these two beasts, the lion and the fox, he made himself a peaceable emperor without competitor. Contrarily, the emperor Maximin, after he was elected emperor by the soldiers of his host, could not play the part of the fox, but only that of the lion; which was the cause that he endured not, and that many were elected to hinder his quiet possession of the empire, and in the end he was overthrown and slain by his own soldiers.
Machiavelli has not yet handled a discourse more worthy of his sufficiency than this. For he teaches by this maxim the manner to be a beast, and especially how a prince should in all his behavior use himself like a beast. Think you, I pray, that to teach how being a man, you may imitate a beast, is a small matter? I know well that our Machiavellians will say that herein is hidden a secret of philosophy, and that Machiavelli means that a prince should be as subtle as a fox, and violent like a lion; not that he must go with four feet, or that he must dwell in the deserts of Arabia, or in holes in the woods, or commit other such like actions as the fox and lion do. I am content to agree to them this moral sense, and that their master meant here to declare some singular and memorable doctrine; let us now come to examine it. He says then, when a prince cannot fight like a man, that is, by reason, he ought to fight like a beast, that is, to use force and subtlety. To this I answer that a prince in his quarrel has either reason or right on his side, or else he has them not. If not, he ought not to fight against any man, for each war ought to have its foundation upon reason, as elsewhere we have showed. If the prince has reason on his side, and his opponent refuses to come to reason, then the prince may justly constrain him by force of arms. And this is not called fighting like a beast, or a lion, but as a man using reason; who employs his own corporal force, and the force of his horses, of his armies and walls, and of all other things offensive and defensive, to serve for instruments and means to execute what reason commands and ordains. So that force employed to its right use is nothing but a servant of reason, which obeys her in all her commandments; and therefore therein there is nothing of a beast, and those who thus employ their forces do nothing that holds of a beast. As for guile and subtlety, I say likewise, that in war a man may lawfully use subtleties against his enemies, if his faith and the rights or war are not violated, and this is not called foxlike subtlety, or unlawful deceiving, but it ought to be called military prudence. And therefore in war to use subtlety, fraud, and military sharpness of wit (for all those names may be well used), is not to counterfeit the beast, nor to play the fox. But I know well that Machiavelli is of another mind, namely, that a prince is not bound unto right, faith, or religious promise, to hinder him that he may not use now force, now subtlety, according as the one or the other may best serve him, to come to the end he pretends. For of faith and promise, or of right and reason, men may not speak in Machiavelli’s school unless to mock those who esteem them most holy bands of human society. But concerning faith and promises, we shall have another maxim wherein we shall rip up this matter to the bottom; but here I will only show that these foxlike subtleties and deceits whereof Machiavelli means in his speech, do not ever succeed well to those who use them, but most commonly they fall into their own nets.
When Hannibal by means of an ambush had entrapped the captain Marcellus, lieutenant general of the Roman army, who was there slain, he found on him his sealing ring. He considered a subtle device, namely, to write to the Salapians in the name of Marcellus, by which he sent them word that the next night he would come into Salapia, and that they should hold the garrison of the town ready. Crispinus, the lieutenant of Marcellus, knowing Hannibal to be a master of subtle inventions, sent through all the towns word that Marcellus was dead and his ring in Hannibal’s hands, and that they should believe no letter under the name of Marcellus. The Salapians, having received this notice and Hannibal’s letters, also put their garrison in arms; and as Hannibal approached the town, he put in the first ranks those who could speak the Roman language. As soon as they arrived at the gates, they called the guards; who, playing their parts, took up the portcullis and let about six hundred of Hannibal’s soldiers in. Then they let fall the portcullis and cut in pieces all who entered; which caused Hannibal thus to be taken in his own net. Thus was he discovered for a fox, and often they turned his own nets upon him, as they do upon foxes by bending their nets backward. And truly it is most often seen that such subtleties as taste of treachery and disloyalty succeed not well. For as captain Quintius said to the Aetolians: “Subtlety and audacious counsels are at first very agreeable and pleasant; but to guide, they are difficult and hard, and full of sorrow in the end.”
Concerning this subtlety and perfidious deceit, a notable advice is given by the Senate of the ancient Romans. The Romans being upon the point to move war against Perseus of Macedonia, they first sent ambassadors unto him, and among them Martius Phillipus, to know the designs of the king and to try if he would repair the faults and injuries which he had committed against the Romans. The ambassadors found the king slenderly prepared for war, and altogether indisposed to acknowledge or repair his faults. Therefore making him understand that he need look for nothing at the Romans’ hands but amity, and that he might easily look for a good peace or truce, with this hope they left him and returned to Rome. Soon after they arrived, they declared to the Senate all that they had done in Macedonia, and especially how they deceived king Perseus in making him believe that he might at his pleasure have peace or truce, wherein they thought to have done well. But the old senators answered them that they did not like nor would they countenance such treaties as not beseeming the Romans; and that their ancestors did not vanquish their enemies by deceits and subtleties, nor by battles at night, nor by feigned flight, nor by other deceits, but by true and perfect virtue. For their custom was ever to announce war before they began it, sometimes even assigning the place of battle. Our ancestors, moved with this sincerity and loyalty, would not employ the physician of their enemy king Pyrrhus, who offered to poison his master for a certain sum of silver, but they revealed to the king the disloyalty of the physician. Also by this sincerity they would not take the children of the Falisques, who were delivered by their own schoolmaster, but sent the schoolmaster bound and all his scholars back again to the Falisques. And that such doings become the Romans well, and not to use the subtle deceits of the Punics or the craftiness of the Greeks, who esteemed it more honorable to deceive their enemy than to vanquish him. And that although for the present time subtlety has profited, yet the enemy vanquished by deceits never holds himself for vanquished, but only acknowledges himself surmounted by true virtue without any subtlety or deceit. Behold what was the opinion of these old and wise senators, who rejected and despised the foxlike subtleties whereof Machiavelli makes such great account.
In 1383 the Duke of Anjou, brother of Charles the Wise, went into Italy with a puissant army to conquer Naples and Sicily. Among other lords who accompanied him in this voyage was the Earl of Savoy, who led a good company of knights. As they were in Poville and Calabria, seeing none to resist them, they began to devise a place where they might assuredly have resistance; and it was made known to the Duke of Anjou that the strongest place in the country was the egg-castle of Naples, which is built in the sea, within which Charles de la Paix remained. The duke enquired by what means he might come to have it; then came to him an enchanter, who said he would help him get it in the way he helped Charles. “And how is that?” answered the duke. “Sir,” said the enchanter, “I will cause a gross and thick cloud to arise out of the sea, which shall have the form of a bridge, whereof your enemies shall be so afraid that they shall yield themselves to you.” Replied the duke, “Yea but can men pass upon that bridge?” “I will not assure that, for as soon as any make the sign of the cross as they pass, or in any way cross their legs or their arms, all will fall to the ground and go to nothing” The duke began to laugh, and sent to the Earl of Savoy to have counsel upon this matter. The earl asked the duke to send the enchanter to his chamber; next morning the duke sent him. When this enchanter arrived, Savoy said to him: “Well, sir, you say you will make us enjoy the egg-castle?” “Yes, sir, for Charles, who now possesses it, obtained it by my means; and I know he fears me more than all the forces that can come against it.” “Well,” replied the earl, “I will deliver him from that fear, and I will not have him say that so many brave knights as we are could not vanquish so weak an enemy as Charles de la Paix but by means of an enchanter.” He called the hangman and had the enchanter’s head cut off. For this wise earl had no mind to vanquish by deceits and enchantment, but by true and natural virtue. And surely generous hearts always disdain crafts, subtleties, and deceits, which cannot last long; for after a prince or captain has a name to use it, and when a thing is to be done seriously and plainly, men always think they intend some subtlety or deceit. And if it succeeded well for Severus’ deceit, so it does not for all men, nor for most. And Severus was greatly defamed for such frauds, but his other virtues made him prosper.
But should we call this beastliness or malice, what Machiavelli says of Chiron? Or has he read that Chiron was both a man and a beast? Who has told him that he was delivered to Achilles to teach him that goodly knowledge to be both a man and a beast? Xenophon says that Chiron was Jupiter’s brother (so great a man he makes him), full of great knowledge and of all virtue, generosity, piety, and justice. Nay he says further, that Asclepius, Nestor, Amphiaraus, Peleus, Telamon, Theseus, Ulysses, Castor, Pollux, Aeneas, Achilles, and almost all great persons who the Greeks place among their gods, learned from him the virtues whereby they have obtained immortal praise and the reputation to be gods. He also says that Chiron was not in the time of Achilles, but long before; but because Achilles was instructed and nourished in his discipline, virtue, and manner of life, men say he was Achilles’ instructor. True it is that the poets have called him a centaur, because he took great pleasure in riding horses and in hunting, which are exercises well befitting a prince. Although he loved horses and the exercise of knighthood, yet he was never esteemed to hold anything of a beast, but rather of the divinity, as being endowed with all excellent virtues which bring men near God and take them farthest from beasts. And therefore the beastly malice of Machiavelli is seen in perversely abusing the example of that valiant and generous prince Achilles, to persuade a prince not to stick to govern himself after the imitation of beasts; this is false and devised, for Chiron rather held of divinity than of a beast, neither was Achilles instructed but in all heroic virtues. And we do not read that he ever used any foxlike subtlety or unlawful policy, or any other thing unworthy of a magnanimous prince well nourished and instructed in all high and royal virtues.
But since Machiavelli travails so much to persuade princes to learn how to play the lion and the fox, why does he not persuade them also to carry those two beasts in their arms? We see many which bear lions, because it is in some things a generous and noble beast, but there are seldom seen in any arms any foxes portrayed; because every noble and generous man who loves virtue, disdains and hates all deceit, falsehood, and foxlike dissembling, as things very unfit for gentlemen. The Machiavellians who esteem it so fit that a prince should know how to play the lion and the fox together, should carry it in their arms, the more to authorize this maxim; but they would not be known to be what they are, so they might better deceive the world, and lest men cry after them, “The fox!”