Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 14, 2023
December 7, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
When he writes in The Prince that a ruler must emulate the lion and the fox, Machiavelli means that great leaders are willing to use both force and cunning to get what they want. Throughout his tract, Machiavelli alternates between advocating a leonine and a fox-like style of leadership. He urges rulers to act with the ferocity and determination of a lion, yet he also encourages rulers to take a more thoughtful, flexible approach to statecraft. By introducing the metaphor of the lion and the fox, Machiavelli makes concrete an idea that appears and reappears throughout his writing: Successful princes are both decisive warriors and subtle thinkers.
The lion/fox pairing reminds us that politicians should possess equal measures of cleverness and brute strength. Machiavelli presents Achilles as an ideal leader—a literary figure who was tutored by Chiron the Centaur and so ruled with the intelligence of a man and the instincts of a beast. Like a lion, Achilles could get past the “wolves” he encountered on the battlefield, but like a fox, he could also get past the subtler snares of rival politicians. Lions are associated with nobility and straightforwardness, but Machiavelli points out that an effective governor must occasionally lie and commit sins of omission. Like Pope Alexander VI, great men will deceive their followers if the deception is in the followers’ best interests. Thus, Machiavelli’s prince combines boldness and sly wordplay, force and diplomacy.
The rest of The Prince builds on the opposing images of the lion and the fox. Repeatedly, Machiavelli encourages princes to mimic the uncomplicated resolve of a lion. When taking over a new principality, a prince should simply kill the existing royal family—without trying to win the family’s favor, strip them of their power, or send them into exile. A strong prince should not attempt to use words to restore order to a scene of international chaos; instead, he should immediately declare war. If pressed, a prince should choose impetuousness over caution, for, as Machiavelli memorably writes, fortune is “a woman” who wants to be dominated. In each of these cases, shocking, leonine bloodlust is Machiavelli’s enthusiastic prescription.
At other times, Machiavelli counsels more cautious and clever tactics for solving political problems. It’s hard to picture a lion consulting an adviser, yet Machiavelli urges princes to seek out smart, well-intentioned men who will not hesitate to offer unflattering opinions. Lions do not often cultivate friendships with their enemies, yet Machiavelli writes that a prince’s best allies are those among his subjects who seem to distrust him. (Skepticism is a sign of intelligence, and a thoughtful dissident is a worthier colleague than an earnest and brainless supporter.) Lions aren’t known for their duplicity, yet Machiavelli encourages rulers to make false statements; your subjects will not care if you have lied to them, as long as the lie promotes the peace and stability of your kingdom. By advocating conferences, elaborate tactical maneuvers, and dishonesty, Machiavelli endorses the habits of a fox over the habits of a lion.
The dueling images of the lion and the fox have captivated readers for centuries because they quickly illustrate the complexity of Machiavelli’s politics. It isn’t fully possible to be both a cunning schemer and a beast, and yet political longevity depends on both subtlety and resolve. A great prince drowns out his critics and kills his rivals; a great prince also displays humility and tolerance. The difficulties implied by the fox/lion metaphor may account for the pessimism of Machiavelli’s second to last chapter, in which the great thinker admits that every man is powerless before the “violent torrents” of fortune.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Prince!