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Agathocles the Sicilian . . . from a low and abject position, became king of Syracuse. The son of a potter, he led a wicked life through all the stages of his career; nevertheless, he coupled with his wickedness such vigor [virtù] of mind and body that, after joining the army, he rose through its ranks to become military governor of Syracuse. Once established in this position, [he] decided to become prince and hold through violence and without any obligation to others that which had been granted to him by common consent[.]
Those [cruelties] can be called well used (if it is permissible to say “well” about evil) which are done at one stroke, out of the need to make oneself secure, and which afterwards are not persisted in, but are converted to the greatest benefits possible for one’s subjects. Those are badly used which, although they are few at first, grow over time rather than being extinguished. Those who follow the first method can find some remedy for their condition with God and men[.]
He who attains princely rule with the help of the great will maintain his position with greater difficulty than he who becomes prince with the help of the people, because he finds himself to be prince amidst many who think themselves his equals, and for this reason, he is unable to command and manage them to his liking.
[A] prince cannot lay his foundation on what he sees in quiet times, when the citizens have need of the state, because . . . each one is willing to die for him when death is far away; but in times of adversity, when the state has need of its citizens, then few of them are found. And this experience is all the more dangerous in that it can only be had once. And therefore, a wise prince must think of a way by which his subjects will always and in all circumstances have need of his state and of him, and then they will always be loyal to him.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Prince!