Machiavelli’s dedication of The Prince—with the heading “Niccolò Machiavelli to the Magnificent Lorenzo de’ Medici”—is a letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici, who was the nephew of Giovanni de’ Medici (Leo X) and became duke of Urbino in 1516. Machiavelli offers his book with customary humility, commenting that it is stylistically simple and unworthy of his audience. Machiavelli describes his book as a summary of his “understanding of the deeds of great men,” intended to help Lorenzo de’ Medici achieve eminence as a prince.
Machiavelli begins by offering a short defense of why he, an ordinary citizen, should know more than rulers about the art of ruling. He uses a metaphor to justify himself: a person standing on a mountain is best positioned to survey the landscape below, and a person standing below is best positioned to survey the mountain. Similarly, writes Machiavelli, “to comprehend fully the nature of people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the nature of princes one must be an ordinary citizen.” Implicit in this claim is the idea that the removed perspective of an observer is a more reliable guide than practical experience, and a better means of improving the art of ruling.
The dedication gives the reader an idea of Machiavelli’s intended audience. Though the book has a scholarly tone, it is not for fellow scholars. The Prince is meant to advise, instruct, and influence the minds of rulers. It was, originally, a kind of practical “how-to” guide for aspiring princes. Only later did The Prince become regarded as an important treatise on political philosophy.