In Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, how does the author's choice of examples reflect the humanist cultural ideas of the Renaissance?
Numerous commentators have noted that Machiavelli was a modernist political thinker in that he rejected universal principles of morality and ethics to posit a form of statecraft based on exigency and contingency. Even the Catholic Church was explored only as a political institution in a work that was essentially secular. This secularism was, to some extent, associated with the humanism prevalent in Machiavelli's time, one which made "man the measure of all things." But humanism was essentially marked by a reexamination of classical texts, which, it was argued, held valuable lessons for today.
While he is not necessarily concerned with the political thought of the ancients as such, Machiavelli constantly refers to examples from antiquity to support his arguments. He argues against the use of mercenaries, for example, by pointing to the problems that mercenary troops caused for Carthage in the Punic Wars. He cites "Philippoeman, Prince of the Achaians, as an example of a leader who kept abreast of the arts of war. And he turned to a famous Roman general to illustrate the downfalls of being too lenient:
...we may see from the case of Scipio, one of the greatest Captains, not of his own time only but of all times of which we have record, whose armies rose against him in Spain from no other cause than his too great leniency in allowing them a freedom inconsistent with military strictness. With which weakness Fabius Maximus taxed him in the Senate House, calling him the corrupter of the Roman soldiery.
Machiavelli also cited examples of recent politics in Italy as examples of good or bad statecraft, which was in itself humanistic in nature. But by choosing examples from antiquity, he situated himself well within the tradition and the idiom of Renaissance humanism.