Why was Machiavelli a Renaissance Man?  

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The term "Renaissance man" is used to refer to a highly educated individual with a well-rounded and versatile set of skills and abilities. The European Renaissance produced many such individuals. Niccolo Machiavelli is known primarily for his political treatise Il Principe (The Prince ). In this famous work, Machiavelli...

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The term "Renaissance man" is used to refer to a highly educated individual with a well-rounded and versatile set of skills and abilities. The European Renaissance produced many such individuals. Niccolo Machiavelli is known primarily for his political treatise Il Principe (The Prince). In this famous work, Machiavelli describes the qualities of a shrewd and successful political leader. This is clearly his most famous accomplishment. In fact, a politician who acts ruthlessly in the name of securing power is today described as being Machiavellian. However, his skills extended far beyond describing the political machinations of his time, which placed him among the other great Renaissance men of the period. Let us look at some of Machiavelli's other talents.

For starters, Machiavelli served as a diplomat. At the start of the sixteenth century, Machiavelli was employed as an envoy to the Vatican. It was there that he observed the ruthless and often brutal methods employed by Pope Alexander VI, who was trying to extend his political control over central Italy.

Machiavelli served as a civil servant. In 1494, he was appointed the head of the Florentine chancery. It was there that he oversaw the drafting of official government documents, giving him an inside look at Florentine politics.

Machiavelli was also a leader of the Florentine militia. He reorganized the fighting force to be less reliant on mercenaries and recruited a large number of local soldiers to serve in its ranks.

Like most other Renaissance men, Machiavelli also had a love for the arts. One of his many skills involved playwriting. One such play is called Clizia. It was written especially for an extravagant party hosted by the Florentine patron Jacopo di Filippo Falconetti in 1525. This comedy was revolutionary for the theater of the time in that it involved musical interludes between the different acts. The music was also composed by Machiavelli. In fact, Machiavelli enjoyed writing music, particularly bawdy carnival songs.

As we can see, Machiavelli had many talents. He was a statesman, a political theorist, a writer, a playwright, a musical composer, a bureaucrat, and a military leader. As a master of so many skills, Machiavelli clearly deserves the title of Renaissance man.

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Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is considered a "Renaissance Man" due in no small part to the fact that lived during the Renaissance era of European history, a period that spanned the 14th through 17th centuries, and that produced some of the greatest art and academic achievements in human history. 

The phrase "Renaissance Man" generally denotes an individual, usually male, who excelled in multiple endeavors and/or fields. Perhaps the most compelling figure of the era to be given that moniker was Leonardo da Vinci, whose scientific observations and artistic accomplishments remain among the most compelling and enduring in history. Machiavelli, while not an artist, a category most often associated with "Renaissance Men," deserves consideration in this discussion by virtue of his personal history of military and diplomatic service to the ruling elite of Florence while also producing works of political theory that remain widely studied today. From his perch atop Florentine governing institutions, Machiavelli observed and was influenced by the brutal policies of the Borgias, including the reigning pontiff of the time, Alexander VI, and, as importantly, the Medici, who conquered Florence and imprisoned Machiavelli for a period of time.

Machiavelli's most enduring works include The Prince and Discourses, which collectively provide a sort of blueprint for retaining political power over great expanses of territory. Even his name, Machiavelli, became a part of the world's lexicon, with politicians and others known for shrewd, calculating practices intended to influence surroundings somewhat derisively referred to as "Machiavellian." Machiavelli, however, was simply, and thoughtfully, reflecting the prevailing political practices of his time. He was interested in what precisely was required to succeed in politics, and the political atmosphere in Florence during his lifetime left little room for more liberal interpretations. 

Does all of this constitute sufficient accomplishment to warrant the label "Renaissance Man?" The answer is somewhat subjective, but Machiavelli's enduring influence on political thought, born of an inarguably fascinating personal history, deserves to be considered alongside the contributions of other prominent figures of his era.

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