Thursday, November 12, 2009

Niccolo and Me


Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Do you have what it takes to rule a Principality?

This is my dear old friend, Niccolo Machiavelli.

I can't remember the first time I read The Prince. I know it wasn't in college, because I took The Divine Comedy one semester and didn't sign up for The Prince during the following term. Maybe because I felt like I was missing something, I picked up a copy of The Prince and read it, somewhere along the line.

The term "Machiavellian" has come to mean something sinister and manipulative. Actually The Prince is pretty pragmatic. Common sense, if you happen to be running a biggish show. The book is just dense enough that you forget most of it if you don't read it once a year, so after two or three years it's like reading a whole new text.

No offense to Niccolo, but The Prince is also an effective sleep-enhancer. Put that puppy next to your bed and turn to it at night, and you will save a fortune on lavender and white noise machines.

I'm thinking about The Prince tonight because I have a student who is struggling with the whole concept of school. As is often the case with such students, this one is exceedingly bright -- if not terribly well educated. I just ordered a copy of The Prince for him.

Now you're saying, "Wait a minute, Anne. You're going to give a kid with a middle-school reading level a college-level text so full of big words it puts you to sleep?"

Yep.

You see, it's not the substance of the gift, it's the suggestion. I would never tell the student this, but if you hand a teenager a book about how to rule, he or she might internalize the notion that ruling requires education and higher level thinking.

When I give the book to the student, I will tell him that the best thing to do with it is to put it by his bedside and read a page or two each night. I won't hide from him The Prince's magical, sleep-inducing qualities. But I will also hint that there's gold in them there pages. Gold that can be mined in little nuggets. The first of them being that an effective ruler has to exert self-control before trying to control other people.

We're having a bit of a blow here tonight. No better time to curl up with Niccolo Machiavelli. My lids are growing heavy just thinking about it.

11 comments:

Sarita said...

I wish there were more teachers like you. :)

Lavanah said...

Damn! You are good!

Erik said...

Nicely done!

Incidentally, have you seen Garrett Mattingly's article proposing that The Prince is a satire on par with "A Modest Proposal"?

THE Michael said...

Did people back then really have such big hands and little heads?

Just asking........

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

i know i read the prince but it's like i read it with someone else's brain..good luck...hope she goes for it..

Tori said...

I've just started reading The Prince! It was a freebie on Kindle, and I like old literature. It's a good book, but like you said it has some magical sleep inducing properties that make me only able to read a few pages at a time.

Hecate said...

I love you

SubtleKnife said...

I have a Prince in my library *, a very glossy edition too, bound in golden cloth and heavily illustrated. I should get it out again some day.

* I say library, it's more like the cellar, but the only thing in there is books. And a bike.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I think the writers of "The Sopranos" kept a copy of "The Prince" handy.

I once showed a clip of the episode where Tony first comes back to the pork store after his hospitalization to illustrate the section on how it is better for a ruler to be feared than to be loved.

Anonymous said...

Chas, that whole passage is plagiarized in one of the Godfather movies. Rodger Cunningham

Anne Johnson said...

I like to point out to my students that Machiavelli models leadership from a point of rule, not soldiering or running an army. There's a difference. I'm afraid I pontificated upon this a bit in the cafeteria today while the Marines attempted to recruit.