The Atomic Prince: A Lucretian Interpretation of Machiavelli
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In 1417 Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of De Rerum Natura or On the Nature of Things. Lucretius, a Roman Epicurean philosopher, who lived from approximately 99 to 55 BCE, was its author. This dangerous text argued that religion led men astray from the true nature of things, i.e., that the world is composed of atoms and not the creation of God. A handful of copies of the manuscript languished in monasteries across Europe, forgotten by religious authorities and humanists alike, until Bracciolini found one. The first polemic against Machiavellis thought, published in 1576, 49 years after Machiavellis death, accused him of being an Epicurean. Its author was adamant that Machiavelli was neither inspired by Aristotle nor the Stoics. This relationship between Lucretius and Machiavelli is made more plausible with the discovery of a copy of De Rerum Natura in Machiavellis handwriting in the Vatican Library. Indeed, in 1497, Machiavelli had been so interested in Lucretius that he copied the entire text by hand. In 1498, Machiavelli would enter into politics with his election to the Chancery of the Florentine Republic. Thus, understanding Lucretius impact on Machiavelli is vital for understanding key concepts and themes in Machiavellis thought. My dissertation, The Atomic Prince: A Lucretian Interpretation of Machiavelli, examines the relationship between Lucretius and Machiavelli, through an exegetical study of The Prince and Discourses on Livy book 1. I first examine Louis Althussers work, given that he was the first to propose that Machiavelli was the first witness after Lucretius to a subterranean current of materialist philosophy, and argue that it is marred by inattentiveness to the specifics of Lucretius philosophy and Machiavellis political thought, thus resulting in him overlooking many of the resonances and parallels between Lucretius and Machiavelli (chapter 1). I then offer an alternative account of the relationship. In particular, I examine three problems: state formation (chapter 2), the relationship between virtue and fortune (chapter 3), and the relationship between political freedom and the development of history (chapter 4). I argue that in all three cases, Machiavellis political thought bears the strong imprint of Lucretius philosophy.