Machiavelli’s Prince 500 Years On: Power, Secularism and Instability

Professor Christopher Celenza, director of the American Academy in Rome

Co-presented with the ‘Undoing the Ancient’ Research Cluster in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


Prof Christopher Celenza

Image credit: Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana/ De Agostini/ Getty Images

6 August

Five hundred years ago in Florence, in early 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured, under suspicion (falsely, most probably) of involvement in an anti-government conspiracy. He was released in the spring of that year and placed under house arrest, which he carried out at a family property south of Florence. During that time, he reflected on his own substantial experience as a traveling Florentine diplomat and, as importantly, on ancient Roman history. From that reflection emerged The Prince, the Italian Renaissance’s most famous book, which this lecture will showcase. Machiavelli wrote in a particular way: episodically, with short chapters that were suitable for conversations and letters, and indeed often had their origins in these less formal formats. In addition to bringing this aspect into relief, this lecture will focus on Machiavelli’s views on place of religion in politics, his considerations on the wielding of political power, both militarily and symbolically, and his haunting sense that instability and conflict were ever-present.

Professor Christopher S. Celenza holds the Charles Homer Haskins Professorship at Johns Hopkins University, with a dual appointment as Professor in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures and in the Department of Classical Studies. Celenza holds two doctoral degrees, a PhD in History (Duke University, 1995) and a DrPhil in Classics and Neo-Latin Literature (University of Hamburg, 2001), and is the author or editor of five books and over thirty scholarly articles in the fields of Italian Renaissance history, post-classical Latin literature and philosophy, and the history of classical scholarship. He was named the 21st Director of the American Academy in Rome in 2010 and will serve in that role until 2014.