Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Foxiness of a Fox...Lionness of a Lion

I forgot which class it was but someone brought up the point that medieval people didn't just use animal symbolism to emphasize negative qualities of a person but also used "dignified" animals as someone's counterpart in the natural world.

In a passage from The Prince, Machiavelli writes that "[t]o have as a teacher a half-beast, half-man means nothing other than that a prince needs to know how to use both natures; and the one without the other is not lasting." (XVIII) He goes on to encourage princes to participate in their beastly nature because it is out of necessity. Of all the animals, "he should pick the fox and the lion, because the lion does not defend itself from snares and the fox does not defend itself from wolves. So one needs to be a fox to recognize snares and a lion to frighten the wolves." Machiavelli takes two predatory animals, combines their qualities to create a set of desirable traits for a prince.

I thought I'd post this because I saw a few themes we discussed in class floating around in this passage. First, Machiavelli doesn't tell his reader (Lorenzo d'Medici) to refrain from being the animal, but says that it is required of him (as a ruler) to become the animal when necessity arises. He emphasizes this by drawing from the qualities from two animals. The fox represents cunning while the lion symbolizes ferocity. These two animals are then juxtaposed with the wolf, which represents chaos, calamity, and disorder in this context. He advises the young prince, simply being a lion will not help defend oneself from wolves, "the one who has known best how to use the fox has come out the best." This pitting of the fox against the wolf (and vice versa) reminded me of Renard the Fox. Although in class, I don't think we quite knew whether to classify Renard as good or bad but Machiavelli would praise the cunning, deceit, and boldness of Renard. This animosity between the fox and the wolf appears in Machiavelli's work-though I doubt that he was writing with the tales in mind.

Some cute pictures I stumbled upon...

Ysengrin ensnared by Renard's trap.

Ysengrin weeping..

AND I just love the expression on Renard's face.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice observation about Machiavelli's use of animal imagery. Yes, it is very likely that he was thinking of the ways in which animals were used in stories like Renard. It is very Machiavellian of him, of course, to use animals as examples of ways in which the Prince should behave that in other contexts were considered less than desirable role models. I don't think Machiavelli means this comparison with the Prince to be particularly "good", however. This is wholly in keeping with his provocative suggestions about how the Prince should rather be feared than loved: whereas other writers might be inclined to suggest that one should avoid such "bestial" characteristics as cunning and ferocity, Machiavelli is suggesting that the Prince should "become the beast"--not the usual medieval advice!