LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT
SON OF PIERO DI MEDICI
It is customary for those who wish to gain the favour of a prince to endeavour to do so by offering him gifts of those things which they hold most precious, or in which they know him to take especial delight. In this way princes are often presented with horses, arms, cloth of gold, gems, and such-like ornaments worthy of their grandeur. In my desire, however, to offer to Your Highness some humble testimony of my devotion, I have been unable to find among my possessions anything which I hold so dear or esteem so highly as that knowledge of the deeds of great men which I have acquired through a long experience of modern events and a constant study of the past.
The results of my long observations and reflections are recorded in the little volume which I now offer to Your Highness: and although I deem this work unworthy of Your Highness's notice, yet my confidence in your humanity assures me that you will accept it, knowing that it is not in my power to offer you a greater gift than that of enabling you to understand in the shortest possible time all those things which I have learnt through danger and suffering in the course of many years. I have not sought to adorn my work with long phrases or high-sounding words or any of those allurements and ornaments with which many writers seek to embellish their books, as I desire no honour for my work but such as its truth and the gravity of its subject may justly deserve. Nor will it, I trust, be deemed presumptuous on the part of a man of humble and obscure condition to attempt to discuss and criticise the government of princes; for in the same way that landscape painters station themselves in the valleys in order to draw mountains or elevated ground, and ascend an eminence in order to get a good view of the plains, so it is necessary to be a prince to be able to know thoroughly the nature of a people, and to know the nature of princes one must be one of the populace.
May I trust, therefore, that Your Highness will accept this little gift in the spirit in which it is offered; and if Your Highness will deign to peruse it, you will recognise in it my ardent desire that you may attain to that grandeur which fortune and your own merits presage for you.
And should Your Highness gaze down from the summit of that eminence towards this humble spot, you will recognise the great and unmerited sufferings inflicted on me by a cruel fate.