Research Stream


Jayne Knight (2017)
The University of Tasmania


The Renaissance of Roman Emotions in Machiavelli's Political Theory

This project examines how Machiavelli's treatment of communal and princely emotions in his political treatises was influenced by his close study of ancient Roman history and literature.

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This project broadly considers how the study of emotions of the past can inform contemporary discourse about the socio-political value of emotions. Situated between antiquity and modernity, Niccolò Machiavelli provides a fascinating case study for this investigation. This project focuses on Machiavelli’s reception of ancient Roman thought about the roles of emotions in politics in his political treatises Discourses on Livy and The Prince (published posthumously in 1531 and 1532, respectively). In these important works, Machiavelli actively engages with ancient source material, most notably Livy’s History of Rome and Seneca the Younger’s kingship treatise On Mercy. This project explores how Machiavelli’s interpretation of ancient Roman emotional regimes as they are represented in these works informed his political theory. The project is interested in Machiavelli’s treatment of two topics in particular: the roles of communal emotions in politics, and the ideal prince’s management of his own emotions. These questions were crucial for Roman authors writing about the dynamics of public life, and they are still relevant to modern political theorists. For Machiavelli, these issues were central to the development of his ideas about the necessity of conflict in society.

Image: Storie di Virginia by Sandro Botticelli (c.1500), via Wikimedia Commons.