Understand Italian used in Il Principe: dedication, part 1

niccolo-machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli

Il Principe, first published in 1532, is a political treatise by Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, politician, historian and philosopher born in Florence, in 1469.

Before the main chapters of the work, Machiavelli begins with una dedica (pronounced dèdica), or dedication. This post begins your study of the dedica.

Your study will be of an 1814 edition; you will find a link in the index where you can read it online.

The first part of the dedication reads:

NICC. MACHIAVELLI al MAGNIFICO LORENZO DI PIERO DE’ MEDICI. Sogliono il più delle volte coloro che desiderano acquistare grazia appresso un Principe, farsegli innanzi con quelle cose, che tra le loro abbino più care, o delle quali vegghino lui più dilettarsi; donde si vede molte volte esser loro presentati cavalli, arme, drappi d’oro, pietre preziose e simili ornamenti, degni della grandezza di quelli.

— Niccolò Machiavelli, Il Principe, dedica

lorenzo-medici
Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici

Machiavelli’s dedication is to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, qualified here as magnifico (pronounced magnìfico), meaning magnificent. Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici was the ruler of Florence from 1516-1519.

In the portion of the dedication above, Machiavelli says those who wish to obtain the good graces of a prince usually present him with precious possessions of theirs, or with things they see fancied by princes, such as horses, arms, cloths of gold, precious stones and similar ornaments, worthy of their greatness.

In the text, you will notice the frequent use of de’, which you already see here in the name Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici. De’ is a Tuscan equivalent of dei.

Medici is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable: Mèdici.

In this portion of text, you find the verb solere (pronounced solére) which has the sense of to be accustomed to, to be in the habit of. For example, loro sogliono fare means they usually do, they are accustomed to doing, etc. Sogliono is pronounced sògliono, with the stress on the first syllable.

You also have the verb vegghiare, a Tuscan equivalent of vegliare, whose meaning is to watch over, to observe. Loro vegghiano (pronounced végghiano) is the third-person plural of the presente; the congiuntivo presente conjugation is loro vegghino (pronounced végghino).

Here is a literal translation of the first part of the first sentence, which you will continue to analyse farther down: Sògliono (are accustomed to) il più délle vòlte (most of the times) colóro che desìderano (those who wish) acquistàre gràzia apprèsso un Prìncipe (to acquire the grace of a prince) fàrsegli innànzi (present themselves to him) con quélle còse (with those things), che tra le lóro àbbino più càre (that amongst their things they have most precious), o délle quàli végghino lùi più dilettàrsi (or in which they see him most take delight).

The subject of sogliono is coloro che desiderano acquistare grazia appresso un Principe. Reordered, you obtain: coloro che desiderano acquistare grazia appresso un Principe sogliono… (those who wish to acquire the [good] grace[s] of a prince are accustomed to…). Appresso means amongst, with.

Consider now farsegli innanzi. Innanzi means in front. The verb farsi can be used to indicate a person’s movement: farsi avanti, for example, means to move ahead (or, perhaps a little more literally, to put oneself ahead). More examples: fatti avanti! (move ahead!), fatti più in là! (move down!, move over there!), si è fatto più vicino (he came closer). Farsegli innanzi, then, means to move in front of him, to put oneself before him, etc., where the English of him is rendered by gli. The si of farsi changes to se when gli is added.

As for con quelle cose, che tra le loro abbino più care, the conjugation abbino is equivalent to abbiano (third-person plural, congiuntivo presente of the verb avere). Abbino and abbiano are pronounced àbbino, àbbiano. Tra le loro means amongst their things (that is, tra le loro cose). Caro means dear, precious; the form care here agrees in number and gender with cose.

In the wording delle quali vegghino lui più dilettarsi, Machiavelli has expressed to take delight in something as dilettarsi di una cosa. Vegghino lui (you looked at the meaning of vegghiare above) means they observe him, where they refers to coloro che desiderano acquistare grazia appresso un Principe. (Quelle cose) delle quali vegghino lui più dilettarsi, then, means (those things) in which they see him most take delight.

You will continue now with the second part of the sentence from this post’s portion of text, which can be broken down as follows: dónde si véde (whence it is seen) mólte vòlte (many times) èsser lóro presentàti (be presented to them) cavàlli, àrme, dràppi d’òro, piètre prezióse e sìmili ornaménti (horses, arms, cloths of gold, precious stones and similar ornaments), dégni délla grandézza di quélli (worthy of their greatness).

Donde is an archaic usage meaning from where, whence. Un cavallo is a horse; un’arma is an arm, in the sense of weapon; un drappo d’oro is a cloth of gold; una pietra preziosa is a precious stone; and un ornamento is an ornament. The plural form today of un’arma is le armi, but the text uses the older plural le arme.