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Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was born in Florence. He served the Florentine republic as a secretary and second chancellor, but was expelled from public life when the Medici family returned to power in 1512.His most famous work, The Prince, was written in an attempt to gain favour with the Medicis and return to politics.
I don't have too much to say about this new translation of a classic work, as I haven't been exhaustive in my investigation of other translations. However, I believe that Parks executes his mission well. From the outset (as he states in the introduction), he understands that classic translations themselves can become articles of history that are admired for their singular beauty apart from the message of the text (e.g. Hobbes translation of The Prince, or the KJV of the Bible). However, to allow these translations to stand alone would do disservice to the original text, as languages are elastic, forever changing over time. Thus, we have to forever reexamine the original transcripts of venerable documents, and express them in the language of our times. We do this so that the author's message can be effectively communicated to new generations of readers and thinkers. Parks even mentions - without a hint of presumption or arrogance - that one day his translation will at best be an example of the literary style of our time.
I believe that Parks has achieved his goal in producing an easy-to-understand English rendition of the controversial Italian political masterpiece by Machiavelli. I salute not only his effort, but his execution, and am glad that I decided to drop the extra nine dollars or whatever on this edition. Oh - and I had read the intro and translator's note before I decided to do purchase this. I strongly urge anyone serious about which translation to pick to read the introductory material.
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I've read various translations of `The Prince' over the past 40 years, and was introduced to this one as part of a book club read. I was interested to see how I'd find this translation relative to others and I was particularly interested in reading Tim Parks's long, context-setting introduction. Why do we continue to read `The Prince'? What lessons can we learn from a political treatise written by a retired diplomat in the 16th century? Do we read it because of the insight it may provide into the minds of our own rulers? I suspect that few of us read it as a primer for our own attempts to seize power. And if we read it for insight, then it is an egalitarian text rather than an elitist one.
I enjoyed the introduction, and believe that it would be helpful to a first time reader of `The Prince', especially to a reader unfamiliar with the political landscape of Italy in the 16th century. Machiavelli's portrayal of the world as it was makes far more sense with some knowledge of the historical and political context. The first part of the book discusses different kinds of state, how to deal with trouble in each of them and how to conquer each type successfully. In conquering a republic: `your only options are to reduce the place to rubble or go and live there yourself'.
My favourite parts, though, are where Machiavelli tells us what attributes an effective ruler should have: `It's seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, humane, honest and religious.' Appearances are clearly important.
While I enjoyed the translation, I found a couple of modern linguistic references jarring.Read more ›
The Prince is considered to be a foundation of modern political science. Well, when you read this translation, it actually feels too modern. Yes, it's easy to understand but there is something freaky when a half thousand years old The Prince sounds very much like a few days old The Economist.
However, if you read the introduction, the translator explains the goals he had in mind, what he was trying to achieve and after that it starts making sense. First, you get a very good overview of the situation in Italy around the time when the book was written. Second the translator explains, that he is trying to make that book sound to us how it was understood by the people 500 years ago. They were reading their regular language and in a same way the old forms should not be distracting the modern reader from the essence. In a similar way, the book has built an image over the centuries and the stronger was reputation the more distorted the translations were becoming. So the translator was trying to uncover the sense and feel of the original text without any later prejudgments.
Knowing that, reading the translation becomes less peculiar and more interesting.
Leaving the translation aside, what can I say about the text? Well, this is true classics. It's amazing how many thoughts, conclusions and advices are packed into a bit over a hundred pages and how important they are even now. It's about the size of a single issue of The Economist, but it can change the way you'll read news for the rest of your life.
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I do not speak Italian, so, when I say that Tim Parks' translation of The Prince is great, I mean in comparison with others. (I had read Robert M. Adams' translation in the Norton Critical Edition not long before I read Parks' translation, and I tried Parks' translation because I like Parks' novels.) Parks' translation of The Prince is great in its clarity; it is written in plain, modern English. The historical material in The Prince, which can seem dense in other translations, flows right along in Parks'. His 24-page introduction and his 14-page "translator's note" are also superb. The latter explains his philosophy of translation and compares passages in his translation with those of others'. The translator's note left me assured, even though I do not read Italian, that I could trust Parks' accuracy; I believe that nothing was lost in accuracy, and much was gained in readability, by his use of plain, modern English. Parks provides very few footnotes, but I didn't miss them, because I was caught up in the text. The book also contains a glossary of proper names, with long paragraphs devoted to some of the names, but I didn't make much use of it, for the same reason that I didn't miss the scarcity of footnotes.