Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince (Italian: Il Principe) is a political treatise by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus (About Principalities). But the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli's death. This was done with the permission of the Medici pope Clement VII, but "long before then, in fact since the first appearance of the Prince in manuscript, controversy had swirled about his writings".[1]

Although it was written as if it were a traditional work in the Mirror of Princes style, it is generally agreed that it was especially innovative, and not only because it was written in Italian rather than Latin.[2] The Prince is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. It was also in direct conflict with the dominant Catholic and scholastic doctrines of the time concerning how to consider politics and ethics.[3][4]

Although it is relatively short, the treatise is the most remembered of his works and the one most responsible for bringing "Machiavellian" into wide usage as a pejorative term. It also helped make "Old Nick" an English term for the devil, and even contributed to the modern negative connotations of the words "politics" and "politician" in western countries.[5] In terms of subject matter it overlaps with the much longer Discourses on Livy, which was written a few years later. In its use of examples who were politically active Italians who perpetrated criminal deeds for politics, another lesser-known work by Machiavelli which The Prince has been compared to is the Life of Castruccio Castracani.

The descriptions within The Prince have the general theme of accepting that ends of princes, such as glory, and indeed survival, can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends.[6]

Links to Online Texts

Study Notes for The Prince

Suggested Reading Schedule

This book is very short, and can be read quickly.  I would suggest reading it at your leisure, and thinking more deeply about the reasons why Machiavelli wrote this philosophical treatise.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Le Mort d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory

Courtesy of

Our next book will be Sir Thomas Mallory's, "Le Mort d'Arthur'. This is the classic tale that began the fascination with King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reading T.H. White's, "The Once and Future King," which was awesome. I have not read Mallory's text, so I am really looking forward to it this summer.

This is a rather long book, and I think we will read as much as we possibly can given the time we have on the schedule. I found an online HTML text that seems very readable. I will post other links later, if I can find good translations, and they are easily accessed. I will also be posting study questions, but for now, here is some background information as well as a link to the HTML formatted book.


You can read some interesting background information on Mallory as well as on his writing of this text here.

Online Texts

The following two websites have the book in HTML format. You can also download the text file through Project Gutenberg. I personally find HTML to be easier to read, but if you would rather download it to your computer, have at it.
Audio Versions


Reading Schedule

The following schedule is fluid and may change, given the nature of our readers preferences. However, for now, this is a good schedule to start this book.
  • June 14 - Book 1
  • June 21 - Book 2
  • June 28 - Book 3
  • July 5 - Book 4
  • July 12 - Book 5
  • July 19 - Book 6
  • July 26 - Book 7
  • August 2 - Book 8
  • August 9 - Book 9 (end of Vol. 1)
  • August 16 - Book 10 and on for readers who wish to continue with Vol. 2

Happy reading ~ Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Welcome Spring (or Summer for us in hot AZ!) Readers:

We are set to begin a four-week study in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. This is a quick reading through these stories, simply to give our readers a taste of Chaucer's wit and style. Feel free to join along with our reading group on this next adventure through late Medieval classical literature.

Lets begin reading through a few of the Canterbury Tales. I chose those which are most often read in college courses (and the ones I could find study
questions on -- LOL!) I think these will give you enough of a feel for these stories without having to read them all. If you want to read more, go ahead at
your own leisure.

Brief Background from Wikipedia

I would suggest reading the background on the Tales themselves, either at Wikipedia, in your own text, or as a general introduction at Sparknotes or

Literature Study Guide from Sparknotes

Sparknotes will provide some good summaries of the tales, a great help for struggling readers who need a little hand-holding to help explain the story.

Book Links

Modern Prose in PDF (each tale is it's own file)

Audio from Librivox


Week 1 - Introduction and Prologue
Week 2 - The Knights Tale
Week 3 - The Miller and The Reeves Tale
Week 4 - The Friar and The Summoner's Tale

Guesstimate on reading: The Knights Tale is fairly long, the others are shorter readings. I would guess four weeks to cover these tales only. If at the end of this period, you all want to read some of the other Tales, we can add a few more in. Let' wait and see how every does with these stories, OK?

Begin date: you are welcome to start this week or next. I will post the first set of questions today and then will try and stay a week ahead of everyone.

I think you will enjoy reading these stories, and will find the modern translation (PDF files linked above) a good source (helpful notes and explanations are included).

Happy Reading!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spring is Here

The new schedule for Spring has been late in being posted. Partly this was due to some personal challenges that I am facing, and partly because our readers needed a bit more time to get through the holidays. Now that we are finished with Christmas and well into the New Year, it is time to start thinking about reading again.

We have been following the Great Books list from St. John's College. So far, it has proven to be a good program to follow. We have used online books and resources, mostly from the website: Another excellent resource, with links to not only resources that are online, but also to printed books (in several languages).

Presently, we are beginning the Middle Ages, approx. 1000-1600 AD. We just finished reading The Song of Roland, and are heading into more religious works (Aquinas and A Kempis). I am not sure if this is the track we want to take, after all, we spent a fair portion of time reading through earlier church works last year. I am thinking that we should stay with literature (story, fairy tales, etc.) for a while. I think our readers are more interested in story than in deep philosophy.

So with this decision in hand, here is the reading list for Spring 2010:

The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs
  • HTML (56 pages, indexed) at (Translated by Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris)
  • HTML (364 KB; 128 KB zipped; 342/124 KB text file also available) of The Story of the Volsungs at Project Gutenberg (Translated by Eirikr Magnússon and William Morris)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • HTML (Multi-page) at Bibliomania
  • HTML (339 KB; 201 KB zipped; 255/97 KB text file also available) at Project Gutenberg, also includes Middle English text (Translator unknown)
Canterbury Tales
  • HTML frames at Librarius
  • Text File (1.62 MB; 639 KB zipped) at Project Gutenberg (includes Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Cressida, and other works)
Le Morte d'Arthur The Prince
  • HTML (36 pages, indexed) at Oregon State's History of Western Philosophy course (Translated by W.K. Marriott)
  • HTML (Multi-page, indexed) at (Translated by W.K. Marriott)
  • HTML (Multi-page, indexed; text file and PDF versions also available) at the Constitution Society (Translated by W.K. Marriott)
  • Text File (310 KB; 111 KB zipped; 298/109KB text file also available) at Project Gutenberg (Translated by William K. Marriott)
  • HTML (Indexed, 10 pages) at Oregon State's History of Western Philosophy course
  • HTML (Multi-page, indexed) at the Constitution Society
  • Text file (231KB) at the Constitution Society
  • HTML (258 KB; 94 KB zipped; 254/93KB text file also available) at Project Gutenberg
This reading list will take us through Spring and into early Summer. We will then move into Renaissance literature and begin reading more familiar texts.

A reading schedule (of assignments) will be posted shortly, along with some background information and study help. Check out the Yahoo Group for specifics. Happy reading!