Thursday, July 21, 2005

Machiavelli's Prince Severus

A few years ago I used an excerpt from Machiavelli's the Prince as evidence that Snape may kill Dumbledore. At the time, I didn't think too much of the parallel, only that it was an interesting coincidence that should be taken into account. Given Snape's actions in Book Six, I feel it is important to go back to this example and see what it may tell us about Severus Snape.

The Severus to whom Machiavelli refers is Severus Septimius. (The last name sounds suspiciously like the spell that Snape created, doesn't it?) While Snape is by no means the Septimius in Machiavelli's work, the similarities are striking. Machiavelli portrays a man who aspired to be a great emperor. He knew that only two men were a danger to his power. One man had already declared himself a ruler, the other was named Albinus.

Yes, Albus and Albinus both mean the same thing!

Machiavelli writes:

"Judging it was dangerous to show himself hostile to both of them, Serverus decided to attack Niger and to trick Albinus." The Prince, pg. 64, Penguin Classic, 1999

I don't think I have to work too hard to show the similarities here. Severus aligned himself with Albinus as a means to hide his true goal and work behind the scenes to rid himself of both leaders. The story goes on and Severus eventually has Albinus killed. Severus becomes a powerful emperor.

The story does have its differences, especially if one were to look up the novel and read it for themselves , but I think that Rowling may have recieved some of her inspiration for Snape's character from Machiavilli's work. Besides the interactions between Severus and Albinus, there remains much more evidence as to the connection between Septimius and Snape.

For example, Snape fashions himself the name the "Half Blood Prince". Yes, Prince comes from his mothers maiden name, but it may go deeper than that. Machiavelli does hold Severus up as a great prince. Is Rowling whispering in our ears the origins of Snape's character? Maybe she is warning us about politics? I don't know, but I wouldn't doubt it.

Most important of all, is why Machiavelli shares the story of Severus in the first place. Machiavelli's goal is to show the qualities that a prince must have. He raises Severus as an example of how a prince must be in order to attain and keep power. Namely, a prince has to know how to act.

"...I want to show briefly how well he (Severus) knew how to act the part of both a fox and a lion,..." The Prince, pg. 63

Was this not a large theme in book six? Did not Snape continually say that he would not get very far if he didn't know how to properly act?

"So whoever carefully studies what this man (Severus) did will find that he had the qualities of a ferocious lion and a very cunning fox, and that he was feared and respected by everyone..."The Prince, pg. 64

There is no doubt in my mind that Snape is cunning and ferocious. How well he does act his parts.

Now that we have seen that the name "Prince" may actually be a reference to Machiavelli's work, it remains to show why we care. What does this say about Snape?

If Septimius inspired Snape's character then this goes along with the theory that Snape has been playing the middle, maybe waiting to see which side would win out. Does Snape aspire to greater things? Is he awaiting Voldemort's demise only to replace him? Does Snape serve no one but himself?

Machiavelli's Septimius was not only a good actor, but he knew when to let others fight the battle for him.

I still say there are many unanswered questions as far as Snape goes. Either he acted on Dumbledore's orders when he killed the headmaster, or he did not. Either he serves Voldemort or he does not. He may prove the greatest ally to Harry in book seven (a theme I much prefer and believe makes for a much more powerful book) or he may prove Harry's greatest enemy. Only Book Seven will tell. Until then, we would do well to keep Machiavelli's work in mind when we ask how well does Snape act and to whom is he loyal? A cunning fox indeed....