Hercules and Antaeus

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Antonio del Pollaiolo, Hercules and Antaeus, 1470s
By ELIZABETH ELLIS

"A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves." 
- Niccolo Machiavelli

Antonio del Pollaiolo's sculpture depicts the wresting match between Hercules and Antaeus, with Hercules lifting Antaeus, flailing and yelling, and crushing him to death in a bear hug. As a part of his Twelve Labors, Hercules had to defeat Antaeus and pin him to the ground. Antaeus, whose mother was Gaia, goddess of the earth, was invincible so long as he could maintain contact with the ground and draw strength from his mother. Hercules realized he could not defeat Antaeus by forcing him to the ground and instead lifted him into the air and crushed him to death.

In The Prince, Machiavelli gives political theory and advice about the different ways princes must act if they want to maintain power. 
Machiavelli argues that rulers must separate their ethics and religion from their politics. Princes should be, in a perfect world, virtuous. However, they must be willing to abandon his ideals if necessary. A prince may only seem to be merciful, honest, religious, and faithful, but he cannot have these virtues in actuality because he will have to act against them. The quote above speaks to the values princes must have: the values of beasts and men, strength and power, as well as craftiness and intelligence. The story of Hercules and Antaeus illustrates Machiavelli's point - rulers who rely only on strength or wit will be overthrown, while rulers who can use each will be successful in the end. 

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