How we cite our quotes:
Still, the fact that a river is like this doesn't prevent us from preparing for trouble when levels are low, building banks and dykes, so that when the water rises the next time it can be contained in a single channel and the rush of the river in flood is not so uncontrolled and destructive … Fortune's the same. It shows its power where no one has taken steps to contain it, flooding into places where it finds neither banks nor dykes that can hold it back. (25.2)
Okay, so fortune is the river, but what's the dyke? Luck? Virtù? Borgia awesomeness? Metaphors are great, but only if they clarify things.
This explains why people's fortunes go up and down. If someone is behaving cautiously and patiently and the times and circumstances are such that the approach works, he'll be successful. But if times and circumstances change, everything goes wrong for him, because he hasn't changed his approach to match. You won't find anyone shrewd enough to adapt his character like this, in part because you can't alter your natural bias and in part because, if a person has always been successful with a particular approach, he won't easily be persuaded to drop it. [ …] To conclude then: fortune varies but men go on regardless. When their approach suits the times they're successful, and when it doesn't they're not. (25.7-10)
But we thought virtù lets you control fortune. Is it the other way around? Is virtù only whatever fortune wants it to be? This is all starting to sound a little chaotic.
My opinion on the matter is this: it's better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust. You'll see she's more likely to yield that way than to men who go about her coldly. And being a woman she likes her men young, because they're not so cagey, they're wilder and more daring when they master her. (25.10)
This is so weird. So weird. We have no words for it, but you should probably think about why Machiavelli says that fortune is female. Does that make virtù male? What does that mean? Think about that while we go sit in a corner.