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September 13, 2014 will mark the 18th anniversary of when 2Pac (born Tupac Amaru Shakur), famous American gangster rapper, was murdered in Las Vegas. There are many conspiracy theories behind his death and although most are not worth debating, there is one argument that might be true and can be objectively verified.

As some people will know, Shakur changed his stage name from "2Pac" to "Makaveli" shortly before his death, having been inspired by work of the famous Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer Niccolò Machiavelli, while he was incarcerated.

A common claim among conspiracy theorists is that, in one of his works, Machiavelli advocated that one should fake one's own death at the age of 25, only to return 18 years later at the age of 43. See for example this blog post about evidence that Shakur faked his own death. Quoting:

When Tupac Shakur was in prison, he had read a lot of books. In one of his interviews, he mentions he had read a book on Machiavelli. Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian war strategist and had written many books on war. He advocates in his book to fake your death to fool your enemies. Niccolo faked his death and came back 18 years later to baffle his enemies that he was still alive. Many believe, Tupac is planning to come back in 2014 to play the same role as Machiavelli.

Niccoló Machiavelli did not fake his own death, so this cannot be entirely accurate, but is it true he advocated it (i.e. faking your death at age 25, then return 18 years later) in at least one of his books?

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    Niccolo Machiavelli did not fake his own death.... as far as we know.
    – Sneftel
    Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 10:25

2 Answers 2

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Well, this is not a definitive answer, but until someone counters it (which I irrationally hope), I think it will be more than sufficient.

All claims about Machiavelli advocating to fake your own death seem to link back to his work The Art of War (not to be confused with Sun Tzu's work with the same title). Luckily there is a more or less reliable copy of this work freely available. Searching for the following keywords did not yield any result: year, death, 25, 18, 43, fake, faking, age, false, deceased, demise (I also searched for the numbers written out in English). To be sure I did the same thing with his work The Prince (which is sometimes cited as well). No results.

To me it seems highly unlikely that he made any remarks at all on the subject of faking your own death to fool your enemies without using any of these words, let alone give a precise instruction manual on how and when to pull this trick off. So it seems the numbers and the story were made up by somebody after 2Pac's death, probably because people would believe it anyway if some famous large Wikipedia article philosopher and strategist was alleged to advocate it and not much people listening to 2Pac read Machiavelli.

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    Add false, deceased, and demise to the list of terms which didn't find anything useful to support this in The Art of War.
    – Brian S
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 20:47
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    Thanks @BrianS. I also added age, fool and your keywords, just to be sure.
    – Jori
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 21:48
  • die, pretend, suicide, kill ...
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 21:54
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    I did the same search in Italian. The problem is that we would need to do it on all his literature, or show convincingly that the claim is about the "Art of War" and not a general claim.
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 9:36
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    If someone does want to investigate further, oll.libertyfund.org/people/niccolo-machiavelli allows a search (in English) of multiple works simultaneously.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 12:54
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Apparently not. Searches turn up no real references, just vague allusions to it unsourced. Some have suggested that it comes from the symbolism of the fox in The Prince, because foxes sometimes play dead.

The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.

That seems like a stretch to me, since playing dead isn't called out as a relevant fox-like quality.

I find the explanation in this USA Today article, 5 enduring conspiracy theories about Tupac, pretty convincing. Namely, that the origin is a misunderstanding of this passage:

Sometimes it has been of great moment while the fight is going on, to disseminate words that pronounce the enemies' captain to be dead, or to have been conquered by another part of the army. Many times this has given victory to him who used it.

So perhaps rather than faking your own death, Machiavelli's idea was spreading rumors of an opposing leader's death. However, while this appears in many collections of Machiavelli quotes, I was unable to find it in any of the full texts I search. Can anyone confirm source on this quote?

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