De Principe Bono Et Malo

Thomas More (1516) This poem, like most of Sir Thomas More's epigrams, is composed in elegaic couplets and is a response to the question, "What makes a good ruler?" This short composition offers a thought-provoking suggestion: A good ruler is like the guard dog that protects the sheep, and a bad ruler is like the wolf that preys on them.

Some scholars find likening the king to a dog shocking, but More's language recalls that of Christ's "I am the Good Shepherd" speech in John 10. The good king is obedient to the shepherd and takes nothing from the sheep, and a bad king is ravenous and self-interested like the wolf. only behavior toward the flock distinguishes the two since both are canine and have similar appearances. In this contrast lies the sting of the epigram: The power of a ruler comes from God, not from brute strength or from the people. This power is manifested in obedience and selflessness, not in the exercise of might. Similarly, kingship is not an excuse for excess. A good king's rule is beneficial to his people.

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