Law 47: Do Not Go Past The Mark You Aimed For; In Victory, Learn When To Stop
There is wisdom in knowing when to stop. After you have achieved victory, don’t tempt fate.
In 559 B.C, Cyrus defeated his grandfather Astyages, king of the Medes. He created the Persian Empire. After that, Cyrus achieved consecutive victories and eventually crushed Babylon. This young ambitious man became known as Cyrus the Great, King of the world. He now ventured to conquer the half-barbaric tribe in the east near the Caspian sea, the Massagetai.
The Massegatai were a warrior culture that was led by Queen Tomyris. She told the King of the Medes to abandon his mission and to allow her to rule her people. But she knew that Cyrus would not listen, and told him she was prepared for battle if he that was the option he chose. Cyrus agreed to the fight, but he didn’t engage in battle directly.
He played a trick on the Queen. He crossed the river towards the tribe, and set up camp. There his army held a large banquet that included meat, delicacies and strong wine. He left his weakest troops in that camp. The Massagetai, like the Spartans, knew few luxuries. They attack the camp and killed all the Persians. They ate and drank themselves to sleep. But during the night, the Persian army returned to the camp and killed many of the sleeping soldiers while capturing the rest.
After this event, the Queen was prepared to concede defeat to Cyrus after she had learned that her son, Spargapises, was also captured by the Persians. She demanded that Cyrus release her son, and threatened the bloodiest revenge if this was not done, but Cyrus refused. One day, her son rebelled against the soldiers that captured him because he knew he would not be released. He was killed, and when the Queen knew of this, she led the rest of her army against the Persians.
She managed to kill Cyrus in the process. After the carnage, she found his dead body and said, “Though I have conquered you and live, yet you have ruined me by treacherously taking my son. See now—I fulfill my threat: You have your fill of blood.”
The Persian Empire unraveled after Cyrus died. His arrogance cost him all of his good work.
The danger of good luck is that it can make you too arrogant. When you have bad luck, you are underestimate your abilities, you try harder, you make adjustments. When things go your way, you overestimate your abilities, you make blunders, and you inevitably fall from grace. The lesson is to continuously be aware of the role of luck, even in victory, and to be patient before your next move since only one wrong move can undo all your good efforts.
Machiavelli tells us about Cesare Borgia, who was a clever strategist and had many victories. But the pope was his father. This good luck led him to have bad luck later on. He was unprepared for what would happen after his father’s death. The many enemies he had made attacked and killed him.
The wheel of fortune is turning, it is wise to always be prepared and avoid devastation.
Princes and republics should content themselves with victory, for when they aim at more, they generally lose. The use of insulting language toward an enemy arises from the insolence of victory, or from the false hope of victory, which latter misleads men as often in their actions as in their words; for when this false hope takes possession of the mind, it makes men go beyond the mark, and causes them to sacrifice a certain good for an uncertain better.Niccolò Machiavelli
The advice Machiavelli usually gives it to crush your enemy totally, but there are circumstances when this is not possible, and overreaching will backfire.
Read The 48 Laws of Power
If you’re interested in exploring the darker parts of human psychology that most people ignore, consider reading this short book The Dichotomy of the Self.