Rome: His name is synonymous with deceit and political scheming, but Niccolo Machiavelli has been shown to have had a soft spot for pets, after the discovery of an epigram he wrote in memory of a nobleman’s dog.

The discovery of the previously unknown poem, signed with the initials “N.M”, was made as Italy marked the 500th anniversary of The Prince, a cynic’s guide to exercising power that was studied by Napoleon, Stalin and Mussolini, and amid a debate about whether his ruthless brand of realpolitik is relevant today.

Machiavelli, a Florentine diplomat and political secretary, appears to have been commissioned to write the epigram by the owner of the dog, a wealthy Renaissance banker named Lorenzo Strozzi. The poem, which is just four lines long, extols the speed and strength of the dog, which was called Furia or Fury, suggesting it may have been some sort of hunting hound.

The short verse describes how the dog was “born in Etruria” (the area of central Italy once inhabited by the Etruscans and now straddling the modern regions of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio) and could “run faster than a hare and jump higher than a deer”.

It was found hidden in a manuscript in a library in Florence by Alessio Decaria, an academic from Siena University. It was on December 10, 1513 that Machiavelli sent a letter to a friend mentioning for the first time that he was working on a political treatise that would become The Prince, a guide on how to win and wield power through cunning and inspiring fear among subjects and rivals.

“Machiavelli was a sort of Renaissance whistle-blower,” said Prof Stephen Milner, an expert on Renaissance Italy at Manchester University.

“He revealed how rulers really operated and many people would not have been very happy being cited as nefarious examples of the abuse of power.”

In February, Prof Milner unearthed in Florence a previously unknown arrest warrant for Machiavelli, dating from February 1513 and issued by the Medici family, with whom he had fallen out of favour. After being arrested he was imprisoned, tortured and placed under house arrest on suspicion of plotting against them. He wrote The Prince — originally called De Principatibus (Concerning Principalities) — in the hope of regaining the Medicis’ favour.