Saturday, October 16, 2004


I have to keep reminding myself that Montaigne liked the ancients so much because it was the Renaissance and the ancients were being rediscovered and people like Montaigne were paving the way for the Enlightenment. I had to give myself that reminder as I read his essay "On Ancient Customs." It is a straightforward and simple essay with Montaigne's point being that he is "prepared to forgive our own people for having no other model or rule of perfection but their own manners and behaviour, for it is a common failing not only of the mob but of virtually all men to set their sights within the limitations of the customs into which they were born." This is a case of what's old is new again, what goes around comes around, the more things change the more they remain the same. Equally as bad in Montaigne's view is the person who changes "his mind and opinions every four weeks if if fashion demands it." For Montaigne it shows a "singular lack of judgment" and is worse than the person who has no other experience than his own customs. Still, there are none of us who do not hold frivolous or contradictory opinions or who cannot be mocked for our views or dazzled by something new and different. Montaigne then spends the rest of the essay talking about some customs of the ancients like bathing before dinner, using tweezers to remove unwanted hair, men wiping "their cocks with perfumed wool after they had had a go," eating between meals, and using a sponge on a stick to wipe their asses (I'll bet sponge on a stick is one thing we'll never see at our MN state fair where "on a stick" follows nearly everything especially if it is food). Montaigne concludes:

We certainly do our utmost to equal the Ancients in every sort of ostentation, in debauchery and in the devising of gratifications, in comforts and in luxuries, for our wills are as vitiated as theirs were but our ingenuity cannot bring it off. Our powers are no more capable of competing with them in vice than in virtue, both of which derive from vigour of mind which was incomparably greater than in us: the weaker the souls, the less able they are to do anything really good or really bad.
So true, but every generation has one or two strong souls that are remembered for ill or good. And so Montaigne serves to show once again that, at least when it comes to human behavior, there really is nothing new under the sun. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Affectionate Relationships" On another note, I will be not be posting again until Friday the 22nd. I have to go to a software user's conference for work in lovely Sarasota, Florida. Since I work for a nonprofit I am not provided with a laptop. I have my own, but I am attending the conference with a coworker who, while a competent computer user, doesn't even own her own computer at home and would think me quite the ubergeek if I brought me own personal laptop, not to mention that it would get around to the entire agency. Everyone there already thinks I'm weird, why add fuel to the fire?