Sunday, October 10, 2004

Kenny Rogers and Michel de Montaigne Separated at Birth?

Constancy to Montaigne means something a little different than it does for us in every day parlance. For Montainge, in his essay, "On Constancy," the word means constancy in battle and constancy in action and reason. Constancy, according to the editor's note, is a Stoic virtue, but even Stoics admit that a sage can be startled. Montaigne believes

The role played by constancy consists chiefly in patiently bearing misfortunes for which there is no remedy. Likewise there are no evasive movements of the body and no defensive actions with any weapons in our hands which we judge wrong if they serve to protect us from the blows raining down on us.
It is part of human nature to startle at loud noises or desire to duck when a cannon is pointed at you. The trick, according to Montaigne and the Stoics, is to not let your emotions run away with you. Constancy in this case means keeping your reason and "in no wise give...assent to...fright or pain." Constancy, then, involves keeping your wits about you no matter the situation. Constancy does not mean doing the same thing over and over even when it isn't working. Constancy here has more to do with integrity and consistency ruled by reason. It is knowing, as Kenny Rogers would say, when to hold 'em, fold 'em, walk away, or run. (Damn! now I've got that song stuck in my head. Yes, I know the words, but only to the chorus. Somehow that still doesn't make it any better.) Even the mighty Spartans trained to hold their ground in battle no matter what, realized during the battle of Plataea, that they were never going to get through the Persian phalanx. so they disengaged and fell back, making the Persians think that they were retreating. The Persians chased the Spartans and in doing so broke up the phalanx that had held Sparta back. Just when the Persians thought they had won, the Spartans turned around, formed ranks and proceeded to win the battle. The Persians weren't thinking, nor were the Trojans when they took the gift horse into their city. This was a short little essay, only three pages. Something Montaigne thought about but didn't get worked up over until his later essay "On the Inconstancy of Our Actions." Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Ancient Customs"