Saturday, December 11, 2004

Fortune's Play Things

Montaigne's essay "Fortune is Often Found in Reason's Train" is short and rather pointless. Not one of his more shining moments. The essay consists mainly of anecdotes about Fortune saving the day after reason's failure or in spite of it. According to Montaigne, "Sometimes it seems that Fortune is literally playing with us." Fortune also likes to "rival our Christian miracles," dabble in medicine, surpass artistic mastery, and direct or correct our counsels. Some instances of our being Fortune's play things: Jason Phereus had a tumor "on the breast" and was given up on by his physicians. Since he was going to die anyway, he decided to at least make himself useful so he threw himself recklessly into battle (no explanation about what battle). In the thick of it he was struck through right where his tumor was, thereby lancing it. He did not die in battle and was cured of his tumor. Protogenes, a master painter, was trying to complete a portrait of a an exhausted dog and was happy with everything but the foam at the dog's mouth. He tried and tried but could not get it right. In his frustration he threw a paint filled sponge at the painting. It landed precisely at the mouth of the dog and produced the effect that he had been unable to. There are several more stories but these are the two most interesting. But what is most of note here is the fact that Montaigne, a good Christian man, believes in Fortune. Fortune and late 16th century Catholicism do not get along. According to the editor's note, the censor was not happy about it, but let it by anyway. I guess we could say Montaigne was fortunate. Next week's Montaigne essay: "On Cato the Younger"