Saturday, February 19, 2005

More Montaigne Hodge-Podge

A motley assortment of Montaigne essays this week. One is Punished for Stubbornly Defending a Fort Without Good Reason Imagine, you have been defending your fort against an army larger than yours for several days. Everyone on your side is exhausted and it is obvious that it is only a matter of time before the opposition breaks through your defenses and overruns the fort. What do you do?

a)Surrender b)Sneak your army out the back door when the opposition is sleeping c)Hold your position and fight until death or the enemy takes you.
It's a conundrum really. If you choose "a" you are throwing yourself on the mercy of your enemy and you may find there is none. If you choose "b" you are all cowards. If you choose "c" you are being stubborn and overstepping the virtue of valor and entering the realm or rashness and madness. At least according to Montaigne. Because apparently, if you continue to fight, you are violating the rules of war. When the fort is finally taken by your enemies, they can, and very likely will, kill every last one of you. On Punishing Cowardice If you chose "b" above, you will be called a coward but you may or may not be killed for it, it all depends on your motive. If you ran out the back door due to a defect of weakness, then you merit only a punishment of "disgrace and ignominy" like being made to sit in the market square for three days dressed as a woman. Obviously, if you are a woman that isn't much of a punishment, but in Montaigne's time this war stuff was men's business. If you're cowardice is due to wickedness, then your just punishment is death. And how does one tell the difference between the two types of cowardice? Oh, it's easy: "wherever there is a case of ignorance so crass and of cowardice so flagrant as to surpass any norm, that should be an adequate reason for accepting them as proof of wickedness and malice, to be punished as such." The Doings of Certain Ambassadors For so short an essay there are several subjects introduced here but only two that are actually developed. If in your travels and talks with other people, they attempt to speak with you about topics other than their professions, try to bring them back around to the subjects they know best, "Let the sailor talk but of the winds, the farmer of oxen, the soldier of his own wounds and the herdsman of his cattle" Montaigne quotes Propertius. Finally, through much meandering, we get to the ambassadors. What it comes down to here is that an ambassador is a servant and should be obedient to his master. Therefore an ambassador must always tell his master the truth about what is going on in the world and what others have said and done in their dealings with him. However, ambassadors in their doings for their master, should not be held to the letter of their master's will, but be given a certain amount of freedom to use their own judgment depending on the circumstances of a meeting. This makes logical sense so there isn't much to argue about here. Next week's Montaigne assortment (better than an assortment of chocolate? We'll find out!): "One Man's Profit is Another Man's Loss," "Nine-and-Twenty Sonnets of Estienne de la Boetie," "Judgments on God's Ordinances Must be Embarked Upon with Prudence," and "On Fleeing from Pleasure at the Cost of One's Life"