Sunday, February 27, 2005

Still More Montaigne Hodge Podge

Were you beginning to think I was going to miss this week's melange of Montaigne essays? I am in the Montaigne habit at this point and to miss reading him would give me the shakes. So onward I go! One Man's Profit is Another Man's Loss Montaigne was inspired to write this little one page essay by a reading from Seneca where Demades condemned a fellow Athenian. The Athenian's job was to sell funeral requisites. Demades condemned him on the grounds that the Athenian wanted too much profit from it and that the profit could only be made by the deaths of people. Montaigne found this to be a bad judgment "since no profit is ever made except at somebody else's loss." Montaigne believes that that is just the nature of the world, that in every transaction someone wins and someone loses. It's a rather grim view if you ask me. Granted, sometimes you do lose out--that new shirt you bought on vacation for a song falls apart in the wash, you get fired for writing about your boss in your blog, you still get the speeding ticket even though you promised you'd drive more carefully. But I don't think there has always to be a winner and a loser. How depressing to see the world only in those terms. Nine-and-Twenty Sonnets of Estienne de La Boetie La Boetie was Montaigne's bestest of friends. Montaigne wrote this essay as an introduction to a collection of, you guessed it, twenty-nine sonnets La Boetie wrote. Unlike introductions to books today, Montaigne's intro is more of a gushing dedication to Diane, wife of the Count of Grammont and Guiche and also a mistress of the to be King Henry IV. No doubt the hope here is for patronage. The interesting thing is that Diane liked to be called Corisande d'Andoins, the name of a character in Amadis de Gaule, a novel of romance and chivalry. She and Don Quixote would have gotten along famously. Judgments on God's Ordinances Must be Embarked Upon with Prudence Here Montaigne basically warns people not to be too hasty in declaring that God is on their side because we cannot know the mind or will of God. It is silly, particularly in war, to attribute winning a battle to God being on your side. Montaigne points out that history is littered with wars where each side contribute their day's win or loss to be God's favor or displeasure only to have the very reverse happen in battle the next day. Montaigne declares that

God wishes us to learn that the good have other things to hope for and the wicked other things to fear than the chances and mischances of this world, which his hands control according to his hidden purposes: and so he takes from us the means of foolishly exploiting them. Those who desire to draw advantage from them by human reason delude themselves.
I can think of long list of politicians who are are currently quite deluded. On Fleeing from Pleasures at the Cost of One's Life This little essay is a bit confusing. Montaigne tells two stories. The first is from Seneca in which he advises Lucilius, a man of power, riches and authority in the emperor's court, to give it all up and live a solitary, tranquil and philosophical life. This supposedly shows contempt for death. The other story Montaigne tells is about St. Hilary who wished both his daughter and his wife dead so they could be with God rather than living in wealth and comfort on earth. When they both died, St. Hilary was happy as a clam. Montaigne doesn't offer much in the way of commentary on either of these stories. But I don't think Montaigne would agree with the idea, he liked his comforts too much. I think the point here might just be one of comparison, that the Stoic Seneca had much in common with a Christian Saint. Next week's Montaigne potpourri: "Something Lacking in Our Civil Administrations," "On Not Sharing One's Fame," and "On Sumptuary Laws"