Saturday, March 19, 2005

Final Montaigne Hodge Podge

It's been over a year since I began winding my way through The Complete Essays of Michel de Montaigne. It all began on March 6, 2004. At that time I had some vague notion that I'd be done by the end of the year. I should have counted the essays and paid more attention to how many pages this book has (1269 not including the index). Silly me. I have been enjoying the book, however, and have come to think of Saturdays as being "essay day." I have come to the conclusion that I like reading a good essay and when Montaigne is finally done (November or December 2005? There are about 40 essays left) I will move on to another book of essays. I have already decided on the book. I don't want to give it away, but I will say the author of the next book of (collected) essays/writings has read Montaigne and even lectured on him and is American. And dead. That should narrow it down for you! I also thought I would partake of a biography of Montaigne, having now made it through Book One (of three). Alas, the dearth of biographies is astounding (Please do not tell me I should write one. I dream of writing novels, not biographies). I had thought for sure to find one but everything appears to be critical analysis of the essays or his times or his philosophy. Resigned to a critical study, I looked to see what my library had. They offered only two and the one that looked the most interesting is in storage while the new main downtown library is being built. Obviously Montaigne is not in high demand among my fellow Minneapolites (Plays into the myth of Minnesota nice--oops! Did I say myth? Everyone here is really really nice. Really.) Minneapolitans? (Sounds vaguely metropolitan but also sounds like a pastry) Minneapollonians? (Ah, sounds Greek to me, like maybe we are a city of small Apollos or Apollo's descendants--very godly and god-like here and Scandanavian. I think there is a story about Apollo going to Sweden once, isn't there?) I had to settle for Montaigne by Marcel Tetel, published in 1974. It is a rather short book but I have to take what I can get. Enough with the ramblings, on to the final assortment of Montaigne essays in Book One. On the Battle of Dreux The battle of Dreux took place on December 19, 1592 between the Catholics and the Protestants. The Catholics won but not without large casualties, some say due to the fault of the command. In this brief essay, Montaigne defends the loss of life by using the example of two ancient battles. Montaigne concludes, "But apart from what is proved by the outcome, anyone who will debate the matter dispassionately will, I think, readily concede that the target in the sights of any soldier, let alone a commander, must be overall victory and that no events, no matter what their importance to individuals, should divert him from that aim." On the Frugality of the Ancients This essay is less than a page long and goes absolutely nowhere. Montaigne gives a few example of the ancients and their frugality and that's it. He makes no comment or speculation or anything. It is a kernel of thought that stayed a kernel. On One of Caesar's Sayings The saying: "By a defect of nature common to all men, we place our trust, rather, in things unseen, hidden and unknown, and are terrified to distraction by them." Montaigne takes this to mean that people are never satisfied with what they have. We want something badly, a new car, another university degree, a new pair of shoes, and think that this object which we don't have will, at last, bring us true happiness--we'll be hip, popular, we'll have it all. But as soon as we have the object of our desire we want something else. Oh how true this is. I had a smug moment when I thought, "Hah! I don't do that!" But then I looked up at my book shelves and realized I'm guilty too. But books are different. Aren't they? Next week's Montaigne essay: "A Custom of the Isle of Cea" (I have no idea where Cea is but I will find out before next Saturday)