MONTAIGNE: Essays [That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them; Upon Some Verses of Virgil]

That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them

  • Men are tormented with the opinions they have of things and not by the things themselves.
  • It is within our power to turn what we now call evil and torment to good.
  • The diversity of opinions men have towards things supports the argument that supposed evils are not innately evil but only evil because some men judge them to be evil. For example, the majority of men regard death, poverty, and pain as the chief evils of the world, yet there are men who endure patiently and even seek out all these supposed evils.
  • The majority of philosophers have either purposely anticipated, hastened, or assisted their own death. Furthermore, ordinary people being led to the guillotine are often seen cheerful and unconcerned.
  • Pyrrho, the philosopher, was on a boat amidst a great tempest. Some of the boat’s crew were frightened and feared for their lives. Pyrrho pointed out a hog that was there, which was completely indifferent to the storm. We should not use our intelligence, which was bestowed upon us as the greatest good, to cause our ruin and make us unmanly. Our intelligence was not given to us as a torment.
  • Regarding pain, however, Pyrrho’s hog is in the same condition as us. If you beat the hog or a man, he will cry out. Every living creature is seen to tremble under pain. Death is only felt by reason, pain is felt by the senses. What we fear in death is pain, which is often the forerunner to death. We also fear poverty for the miseries of hunger, thirst, heat, and other inconveniences that make us suffer. Thus, pain is what we fear most.
  • However, pain is necessary to distinguish the courageous and virtuous from the vulgar. Furthermore, a good deed is a greater satisfaction by how much the more it has pained us.
  • We can take comfort that if a pain is violent, then it will be short; if a pain is long, then it will not be violent. The pain will either put an end to itself or you.
  • Pain can affect the body and reason, but the soul can remain untarnished through exercise of patience.
  • An enemy is made more fierce when we flee from him. The same applies to pain. The soul must stoutly oppose pain. We are more sensible to the slight touch of a surgeon scalpel than of twenty wounds with a sword in the heat of battle.
  • As with death, there is a great diversity of opinions regarding pain. Some nations make nothing of the pains of childbirth, while the European nations are convinced it is a great suffering. Seven year olds have endured being whipped to death without changing countenance. A Spartan boy endured a fox, which he had stolen and placed under his coat, to tear out his bowels than to let it be discovered that he had stolen the fox, fearing more the shame of stupidity in stealing than punishment.
  • Women endure all manners of pain to enhance their beauty.
  • People and nations will often harm themselves to gain credit to what they profess.
  • People like Caesar and Alexander the Great seek out disturbance and difficulty to prove their worth.
  • The rich have more cares than the poor. The more money one has, the more fearful a man becomes over losing it. It is not want, but abundance that creates avarice.
  • Everyone is well or ill at ease according as he finds himself; it is not he whom the world believes to be content, but he whom believes himself to be so, that is content. Our soul transforms what Fortune bestows upon us as either a good or evil.

Men are tormented with the opinions they have of things and not by the things themselves.

We hold death, poverty, and pain for our principal enemies; now, this death, which some repute the most dreadful of all dreadful things, who does not know that others call it the only secure harbour from the storms and tempests of life, the sovereign good of nature, the sole support of liberty, and the common and prompt remedy of all evils? And as the one expect it with fear and trembling, the others support it with greater ease than life.

Should I here produce a long catalogue of those, of all sexes and conditions and sects, even in the most happy ages, who have either with great constancy looked death in the face, or voluntarily sought it, and sought it not only to avoid the evils of this life, but some purely to avoid the satiety of living, and others for the hope of a better condition elsewhere, I should never have done.

Shall we then dare to say that this advantage of reason, of which we so much boast, and upon the account of which we think ourselves masters and emperors over the rest of all creation, was given us for a torment? Shall we employ the understanding that was conferred upon us for our greatest good to our own ruin?

The delay of death is more painful than death itself.

There is nothing to be feared in poverty but the miseries it brings along with it of thirst, hunger, cold, heat, watching, and the other inconveniences it makes us suffer, still we have nothing to do with anything but pain.

Were there no lying upon the hard ground, no enduring, armed at all points, the meridional heats, no feeding upon the flesh of horses and asses, no seeing a man’s self hacked and hewed to pieces, no suffering a bullet to be pulled out from amongst the shattered bones, no sewing up, cauterising and searching of wounds, by what means were the advantage we covet to have over the vulgar to be acquired? ‘Tis far from flying evil and pain, what the sages say, that of actions equally good, a man should most covet to perform that wherein there is greater labour and pain.

If the pain be violent, ’tis but short; and if long, nothing violent.

Remember that the greatest pains are terminated by death; that slighter pains have long intermissions of repose, and that we are masters of the more moderate sort: so that, if they be tolerable, we bear them; if not, we can go out of life, as from a theatre, when it does not please us.

Plato fears our too vehemently engaging ourselves with pain and pleasure, forasmuch as these too much knit and ally the soul to the body; whereas I rather, quite contrary, by reason it too much separates and disunites them. As an enemy is made more fierce by our flight, so pain grows proud to see us truckle under her. She will surrender upon much better terms to them who make head against her: a man must oppose and stoutly set himself against her. In retiring and giving ground, we invite and pull upon ourselves the ruin that threatens us. As the body is more firm in an encounter, the more stiffly and obstinately it applies itself to it, so is it with the soul.

We are more sensible of one little touch of a surgeon’s lancet than of twenty wounds with a sword in the heat of fight.

Custom could never conquer nature; she is ever invincible; but we have infected the mind with shadows, delights, negligence, sloth; we have grown effeminate through opinions and corrupt morality.

How many do we know who have forsaken the calm and sweetness of a quiet life at home amongst their acquaintance, to seek out the horror of unhabitable deserts; and having precipitated themselves into so abject a condition as to become the scorn and contempt of the world, have hugged themselves with the conceit, even to affectation.

It is not want, but rather abundance that creates avarice.

There is more trouble in keeping money than getting it.

Every one is well or ill at ease, according as he so finds himself; not he whom the world believes, but he who believes himself to be so, is content; and in this alone belief gives itself being and reality. Fortune does us neither good nor hurt; she only presents us the matter and the seed, which our soul, more powerful than she, turns and applies as she best pleases; the sole cause and sovereign mistress of her own happy or unhappy condition.

This is my favorite Montaigne essay. I do not know whether Shakespeare used this essay’s insights when he wrote Hamlet’s well-known statement to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern – “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” – but I think it is safe to conclude that Hamlet and Montaigne ascribe to the same philosophy.

Indeed, men are tormented not with things themselves, but by the opinion he has of those things. For example, death is regarded as one of the chief evils. However, men have been seen cheerful on the way to their own executions; philosophers, soldiers, and others have sought out their own death to escape dishonor or the unbearable afflictions of the world. Similarly, people seek out pain and often endure it with patience; women pluck out grey hairs, remove teeth, etc. in an attempt to enhance their beauty; people harm themselves to gain credit for what they profess. One can also take consolation in the fact that if a pain is violent, then it will not last long; for if a pain is too great, it will kill us. If a pain lasts long, then it will not be violent; but if we cannot endure the pain, then we always can resort to suicide to end the torment. Pain is also necessary to distinguish the courageous and virtuous from the vulgar. Pain elevates actions, and men often discover that a good act is a greater satisfaction when it is accompanied by greater hardship.

Upon Some Verses of Virgil

  • A man should instruct his soul to sustain and contend with evils, but this instruction must be undertaken with moderation; for the soul will grow melancholy if continually intent upon overcoming evils and exercising temperance and virtue. Montaigne, in old age, allows himself to yield to desires that he resisted in his youth; for old age incessantly reminds Montaigne of death, and thus Montaigne must seek respite from these dismal thoughts in pleasurable pursuits.
  • Montaigne distracts himself from the aches of old age and his imminent death by amusing himself with remembrances of his better years spent in his youth.
  • Montaigne counts it as a blessing when nothing happens to him during the course of a day. Gloomy days are ordinary in his old age.
  • Montaigne only desires to live and be merry. He would travel across the world to attain a year spent in pleasant and jocund tranquility.
  • Montaigne’s judgment restrains him from railing against the inconveniences of old age, but this does not prevent him from suffering and feeling those inconveniences.
  • Montaigne believes that his mind is a traitor to him as his body is. The mind seems to have contracted with the body to betray him. The faculties solely belonging to the mind are stupefied and asleep as the body; there is no liveliness in the production of the mind if there is no energy or vigor in the body.
  • The extraordinary emotions of the soul, which have been attributed to love, martial fierceness, divine ecstasy, etc., greatly depend on the health and vigor of the body.
  • A man should resolve to confess everything he is bold enough to do or think, so that he does not hide his own vices from himself; for in trying to hide vices from others, we often hide our vices from ourselves.
  • Men who seek glory should openly confess their faults as well as their virtues; for if men praise you for something that you are not, then they are not praising you; they are actually praising someone else, or someone who they perceive you to be.
  • In farewells, we often excite our affections to those things that we are leaving. Accordingly, Montaigne is leaving the world and its pleasures; and therefore is embracing every pleasure he can find.
  •  Montaigne wonders what sex has done to man that he dare not speak about it in serious or moderate discourse, and blushes to hear about it. Montaigne agrees with Lucretius’ statement that nothing is joyful or pleasant without love.
  • Man should marry by the sway of reason rather than beauty because posterity depends upon the match; and thus society is much more concerned with marriage and propagation than ourselves. Marriages contracted upon beauty and amorous desires are the ones that soonest fail; the furious ardor of love is worth nothing, and soon exhausts itself.
  • A good marriage rejects the company and conditions of love; it resembles a friendship full of constancy, trust, and mutual obligations. When a married man loves a mistress and strives ardently to attain his desire, he still would rather affliction fall on his mistress than his wife whom he does not love because of the disparate characteristics of the two relationships.
  • When asked whether a man should marry, Socrates replied that no matter what course a man chooses he will regret his choice.
  • Most actions are guided by examples, not choice.
  • Love is often shamefully and dishonorably cured by marriage. Men who have married their mistresses often repent; for tis as the proverb states: to befoul a basket and then put it on one’s head.
  • Love is established wholly upon pleasure, and is inflamed by difficulty. It is no longer love without darts and troubles.
  • Women are trained from infancy in the traffic of love; they are experts compared to men.
  • Some nations deify the penis; they flay some of the skin and consecrate it.
  • Some question whether at the Day of Judgment women will rise again in their own sex or the male sex, for fear of tempting men in that holy state.
  • Men would rather their wife be a murderess than an adulteress. We do not weigh vices according to their natures; we weigh vices according to our interests.
  • Men love women more when the women refuse to have sex with them upon the basis of chastity, not choice.
  • We denounce lascivious behavior because of the most vain and turbulent disease that afflicts the human mind – jealousy.
  • Jealousy defaces and corrupts all the beautiful and good things of a person. The jealous person is implacable. Octavius, jealous that his mistress would not consent to marry him, killed her.
  • He who takes away the reverence for sex takes away the luster too.
  • Montaigne does not believe that a woman of above average, or even average, features can remain a maiden or faithful to their husbands for very long. Lust is too powerful a desire. Women’s disguises and lies only serve to cozen fools.
  • A happy marriage is not one because it is so, but because no one says to the contrary. Therefore, men should take heed to avoid knowing of their wives’ unfaithfulness.
  • It is impossible to cure women of jealousy, suspicion, and curiosity because these characteristics are deeply rooted in the nature of women.
  • The custom of placing a high value upon sex and making it difficult to achieve, raises the allure of engaging in it. Otherwise the act would be insipid. Women are more eager to engage in sex being forbidden.
  • Whoever Montaigne steadfastly looks upon, he begins to adopt the person’s mannerisms and phrases of speech. However, this type of natural imitative inclination is injurious if used to acquire the habits of a vile fellow.
  • Love is nothing else but the thirst for enjoying the object desired.
  • Lust is a mark of our deformity, vanity, and corruption.
  • We are brutes to call that thing which begets us brutish.
  • We avoid witnessing the birth of child, but we hasten to see the execution of people. We display executions in public while we surreptitiously sneak into darkness to engage in fornication. We are ashamed to create, and proud to destroy.
  • Montaigne wonders how monstrous mankind is that there are some people who abhor their own natures. For example, some men refuse to be seen while eating, esteem themselves based on their contempt for themselves, withdraw from society and speak to no one, mutilate their bodies and abjure all pleasures of life, etc.
  • Once men have conquered a woman, the desire soon abates. A man from ancient Greece refused to fornicate with a woman he loved after obtaining her consent because he did not wish for his desire for her to abate.
  • We do not desire to merely enjoy the body of the woman we lust for, but rather desire to gain her consent and then enjoy the body; for merely enjoying the body without the person’s consent and liking is the same type of enjoyment derived from fornicating with a dead body.
  • Love hurts nobody but fools
  • Love kindles the desire to improve oneself so that one may be more beloved. Love engenders vigilance, sobriety, grace, and care for oneself.
  • Love naturally lives in the age just after childhood. Plato writes that Love exists until the budding of naturally lives in the age just after childhood. Plato writes that Love exists until the budding of man’s beard.

The mind wishes to have what it has lost, and throws itself wholly into memories of the past.

I, who have no other thing in my aim but to live and be merry, would run from one end of the world to the other to seek out one good year of pleasant and jocund tranquility.

Whoever will oblige himself to tell all, should oblige himself to do nothing that he must be forced to conceal. Why does no man confess his vices?  because he is yet in them; ’tis for a waking man to tell his dream.

He who does all things for honor and glory, what can he think to gain by showing himself to the world in a visor, and by concealing his true being from the people? If you are a coward, and men commend you for your valor, is it of you they speak? They take you for another. Socrates being told that people spoke ill of him, “Not at all,” said he, “there is nothing, in me of what they say.”

The force and power of this god, Love, are more lively and animated in the picture of poesy than in their own essence. Venus is not so beautiful, naked, alive, and panting, as she is here in Virgil.

I see no marriages where the conjugal compatibility sooner fails than those that we contract upon the account of beauty and amorous desires; there should be more solid and constant foundation, and they should proceed with greater circumspection; this furious ardour is worth nothing.

Socrates being asked, whether it was more commodious to take a wife or not, “Let a man take which course he will,” said he; “he will repent.”

Most actions are guided by example, not choice.

Love founds itself wholly upon pleasure, and, indeed, has it more full, lively, and sharp; a pleasure inflamed by difficulty; there must be in it sting and smart: ’tis no longer love, if without darts and fire.

An entire appetite is more sharp than one already half-glutted by the eyes.

Let us confess the truth; there is scarce one of us who does not more apprehend the shame that accrues to him by the vices of his wife than by his own, and that is not more solicitous (a wonderful charity) of the conscience of his virtuous wife than of his own; who had not rather commit theft and sacrilege, and that his wife was a murderess and a heretic, than that she should not be more chaste than her husband: an unjust estimate of vices. Both we and they are capable of a thousand corruptions more prejudicial and unnatural than lust: but we weigh vices, not according to nature, but according to our interest; by which means they take so many unequal forms.

The price of the conquest is reckoned by the difficulty.

This our immoderate and illegitimate exasperation against this vice (Lust) springs from the most vain and turbulent disease that afflicts human minds, which is jealousy.

No hate is implacable except the hatred of love.

Let us also consider whether the great and violent severity of obligation we enjoin them does not produce two effects contrary to our design namely, whether it does not render the pursuants more eager to attack, and the women more easy to yield. For as to the first, by raising the value of the place, we raise the value and the desire of the conquest. Might it not be Venus herself, who so cunningly enhanced the price of her merchandise, by making the laws her bawds; knowing how insipid a delight it would be that was not heightened by fancy and hardness to achieve? In short, ’tis all swine’s flesh, varied by sauces, as Flaminius’ host said.

Love is nothing else but the thirst of enjoying the object desired.

Every one avoids seeing a man born, every one runs to see him die; to destroy him a spacious field is sought out in the face of the sun, but, to make him, we creep into as dark and private a corner as we can: ’tis a man’s duty to withdraw himself bashfully from the light to create; but ’tis glory and the fountain of many virtues to know how to destroy what we have made: the one is injury, the other favour: for Aristotle says that to do any one a kindness, in a certain phrase of his country, is to kill him.

The ladies are no sooner ours, than we are no more theirs.

Lust, like a wild beast, being more excited by being bound, breaks from his chains with great wildness.

In this essay, Montaigne addresses the topic of old age and love. He wrote this essay when he was old and suffering from the typical bodily and mental afflictions of old age. At one point in the essay, he writes that he would willingly travel across the world to find a place where he could spend one year in pleasurable tranquility. He used to have very few gloomy days, but now gloomy days are common.

The rest of the essay is devoted to Love. Montaigne argues that Love is nothing more than a thirst to enjoy an object of desire. From this proposition, Montaigne concludes that women should delay engaging in sex with a man for as long as possible because her refusals will enhance the man’s desire for her. Once a man has satisfied his “Love/Lust” the passion is soon lost. Therefore, an ancient Greek, wishing to retain that passionate desire for his mistress, denied her offer to fornicate.

Montaigne praises the virtues that Love promotes in individuals. People in love tend to improve themselves, adopt virtuous behaviors and temperance because they wish to be more beloved b their lover. However, Love is also detrimental. Montaigne believes that the greatest disease which can afflict mankind is jealousy. Jealousy will corrupt and eliminate all the beautiful qualities of a person. Furthermore, since Montaigne believes that Love is too powerful a desire to subdue and control, and therefore all women will cuckold their husbands, men are doomed to despair and suffering if they love a woman.

Montaigne: Essays

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One thought on “MONTAIGNE: Essays [That the Relish of Good and Evil Depends in a Great Measure upon the Opinion We Have of Them; Upon Some Verses of Virgil]”

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