Monday, December 31, 2007

Reading Montaigne is not only discovering a man and his humanistic ideas. It is also discovering an era.

When one reads Montaigne’s Essays, one thing that strikes is the modernity of the ideas and statements written down in the book. Of course, there are exceptions like his observations about women, but generally Montaigne gives many ideas and rules of life that are still applicable today and that can be used as guides in life. For understanding what Montaigne writes and for reading the Essays with pleasure, one does not need to know much about the man and the time he lived in. But what is the Battle of Dreux? Why was there so much violence around him in those days and why was his castle besieged? Who were Henri II, La Boétie, and many other persons he met? Why does he write so much about religion? Why are his Essays full of examples and quotations from classical antiquity? And so on. Many questions can be asked when reading the book, but, as said, the Essays can be read well and with pleasure without asking them and, in case one does, it is not necessary to answer them in order to enjoy the book. However, the author and his work can be understood better, if one does not only ask questions like these and if the reading does not only makes curious about such themes but if one really tries to answer them by diving mentally into the life and time of Montaigne. Then one does not only receive a better understanding of Montaigne’s Essays and what he is writing about his environment and himself (and aren’t the Essays a comment on and an explication of his life?), but one goes also into a period of history that was essential for the way the following ages developed. And the more one becomes involved in the time that Montaigne was living in, the more curious one becomes, and the more one wants to know about it. How amazing this age was! Therefore, I dare to say that reading Montaigne’s Essays is not only discovering a man and his humanistic ideas; it is also discovering an era.

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