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Corinth;[1] and a conqueror of half the world and the ruler of countless armies, she renders a wretched suppliant of the base-born officials of the king of Egypt, so high a price did the great Pompey pay for the lengthening of his life by five or six months.[2] And in the time of our fathers that Ludovic Sforza, tenth duke of Milan, who had so long kept all Italy in a turmoil, was seen to die at Loches, but not till he had lived there ten years, which was the worst part of his catastrophe.[3] (c) The loveliest of queens,[4] widow of the greatest king in all Christendom, has she not just died by the hand of an executioner? Shameful and barbarous cruelty![5] (a) And a thousand like examples; for it would seem that, as storms and tempests rage against the pride and loftiness of our buildings, so there are, on high, spirits envious of earthly grandeurs.

Usque adeo res humanas vis abdita quædam
Obterit, et pulchros fasces sævasque secures
Proculcare, ac ludibrio sibi habere videtur.[6]

And it would seem that Fortune precisely watches for the last day of our life, in order to show her power to overturn in an instant what she has built up in long years,[7] and makes us cry, like Laberius: Nimirum hac die una plus vixi mihi quam vivendum fuit.[8]

So that good judgement of Solon may wisely be accepted. But because by him, as a philosopher, the favours of Fortune are ranked neither as good luck nor as ill luck, and

  1. An allusion to the familiar story of Dionysius the tyrant, driven from his realm by Timoleon.
  2. See Cicero, Tusc. Disp., I, 35.
  3. See Guicciardini, IV.
  4. Mary, Queen of Scots, widow of François II. She was executed in 1587, but this passage did not appear in the Essays until after Montaigne’s death.
  5. This last sentence is not in the Édition Municipale, but was added in 1595.
  6. So true it is that a hidden power tramples on human affairs, and seems as in sport to tread underfoot the fair rods and the cruel axes. — Lucretius, V, 1233.
  7. See Seneca, Epistle 98: Incrementa lente exeunt, festinatur in damnum.
  8. Surely I have lived to-day one day longer than I should have lived. — Macrobius, Saturnalia, II, 7.