ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
avoiding great calamities But any one who has found himself badly off from death — have you seen such a one? Surely it is great folly to condemn a thing that you have never experienced, either by yourself or by another. Why do you complain of me and of fate? Do we wrong you? Is it for you to govern us, or for us to govern you? Although your age may not be finished, your life is. A small man is as whole a man as a large one. Neither men nor their lives are measured by the ell. Chiron refused immortality when informed of its conditions by the very god of time and duration, his father Saturn. Imagine, in fact, how much less endurable and more toilsome to man an everlasting life would be, than the life that I have given him. If you had not death, you would incessantly curse me for having deprived you of it. I have purposely mingled something of bitterness with it, to prevent you, seeing how advantageous it is, from embracing it too greedily and unadvisedly. To establish you in this moderate course, of neither flying from life nor shunning death, which I demand of you, I have modified both with sweetness and with bitterness. I taught Thales, the first of your wise men, that to live or to die was indifferent; wherefore he replied very wisely to one who asked him why, then, he did not die, “Because it is a matter of indifference.” Water, earth, air, fire, and other elements of this edifice of mine, are no more instruments of your life than of your death. Why do you fear your last day? It contributes no more to your death than does each of the other days. The last step does not cause lassitude: it manifests it. All days go toward death; the last day arrives there.
(a) Such are the good counsels of our mother Nature. I have often reflected why in war the face of death, whether we see it in ourselves or in others, seems incomparably less appalling than in our houses (otherwise the army would consist of physicians and wailers); and, death being always one and the same thing, why there is always much more composure among peasants and those of low estate than among
- See Seneca, Epistle 91.
- See Idem, Epistle 93.
- See Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead, XXVI.
- See Diogenes Laertius, Life of Thales.
- See Seneca, Epistle 117.
- See Idem, Epistle 120.