BOOK I, CHAPTER I
(a) Truly man is a marvellously volatile, various, and wavering creature; it is difficult to base a stable and uniform judgement upon him. Look at Pompey, who pardoned the whole city of the Mamertines, against which he was greatly roused, in view of the courage and magnanimity of the citizen Zeno, who took upon himself alone the public misdeed, and sought no other favour than to bear alone the penalty of it. And Sylla’s host, having displayed the like courage in the city of Perugia, gained nothing thereby, either for himself, or for others. (b) And, directly contrary to my first examples, the bravest of men, and the most merciful to the vanquished, Alexander, having forced the city of Gaza after many great difficulties, found there Betis, who was in command, of whose valour he had seen marvellous proofs during the siege, all covered with blood and wounds, still fighting in the midst of a number of Macedonians, who attacked him pell-mell. Alexander, irritated by so costly a victory (for among other mischances he had received two fresh wounds on his body), cried out to him: “You shall not die as you have desired, Betis; be assured that you must suffer every kind of torture that can be invented for a prisoner.” The other, with a countenance not only undismayed, but arrogant and haughty, said no word in reply to these threats. Whereupon Alexander, seeing his proud and persistent silence, cried: “Bends he not the knee? Has no sound of entreaty escaped him? Truly I will con- quer this silence, and if I cannot extort a word from him, at least I will extort groans.” And, his wrath becoming frenzy, he ordered that his heels should be pierced, and a cord passed through them, and had him dragged thus, alive, torn, and dismembered, at the tail of a cart. May it be that courage was so natural and common a thing to him [Alexander] that, because he did not wonder at it, he thought less highly of it? (c) or that he considered it to belong so peculiarly to
- See Plutarch, Political Precepts, where the citizen is called Stheno.
- Ibid. The city was Præneste. The mistake was made by Amyot in the first edition of his translation (1572), where Montaigne found it. It was corrected in Amyot’s edition of 1574. In the first edition (1580) the Essay ended here.
- Qui le chamailloient de toutes parts.
- See Quintus Curtius, IV, 6.