ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
himself, that he could not endure seeing it at this height in another without the irritation of an emotion of envy? or that the natural impetuosity of his wrath could not brook opposition? In truth, if it could have been checked, we must believe that it would have been so in the capture and desolation of the city of Thebes, upon seeing so many valiant men destroyed, and having no longer any means of defence, cruelly put to the sword. For full six thousand were killed there, of whom not one was seen to take flight or ask quarter; on the contrary, they sought, some here some there through the streets, to defy their victorious enemies, provoking an honourable death. Nor was one seen who did not strive on to his last breath to avenge himself, and with the weapons of despair to console his own death with the death ah some enemy. Yet the grievousness of their valour found no pity, and one day’s length did not suffice to slake his vengeance. The carnage lasted till the last drop of blood was shed, and stopped only at those who were unarmed, — old men, women, and children, — to make of them thirty thousand slaves.
Of this Essay the first sentence and the last are the most interesting. The first: “I am one of those least subject to this emotion”; and the last: “I am little subject to such violent emotions. My sensitiveness is naturally not keen, and I harden and deaden it every day intentionally.” It is to be observed that these sentences were not in the Essay as first published in 1580; they were added eight years later, like those of the same character we have noted in the first Essay. It was during the intervening years that Montaigne had discovered a purpose for his writing, an aim for his thoughts, in the description, the delineation of himself as an aid in the study of man — the most important study man can pursue. The sentences above quoted are among the first lines of his self-portraiture.
The Essay opens with narratives exhibiting the effects of successive sorrows on some souls; those that receive the first blow with rigid calmness and are overwhelmed by a later lighter one. The old account of the painting of the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the turning Niobe to stone
- See Diodorus Siculus, XXVII, 4.