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(a)[1] Bertrand du Guesclin died at the siege of the castle of Rancon, near Le Puy in Auvergne.[2] The besieged, having surrendered later, were compelled to carry the keys of the citadel on the dead man’s body. Barthelemys d’Alviano, commanding the army of the Venetians, having met death during their wars in La Bresse, and his body having to be taken back to Venice through Verona, a hostile territory, most of the army were of opinion that they should ask the Veronese for a safe-conduct for their march; but Theodore Trivulzio demurred, and chose rather to pass through by force, at the risk of a fight, “as it was not fitting,” he said, “that he who had never in his life dreaded his enemies, being dead, should show fear of them.”[3]

(b) In a similar matter, in fact, the Greek law provided that he who asked the enemy for a dead body, in order to bury it, by so doing renounced the victory, and therefore it was not permissible for him to erect a trophy: to him of whom the request was made, it was a proof of success. Thus Nicias lost the advantage he had clearly won over the Corinthians;[4] and, on the other hand, Agesilaus confirmed his very questionable victory over the Bœotians.[5]

(a) These acts might appear strange, had it not been the accepted practice in all ages, not only that we extend our care for ourselves beyond this life, but also to believe that very often the favours of Heaven accompany us to our grave and continue to our bones; of which there are so many ancient examples, to say nothing of our own time, that there is no need for me to enlarge upon the subject. Edward I, King of England, having experienced in the long wars between himself and Robert, King of Scotland, how great an advantage his presence gave to his affairs, having always been victorious in whatever he undertook in person, when he was dying, compelled his son to swear solemnly that, when dead, his body should be boiled, — in order to separate the flesh from the bones, — and the flesh buried;

  1. In the first edition of the Essays (1580), this chapter began here.
  2. See Jean Bouchet, Annales d’Aquitaine.
  3. See Guicciardini, Storia d’Italia, XII.
  4. See Plutarch, Life of Nicias.
  5. See Idem, Life of Agesilaus.