Having another go at Montaigne’s Essais,1 one of those books I always make a brave run at, but abandon a third of the way through, brushed away from the mindset of the book into arbitrary business.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the first essay, ‘By various means we arrive at the same end’. I was pleased to see Skanderbeg (whom I probably would have imagined as Greek pirate if I had read the book when I first bought it), but I’m not quite sure which ‘end’ is reached by ‘various means’. At first it appears that Montaigne is referring to clemency, achieved either through supplication or through bravado, but the essay takes a dark twist with Alexander the Great who, ‘so gracious to the vanquished’, orders a truculent captive to be hooked by the heels to the back of a chariot and dragged to death. Montaigne goes on to wonder why Alexander had done this – whether he was so brave that he didn’t admire bravery in others, or was just grumpy that day, or any number of other reasons – but despite the unanswerability of this speculation, the result was the same and the man was killed – his life being in Alexander’s hands whether he acknowledged that fact or not. A gloomy and rather disheartening approach to the future, surely.
- I had picked up Trechmann’s translation many years ago in a handsome double-decker, two-volumes-in-one, red-bound monstrosity about the size of a family bible. [↩]