RENAISSANCE                     MAIN POINTS


  • There were many Renaissances, but the main movement occurred roughly between the mid 1400s and the mid 1600s.
  • The Renaissance was a consequent of the urbanization of Europe, the discovery of new trading zones and new worlds, a surplus of agricultural products, more money available to more people, and a desire to acquire knowledge.
  • It is unquestionably linked to the Age of Exploration and its consequences.  Exploration was followed by exploitation.  There is a strong link between exploration and the old spirit of the Crusades, meaning the desire to save souls.
  • The Renaissance called Middle Ages “The Dark Ages,” going back to Greece and Rome for inspiration.  The immediate past was disappointing and did not correspond to man’s new longings.
  • The middle class supplied new leaders and the absolute power of the Church was challenged.  There was a clash between the Age of Faith and the Age of Man.  While medieval Christianity limited individual expression and praised self-annihilation, the Classic canon approved of individuality and intellectual freedom.  Absolute faith was replaced by the need to doubt, to search for the truth in all matters.
  • Instead of being concerned with eternal life and salvation, the Renaissance man wanted to live for the moment, be happy on earth, to enjoy all the pleasures of life (also an influence of the Troubadours).
  • A passion for all that is human à Humanism
  • The restoration of liberal arts through names such as Leonardo da Vinci, Montaigne and Rabelais.
  • Printing press and distribution of knowledge thanks to Gutenberg’s invention.
  • Reconciliation of man and religion: the true Christian didn’t lock themselves in convents and monasteries.  This was a selfish attitude.  The true Christian lived in the world among other human beings. 
  • Man should strive for moral and intellectual excellence, work for the better good.
  • All knowledge is useful and one should seek to know the soul of things.  One should be taught to become an independent thinker.
  • There was not a specific philosophical movement to come out of the Renaissance, which rather served as a terrain for new values, new ways of thinking and experiencing life on earth.  It eventually would serve as the bases for future philosophies.
  • Wars of religion were propelled by the desire to get out of Church’s control of money, to rebel against corruption among Christianity’s high and low clergy.
  • Martin Luther did not accept the idea that salvation could be obtained by good deeds alone.  He believed that a deep, genuine connection between man and God was essential.
  • Calvin, and the Reformation, insisted that God demanded man to be moral and to live an austere life.
  • The challenges imposed to the Church by Luther and Calvin resulted in the strengthening of the Holy Inquisition.  However, the Church could not contain this new wave of rebellion.  By 1609 the Holy Roman Empire was divided into the Protestant Union and the Catholic League.
  • Huguenots à French Calvinists.
  • The Wars of Religion were accompanied by a new wave of plague.
  • 1572 à Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.  All started at the wedding party of the head of French Protestantism, Henry of Navarre, and Marguerite de Valois, a catholic from the royal family.  The Protestant wedding guests were murdered.  A killing spree throughout France took place next, leaving over 70 000 protestants dead. 
  • 1598 à Edict of Nantes                        1685 à Revocation of the Edict of Nantes


FRANÇOIS RABELAIS (1494 – 1553?)


  • Monk, doctor, writer
  • Pantagruel (1532) à Based on an anonymous text, of popular origins, Pantagruel tells the adventures of a giant.  The comic techniques, use of lower-body humor and social criticism are characteristics of Rabelais.
  • Gargantua (1543) à Father of Pantagruel
  • Third Book, Fourth Book, Fifty Book
  • Love of nature, view of man as part of nature
  • Realism à we can learn about Rabelais’ time through his comic writings
  • Fantasy à to emphasize the infinite capacities of man.
  • Symbolism à characters represent concepts such as ambition, stupidity, perversion, etc.
  • Verbal invention à he creates words, play with grammar, sentence structures, in short: he uses language to its full potential and is never slaved by rules.




  • Lawyer, magistrate
  • After retirement, around 1572, he starts writing his Essays
  • The Essays are, as the title says, a trial from the part of the author to get to know himself, a means of better understanding his thoughts and ideas on different matters.  Nothing like that was done before and it contains all that the Renaissance embodies.  He meant to paint himself, with all his faults, doubts and convictions: “I am myself the subject (the matter) of my book.”.
  • The reader is invited to get to know the writer, and, in a way, to follow his path of self-discovery.  In the same way that Montaigne dialogues with Antiquity, he invites the reader to dialogue with his text.


Michel de Montaigne



READER, thou hast here an honest book; it doth at the outset forewarn thee that, in contriving the same, I have proposed to myself no other than a domestic and private end: I have had no consideration at all either to thy service or to my glory. My powers are not capable of any such design. I have dedicated it to the particular commodity of my kinsfolk and friends, so that, having lost me (which they must do shortly), they may therein recover some traits of my conditions and humors, and by that means preserve more whole, and more life-like, the knowledge they had of me. Had my intention been to seek the world's favor, I should surely have adorned myself with borrowed beauties: I desire therein to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple, and ordinary manner, without study and artifice: for it is myself I paint. My defects are therein to be read to the life, and my imperfections and my natural form, so far as public reverence hath permitted me. If I had lived among those nations, which (they say) yet dwell under the sweet liberty of nature's primitive laws, I assure thee I would most willingly have painted myself quite fully and quite naked. Thus, reader, myself am the matter of my book: there's no reason thou shouldst employ thy leisure about so frivolous and vain a subject. Therefore, farewell.

From MONTAIGNE, June 12, 1580


To Madame Diane de Foix, Comtesse de Gurson.

I never yet saw that father, but let his son be never so decrepit or deformed, would not, notwithstanding, own him: not, nevertheless, if he were not totally besotted, and blinded with his paternal affection, that he did not well enough discern his defects: but that with all defaults, he was still his. Just so, I see better than any other, that all I write here are but the idle of a man that has only nibbled upon the outward crust of sciences in his nonage, and only retained a general and formless image of them; who has got a little snatch of everything, and nothing of the whole, a la Francoise. For I know, in general, that there is such a thing as physic, as jurisprudence; four parts in mathematics, and, roughly, what all these aim and point at; and peradventure, I yet know farther, what sciences in general pretend unto, in order to the service of our life: but to dive farther than that, and to have cudgeled my brains in the study of Aristotle, the monarch of all modern learning, or particularly addicted myself to any one science, I have done it; neither is there any one art of which I am able to draw the first lineaments and dead color; insomuch that there is not a boy of the lowest form in a school, that may not pretend to be wiser than I, who am not able to examine him in his first lesson, which, if I am at any time forced upon, I am necessitated, in my own defense, to ask him, unaptly enough, some universal questions, such as may serve to try his natural understanding; a lesson as strange and unknown to him, as his is to me.

I never seriously settled myself to the reading any book of solid learning but Plutarch and Seneca; and there, like the Danaides, I eternally fill, and it as constantly runs out; something of which drops upon this paper, but little or nothing stays with me. History is my particular game as to matter of reading, or else poetry, for which I have particular kindness and esteem: for, as Cleanthes said, as the voice, forced through the narrow passage of a trumpet, comes out more forcible and shrill; so, methinks, a sentence pressed within the harmony of verse, darts out more briskly upon the understanding, and strikes my ear and apprehension with a smarter and more pleasing effect. As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling in the way, and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate. And taking upon me to write indifferently of whatever comes into my head, and therein making use of nothing but my own proper and natural means, if it befall me, as ofttimes it does, accidentally to meet in any good author, the same heads and commonplaces upon which I have attempted to write (as I did but just now in Plutarch's "Discourse of the Force of Imagination"), to see myself so weak and so forlorn, so heavy and so flat, in comparison of those better writers, I at once pity or despise myself. Yet do I please myself with this, that my opinions have often the honor and good fortune to jump with theirs, and that I go in the same path, though at a very great distance, and can say, "Ah, that is so." I am farther satisfied to find, that I have a quality, which every one is not blessed withal, which is, to discern the vast difference between them and me; and notwithstanding all that, suffer my own inventions, low and feeble as they are, to run on in their career, without mending or plastering up the defects that this comparison has laid open to my own view. And, in plain truth, a man had need of a good strong back to keep pace with these people. The indiscreet scribblers of our times, who among their laborious nothings, insert whole sections and pages out of ancient authors, with a design, by that means, to illustrate their own writings, do quite contrary; for this infinite dissimilitude of ornaments renders the complexion of their own compositions so sallow and deformed, that they lose much more than they get.

The philosophers, Chrysippus and Epicurus, were in this of two quite contrary humors: the first not only in his books mixed passages and sayings of other authors, but entire pieces, and, in one, the whole "Medea" of Euripides; which gave Apollodorus occasion to say, that should a man pick out of his writings all that was none of his, he would leave him nothing but blank paper: whereas the latter, quite contrary, in three hundred volumes that he left behind him, has not so much as any one quotation.


But, be it how it will, and whatever these essays of mine may be, I will say I never intended to conceal them, no more than my old bald grizzled portrait before them, where the painter has presented you not with a perfect face, but with mine. For these are my own particular opinions and fancies, and I deliver them as only what I myself believe, and not for what is to be believed by others. I have no other end in this writing, but only to reveal myself, who, also, shall, peradventure, be another thing tomorrow, if I chance to meet any new instruction to change me. I have no authority to be believed, neither do I desire it, being too conscious of my own ignorance to be able to instruct others.

A friend of mine, then, having read the preceding chapter, the other day told me, that I should a little farther have extended my discourse on the education of children. Now, Madame, if I had any sufficiency in this subject, I could not possibly better employ it, than to present my best instructions to the little gentleman that threatens you shortly with a happy birth (for you are too generous to begin otherwise than with a male); for having had so great a hand in the treaty of your marriage, I have a certain particular right and interest in the greatness and prosperity of the issue that shall spring from it.  But, in truth, all I understand as to that particular is only this, that the greatest and most important difficulty of human science is the education of children. For as in agriculture, the husbandry that is to precede planting, as also planting itself, is certain, plain, and well known; but after that which is planted comes to life, there is a great deal more to be done, more art to be used, more care to be taken, and much more difficulty to cultivate and bring it to perfection; so it is with men; it is no hard matter to get children; but after they are born, then begins the trouble, solicitude, and care rightly to train, principle, and bring them up. The symptoms of their inclinations in that tender age are so obscure, and the promises so uncertain and fallacious, that it is very hard to establish any solid judgment or conjecture upon them.

Cubs of bears and puppies readily discover their natural inclination; but men, so soon as ever they are grown up, applying themselves to certain habits, engaging themselves in certain opinions, and conforming themselves to particular laws and customs, easily alter, or at least disguise, their true and real disposition; and yet it is hard to force the propensity of nature. Whence it comes to pass, that for not having chosen the right course, we often take very great pains, and consume a good part of our time in training up children to things, for which, by their natural constitution, they are totally unfit. In this difficulty, nevertheless, I am clearly of opinion, that they ought to be instructed in the best and most advantageous studies, without taking too much notice of, or being too superstitious in those light prognostics they give of themselves in their tender years.

The charge of the tutor you shall provide for your son, upon the choice of whom depends the whole success of his education, has several other great and considerable parts and duties required in so important a trust, besides that of which I am about to speak: these, however, I shall not mention, as being unable to add anything of moment to the common rules: and in this, wherein I take upon me to advise, he may follow it so far only as it shall appear advisable.

'Tis the custom of pedagogues to be eternally thundering in their pupil's ears, as they were pouring into a funnel, while the business of the pupil is only to repeat what the others have said: now I would have a tutor to correct this error, and, that at the very first, he should, according to the capacity he has to deal with, put it to the test, permitting his pupil himself to taste things, and of himself to discern and choose them, sometimes opening the way to him, and sometimes leaving him to open it for himself; that is, I would not have him alone to invent and speak, but that he should also hear his pupil speak in turn. Socrates, and since him Arcesilaus, made first their scholars speak, and then they spoke to them… It is good to make him, like a young horse, trot before him that he may judge of his going and how much he is to abate of his own speed, to accommodate himself to the vigor and capacity of the other. For want of which due proportion we spoil all; which also to know how to adjust, and to keep within an exact and due measure, is one of the hardest things I know, and 'tis the effect of a high and well-tempered soul to know how to condescend to such puerile motions and to govern and direct them. I walk firmer and more secure up hill than down.

Such as, according to our common way of teaching, undertake, with one and the same lesson, and the same measure of direction, to instruct several boys of differing and unequal capacities, are infinitely mistaken; and 'tis no wonder, if in a whole multitude of scholars, there are not found above two or three who bring away any good account of their time and discipline. Let the master not only examine him about the grammatical construction of the bare words of his lesson, but about the sense and substance of them, and let him judge of the profit he has made, not by the testimony of his memory, but by that of his life. Let him make him put what he has learned into a hundred several forms, and accommodate it to so many several subjects, to see if he yet rightly comprehends it, and has made it his own. 'Tis a sign of crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed; the stomach has not performed its office unless it have altered the form and condition of what was committed to it to concoct. Our minds work only upon trust, when bound and compelled to follow the appetite of another's fancy, enslaved and captivated under the authority of another's instruction; we have been so subjected to the trammel, that we have no free, nor natural pace of our own; our own vigor and liberty are extinct and gone…

Let him make [his pupil] examine and thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon simple authority and upon trust. Aristotle's principles will then be no more principles to him, than those of Epicurus and the Stoics: let this diversity of opinions be propounded to, and laid before him; he will himself choose, if he be able; if not, he will remain in doubt.

For, if he embrace the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own. Who follows another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay, is inquisitive after nothing.  Let him at least, know that he knows. It will be necessary that he imbibe their knowledge, not that he be corrupted with their precepts; and no matter if he forgot where he had his learning, provided he know how to apply it to his own use. Truth and reason are common to every one, and are no more his who state them first, than his who speaks them after: 'tis no more according to Plato, than according to me, since both he and I equally see and understand them. Bees cull their several sweets from this flower and that blossom, here and there where they find them, but themselves afterward make the honey, which is all and purely their own, and no more thyme and marjoram: so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labor and study, tend to nothing else but to form that… The advantages of our study are to become better and wiser. 'Tis, says Epicharmus, the understanding that sees and hears, 'tis the understanding that improves everything, that orders everything, and that acts, rules, and reigns: all other faculties are blind, and deaf, and without soul. And certainly we render it timorous and servile, in not allowing it the liberty and privilege to do anything of itself. Whoever asked his pupil what he thought of grammar or rhetoric, and of such and such a sentence of Cicero? Our masters stick them, full feathered, in our memories, and there establish them like oracles, of which the letters and syllables are of the substance of the thing. To know by rote, is not to know, and signifies no more but only to retain what one has intrusted to our memory. That which a man rightly knows and understands, he is the free disposer of at his own full liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it or fumbling over the leaves of his book. A mere bookish learning is a poor, paltry learning; it may serve for ornament, but there is yet no foundation for any superstructure to be built upon it, according to the opinion of Plato, who says that constancy, faith, and sincerity, are the true philosophy, and the other sciences, that are directed to other ends, mere adulterate paint.

And for this reason, conversation with men is of very great use and travel into foreign countries of singular advantadge; not to bring back (as most of our young monsieurs do) an account only of how many paces Santa Rotonda is in circuit; or of the richness of Signora Livia's petticoats; or, as some others, how much Nero's face, in a statue in such an old ruin, is longer and broader than that made for him on some medal; but to be able chiefly to give an account of the humors, manners, customs and laws of those nations where he has been, and that we may whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them against those of others. I would that a boy should be sent abroad very young, and first, so as to kill two birds with one stone, into those neighboring nations whose language is most differing from our own, and to which, if it be not formed betimes, the tongue will grow too stiff to bend.

And also 'tis the general opinion of all, that a child should not be brought up in his mother's lap. Mothers are too tender, and their natural affection is apt to make the most discreet of them all too tender and lax, that they can neither find in their hearts to give them due correction for the faults they commit, nor suffer them to be inured to hardships and hazards, as they ought to be. They will not endure to see them return all dust and sweat from their exercise, to drink cold drink when they are hot, nor see them mount an unruly horse, nor take a foil in hand against a rude fencer, or so much as to discharge a carbine. And yet there is no remedy; whoever will breed a boy to be good for anything when he comes to be a man, must by no means spare him when young, and must very often transgress the rules of physic… It is not enough to fortify his soul: you are also to make his sinews strong…

And yet, even in this conversing with men I spoke of but now, I have observed this vice, that instead of gathering observations from others, we make it our whole business to lay ourselves upon them, and are more concerned how to expose and set out our own commodities, than how to increase our stock by acquiring new. Silence, therefore, and modesty are very advantageous qualities in conversation. One should, therefore, train up this boy to be sparing and a husband of his knowledge when he has acquired it; and to forbear taking exceptions at or reproving every idle saying or ridiculous story that is said or told in his presence; for it is a very unbecoming rudeness to carp at everything that is not agreeable to our own palate. Let him be satisfied with correcting himself, and not seem to condemn everything in another he would not do himself, nor dispute it as against common customs.  Let him avoid these vain and uncivil images of authority, this childish ambition of coveting to appear better bred and more accomplished, than he really will, by such carriage, discover himself to be. And, as if opportunities of interrupting and reprehending were not to be omitted, to desire thence to derive the reputation of something more than ordinary. For as it becomes none but great poets to make use of the poetical license, so it is intolerable for any but men of great and illustrious souls to assume privilege above the authority of custom. Let him be instructed not to engage in discourse or dispute but with a champion worthy of him, and, even there, not to make use of all the little subtleties that may seem pat for his purpose, but only such arguments as may best serve him. Let him be taught to be curious in the election and choice of his reasons, to abominate impertinence, and, consequently, to affect brevity; but, above all, let him be lessoned to acquiesce and submit to truth so soon as ever he shall discover it, whether in his opponent's argument, or upon better consideration of his own; for he shall never be preferred to the chair for a mere clatter of words and syllogisms, and is no further engaged to any argument whatever, than as he shall in his own judgment approve it: nor yet is arguing a trade, where the liberty of recantation and getting off upon better thoughts, are to be sold for ready money.

Let his conscience and virtue be eminently manifest in his speaking, and have only reason for their guide. Make him understand, that to acknowledge the error he shall discover in his own argument, though only found out by himself, is an effect of judgment and sincerity, which are the principal things he is to seek after; that obstinacy and contention are common qualities, most appearing in mean souls; that to revise and correct himself, to forsake an unjust argument in the height and heat of dispute, are rare, great, and philosophical qualities. Let him be advised; being in company, to have his eye and ear in every corner, for I find that the places of greatest honor are commonly seized upon by men that have least in them, and that the greatest fortunes are seldom accompanied with ability… Let him examine every man's talent; a peasant, a bricklayer, a passenger: one may learn something from every one of these in their several capacities, and something will be picked out of their discourse whereof some use may be made at one time or another; nay, even the folly and impertinence of others will contribute to his instruction. By observing the graces and manners of all he sees, he will create to himself an emulation of the good, and a contempt of the bad.

Let an honest curiosity be suggested to his fancy of being inquisitive after everything; whatever there is singular and rare near the place where he is, let him go and see it; a fine house, a noble fountain, an eminent man, the place where a battle has been anciently fought, the passages of Caesar and Charlemagne. Let him inquire into the manners, revenues and alliances of princes, things in themselves very pleasant to learn, and very useful to know.

Human understanding is marvelously enlightened by daily conversation with men, for we are, otherwise, compressed and heaped up in ourselves, and have our sight limited to the length of our own noses. One asking Socrates of what country he was, he did not make answer, of Athens, but of the world; he whose imagination was fuller and wider, embraced the whole world for his country, and extended his society and friendship to all mankind; not as we do, who look no further than our feet. When the vines of my village are nipped with the frost, my parish priest presently concludes, that the indignation of God is gone out against all the human race, and that the cannibals have already got the pip…

This great world which some do yet multiply as several species under one genus, is the mirror wherein we are to behold ourselves, to be able to know ourselves as we ought to do in the true bias. In short, I would have this to be the book my young gentleman should study with the most attention. So many humors, so many sects, so many judgments, opinions, laws and customs, teach us to judge aright of our own, and inform our understanding to discover its imperfection and natural infirmity, which is no trivial speculation. So many mutations of states and kingdoms, and so many turns and revolutions of public fortune, will make us wise enough to make no great wonder of our own. So many great names, so many famous victories and conquests drowned and swallowed in oblivion, render our hopes ridiculous of eternizing our names by the taking of half-a-score of light horse, or a hen roost, which only derives its memory from its ruin. The pride and arrogance of so many foreign pomps and ceremonies, the inflated majesty of so many courts and grandeurs, accustom and fortify our sight without astonishment or winking to behold the luster of our own; so many millions of men, buried before us, encourage us not to fear to go seek such good company in the other world: and so of all the rest. Pythagoras was wont to say, that our life resembles the great and populous assembly of the Olympic games, wherein some exercise the body, that they may carry away the glory of the prize; others bring merchandise to sell for profit; there are, also, some (and those none of the worst sort) who pursue no other advantage than only to look on, and consider how and why everything is done, and to be spectators of the lives of other men, thereby the better to judge of and regulate their own.

To examples may fitly be applied all the profitable discourses of philosophy, to which all human actions, as to their best rule, ought to be especially directed: a scholar shall be taught to know what it is to know, and what to be ignorant; what ought to be the end and design of study; what valor, temperance and justice are; the difference between ambition and avarice, servitude and subjection, license and liberty; by what token a man may know true and solid contentment; how far death, affliction, and disgrace are to be apprehended:

After having taught him what will make him more wise and good, you may then entertain him with the elements of logic, physics, geometry, rhetoric, and the science which he shall then himself most incline to, his judgment being beforehand formed and fit to choose, he will quickly make his own. The way of instructing him ought to be sometimes by discourse, and sometimes by reading, sometimes his governor shall put the author himself, which he shall think most proper for him, into his hands, and sometimes only the marrow and substance of it; and if himself be not conversant enough in books to turn to all the fine discourses the books contain for his purpose, there may some man of learning be joined to him, that upon every occasion shall supply him with what he stands in need of, to furnish it to his pupil. And who can doubt, but that this way of teaching is much more easy and natural than that of Gaza, in which the precepts are so intricate, and so harsh, and the words so vain, lean, and insignificant, that there is no hold to be taken of them, nothing that quickens and elevates the wit and fancy, whereas here the mind has what to feed upon and to digest. This fruit, therefore, is not only without comparison, much more fair and beautiful; but will also be much more early ripe.

If this pupil shall happen to be of so contrary a disposition, that he had rather hear a tale of a tub than the true narrative of some noble expedition or some wise and learned discourse; who at the beat of drum, that excites the youthful ardor of his companions, leaves that to follow another that calls to a dance or the bears; who would not wish, and find it more delightful and more excellent, to return all dust and sweat victorious from a battle, than from tennis or from a ball, with the prize of those exercises; I see no other remedy, but that he be bound prentice in some good town to learn to make minced pies, though he were the son of a duke; according to Plato's precept, that children are to be placed out and disposed of, not according to the wealth, qualities, or condition of the father, but according to the faculties and the capacity of their own souls.

Michel de Montaigne: On Cannibals (1580)

The discovery of so many new lands in the Renaissance had less impact on most Europeans than one might suppose. They were largely absorbed in recovering (and competing with) their own classical past and engaging in violent theological and political disputes among themselves. Yet some Europeans were profoundly shaken by the new discoveries into realizing that much of the world thought and lived very differently from what was then known as "Christendom." No writer was more strongly moved to view his own society from a new perspective in the light of reports brought back of the habits of the natives of the "New World" than Michel de Montaigne. He began a long tradition of using non-European peoples as a basis for engaging in a critique of his own culture, undoubtedly in the process romanticizing what Jean-Jacques Rousseau would later call "the noble savage." It is a theme which still appeals to many Westerners.


When King Pyrrhus invaded Italy, after he had reconnoitered the armed forces that the Romans had sent out against him, he said, "I don't know who these barbarians are"--for the Greeks called all foreign peoples barbarians--"but the organization of the army I see before me is not at all barbaric." The Greeks said the same when Flaminius invaded their country, as did Philip, when he saw from a hill the orderly layout of the Roman camp which had been set up in his kingdom under Publius Sulpicius Galba. These examples illustrate how one must avoid accepting common prejudices: opinions must be judged by means of reason, and not by adopting common opinion.

I had with me for a long time a man who had lived for ten or twelve years in this other world which has been discovered in our time, in the place where Villegaignon landed, which he named Antarctic France (1). This discover of an enormous land seems to me to be worth contemplating. I doubt that I could affirm that another such may not be discovered in the future, since so many greater people than I were mistaken about this one. I'm afraid that our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, and that we have more curiosity than comprehension. We try to embrace everything but succeed only in grasping the wind.

. . . I do not find that there is anything barbaric or savage about this nation, according to what I've been told, unless we are to call barbarism whatever differs from our own customs. Indeed, we seem to have no other standard of truth and reason than the opinions and customs of our own country. There at home is always the perfect religion, the perfect legal system--the perfect and most accomplished way of doing everything. These people are wild in the same sense that fruits are, produced by nature, alone, in her ordinary way. Indeed, in that land, it is we who refuse to alter our artificial ways and reject the common order that ought rather to be called wild, or savage, (2) In them the most natural virtues and abilities are alive and vigorous, whereas we have bastardized them and adopted them solely to our corrupt taste. Even so, the flavor and delicacy of some of the wild fruits from those countries is excellent, even to our taste, better than our cultivated ones. After all, it would hardly be reasonable that artificial breeding should be able to outdo our great and powerful mother, Nature. We have so burdened the beauty and richness of her works by our innovations that we have entirely stifled her. Yet whenever she shines forth in her purity she puts our vain and frivolous enterprises amazingly to shame.

Et veniunt ederæ sponte sua melius,
surgit et in solis formosior arbutus antris,
et volucres nulla dulcius arte canunt.

All our efforts cannot create the nest of the tiniest bird: its structure, its beauty, or the usefulness of its form; nor can we create the web of the lowly spider. All things, said Plato are produced by nature, chance, or human skill, the greatest and most beautiful things by one of the first two, the lesser and most imperfect, by the latter.

These nations seem to me, then, barbaric in that they have been little refashioned by the human mind and are still quite close to their original naiveté. They are still ruled by natural laws, only slightly corrupted by ours. They are in such a state of purity that I am sometimes saddened by the thought that we did not discover them earlier, when there were people who would have known how to judge them better than we. It displeases me that Lycurgus or Plato didn't know them, for it seems to me that these peoples surpass not only the portraits which poetry has made of the Golden Age and all the invented, imaginary notions of the ideal state of humanity, but even the conceptions and the very aims of philosophers themselves. They could not imagine such a pure and simple naiveté as we encounter in them; nor would they have been able to believe that our society might be maintained with so little artifice and social structure.

This is a people, I would say to Plato, among whom there is no commerce at all, no knowledge of letters, no knowledge of numbers, nor any judges, or political superiority, no habit of service, riches, or poverty, no contracts, no inheritance, no divisions of property, no occupations but easy ones, no respect for any relationship except ordinary family ones, no clothes, no agriculture, no metal, no use of wine or wheat. The very words which mean "lie," "treason," "deception," "greed," "envy," "slander" and "forgiveness" are unknown. How far his imaginary Republic would be from such perfection:

viri a diis recentes (4)

Hos natura modos primum dedit. . . . (5)

They have their wars against peoples who live beyond their mountains, further inland, to which they go entirely naked, bearing no other arms that bows and sharpened stakes like our hunting spears. The courage with which they fight is amazing: their battles never end except through death of bloodshed, for they do not even understand what fear is. Each one carries back as a trophy the head of the enemy that he has skilled, and hangs it up at the entrance to his home. After having treated their prisoners well for a long time, giving them all the provisions that they could one, he who is the chief calls a great assembly of his acquaintances. He ties a rope to one of the arms of the prisoner and on the other end, several feet away, out of harm's way, and gives to his best friend the arm to hold; and the two of them, in the presence of the assembled group, slash him to death with their swords. That done, they roast him and eat him together, sending portions to their absent friends. They do this, not as is supposed, for nourishment as did the ancient Scythians; it represents instead an extreme form of vengeance. The proof of this is that when they saw that the Portuguese, who had allied themselves with their adversaries, when they executed their captives differently, burying them up to the waist and firing numerous arrows into the remainder of the body, hanging them afterward, they viewed these people from another world, who had spread the knowledge of many vices among their neighbors, and who were much more masterly than they in every sort of evil, must have chosen this sort of revenge for a reason. Thinking that it must be more bitter than their own, they abandoned their ancient way to imitate this one.

I am not so concerned that we should remark on the barbaric horror of such a deed, but that, while we quite rightly judge their faults, we are blind to our own. I think it is more barbaric to eat a man alive than to eat him dead, to tear apart through torture and pain a living body which can still feel, or to burn it alive by bits, to let it be gnawed and chewed by dogs or pigs (as we have no only read, but seen, in recent times, not against old enemies but among neighbors and fellow-citizens, and--what is worse--under the pretext of piety and religion. (6) Better to roast and eat him after he is dead.

Translated by Paul Brians

(1) Brazil.

(2) Sauvage in French means both wild and savage.

(3) The ivy grows best when it grows wild, and the arbutus is most lovely when it grows in solitude; untaught birds sing most sweetly . Propertius, I, ii, 10.

(4) Men freshly molded from the hands of the gods. (Seneca: Epistles, 90.)

(5) These are the first laws laid down by Nature. (Virgil: Georgics, II, 20.)

(6) Montaigne is describing the tortures frequently carried out by the Holy Inquisition against heretics.






ON the 1st of September, when the baths of the Pyrenees begin to have efficacy, several persons from France, Spain and other countries were assembled at those of Cauterets, some to drink the waters, some to bathe in them, and others to be treated with mud; remedies so marvelous, that patients given over by physicians go home cured from Cauterets. My intention is not to speak to you either of the situation or the virtue of the baths; but only to recount what is pertinent to the matter I am about to write. The patients remained at these baths until they found themselves sufficiently improved in health; but then, as they were preparing to return home, there fell such excessive and extraordinary rains, that it seemed as though God had forgotten his promise to Noah that he would never again destroy the world with water. The houses of Cauterets were so flooded that it was impossible to abide in them. Those who had come from Spain returned over the mountains the best way they could, such of them as knew the roads coming best off. But the French lords and ladies, thinking to return to Tarbes as easily as they had come from it, found the rivulets so swollen as to be scarcely fordable; and when they came to the Béarnese Gave, which was not two feet deep when they crossed it on their way to the baths, they found it so enlarged and so impetuous that they were forced to turn out of their direct course and look for bridges. These, however, being only of wood, had been carried away by the violence of the current. Some attempted to break its force by crossing it several together in one body; but they were swept away with such rapidity that the rest had no mind to follow them. They separated, therefore, either to look for another route, or because they were not of the same way of thinking. Some crossed the mountains, and passing through Aragon, arrived in the county of Roussillion, and thence in Narbonne. Others went straight to Barcelona, and crossed over by sea to Marseilles or to Aigues-mortes.

But a widow of long experience, named Oisille, resolved to banish from her mind the fear of bad roads, and repair to Notre Dame de Serrance; not that she was so superstitious as to suppose that the glorious Virgin would quit her place at her son's right hand to come and dwell in a desert land, but only because she wished to see the holy place of which she had heard so much; and also because she was assured that if there were any means of escaping from a danger, the monks were sure to find it out. She met with no end of difficulties; but at last she arrived, after having passed through places almost impracticable, and so difficult to climb and descend, that notwithstanding her age and her weight, she was compelled to perform the greater part of the journey on foot. But the most piteous thing was that most of her servants and horses died on the way, and that she arrived with one man and one woman only at Serrance, where she was charitably received by the monks.

There were also among the French two gentlemen who had gone to the baths rather to accompany the ladies they loved than for any need they themselves had to use the waters. These gentlemen, seeing that the company was breaking up, and that the husbands of their mistresses were taking them away, thought proper to follow them at a distance, without acquainting any one with their purpose. The two married gentlemen and their wives arrived one evening at the house of a man who was more a bandit than a peasant. The two young gentlemen lodged at a cottage hard by, and hearing a great noise about midnight they rose with their varlets, and inquired of their host what was all that tumult. The poor man, who was in a great fright, told them it was some bad lads * who were come to share the booty that was in the house of their comrade the bandit. The gentlemen instantly seized their arms and hastened with their varlets to the aid of the ladies, holding it a far happier fate to die with them than to live without them. On reaching the bandit's house they found the first gate broken open and the two gentlemen and their servants defending themselves valorously; but as they were outnumbered by the bandits, and the married gentlemen were much wounded, they were beginning to give way, having already lost a great number of their servants. The two gentlemen, looking in at the windows, saw the two ladies weeping and crying so hard, that their hearts swelled with pity and love, and falling on the bandits like two enraged bears from the mountains, they laid about them with such fury, that a great number of the bandits fell, and the rest fled for safety to a place well known to them. The gentlemen having defeated these villains, the owner of the house being among the slain, and having learned that the wife was still worse than himself, despatched her after him with a sword-thrust. They then entered a room on the basement, where they found one of the married gentlemen breathing his last. The other had not been hurt, only his clothes had been pierced and his sword broken; and seeing the aid which the two had rendered him, he embraced and thanked them, and begged they would continue to stand by him, to which they assented with great good-will. After having seen the deceased buried, and consoled the wife as well as they could, they departed under the guidance of Providence, not knowing whither they were going.

If you would know the names of the three gentlemen, that of the married one was Hircan, and his wife's Parlamente. The widow's name was Longarine. One of the young gentlemen was called Dagoucin, and the other Saffredent. They were in the saddle all day, and towards evening they descried a belfry, to which they made the best of their way, not without toil and trouble, and were humanely welcomed by the abbot and the monks. The abbey is called St. Savin's. The abbot, who was of a very good house, lodged them honorably, and on the way to their lodgings begged them to acquaint him with their adventures. After they had recounted them, he told them they were not the only persons who had been unfortunate, for there were in another room two ladies who had escaped as great a danger, or worse, inasmuch as they had encountered not men but beasts; for these poor ladies met a bear from the mountain half a league this side of Peyrchite, and fled from it with such speed that their horses dropped dead under them as they entered the abbey gates; and two of their women, who arrived long after them, reported that the bear had killed all their men-servants. The two ladies and the three gentlemen then went into the ladies' chamber, where they found them in tears, and saw they were Nomerfide and Ennasuite. They all embraced, and after mutually recounting their adventures, they began to be comforted through the sage exhortations of the abbot, counting it a great consolation to have so happily met again; and next day they heard mass with much devotion, and gave thanks to God for that he had delivered them out of such perils.

Whilst they were all at mass, a man came running into the church in his shirt, and shouting for help, as if some one was close at his heels. Hircan and the other gentlemen hastened to him to see what was the matter, and saw two men pursuing him sword in hand. The latter would have fled upon seeing so many people, but Hircan and his party were too swift for them, and they lost their lives. On his return, Hircan discovered that the man in the shirt was one of their companions named Geburon. His story was, that being at a cottage near Peyrchite, he had been surprised in his bed by three men. Springing out in his shirt he had seized his sword, and mortally wounded one of them; and whilst the two others were busy succoring their comrade, Geburon, seeing that the odds were two to one against him, and that he was naked whilst they wore armor, thought his safest course was to take to his heels, especially as his clothes would not impede his running. He too praised God for his deliverance, and he thanked those who had revenged him.

After the company had heard mass and dined they sent to see if it were possible to pass the Gave river, and were in consternation at hearing that the thing was impracticable, though the abbot entreated them many times to remain with him until the waters had abated. This they agreed to for that day, and in the evening, when they were about to go to bed, there arrived an old monk who used to come regularly every September to Our Lady of Serrance. Being asked news of his journey, he stated that, in consequence of the flood, he had come by the mountains, and traveled over the worst roads he had ever seen in his life. He had beheld a very sad spectacle. A gentleman named Simontault, tired of waiting till the river should subside, had resolved to attempt the passage, relying on the goodness of his horse, and had made his domestics place themselves round him to break the force of the current; but when they reached the middle of the stream the worst mounted were swept away and were seen no more. Thereupon the gentleman made again for the bank he had quitted. His horse, good as it was, failed him at his need; but by God's will this happened so near the bank, that the gentleman was able at last to scramble on all fours to the hard, not without having drunk a good deal of water, and so exhausted that he could hardly sustain himself. Happily for him a shepherd, leading back his sheep to the fields in the evening, found him seated on the stones, dripping wet, and not less sad for the loss of his people who had perished before his eyes. The shepherd, who understood his need both from his appearance and his words, took him by the hand and led him to his cabin, where he made a little fire and dried him as well as he could. That same evening Providence conducted to the cabin the old monk, who told him the way to Our Lady of Serrance, and assured him that he would be better lodged there than elsewhere, and that he would find there an aged widow named Oisille, who had met with an adventure as distressing as his own.

The company testified extreme joy at hearing the names of the good dame Oisille and the gentle knight Simontault; and every one praised God for having saved the master and mistress after the loss of the servants. Parlamente especially gave hearty thanks to God, for she had long had a most affectionate servant in Simontault. They inquired carefully about the road to Serrance, and though the good old man represented it to them as very difficult, nothing could stop them from setting out on that very day, so well provided with all things necessary that nothing was left for them to wish for. The abbot supplied them with the best horses in Lavedan, good Bearnese cloaks, wine, and plenty of victuals, and a good escort to conduct them in safety across the mountains. They traversed them more on foot than on horseback, and arrived at last, after many toils, at Our Lady of Serrance. Though the abbot was churlish enough, he durst not refuse to lodge them, for fear of disobliging the lord of Bearn, by whom he knew they were held in consideration; but like a true hypocrite as he was, he showed them the best possible countenance, and took them to see the lady Oisille and the gentleman Simontault. All were equally delighted to finding themselves so miraculously reassembled, and the night was spent in praising God for the grace he had vouchsafed them. After taking a little rest, towards morning they went to hear mass, and receive the holy sacrament of union, by means of which all Christians are united as one, and to beg of God, who had reassembled them through his goodness, the grace to complete their journey for his glory.

After dinner they sent to know if the waters were fallen, but finding, on the contrary, that they were still higher, and that it would be a long time before they could pass safely, they resolved to have a bridge made, abutting on two rocks very near each other, and on which there still are planks used by people on foot, who coming from Oleron wish to pass the Gave. The abbot, very well pleased at their incurring an expense which would increase the number of pilgrims, furnished them with workmen; but he was so miserly that he would not contribute a farthing of his own. The workmen, however, having declared that it would take at least ten or twelve days to construct the bridge, the company began to grow tired. Parlamente, the wife of Hircan, always active and never melancholy, having asked her husband's permission to speak, said to old dame Oisille, "I am surprised, madam, that you, who have so much experience that you fill the place of a mother to the rest of us women, do not devise some amusement to mitigate the annoyance we shall suffer from so long a delay; for unless we have something agreeable and virtuous to occupy us, we are in danger of falling sick."

"What is still worse," said Longarine, the young widow, "we shall grow cross, which is an incurable malady; the more so as there is not one of us but has cause to be extremely sad, considering our several losses."

"Every one has not lost her husband like you," said Ennasuite, laughing. "To have lost servants is not a matter to break one's heart about, since they can easily be replaced. However, I am decidedly of opinion that we should pass the time away as agreeably as we can."

Nomerfide, her companion, said it was a very good idea, and that if she passed one day without amusement, she should be dead the next. The gentlemen all warmly approved of the proposal, and begged dame Oisille to direct what was to be done.

"You ask a thing of me, my children," replied the old lady, "which I find very difficult. You want me to invent an amusement which shall dissipate your ennui. I have been in search of such a remedy all my life long, and I have never found but one, which is the reading of Holy Writ. It is in such reading that the mind finds its true and perfect joy, whence proceed the repose and the health of the body. If you ask me what I do to be so cheerful and so healthy at so advanced an age, it is, that as soon as I rise I read the Holy Scriptures. I see and contemplate the will of God, who sent his Son on earth to announce to us that holy word and that good news which promises the pardon of all sins, and the payment of all debts, by the gift he has made us of his love, passion, and merits. This idea affords me such joy, that I take my psalter, and sing with my heart and pronounce with my lips, as humbly as I can, the beautiful canticles with which the Holy Spirit inspired David and other sacred authors. The pleasure I derive from them is so ravishing, that I regard as blessings the evils which befal me every day, because I have in my heart through faith Him who has suffered all these evils for me. Before supper I retire in like manner to feed my soul with reading. In the evening I review all I have done in the day; I ask pardon for my faults; I thank God for his graces, and lie down in his love, fear, and peace, assured against all evils. This, my children, is what has long been my amusement, after having searched well, and found none more solid and more satisfying. It seems to me, then, that if you will give yourselves every morning for an hour to reading, and say your prayers devoutly during mass, you will find in this solitude all the charms which cities could afford. In fact, he who knows God finds all things fair in him, and without him everything ugly and disagreeable. Take my advice, therefore, I entreat you, if you wish to find happiness in life."

"Those who have read the Holy Scriptures," said Hircan, "as I believe we have done, will confess, madam, that what you have said is true. But you must also consider that we are not yet so mortified but that we have need of some amusement and corporeal pastime. When we are at home we have the chase and hawking, which make us forget a thousand bad thoughts; the ladies have their household affairs, their needlework, and sometimes dancing, wherein they find laudable exercise. I propose then, on the part of the men, that you, as the eldest lady, read to us in the morning the history of the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the great and wondrous things he has done for us. After dinner until vespers we must choose some pastime which may be agreeable to the body and not prejudicial to the soul. By this means we shall pass the day cheerfully."

Dame Oisille replied, that she had so much difficulty in forgetting vanities, that she was afraid she should succeed ill in the choice of such a pastime; also, that the matter should be referred to the majority of voices. "And you, monsieur," she said to Hircan, "shall give your opinion first."

"If I thought," replied Hircan, "that the diversion I should like to propose would be as agreeable to a certain lady in this company as to myself, my choice would be soon announced; but as I am afraid this would not be the case, I have nothing to say, but will submit to the decision of the rest."

His wife Parlamente colored up at these words, believing they were meant for her. "Perhaps, Hircan," she said, a little angrily and half laughing, "that the lady you think hardest to please could find means to content herself if she had a mind. But let us say no more of the pastime in which only two can take part, and think of one in which everybody can share."

"Since my wife has so well comprehended my views," observed Hircan to the other ladies, "and a private diversion is not to her taste, I believe she is the best person to invent an amusement which will give satisfaction to us all. I declare, therefore, beforehand, that I assent to her proposal."

The whole company spoke to the same effect, and Parlamente, seeing that she was appointed mistress of the sports, thus addressed the company: "Were I conscious of possessing as much capacity as the ancients who invented the arts, I would contrive an amusement which should fulfil the obligation you lay upon me; but as I know myself, and am aware that I find it difficult even to recollect the ingenious inventions of others, I shall think myself lucky if I can closely follow those who have already done what you desire. I believe there is not one of you but has read the novels of Boccaccio recently translated into French, and which the most Christian King, Francis I. of that name, Monseigneur le Dauphin, Madame la Dauphine, and Madame Marguerite, prized so highly, that if Boccaccio could hear them, the praises bestowed on him by those illustrious persons would surely raise him from the dead. I can certify that the two ladies I have named, and several other personages of the court, resolved to imitate Boccaccio, except in one thing—namely, in writing nothing but what was true. Monseigneur and the two ladies arranged at first that they would each write ten tales, and that they would assemble a party of ten persons, selecting for it those whom they thought most capable of telling a story with grace, and expressly excluding men of letters; for Monseigneur did not wish that there should be any intrusion of art into the matter, and was afraid lest the flowers of rhetoric should be in some manner prejudicial to the truth of history. But the great affairs in which the king afterwards became involved, the peace concluded between the sovereign and the King of England, the accouchement of Madame la Dauphine, and several other affairs of a nature to occupy the whole court, caused this project to be forgotten; but as we have time to spare we will put it into execution whilst waiting for the completion of our bridge. If you think proper, we will go from noon till four o'clock into that fine meadow along the Gave river, where the trees form so thick a screen that the sun cannot pierce it, or incommode us with its heat. There, seated at our ease, we will each relate what we have seen or been told by persons worthy of belief. Ten days will suffice to make up the hundred. If it please God that our work prove worthy of being seen by the lords and ladies I have named, we will present it to them on our return, in lieu of images and paternosters, and I am convinced that such an offering will not be displeasing to them. At the same time, if any one can suggest something more agreeable, I am ready to fall in with his ideas."

The whole company declared they could not imagine anything better, and everyone looked forward with impatience for the morrow. As soon as the morning broke they all went to the chamber of Madame Oisille, whom they found already at prayers. She read to them for a good hour, after which they heard mass, and at ten o'clock they went to dinner. Every one then retired to his own chamber, and attended to what he had to do. At noon all were punctually assembled in the meadow, which was so beautiful and agreeable, that it would need a Boccaccio to depict all its charms: enough for us to say that there never was its like.

The company being seated on the green turf, so soft and delicate that no one had need of floor or carpet, "Which of us," said Simontault, "shall have the command over the rest?"

"Since you have been the first to speak," said Hircan, "it is right you should have the command; for in sport all are equals."

"God knows," replied Simontault, "I could desire nothing better in the world than to command such a company."

Parlamente, who knew very well what that meant, began to cough, so that Hircan did not perceive she had changed color, and told Simontault to begin his tale, for all were ready to hear him. The same request being urged by the whole company, Simontault said: "I have been so ill-requited for my long services, ladies, that to revenge myself on love and on the fair one who treats me with so much cruelty, I am about to make a collection of misdeeds done by women to men, in the whole of which I will relate nothing but the simple truth."


MAURICE SCEVE  (1500-1564)


Sceve was born at Lyons, where his father practiced law. Besides following his father’s profession he was a painter, architect, musician and poet.

He was the leader of the
Lyons school of poets, which was the first to bring the influence of the Italian literary renaissance into France.  He is best known for his own poems, including Delie, object de plus haulte vertu [Delie, object of highest virtue] (1544), a long and sometimes obscure celebration of courtly love in 10-line stanzas. It is supposed to have been inspired by the young poetess Pernette du Guiller, who died in 1545, and contains many passages of fresh beauty and charm. As Scève was a musician as well as a poet, and cared very much for the musical value of the words he used, in this and in his erudition he forms a link between the school of Marot and the Pléiade. Délie (an anagram for l’idée) set the fashion of a series of poems addressed to a mistress real or imaginary.  He also wrote two eclogues, Anon (1536) and La Saulsaye (1547); and La Microcosme (1562), an encyclopedic poem beginning with the fall of man.



The Eye, too afire with my youthful errors,
Whirled like a weathercock, without design:
When suddenly (what delight, what terrors)
My Basilisk, now sharpening its sights,
Pierced Body, & Heart, put Reason to flight,
Lancing deep into the Soul of my Soul. (D 1)

A flame this blest will endure in light,
Always bright, & clear to all,
As long as the World abides
And men hold Love in awe.
Thus I see little that might set apart
The ardor which will pursue our hearts
From the living virtue which will guide us
Beyond Heaven's infinite parts.
Our Juniper shall thus live on,
Unspoiled by death's Oblivion.

As Hecate, you will doom me to wander
Among the Shades, alive, & dead a hundred years:
As Diana, you will confine me to the Sky
Whence you descended to this vale of tears:
As Queen of Hell in your dark domain
You will increase or diminish my pains.
But as Moon infused into my veins
You were, & are, & shall be DELIE,
So knotted by Love to my idle thoughts
That Death itself could never untie us. (D 22)

Dawn was extinguishing Stars in profusion,
Drawing up day from the regions below,
Apollo was rising above the Horizon,
Painting the high horned hills in gold.
Then, from the depth of the dark Abyss
In which my mind, at the end of its wits,
Often tunnels me through the night,
I called my ravished soul back to my side:
Who, drying the tears from my eyes,
Cleared my view of the Sun of my life. (D79)

As brown dusk blackens into night
And Somnus slowly lulls the Earth,
Buried in the shadows of my curtains,
A dream comes to set my spirit free
To be admitted into the intimacy
Of its revered, & majestic queen.
But her manner is so easy, so dear,
So inviting, it seems to me I might soon
Be allowed to hold her without fear,
If only as Endymion the Moon. (D 126)

Every long, & wide expanse of Sea,
Every whirling tract of solid land,
Every distant site of day, & night,
Every interval, O you who unsettle me,
Will be filled by your sweet severity.
Thus surpassing the spans of Time,
You will climb beyond the sphere of Stars,
Your sacred name, sped by my misery,
Traversing all creation at full sail. (D 259)


To you, troop so fleet,
That with winged wandering feet,
Through the wide world pass,
And with soft murmuring
Toss the green shades of spring
In woods and grass,
Lily and violet
I give, and blossoms wet,
Roses and dew;
This branch of blushing roses,
Whose fresh bud uncloses,
Wind-flowers too.
Ah, winnow with sweet breath,
Winnow the holt and heath,
Round this retreat;
Where all the golden morn
We fan the gold o' the corn,
In the sun's heat.

 We that with like hearts love, we lovers twain,
New wedded in the village by thy fane,
Lady of all chaste love, to thee it is
We bring these amaranths, these white lilies,
A sign, and sacrifice; may Love, we pray,
Like amaranthine flowers, feel no decay;
Like these cool lilies may our loves remain,
Perfect and pure, and know not any stain;
And be our hearts, from this thy holy hour,
Bound each to each, like flower to wedded flower.

 If this our little life is but a day
In the Eternal,--if the years in vain
Toil after hours that never come again, -
If everything that hath been must decay,
Why dreamest thou of joys that pass away,
My soul, that my sad body doth restrain?
Why of the moment's pleasure art thou fain?
Nay, thou hast wings,--nay, seek another stay.

There is the joy whereto each soul aspires,
And there the rest that all the world desires,
And there is love, and peace, and gracious mirth;
And there in the most highest heavens shalt thou
Behold the Very Beauty, whereof now
Thou worshippest the shadow upon earth.

PIERRE RONSARD (1524-1585)

I send you here a wreath of blossoms blown,
And woven flowers at sunset gathered,
Another dawn had seen them ruined, and shed
Loose leaves upon the grass at random strown.
By this, their sure example, be it known,
That all your beauties, now in perfect flower,
Shall fade as these, and wither in an hour,
Flowerlike, and brief of days, as the flower sown.

Ah, time is flying, lady--time is flying;
Nay, 'tis not time that flies but we that go,
Who in short space shall be in churchyard lying,
And of our loving parley none shall know,
Nor any man consider what we were;
Be therefore kind, my love, whiles thou art fair.

 See, Mignonne, hath not the Rose,
That this morning did unclose
Her purple mantle to the light,
Lost, before the day be dead,
The glory of her raiment red,
Her colour, bright as yours is bright?

Ah, Mignonne, in how few hours,
The petals of her purple flowers
All have faded, fallen, died;
Sad Nature, mother ruinous,
That seest thy fair child perish thus
'Twixt matin song and even tide.

Hear me, my darling, speaking sooth,
Gather the fleet flower of your youth,
Take ye your pleasure at the best;
Be merry ere your beauty flit,
For length of days will tarnish it
Like roses that were loveliest.

 When you are very old, at evening
You'll sit and spin beside the fire, and say,
Humming my songs, 'Ah well, ah well-a-day!
When I was young, of me did Ronsard sing.'
None of your maidens that doth hear the thing,
Albeit with her weary task foredone,
But wakens at my name, and calls you one
Blest, to be held in long remembering.

I shall be low beneath the earth, and laid
On sleep, a phantom in the myrtle shade,
While you beside the fire, a grandame grey,
My love, your pride, remember and regret;
Ah, love me, love! we may be happy yet,
And gather roses, while 'tis called to-day.

 As in the gardens, all through May, the rose,
Lovely, and young, and fair apparelled,
Makes sunrise jealous of her rosy red,
When dawn upon the dew of dawning glows;
Graces and Loves within her breast repose,
The woods are faint with the sweet odour shed,
Till rains and heavy suns have smitten dead
The languid flower, and the loose leaves unclose, -

So this, the perfect beauty of our days,
When earth and heaven were vocal of her praise,
The fates have slain, and her sweet soul reposes;
And tears I bring, and sighs, and on her tomb
Pour milk, and scatter buds of many a bloom,
That dead, as living, she may be with roses.


Questions to accompany Rabelais’ passages:


  1. How can you relate Rabelais’ subject matter to those found in late medieval texts?
  2. How does he oppose Middle Age ideas and ideals?
  3. What are the main characteristics of Rabelais’ literature?
  4. What are the main purposes of Gargantua and Pantagruel?
  5. What are his views on education?  Make a list of main points.
  6. In which ways is Rabelais a Renaissance man?


Questions to accompany Montaigne’s essays:


  1. What are the main characteristics of Montaigne’s style?
  2. Why does he write his Essays?
  3. Which Renaissance precepts does Montaigne embodie?
  4. What are his views on education?  Make a list of main points.
  5. Compare Rabelais to Montaigne.


Questions to accompany the Introduction to the Heptameron:


  1. What is the background to the stories?
  2. Why do they decide to tell stories?