On Glory (MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE)

On Glory (MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE)

We are all hollow and empty; it is not with wind and sound that we have to fill ourselves; to restore ourselves we need more solid substance. A starving man would be a simpleton if he went in search of fine clothes rather than a good meal; we should run to our most pressing needs.

Chrysippus and Diogenes were the first and firmest exponents of the disdain for glory; they said that of all the pleasures none was more dangerous or more to be avoided than the pleasure of being approved of by others. In truth, experience makes us aware of many harmful betrayals at its hands. There is nothing that poisons princes more than flattery, and nothing by which bad men can more easily gain credit in their courts; nor is there any pandering so fitted and so common for corrupting the chastity of women as feeding and entertaining them with their praises.

The first enchantment the Sirens use to deceive Ulysses is of this nature:

Come hither to us, O admirable Ulysses, come hither,
thou greatest ornament and pride of Greece.
(Homer)

Those philosophers ·whom I mentioned· said that for a man of discretion it would not be worthwhile even to stretch out a finger to acquire all the glory in the world (Cicero) — I mean, to acquire it for its own sake; for it often brings with it many advantages that can make it desirable: it brings us good-will, makes us less exposed to insults and injuries from others, and the like.

It was also one of the principal doctrines of Epicurus, for that precept of his school, CONCEAL YOUR LIFE, which forbids men to burden themselves with public affairs and business, also necessarily presupposes a contempt for glory, which is the world’s approbation of actions of ours that we make public. He who. . . .does not want us to be known to others is even further from wanting us to be held in honour and glory by them. So he advises Idomeneus not to regulate his actions even slightly by common opinion or reputation, except to avoid the incidental disadvantages that men’s contempt might bring him.

Those lines of thought are infinitely true, in my opinion, and reasonable. But we are in some way intrinsically double, so that what we believe we do not believe, what we condemn we cannot help doing.

Let us look at the last words of Epicurus, said when he was dying: they are great words, worthy of such a philosopher; yet they bear some sign of a concern for his reputation and of that attitude he had denounced in his precepts. Here is a letter that he dictated a little before breathing his last

EPICURUS TO HERMACHUS, GREETINGS!

I wrote this during the last day of my life, a happy day though accompanied by pain in the bladder and intestines— pain that could not be greater. But it is made up for by the pleasure brought to my soul by the remembrance of my discoveries and teachings. You now should welcome the task of looking after the children of Metrodorus, as required by the affection you have had since childhood for me and for philosophy.

That is his letter. What leads me to conclude that the pleasure he says he feels in his soul from his discoveries has something to do with the reputation he hoped they would bring him after death is a clause in his will asking his heirs Amynomachus and Timocrates to provide such money as Hermachus should require for •the celebration of his birthday every January and for •a gathering of his philosopher-friends on the twentieth day of each month to honour the memory of himself and of Metrodorus.

Carneades was the protagonist of the opposite opinion, maintaining that glory was desirable for itself, just as we embrace our descendants for themselves though we have no knowledge or enjoyment of them (Aristotle).

This opinion has not failed to be more commonly followed ·than Epicurus’s·, as those that most suit our inclinations are apt to be. Aristotle gives glory the first rank among external goods: ‘Avoid, as two vicious extremes, immoderately seeking glory and immoderately fleeing it.’

I believe that if we had the books that Cicero wrote on this subject he would have spun us some good ones! For that man was so frenzied with a passion for glory that, if he had dared, I believe he would readily have fallen into the extreme that others fell into—namely, the view that even virtue is desirable only for the honour that always attended it.

 

 

 

The Essays of Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne



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