Fortune, long life, Montaigne

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Wygant, Amy (2009)
  • Publisher: Ashgate

Montaigne’s Essais end with a plea on behalf of old age - “Or la vieillesse a un peu besoin d’estre traictée plus tendrement.” - and the placing of old age under the protection of Apollo, god of the lyre, but also god of health, and the god whose oracle at Delphi pronounced the recommendation to “Know thyself.” This prayer of the 56-year-old Montaigne, for all of its beautiful fusion of interior and exterior, and its profound linking of the essay’s ending to the question of time, is nevertheless typical of a certain early modern attitude towards old age, illness, and death: People are in decline from the moment of birth, cure is the responsibility not of the physician but of the individual sufferer, and, to quote a health manual from 1630, “la guerison des maladies appartient à la fortune, & non pas à l’Art.”\ud \ud This chapter looks into a group of health manuals from the early seventeenth century in France which contest this notion. Chief among them will be Jacquelot’s L’art de vivre longuement, sous le nom de Medee, laquelle enseigne les facultez des choses qui sont continellement en nostre usage, & d’où naissent les maladies. Ensemble la methode de se comporter en icelles, & le moyen de pourvoir à leurs offences (Lyon: Louis Teste-Fort, 1630). Jacquelot declares that “la vie peut estre conservée, & la mort retardée par Art,” thus placing art, long life, and, curiously, the great antique witch Medea, on one side of a line, on the other side of which are ranged ill health, death, and chance.\ud \ud On the one hand, Montaigne’s “De l’expérience” reads right along with the genre of the health manual. Jacquelot too treats questions of diet, heating one’s house, sexual practices, clothing, when and when not to eat fruit, how long to sleep, when to wake up, and so on. To Montaigne’s stance, however, - Whether it is a question of law, the medicine of the social body, or of medicine as such, there is no cure. - Jacquelot opposes "art" and insists that there is. The health manual of the early seventeenth century thus begins to construct a resistance to the power of chance that Montaigne had considered not only futile but, in itself, unhealthy. The chapter concludes with a consideration of this advice in the context of the time, when an audience for tragedy was first emerging in France.
  • References (3)

    1. “Amant alterna Camoenae.” Otto van Veen. Quinti Horatii Flacci Emblemata. Antwerp: Verdussen, 1607. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.

    2. Title page. Francis Bacon, Historia regne Henrici septimi. Amsterdam: Elzevir, 1662. Courtesy of the Wellcome Medical Library, London.

    3. “Sapiens supra Fortunam.” Florent Schoonhovius. Emblemata. Gouda: Burier, 1618. Courtesy of the Department of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library.

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