Sunday, August 19, 2012

Montaigne and Glory. Death in a ditch.

Montaigne's tower, in which he wrote his 'Essays'


Glory in battle.  It's all about luck.  To what do Caesar and Alexander owe the infinite grandeur of their renown if not to luck.  How many men has fortune  extinguished in their first encounter with battle, at the very beginning their life's journey.  Yet through so many great dangers that he encountered Caesar was never wounded; whereas a thousand have fallen in lesser dangers than the least of those he went through.


Men do not write histories of things of little moment, of the things that happen to the common soldier.

A man must have been a general in the conquest of an empire or a kingdom; he must have won two-and-fifty set battles, (and always outnumbered), as Caesar did.  Ten thousand brave fellows and many great captains lost their lives valiantly in his service, whose names lasted no longer than their wives and children lived.

"When beggars die there are no comets seen.
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."
(Julius Caesar, Shakespeare)


To gain renown in battle, a man must be seen to do great deeds; but the fact is he is not always on the top of a breach, or at the forefront of an army, where his general can see him, as if he were an actor on a stage.

Reality is different.

A man is often surprised between the hedge and the ditch; he must run the hazard of his life against a hen roost; he must root out four paltry musketeers from a barn; he must go out alone from his company, and do his job as the need arises.  And whoever will observe will find it true by experience, that occasions that are the least brilliant are ever the most dangerous; and that in the wars of our own times there have been more brave men lost in trivial, unimportant occasions, fighting over some little shack, than in places of greatest importance, and where their valour might have been more honourably employed.

So that's the nitty-gritty of battle in France in the 1500's - an inglorious and unseen fight to the death, between a hedge and a ditch.

From Montaigne's essays.

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