Saturday, March 20, 2010

No Escape, Part One: Montaigne

An old saw:  "Wherever you go, there you are."  (Have no fear!  I am not venturing into "pop psychology," nor am I about to offer "self-help" advice.  Montaigne will arrive in a moment.)  Put differently:  There is no escaping yourself. 
Not surprisingly, Montaigne (and, it turns out, Socrates) covered this ground long before we moderns arrived on the scene:

Ambition, avarice, irresolution, fear, and lust do not leave us when we change our country.  "Behind the horseman sits black care."  [Horace]  They often follow us even into the cloisters and the schools of philosophy.  Neither deserts, nor rocky caves, nor hair shirts, nor fastings will free us of them. . . . Someone said to Socrates that a certain man had grown no better by his travels.  " I should think not," he said; "he took himself along with him."  
     Why should we move to find
     Countries and climates of another kind?
     What exile leaves himself behind?  [Horace] 
If a man does not first unburden his soul of the load that weighs upon it, movement will cause it to be crushed still more, as in a ship the cargo is less cumbersome when it is settled.  You do a sick man more harm than good by moving him.  You imbed the malady by disturbing it, as stakes penetrate deeper and grow firmer when you budge them and shake them.

Michel de Montaigne, "Of Solitude," from Essays (translated by Donald Frame).

On the rafters of his library, Montaigne engraved quotes of which he wished to be reminded.
The rafter below contains part of a quote from Terence: "homo sum humani a me nihil alienum puto."  Alas, I have no Latin, but here is one way of translating the line: "I am human; so nothing human is strange to me."

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