ESSAYS OF MONTAIGNE
out change of countenance. (c) And Cicero saw them fight in companies, with fists and feet and teeth, till they fainted, before admitting that they were beaten. Nunquam naturam mos vinceret, est enim ea semper invicta; sed nos umbris, deliciis, otio, languore, desidia animum infecimus; opinionibus maloque more delinitum mollivimus.
(a) Every one knows the history of Sceevola, who, having slipped into the enemy’s camp to kill their leader, and having failed of his purpose, in order to gain his end by a more extraordinary scheme, and to set his country free, not only confessed his design to Porsenna, who was the king he sought to kill, but added that in the king’s camp there were a great number of such Romans as himself, who were accomplices in his undertaking; and, to show what manner of man he was, having caused a brazier to be brought, he saw and suffered his arm to be broiled and roasted until his very enemy, horror-struck, ordered the brazier removed. What can we say of him who did not condescend to interrupt his reading while he was under the surgeon’s knife? And of him who persisted in laughing at himself and gaily vying with the sufferings inflicted on him, so that the excited cruelty of the executioners who had him in their keeping, with all the contrivances of torture piled one upon another, confessed themselves to be powerless? But he was a philosopher. And what of Cesar’s gladiator, who endured having his wounds probed and cut open, laughing all the while? (c) Quis mediocris gladiator ingemuit? Quis vultum mutavit unquam? Quis non modo stetit, verum etiam decubuit turpiter? Quis cum decubuisset ferrum recipere jussus, collum contraxit?
- Montaigne repeats this statement in Book I, chap. 23, Book II, chaps. 12 and 32.
- See Tusc. Disp., V, 27.
- Custom could never overcome nature, for she is invincible. But we have spoiled our minds with illusory pleasures and with the languor of idleness; we have weakened them with the charm of false belief in bad habits. — Ibid.
- See Livy, II, 12.
- See Seneca, Epistle 78, for this and the next anecdote.
- See Aulus Gellius, XII, 5.
- What ordinary gladiator ever uttered a groan? Which of them ever changed countenance? Which of them in fighting, or even in falling,