The Essays of Montaigne/Book I/Chapter VI

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The Essays of Montaigne by Michel de Montaigne
Chapter VI. That the hour of parley is dangerous.

Chapter VI. That the hour of parley is dangerous.[edit]

I saw, notwithstanding, lately at Mussidan, a place not far from my
house, that those who were driven out thence by our army, and others of
their party, highly complained of treachery, for that during a treaty of
accommodation, and in the very interim that their deputies were treating,
they were surprised and cut to pieces: a thing that, peradventure, in
another age, might have had some colour of foul play; but, as I have just
said, the practice of arms in these days is quite another thing, and
there is now no confidence in an enemy excusable till the treaty is
finally sealed; and even then the conqueror has enough to do to keep his
word: so hazardous a thing it is to entrust the observation of the faith
a man has engaged to a town that surrenders upon easy and favourable
conditions, to the licence of a victorious army, and to give the soldier
free entrance into it in the heat of blood.

Lucius AEmilius Regillus, the Roman praetor, having lost his time in
attempting to take the city of Phocaea by force, by reason of the
singular valour wherewith the inhabitants defended themselves,
conditioned, at last, to receive them as friends to the people of Rome,
and to enter the town, as into a confederate city, without any manner of
hostility, of which he gave them all assurance; but having, for the
greater pomp, brought his whole army in with him, it was no more in his
power, with all the endeavour he could use, to restrain his people: so
that, avarice and revenge trampling under foot both his authority and all
military discipline, he there saw a considerable part of the city sacked
and ruined before his face.

Cleomenes was wont to say, "that what mischief soever a man could do his
enemy in time of war was above justice, and nothing accountable to it in
the sight of gods and men." And so, having concluded a truce with those
of Argos for seven days, the third night after he fell upon them when
they were all buried in sleep, and put them to the sword, alleging that
there had no nights been mentioned in the truce; but the gods punished
this subtle perfidy.

In a time of parley also; and while the citizens were relying upon their
safety warrant, the city of Casilinum was taken by surprise, and that
even in the age of the justest captains and the most perfect Roman
military discipline; for it is not said that it is not lawful for us, in
time and place, to make advantage of our enemies' want of understanding,
as well as their want of courage.

And, doubtless, war has naturally many privileges that appear reasonable
even to the prejudice of reason. And therefore here the rule fails,
"Neminem id agere ut ex alte rius praedetur inscitia."--["No one should
preys upon another's folly."--Cicero, De Offic., iii. 17.]--But I am
astonished at the great liberty allowed by Xenophon in such cases, and
that both by precept and by the example of several exploits of his
complete emperor; an author of very great authority, I confess, in those
affairs, as being in his own person both a great captain and a
philosopher of the first form of Socrates' disciples; and yet I cannot
consent to such a measure of licence as he dispenses in all things and

Monsieur d'Aubigny, besieging Capua, and after having directed a furious
battery against it, Signor Fabricio Colonna, governor of the town, having
from a bastion begun to parley, and his soldiers in the meantime being a
little more remiss in their guard, our people entered the place at
unawares, and put them all to the sword. And of later memory, at Yvoy,
Signor Juliano Romero having played that part of a novice to go out to
parley with the Constable, at his return found his place taken. But,
that we might not scape scot-free, the Marquess of Pescara having laid
siege to Genoa, where Duke Ottaviano Fregosa commanded under our
protection, and the articles betwixt them being so far advanced that it
was looked upon as a done thing, and upon the point to be concluded, the
Spaniards in the meantime having slipped in, made use of this treachery
as an absolute victory. And since, at Ligny, in Barrois, where the Count
de Brienne commanded, the emperor having in his own person beleaguered
that place, and Bertheville, the said Count's lieutenant, going out to
parley, whilst he was capitulating the town was taken.

              "Fu il vincer sempremai laudabil cosa,
               Vincasi o per fortuna, o per ingegno,"

     ["Victory is ever worthy of praise, whether obtained by valour or
     wisdom."--Ariosto, xv. I.]

But the philosopher Chrysippus was of another opinion, wherein I also
concur; for he was used to say that those who run a race ought to employ
all the force they have in what they are about, and to run as fast as
they can; but that it is by no means fair in them to lay any hand upon
their adversary to stop him, nor to set a leg before him to throw him
down. And yet more generous was the answer of that great Alexander to
Polypercon who was persuading him to take the advantage of the night's
obscurity to fall upon Darius. "By no means," said be; "it is not for
such a man as I am to steal a victory, 'Malo me fortunae poeniteat, quam
victoria pudeat.'"--["I had rather complain of ill-fortune than be
ashamed of victory." Quint. Curt, iv. 13]--

         "Atque idem fugientem baud est dignatus Oroden
          Sternere, nec jacta caecum dare cuspide vulnus
          Obvius, adversoque occurrit, seque viro vir
          Contulit, haud furto melior, sed fortibus armis."

     ["He deigned not to throw down Orodes as he fled, or with the darted
     spear to give him a wound unseen; but overtaking him, he confronted
     him face to face, and encountered man to man: superior, not in
     stratagem, but in valiant arms."--AEneid, x. 732.]