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Savages, Romans, and DespotsThinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder$
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Robert Launay

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226575254

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226575421.001.0001

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Between Two Saddles: Montaigne

Between Two Saddles: Montaigne

(p.36) Three Between Two Saddles: Montaigne
Savages, Romans, and Despots

Robert Launay

University of Chicago Press

The Wars of Religion in sixteenth century France were the backdrop of Montaigne’s Essays and specifically his elaboration of a stance of philosophical relativism. In his early essay “Of Custom”, he used the bewildering diversity of customs worldwide to suggest that there was no rational basis for deciding how to behave. In his more famous and important essay “Of Cannibals”, he drew on an account of the Tupi of Brazil to call into question categories such as “barbarian” or “savage”, pointing out that otherness did not necessarily mean inferiority. The barbarity of the ways in which Catholics and Huguenots treated their adversaries in France was far more egregious than the cannibalism of the Tupi. More generally, Montaigne disparages himself and his age as mediocre, poised between the simplicity of the cannibals and the true excellence of ancient Greeks and Romans.

Keywords:   Montaigne, France, Wars of Religion, Tupi, Brazil, relativism, Huguenots, Catholics, cannibals, sixteenth century

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