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Journal Title: The journal of medieval and

Renaissance studies.
Volume: 23 Issue:
Month/Year: 1993Pages: 43-67
Article Author: Wiesman M
Article Title: Verses have fingers


Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

teenth century onwards, a long period of decline and stagnation. The

prevalence of obscurantism and traditionalism militated against intellectual progress and scientific inquiry.107 Later authors depended uncritically on material from their revered predecessors.108 There was
almost no awareness of the accelerating progress of Europe until Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt in 1798 put an end to apathy
and medievalism in the Arab world.109

Verses have fingers:

Montaigne reads Juvenal
M A R C - A N D R E W I E S M A N N , Furman University

"Sur des vers de Virgile," the fifth chapter of Montaigne's third book
of essays, revolves around the "cinquime point en amour," physical
pleasure.1 The two citations that structure the chapter, the first from
Virgil and the second from Lucretius, exhibit erotic love and provide
an aesthetically compelling display of "the scene of writing," the sexual
locus for the production and reproduction of literary expression. Terence Cave has demonstrated that, in this essay, "sex and language are
so closely associated that it is difficult (and unnecessary) to decide
whether language represents sex, or sex language," and that the "description of sexual activity is displaced to become a figure of the relationship between a text and its reader," 2 and Lawrence Kritzman has
studied how "Sur des vers de Virgile" "promotes an anatomical discourse in which a metaphorical equivalence is established between text
and body." 3 Most of the many recent commentators on the essay have
also recognized that it functions as a unique laboratory wherein the
Latin citations constellating the text assume a fundamental role: the
very title of the chapter gestures towards Montaigne's constant importation of foreign texts into his own. In this essay especially, Latin often
operates as the "pudique" veil letting pudenda and varied acts of sexual
love peer through. However, actual work on the intertextual commerce
of the chapter and the Latin texts it selects for use and/or elaboration
Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 23:1, Winter 1993. Copyright 1993 by

Duke University Press. CCC 0047-2573/93/$! .50

. In European Literature cmd the Latin Middle Ages ( N e w York: Harper and Row,

107. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 742; Edward Atiyah, The Arabs, rev. ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958), 73-74.
10S. It must be mentioned, however, that educated mariners seem to have had real
doubts about the legends. For example, the Arab navigator Iba Mjid, who was said to
have piloted Vasco da Gama from Africa to India (H. A. R. Gibb, Arabic Literature,
2nd rev. ed. [Oxford: Clarendon, 1963], 143), wrote a practical manual for pilots in
1489 in which he mentions the Island of Men and the Island of Women with the comment that there is no need to discuss them or attempt to establish their exact location
because "no informants provided us with information about them." See Ahmad Ibn
Mjid, Kitb al-Fawfoid fi Usui dim al-Bahr ival-Qawdd, ed. Ibrahim Khoury and

Izzat Hasan (Damascus: Arab Academy of Damascus, ajh. 1390/AD. 1971), 1:277.

109. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 745; Gibb, Arabic Literature, 159; Atiyah, The
Arabs, 73.

1953), 512-17, Emst Robert Curtius gives a rapid overview of the Medieval and Renaissance tradition assigning five "lignes," "pas," or "points" to amorous engagements. In
"Sur des vers de Virgile," Montaigne refers to the fifth "poinct," physical possession, in
the following instance: "Qui n'a jouyssance qu'en la jouyssance, qui ne gaigne que du
hutpoinct" (3.581]).
2. Terence Cave, The Cornucopian Text: Problems of Writing in the French Ren-

aissance (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), 287. Cave's reading of "Sur des vers de Virgile"
(ibid., 283-303) is unsurpassed.
3. Lawrence D. Krirzman, The Rhetoric of Sexuality and the Literature of the

French Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 133-47 Another

outstanding treatment of the essay adopting a similar perspective is Jean Starobinski's
chapter "Dire l'amour" in his Montaigne en mouvement (Paris: Gallimard, 1982),



Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

has been scanty.4 To increase our understanding of Montaigne's citational strategies in the essay, these pages will single out the salient Latin
sententia "et versus digitos habet" ("and verses have fingers"), which
introduces the pertinent verses of Virgil into the text and encapsulates,
in four words, the reflections of both Cave and Kritzman: text is body,
a sensual body massaging the reader into powerful arousal and effectively mimicking sexual caresses. To appreciate fully Montaigne's intertextual dexterity, it will first be necessary to reread the passage of
Juvenal's sixth satire that the essayist is exploiting, and then to observe
how the themes central to "Sur des vers de Virgile" are heralded in
"De trois commerces" (3.3). 5
I. Juvenal
From the second century to the nineteenth, Juvenal's sixth satire has
attracted the attention of many admirers and imitators.6 It is the longest
of Juvenal's extant satires (some seven hundred verses), and it has
eluded all attempts at a unified reading.7 After a prologue evoking the
departure of Pudicitia from our world and the new reign of a perverse
Iron Age, its only organization seems to be a paratactic string of tab4. For a detailed (but incomplete) analysis of the use of Virgil and Lucretius in <!Sur
des vers de Virgile," see Mary B. McKinley, Words in a Corner (Lexington, Kentucky:
French Forum, 1981), 63-102. Floyd Gray adds significantly to this analysis in his "Eros
et criture: sur des vers de Virgile," in Marcel Tetel and G. Mallary Masters, eds., Le
Parcours des Essais; Montaigne 1588-1 $88 (Paris: Aux Amateurs des Livres, 1989),
263-72. For the use of Martial's epigrams in 3.5, see Dorothy Coleman, "Montaigne's
'Sur des vers de Virgile': Taboo Subject, Taboo Author," in R. R. Bolgar, ed., Classical
Influences on European Culture, A.D. 1500-1700 (Cambridge; Cambridge University
Press, 1974), 135-40. In her book The Gallo-Roman Muse: Aspects of Roman Literary

Tradition in Sixteenth-Century France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979),

109-79, Dorothy Coleman outlines parameters essential, in my opinion, to any investigation of Montaigne's reading and citing of Roman poets.
5. I use the following text: Montaigne, Les Essais, ed. Pierre Villey and V.-L.
Saulnier (Paris: Quadrige/Presses Universitaires de France, 1988).
6. To my knowledge, the best overview of the reception of Juvenal in Western
literature is that given by Gilbert Highet, Juvenal the Satirist (Oxford: Clarendon,
1954), 181-231. For articles dealing specifically with the Renaissance reception, see
. M. Sanford, "Renaissance Commentaries on JuvenalTransactions of the American
Philological Association 79 (1948): 92-112; D. J. Shaw, "La publication des satires de
Juvnal en Europe avant 1601," in Pierre Aquilon and H.-J. Martin, eds., Le Livre dans
VEurope de la Renaissance, (Paris: Promodis, 1988), 297-304. For a very general note
on satire in sixteenth-century France, see Philippe Desan, "Definition et usage de la
satire au XVIe sicle," French Literature Series, 14 (1987): 1-11.
7. For an expert treatment of the problem of the text's unity, see William S. Anderson, "Juvenal 6: A Problem in Structure," in his Essays on Roman Satire (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1982), 255-76. Two very useful commentaries are E. Courtney, A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal (London: Athlone, 1980), 253-347, and
John Ferguson, Juvenal: The Satires (New York: St. Martin's, 1979), 185-217.

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal ~


leaux depicting, perhaps in a sequence of increasing ferociousness, the

sins of Roman women against their husbands in particular and against
Roman virtues in general. A lengthy address to a certain Postumus,
who is unwisely contemplating marriage, the text combines misogynist
and misogamous topoi energized by graphic descriptions of the revolting deportment of highborn Roman wives.8 It includes, for example,
the famous vignette portraying Messalina's return to Claudius's palace
after a night of prostitution (11.127-32) and the accusation that Roman
wives engage in drunken lesbian bouts designed to offend the statue of
Pudicitia.9 Female homosexuality is only one of the aspects of Juvenal's
attack: the satirist, throughout, is bent upon chastizing the willfulness
of the wives who, not content with their subservient position in society, are plotting to overthrow sexual distinctions and to dangerously
undermine traditional values and roles. One insistent theme concerns
women's fascination with the gladiatorial spectacle: thoroughly entranced by these shows, where male brutality is exhibited for an arousal
of morbid sexual pleasures, noble ladies repeatedly fall in irremediable love with the slaves who are the heroes of the circus (11. 82-113,
355-59) Furthermore, they attempt to transgress gender lines by
themselves emulating the gladiators and cross-dressing for the part (11.
346-67). The result of such behavior is often a death-dealing blow to
patrilinear control and legitimacy: the noble husband does not know
whether his son is in fact a slave born of the frolics of his wife with a
"imrmillo" (11. 80, 600-608), and abortions regularly deprive him of
his perhaps legitimate children (595-97).
The section of the satire (11. 184-99) that will be of particular value
to the fabric of both "De trois commerces" and "Sur des vers de Virgile'* treats a fault that, compared to the perceived heinous crimes we
have mentioned above, is actually trifling, "quaedam parva" (1. 184),
as Juvenal himself recognizes.10 In a witty parenthesis, he attacks the
8. For an analysis of the influence of Juvenal's sixth satire on misogamous and misogynist literature through the fifteenth century, see Katharina M. Wilson and Elizabeth
M. Makowski, Wykked Wyves and the Woes of Marriage: Misogamous Literature

from Juvenal to Chaucer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990).
9. "Noctibus hie ponunt lecticas, micturiunt hie / effigiemque deae longis siphonibus
implent / inque vices equitant ac Luna teste moventur" ("At night, they have their
sedan chairs set at that spot, and here they urinate and douse the statue of the goddess
with abundant screams as they take turns riding each other, spurred by the Moon, their
only witness"; 11. 309-1 ). I use the following edition of the text of Juvenal: Satires, ed.
and trans. Pierre de Labriolle and Franois Villeneuve (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1950),
-and I take into account their excellent French translation of the text to produce my
English renditions.
10. Here is the Latin text and my translation: "Quaedam parva quidem, sed non


Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann * Montaigne reads Juvenal

fashionable infatuation of young Roman women with the Greek language, a fad that irritates their husbands. The Romans' obsession
with Greek achievements, and their insuperable feelings of inferiority
towards the culturally more versatile people they have subjugated,
have penetrated the psyche of women. The fondest wish of the lady
from Sulmo or from Tuscany is to trade her province for Cecropian
Athens, and her most intimate passionsanger, fright, worries, all the
secrets of her. heartprefer the Greek idiom as vehicle: "Everything is
in Greek, as if it were not much more shameful for our women to
ignore Latin." Juvenal is here venting his anger against the grecization
of Roman culture, a theme he plies at length in the third satire (11. 59136), where he viciously berates the Greeks' ability to flatter anyone
in any situation, and where he compounds his racism with memorably
sexist lines when he speaks of a Greek actor specializing in female roles:
"It is indeed a woman, and not a fictive mask, who is speaking; it seems
that below the belt there is a lack, that everything is flat, with a small
crack the only difference." 11 The fondness of fashionable young ladies
for the language of the colonialized "other" thus explains itself in sexual terms: Greek is particularly appropriate as nonphallic, as the language of the oppressed and feminized. Worse, this love of Greek,
fulfilling its sexual inscription, has even invaded the bedroom: "wives
even make love in Greek" ("concumbunt Graece"; 1. 191), a half-line

that jumps out of the text with epigrammatic and prosodie vigor.12
Juvenal, who, like Horace, is a staunch promoter of latinitas and combats the encroachment of neologisms coming from Greek into Latin,
thus brings a stylistic polemic into his discussion of women's sexuality.13 The staunchly male and paternalistic ethos of a Cato is subverted
by an alien language that provides women with a special vocabulary
for sexual rapture and leaves men silent and bereft of a voiced pleasure.
Juvenal does not stop here, however, and gives a grotesque twist to his
accusations. He is willing to excuse this dangerous affectationto have
intercourse in Greekwhen it can be construed as a temporary aberration of youth. It is quite another matter when the same lascivious usage
surfaces in the amorous strategies of a randy eighty-six-year-old woman
who, at every turn, uses such Greek expressions as "z kai psyche"
("my life, my soul") in order to entice young lovers. Juvenal quips
that such language should remain underneath the blankets ("sub lodice"), a remark that leads us back to the passage quoted and altered
by Montaigne: "For what male penis (inguen) will a soft, naughty
voice not excite? Such a voice has fingers" ("digitos habet," 11. 19697). If it were not for a face that betrays her age, the old woman's
voice, by showering Greek blandishments, could metaphorically body
itself forth and directly attend to the eager inguen.

toleranda maritis. / Nam quid rancidius, quam quod se non putat ulla / formosam nisi
quae de Tusca Graecula facta est, / de Sulmonensi mera Cecropis? Omnia graece, /
cum sit turpe magis nostris nescire latine; / hoc sermone pavent, hoc iram, gaudia,
curas, / hoc cuncta effundunt animi secreta. Quid ultra? / Concumbunt graece. Doncs
tarnen ista puellis: / tunc etiam, quam sextus et octogensimus annus / pulsat, adhuc
graece? Non est hie sermo pudicus / in vetula: quotiens lascivum intervenit illud / zu
kai psuch! modo sub lodice relictis / uteris in turba? Quod enim non excitet inguen /
vox blanda et nequam? Digitos habet. Ut tarnen omnes / subsidant pinnae: dicas haec
mollius Haemo / quamquam et Carpophoro, facies tua computat annos" ("Here are a
few other small quirks, trifling yet intolerable for husbands. What is more rank than
the woman who thinks herself a beauty only if she changes her birthplace from
Tuscany to Greece, from Sulmo to Cecropian Athens? All things must be Greek, as if
it were not much more shameful for our wives to ignore Latin. They fear, get angry,
they rejoice and express their worries and all the secrets of their soul in Greek. They
even make love in Greek. Such a fad can be forgiven to young girls. But you, on whose
door the eighty-sixth year is knocking, you are still using Greek? In an old woman, this
language is shameful. How often intervenes in public your lascivious zo kai psuch,
words you have just uttered underneath the blankets? Indeed, what phallus will not
such an expression excite? It has fingers. No one, however, gets very excited. For, although you may utter these words more alluringly than the actors Haemus or Carpophorus, your face clearly spells out your age"; 11. 184-99).
Ii. "Mulier nempe ipsa videtur, / non persona loqui; vacua et plana omnia dicas /
infra ventriculum et tenui distantia rima"; 11. 95-97.


II. "De trois commerces": "concumbunt docte"

According to Pierre Villey's recensions, forty-six of Montaigne's citations of Juvenal date from 1588, an observation indicating that Montaigne read the satirist especially between 1580 and 1588 and used him
to quarry out a few building blocks for the last series of essays.14 Eight
of these borrowings derive from the sixth satire, and the first five essays
of the third book make use of this well-known text in four instances,
two of which surface in the two chapters preceding "Sur des vers de
Virgile." "De trois commerces" (3.3) shares with "Sur des vers de
Virgile" the rhetorically convenient pathos of the "dernieres accolades," Montaigne's parting gesture to an experiential world he loves
12. In his commentary, John Ferguson (Juvenal: Ths Satires, 217) singles out, along
with Montaigne, the expression "concumbunt Graece" as particularly epigrammatic on
account of the bucolic diaeresis that prosodically sculpts it.
13. On the insistence of the two authors on latinitas, see Anderson, Essays on Roman
Satire, 446-47.
14. Pierre Villey, Les Sources et l'volution des Essais de Montaigne (Paris: Hachette,
1933), 1:170-71.


Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

but which age will soon make him abandon. After a somewhat lengthy
exordium (818-24) which blames his "complexion difficile" for making
exchange with others notably demanding, Montaigne offers a description of the three "commerces" in question: the company and conversation of "honnestes hommes," the appreciation of pleasurable relations
with beautiful women, and the interaction with books, the only satisfying activity now left the aging man.15 In the exordium, the essay
rebukes the noble ladies who affect to pepper their conversation with
constant allusions to "Platon et Sainct Thomas," and the following
lines of Juvenal's satire against women are called upon: "Hoc sermone
pavent, hoc iram, gaudia, curas, / Hoc cuncta effundunt animi secreta;
quid ultra? / Concumbunt docte." 16 We recognize that the context, in
Juvenal, voices the complaint against the grecophilia of young women
who have taken up a foreign, effeminate, and sophistic tongue ("hoc
sermone") as the privileged vehicle of their intimate effusions and of
their sexual exclamations. Montaigne, however, masks the linguistic
dimension of this irritating penchant for Greek by transforming
Juvenal's graece into docte, a disruption of the original text that actually anticipates one of its latter developments. Indeed, at lines 435-56,
Juvenal himself derides the overly educated "matrona" who, even in
the bedroom ("tibi quae iuncta recumbit," 1. 448) insists upon perfect
syntax and quotes passages from arcane poems. Montaigne thus mobilizes the Latin text for his continuing attacks, familiar to us from "Du
pedantisme" (1.25) and "De l'institution des enfans" (1:26), against
those "regens" whose educational principles, seeking "la tte bien
pleine" instead of "la tte bien faicte," are antithetical to what he considers an "institution" worthy of the French nobility. In these two
early essays, however, the central concern was the education of the
young "gentilhomme," whereas we are now dealing with the pernicious effects of these same "regens" upon the education of women."
The passage at hand echoes "De l'institution des enfans" in subtle
but unmistakable ways, and uses the lines from the satire to shift the:
focus of the debate on education from young men to women. The tex-

tuai trigger of these reminiscences lies in the expression "du son doux et
gracieux du jeu des flutes" (82 r [B] ). Ambiguously, "le son des flutes"
is equated to "le plomb," the ballast necessary to attenuate "tmrit,"
"furie," "ardeur," and "agitation," passionate stances incompatible with
conversational "commerce." More significantly, however, the hollow
channel of the "flute" announces the topical "entonnoir" through
which the despised "regens" pour their drugs ("drogueries," 822 [] )
into the ears of women: "Ils en ont en ce temps entonn si fort les cabinets et oreilles des dames que, si elles n'en ont retenu la substance,
aumoins elles en ont la mine" (822 [B] ). "Entonner" and "entonnoir"
are rare words in the Essais, and the latter is only found in "De l'institution des enfans": "On ne cesse de criailler nos oreilles, comme qui
verser oit dans un antonnoir, et notre charge ce n'est que redire ce qu'on
nous a diet" (1.26.150 [A]). "De trois commerces" thus plies a network of images systematically elaborated in the earlier chapter, whose
introductory movement (1.26.146) contrasts the forever emptying vat
of the Danads, corresponding to the "antonnoir," with "l'troit canal
d'une trompette," the fertile and transformative container reappearing
/here as a flute. T h e Danadian "antonnoir" does not arrest "substance,"
and can alter only the surface or the "mine" of the receiver of "copia."
In "De trois commerces," the negative aspects of the "antonnoir" are
further emphasized by connotations of a violent intrusion, possibly
sexual, into the corporal, social, and ontological space of the women
; the "regens" are attempting to manipulate: naming this intimate space,
oreilles" is paired with "cabinet," a term Cotgrave defines as "a closet,
little chamber, or wardrobe, wherein one keeps his best, or most esteemed, substance." Under "entonnoir" the same Cotgrave lists "entonnoir matrical," "an instrument used for the infusion of medicines
into the matrix; it may be also understood as a P." 18 Montaigne does
call the teachings of the "regens" "drogueries," and hints at an imposed
insemination with "sement leurs livres par tout." T h e scabrous scenarios resulting from the conjunction of "cabinet" and "entonn" thus
^prepare the ground for the appropriation of Juvenal's equally os "concumbunt [graece] docte," "they copulate learnedly," a sentence conjugating sexual activity with educational topics and garishly coloring
the "cabinet" as a zone of erotic transgression.

15. For a traditional reading of the essay, see Glyn P. Norton, " 'De trois commerces'
and Montaigne's Populous Solitude," French Studies 4y (1971): 101-9.
16. 3.3.822(B). "They fear, get angry, they rejoice and express their worries and all.,
the secrets of their soul in that language. They even make love pedantically."
17. "Quand je les vois attaches la rhtorique, la judiciaire, la logique, et
semblables drogueries si vaines et inutiles leur besoing, j'entre en crainte que les
hommes qui le leur conseillent, le facent pour avoir loy de les regenter soubs ce tiltre"
(3.3.822 IB]).


f.; \ 18. Randle Cotgrave, A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, reproduced

from the first edition, London 1611 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press,



Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

"De trois commerces" culminates with the celebrated description of

another "cabinet" (828 [C]), that of Montaigne's "librairie," a private
enclosure in which intercourse with books supersedes the "doux commerce des belles et honnestes femmes." Far from being the austere retreat of an aging and impotent old man, however, this space vibrates
with the type of positive erotic excitement the essayist advocates as
the special province of women, and also as their protection against the
dangerous infiltrations of the "regens." For it is a place for titillating
play with "les muses," marked by terms such as "s'esbatre," "jouet,"
"passe-temps," "plaisir" (829[]), a vocabulary echoing the earlier
passage urging women to frequent the type of books that will preserve
the power they wield over men. These are books of poetry, "un art
follastre et subtil, desguis, parlier, tout en plaisir, tout en montre,
comme elles" (823[B]). As "De l'institution des enfans" reminds us,
these books, not surprisingly, are those belonging to the "cabinets des
Muses" rather than to those of Pallas (1.26.161 [C]). They represent
erotic products clearly antithetical to the lucubrations of those "regens" and "savants" who toil under the tutelage of the owl-eyed
goddess. Both the "cabinet"or, more precisely, "le cabinet de lecture"of women and that of the essayist thus give rise to another
avatar of "concumbunt docte," to a textual transaction that escapes
the lashing of satire and addresses the urgent needs ("leur besoin,"
823 [], and "mon besoing," 829[C]) of female readers and of their
male counterpart. In this positively valorized cabinet, commerce with
books provides a vital nourishment, an enriching tincture that permeates body and mind and vanquishes any hint of specious assimilation
and show. For Montaigne admits having formerly sinned himself and
used books as mere surface ornaments destined for "la mine," "pour
m'en tapisser et parer" (829] ), a confession linking him with those
"feminine" reading practices he berates in the introduction. In "De
trois commerces," this confession also puts the last stitch in a thematic
paradigm becoming extremely important throughout the third book,
that of veiling and unveiling (the previous essay was "Du repentir"),
of hiding and revealing, a phenomenology of appearance and truthone is reminded of the Greek term aletheiaof major moment to all
aspects of the self-portrait and its textualisation. The citation of Juvenal gives a particularly "feminine" slant to this problematic by paralleling the familiar flaw consisting of borrowing from others and "s'en
parer" with the abuse of cosmetics by women, an abuse Juvenal
chooses, as it happens, to paratactically juxtapose to his castigation of

the overly educated wives and their erudite bedroom behavior (11.
In the essay, the reference to the use of alien texts as a cosmetic
adjuvant, while exploiting the typical misogynist strains Juvenal favors, overlaps with the traditional and much used topos "art vs. nature": "Elles cachent et couvrent leurs beautez soubs des beauts
estrangeres . . . elles sont enterres et ensevelies sous l'art. [C] De
capsula totae " The Latin citation, translated by Gummere as "fresh
from the bandbox" and grammatically altered by Montaigne to fit his
text, comes from a letter of Seneca to Lucilius in which the philosopher
assails the "feminine" propensities of young dandies to use cosmetics
both in their excessively elegant speech patterns ("anxium esse verba et
compositionem") and in their obsessive personal grooming ("comptulos iuvenes, barba et coma nitidos"). 20 The word capsula is especially
pleasing to Montaigne because it builds upon "cabinet" and it insists
upon the threatening aspects of the "commerce" between the "regens"
and their ladies. But capsula, here the negative counterpart of the latter
"cabinet," also prefigures the cylindrical, encyclopedic nature of the
"librairie": indeed, capsula, "a small container for books, a small box or
casket," is the diminutive of capsa, "a cylindrical case for holding
books, a receptacle for other items." 21 Although axiologically antithetical, the "capsula/cabinet des dames" which the "regens" infiltrate,
and the "capsula/librairie" are both loci allowing hiding and concealment to occur, where women (and men, if we reflect on the context of
the Senecan epistle) "cachent" and "couvrent," and where Montaigne
himself "se cache" : "Miserable mon gr, qui n'a chez soy o estre soy,
o se faire particulirement la cour, o se cacher" (828 [C] ). This late
addition, adumbrating the motivation of the essayist for his retirement
in the "librairie," mitigates the satirical sting aimed at those women who
rely upon intellectual cosmetics ("drogueries") to engage in the game
of "la montre" taught to them by men. T h e arresting expression "se


19. "Interea foeda aspectu ridendaque multo / pane tumet facies aut pinguia Popipaeana / spirat, et hinc miseri viscantur labra mariti" ("Comical, hideous to behold, her
race is swollen with a concocture of bread crumb and stinking 'Poppaea pomade,'
and the poor husband's Hps become viscous"; 11. 461-3).
20. Seneca, Ad Luciliwn epistulae morales, trans. Richard M. Gummere (London:
; William Heinemann, 1925), letter 115, pp. 318-21. This epistle is an extension of letter
.'"4 a famous text positing that literary style is a mirror of character.
21. Oxford Latin Dictionary, ed. P. G. W. Glare (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982). See
also Tom Conley, "De Capsula Totae: Lecture de Montaigne, T)e trois commerces',"
VEsprk crateur 28 (1988): 18-26. This great essay makes of the capsula "une bote
pe Pandore" and of Montaigne's "cabinet" the box of a jack-in-the-box.

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

faire particulirement la cour" imports, within the inner sanctum of the

literary "cabinet," the long development prescribing the proper manner of courtship between men and women (the whole description, in
fact, of the "doux commerce des belles et honnestes femmes," (82427), and reminds the attentive reader of the Essais of the many passages
where Montaigne stages inner dialogues between the authorial "je,"
"l'ame," "1'esprit," and "le corps " 22 The object of this psychagogic
courtship, where female and male elements of the psyche play their
part, is, of course, the composition of the self-portrait, the production
of a text worthy "the muses" and, importantly, of material the ladies
will find "propre leur besoin."
The work of the text thus transforms the satirical import of "concumbunt docte" into the positive emblem of the necessary eroticization
of writing and reading. Although the essayist's patronizing tone toward
women does not alleviate his misogynist outlook, he does recognize
the natural aptness of women for poetry, a textual mode he values in
the extreme and holds up as the supreme model for his own literary
performance. He is also impressed by women's expertise in the artificial and the aesthetic: "C'est qu'elles ne se cognoissent point assez:
le monde n'a rien de plus beau; c'est elles d'honnorer les arts et de
farder le fard" (82 2 [B] ). This last turn, "farder le fard," where "fard/ :
as Villey points out, is a metaphor for "artifice," valorizes what Juvenal's satire castigates, and gives a twist to the topos "art vs. nature."
Montaigne implies that women, because of their ability to be more
artful than art itself, can bring back the outcome of mimesis to its
starting place, namely nature. By honestly applying mimetic deception, they can reestablish the ground of true being and recreate the
natural beauty that custom has forced them to bury or veil: "Elles sont
enterres et ensevelies sous l'art." "Ensevelies," in the typically dazzling philological manner of Montaigne, cultivates the textile (and
hence textual) imagery present in "estouffer," strongly reminiscent
of "toffe," in the previous half-sentence: "C'est grande simplesse
d'estouffer sa clart pour luire d'une lumiere emprunte." 23 As we

shall see, such a confrontation of differing and deferred "clarts" and

its relationship to the "feminine" dexterity with veils becomes one of
the most fascinating aspects of aesthetic reflection in "Sur des vers de
Virgile." Montaigne's concerns with light as a sexual and textual manifestation inhabit the sentence "Et versus digitos habet," contextually
and thematically linked to "concumbunt docte." 24


22. See, for one example among many, the developments at the beginning of 3.5,
where the "je" is courting "l'esprit" lest it follow too closely the inclinations of the
body: "Je luy conseille . . . je le flatte part, je le practique pour nant" (844.B]).
Significantly, books (Seneca and Catullus) serve the essayist as persuasive weapons.^
23. In his Lectures de Montaigne (Lexington, Kentucky: French Forum, 1982), Jules
Brody details the procedures of a philological reading. "De trois commerces" offers
ample grounds for such an approach: "estouffer" entails "toffe," which links up with
"voile" in the expression "car mon aller n'est pas naturel s'il n'est pleine voile"
(33.82[]), itself announcing "ensevelies"


III. "Sur des vers de Virgile"; "Et versus digitos habet"


Immediately after the introduction of Virgil's verses in the text of the

essay, Montaigne embarks on a lengthy discussion (853-72) of the
feasibility of a marriage that would preserve the sexual excitement inherent in Virgil's description. Like Juvenal, Montaigne is extremely
skeptical about marriage as an institution in which love and respect
between man and wife can be maintained, but his argumentation, unlike the satire's, makes strenuous efforts at impartiality in the assignment of blame to one or the other partner. He recognizes, for example,
that "les femmes n'ont pas tort du tout quand elles refusent les reigles
de vie qui sont introduites au monde, d'autant que ce sont les hommes
qui les ont faictes sans elles" (854[B]). Nevertheless, his "fairness"
toward women is anchored in a long-lived assumption of Western
misogyny: women are "hotter" than men, their sexual inclinations rule
them thoroughly. This condition, in turn, heightens the unreasonableness of males' demands that women keep their chastity. For Montaigne,
women who arc able to do this are truly heroic, even more so than
Caesar or Alexander (861[B] ). The centrality of Juvenal's sixth satire
s an intertext in this type of discussion now becomes apparent in several instances, through allusions and citations. The essay mentions the
rites of the Bona Dea (859 [B] ), which get ample coverage in the satire
(11. 314-45), and cites two of its verses (il. 347-48) expressing the
futility of caging up one's wife and leaving her under guard, since she
will then have the opportunity to seduce the sentinel (869 [B] ). Messalina, an exemplar of unbridled concupiscence prominently featured in
the satirist's tract, has her moment in the essay, and the two most striking verses of Juvenal's text, which berate her, are duly cited: "Adhuc
ardens rigidae tentigine volvae, / et lassata viris necdum satiata recessit"
24. Montaigne's attention to Juvenal's satire against marriage reappears at the very
beginning of "De la diversion" (34.830B]). Three verses of the poem (11. 273-75)
emphasize that, even in mourning, women continue to indulge their proclivity toward
'le fard," that their "deuils" are "artificiels et crmonieux."

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

(854[B] ).2S In Montaigne, however, the stupidity of her husband almost

excuses the whoring empress, and Claudius is unflatteringly portrayed
as a lecherous monster: "Luy despucela bien en une nuict dix vierges
Sarmates, ses captives" (854[]). T h e uncompromisingly misogynist
tone of Juvenal is far from being Montaigne's, and although the satire
strongly looms in the background of his arguments, he develops a conciliatory attitude toward the opposite sex quite remarkable for the
sixteenth century.
However, this attempt to objectively weigh the situation may be
heavily influenced by a purely rhetorical requirement: an effective
captatio benevolentiae of a female audience. Indeed, Montaigne wishes
this fifth essay to physically occupy the private space of ladies'
"cabinets" and to be read in an intimacy a mere "sale" cannot afford:
"Je m'ennuie que mes essais servent les dames de meuble commun
seulement, et de meuble de sale. Ce chapitre me fera du cabinet. J'ayme
leur commerce un peu priv" (3.5.847[B]). 26 Just before arriving at
his "theme" (847 [B]), the essayist thus explicitly recalls "De trois
commerces," a text in which the term "cabinet" undergoes a thoroughgoing analysis employing the relevant passage of Juvenal's sixth satire
as a crucial lever. The "cabinet," in its most positive sense, is the special
province of the books furnishing it, textual "meubles" ("Une humeur
vaine et despensiere que j'avais aprs cette sorte de meuble [= les
livres]," 3.3.829[B]) which old age increasingly prizes. Prefiguring
Pascal's "pole," it is the hothouse (cf. I.26.I6I[C]: "les Dieux ont
mis plutost la sueur aux avenues des cabinetz de Venus que de Pallas")
in which the muses preside. These "doctes vierges," in whose "breast"
the essayist has retired,27 seem here to resist the pedantic nuance of
"docte" and, paradoxically, to take the side of Venus, their proper and
natural partner: "Je ne say qui a peu mal mesler Pallas et les Muses
avec Venus, et les refroidir envers l'Amour; mais je ne voy aucunes
deitez qui s'aviennent mieux, ny qui s'entre doivent plus" (3.5.848 [B] ).
The special relationship between "les dames" and Venus shines forth

in the lines from the De rerum natura ushering in the passage of Virgil:
"Tu, Dea, tu rerum naturam sola gubernas, / Nec sine te quicquam
dias in luminis oras / exoritur" (3.5.848[B]). 28 The goddess is the
numinous agent insuring the birth of "res" into the world, birth understood as an acquisition of visual tangibility or "evidence." It is Venus
who provides the female "clart," the "lumiere" and the "luire" which
are the natural attributes of female beauty in "De trois commerces."
Arising from the same context in Juvenal's satire as "concumbunt
docte," the sentence "Et versus digitos habet" reinforces the sexual
dimensions of an education or a literary composition undertaken under
the sign of both Venus and the Muses. The Latin maxim epideictically
naming verse appears in the essay in a context still suffused with the
goddess's divine light:


25. "Still burning with the lust of her fierce vulva, she leaves, tired of men though
not yet satiated" (11. 129-30).
26. Mary B. McKinley, in her " 'Salle/Cabinet': Literature and Self-Disclosure in

'Sur des vers de Virgile'," in Columbia Montaigne Conference Papers, ed. Donald

Frame and Mary McKinley (Lexington, Kentucky: French Foruin, 1981), 84-104, uses
the opposition between "sale" and "cabinet" as the organizational axis of her presentation.
27. In 1571, Montaigne had a Latin inscription painted on the walls of the "librairie"
explaining that he has retired from the world and taken refuge "au sein des doctes
vierges": "dum se interger in doctarum virginum recessit sinus."


Mais de ce que je m'y entends, les forces et valeur de ce Dieu se

trouvent plus vives et plus animes en la peinture de la posie qu'en
leur propre essence,
Et versus digitos habet.
Elle represente je ne say quel air plus amoureux que l'amour
mesme. Venus n'est pas si belle toute nue, et vive, et haletante,
comme elle est icy chez Virgile.
(3.5.849 [B])
At the level of gender, this text insinuates a sexual ambiguity between
"ce Dieu" and "versus," masculine substantives, and "la posie" and
Venus," belonging to a feminine realm. The persistent Vdoes it take
the side of "vir" or of Venus?weaves an alliteration linking the passage with the title of the chapter (vers/Virgile) and attracting the
reader's eyes on the focal "versus," a term tautologically organizing
the introduction to the verses of Virgil that follow. At their center,
these lines display a flash of lightning, the blinding light Venus seems
to be stealing from Zeus (another confusion or usurpation of gendered
attributes) in order to heighten the Lucretian statement of her allencompassing power. The persuasive strength of this light (it will be
remembered that Venus is here trying to convince Vulcan to forge
weapons for her illegitimate son Aeneas), a specific property of "jouissance," enrolls the contributions of the other senses, above all that of
28. Montaigne's citation is a rewriting of the celebrated verses of Lucretius's prologue. The original line has "quae quoniam rerum naturam sola gubernas" (1.2:).
Montaigne respects the laws of prosody in his tampering, and the vocatives "Tu, Dea,
ta... " regain the delicate urgency of the protracted original text. The semantic echo
Dea / dias puts the accent on light.

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

touch. Montaigne skillfully mingles a lexical register pertaining to the

body"force," "valeur," that is to say physical vigor, "nue," "haletante"with words of intellectual, philosophical, or even metaphysical
import: "je m'y entends," "essence," "represente." With "represente"
and "peinture," the reader senses the typical "mise en abme" of the
project of the self-portrait, whose impossible end, the corporal representation of the essayist, is articulated in the Latin statement ascribing
fingers and physical touch to a written artifact. An illustration of "Et
versus digitos habet," the linguistic fabric of Virgil's verse is held up
as the model of the "cher et os," an expression used twice in the essay
(844 [], 873 [B] ), the making present in flesh and bone of verbal constructs which the vernacular, through emulative and imitative means j
should attempt to achieve.
Within the larger structure of the essay, the citation from Virgil,
emanating light and exercising a supratextual, eroticized "doigt," cannot be read alone. Its indispensable pendant, nine lines from Lucretius's
De rerum natura, occurs more than twenty-two pages later and acts as
a sample of text embodying to an even greater degree the sexual
"jouissance" of the divine protagonists it gathers in loving embrace.
As soon as the Lucretian passage finds its place in the essay, there follow several pages (873-76) of a French ars poetica displaying many
of the topoi central to literary criticism in the Renaissance and circumscribing the position of the essayist in a history of heated polemics. Within these theoretical prescriptions, the Montaignian "de
chair et d'os" acts as the equivalent of the evocation of the sensual fingers of verse, and an "allegation" to one of Montaigne's indispensable
sources makes this point more forceful: "Plutarque dit qu'il veid [
qu'il vit, qu'il apprit] le langage latin par les choses; icy de mesme: le
sens esclaire et produict les parolles; non plus de vent, ains de chair et
d'os. Elles signifient plus qu'elles ne disent" (3-5.873). Montaigne derives this observation from Plutarch's Demosthenes and misreads the
original text in order to adapt it to the essay. Plutarch tells us that, as
an old man learning Latin, his task had become easy on account of his
thorough familiarity with the "res," the arguments of the texts he was
reading: he implies that, for a highly sophisticated Greek paedagogus,
nothing mysterious or unheard-of could possibly dwell in these derivative Roman products that steal their wares from the Greeks.20 However, on account of the ambiguity of the archaic "veid," Montaigne
29. Plutarch, The Lives of the Noble Grecians and "Romans, trans. John Drydea
(New York: The Modern Library, n.d.)s 1023.

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal


has Plutarch assert that the Latin language is superior because it entertains a necessary relationship between itself and the "things" it
conveys. In the Latin Montaigne claims as his "langue maternelle"
(1.26.175 [A]), "parolles," which, in his nominalist perspective, are
ghostly, insubstantial wind, do not produce sense.30 On the contrary, a substratum of "res" lies underneath the linguistic cover and
gives it consistency, light ("le sens esclaire"), and flesh ("cher et os"),
a presence graspable by both the eyes and the fingers of the reader.
Montaigne's Plutarch thus celebrates the linguistic and stylistic virtue
that ancient and Renaissance criticism knows as energie, a technical
term surfacing two paragraphs later (874]), and a word occurring
only once in the Essais. Energie dispels "l'arbitraire du signe" and creates a motivated relation between verba and res. As is well known,
energie, the equivalent of actio, seldom occurs without simultaneously
implying its doublet, enargie, in Latin evidentia or illustration1 Clearly,
both of these closely related terms are present in the technical (stylistic) discourse of the essay, which constantly links the "flesh and bone"
quality of outstanding texts with their ability to create an illumination,
an ineffable effect (cf. Montaigne's "je ne say quel air plus amoureux
que l'amour mesme"), a heightening of "the real."
When we glance back at the original passage of the satire, what
; Montaigne would call the "nation" whence he borrows (2.10.408 [C] ),
; we immediately realize that the words "et versus" are an addition of
the essayist's, and that the only two words the context provides are
"digitos habet." As we know, Juvenal reluctantly condones excessive
fondness for Greek when it can be ascribed to the temporary infatuation of "puellae." However, when an octogenarian "vetula" insists on
the same erotic use of the alien language, he roundly condemns the
But you, on whose door the eighty-sixth year is knocking, you are
still using Greek? In an old woman, this language is shameful
("non pudicus est"). H o w often intervenes in public your lascivious ("lascivum") zo kai psych, words you have just uttered
underneath the blankets ("sub lodice")? Indeed, what phallus
30. The best extensive treatment of nominalist thinking in Montaigne is Antoine
Compagnon, Nous, Michel de Montaigne (Paris: Seuil, 1980).
31. A valuable discussion of the energeia / enargeia complex appears in Glyn Nor-

ton's The Ideology and Language of Translation in Renaissance France (Geneva: Droz,

1984), in the chapter entitled "The Translative Energies of the Word," 259-322. See
also Cave, The Comucopian Text, 27-30.


Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

"inguen") will not such an expression ("vox") excite? It has fingers ("digitos habet").
(II. 192-97)

Juvenal recognizes the erotic power of this use of Greek, and bluntly
describes its effects. Towards the end of "Sur des vers de Virgile,"
Montaigne, surely haunted by the graphic nature of the image, uses part
of an epigram of Martial to describe a type of sexual foreplay similar
to the one the satire hints at metaphorically.32 "Et versus," Montaigne's
own addition, fulfills the same prosodie function as the words it replaces in the original line, and the new phrase mimics perfectly a segment of Latin verse. The intervention of the essayist tactfully erases
from the original text that most potent of words, "inguen," for he ex-%
pects that the reader familiar with the satire will evoke the phallus and
derive pleasure from the mischieviously subtle latency of the sexual
connotations. When we pay attention to Montaigne's bricolage and
take the import of the original context seriously, "versus" hides the
term "vox" behind or underneath itself, the "vox" of an old woman
trying to allure a potential lover "sub lodice," underneath the blanket.
"Versus," the counterpart of the massaging "vox," thus entertains a
direct relationship with "l'action genitale . . . si naturelle, si ncessaire,
si juste" (847 [B] ). Yet the subtlety of the allusion to the "inguen," the
devious steps the reader must take in order to recover and enjoy it,
makes the discourse of the essay conform to the norm of custom: it
refuses to use a frankly sexual vocabulary, and resorts to an elaborate
periphrastic method (cf. "periphrase," 847 [B]).
In "De l'institution des enfans," Montaigne indicates how he conceives of his adaptations of foreign texts to his own fabric: "Je tors
bien plus volontiers une bonne sentence pour la coudre sur moy, que
je ne tors mon fil pour l'aller qurir" (1.26.171 [C] ). The particular
"torsion" at work here involves both a partial rewriting and a sustained
reflection on the value of the "sentence" in its "nation." What is striking and outrageous in Juvenal's assertions about the "vetula" is a total
disregard for physiological fact: the satirist's misogyny induces him to
discover prurient interests in women of the most advanced age, and he
creates a deliberately grotesque image of sexuality at the threshold of
32. At 3.5.886[B]: "Experta latus, madidoque sxmillima loro / Inguina, nec lassa
stare coacta manu, / Deserit imbelles thalamos" ("She, testing out their intimate company and their genitals, most like a wet noodle yet never tired to stand up under her
urging hand, finally leaves these effeminate bouts"; Martial 7.58.

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal


death.33 T h e rhetorical stance of Montaigne's late essays, and especially

of "De trois commerces" and "Sur des vers de Virgile," uses the essayist's old age as a cornerstone of the captatio benevolentiae: "Je prends
extreme cong des jeux du monde, voicy nos dernier es accolades"
(3.5.847 [B] ). The imminent approach of death gives the "je" leave to
be extremely straightforward in his discussion of sex, notably when he
has privileged a female audience. But the departing "accolade" reveals
another motive, that of a sexual and spiritual union with women, an
adhesion pertaining to the "accouplage" universalized by one of the
most memorable statements of the essay: "Tout le mouvement du
monde se resoult et rend cet accoupplage: c'est une matiere infuse
par tout, c'est un centre o toutes choses regardent" (857[B]). T h e
final pages of "Sur des vers de Virgile" announce (ironically?) that
the female reader who will be edified by the text should reward its
writer "au pris de ses cuisses" (896 [C] ). The "commerce un peu priv"
transacted in the "cabinet" thus posits this sexual fantasy as its outcome,
and the Montaignian persona in the essay betrays a salaciousness equal
to Juvenal's "vetula."
More importantly, however, the passage of Juvenal attracts Montaigne because it depicts the sexual earnestness of an old "woman. As
material to be uttered in the erotic "cabinet," the text of the essay looks
: to "vox" and "versus" as the warrantors of its own sincerity and flirts
with the fiction that its originator is both male and female, that the "je"
can be transformed from old man into old woman. The "vetula" in
Juvenal becomes, in a sense, Montaigne's intertextual alter ego, a phenomenon that fittingly rejoins the well-stocked paradigm of sexual
reversals punctuating the essay from beginning to end. A prime example of these hints at a fertile bisexuality is an allusion to Tiresias, "ce
prestre ancien . . . qui avoit est tanstost homme, tanstost femme"
(3.5.854 [] ), and whose authority enables Montaigne to justify women
in their determined resistance to male "reigles de vie," and even to beg
understanding for the monstrous wantonness of the Juvenalian Mes33. I am using the term "grotesque" in view of Mikhail Bakhtin's discussion of "grotesque realism" in Rabelais and His World, trans. Hlne Iswolslky (Cambridge: MIT
Press, 1968), 24-29. In Montaigne, the coupling of a young woman to an old man recalls
Bakhtin's remark that "one of the fundamental tendencies of the grotesque image of the
body is to show two bodies in one: the one giving birth and dying, the other conceived,
generated, and born" (26). The doublings young/old, birth/death, are everywhere
apparent in the essay (cf. "guy sur un arbre mort"), and culminate in the citation of
Catullus. I owe this reference to Bakhtin to Erica Harth's article " 'Sur des vers de
Virgile': Antinomy and Totality in Montaigne," French Forum 2 (1977): 3-21.

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

salina. To this emblematic Tiresias can be added the several instances

where the sexual status of childhood is evoked, a period where males
are indistinguishable from females. Toward the end of the chapter, for
example, a quotation from Horace insists on the ambiguous face ("ambiguoque vultu") of very young adolescents, a Janus-like physiognomy
that looks simultaneously toward male and female and, on account of
the total confusion of the sexes at that age ("discrimen obscurum"),
fools even old men (895 [B]). This image of extreme ambivalence rewrites the initial "double visage de Janus" at the beginning of the text
(841 [B] ), whose polarities are the traditional youth and old age. Even
more to the point in this insistent series of gender transformations is
the final movement of "Sur des vers de Virgile." Here, using as its
mouthpiece a long citation from Catullus, the "je" shifts from describing itself as an aging male body "qui tombe tant soi peu en decadence"
(3.5.896 [] ) to comparing itself to a young female virgin unwittingly
sending the text of sexual revelation to the readers.34 A double face
again, triumphantly combining two ages and two sexes and enriching further the underlying Janus figure to which Juvenal's (hidden)
"vetula" also contributes, enunciator of the fingered "vox" or "versus,"
and vehement counterpart of the earlier "puella."
Just as it recuperates the Juvenalian mise~en-scene of the "vetula, '
"Sur des vers de Virgile" sews onto itself the purely linguistic considerations of the relevant segment of the satire. In the grips of Roman
self-consciousness about the egestas linguae, the poverty of the
Roman tongue vis--vis Greek, Juvenal seeks to control the pervasive
influence of this powerful and weH-''illustrated" idiom by lashing out
against the women who exhibit their fondness for it. His attack thus
bears a relation to polemics about the relative strengths and potentials
of different languages, a debate probably obsessing the Renaissance
much more than it did the ancients. In "Sur des vers de Virgile," the
question about the French vernacular's ability to hold its own in literary composition leaves its mark predominantly in what I have called
the ars poetica following the comparison between Lucretius and
Virgil. Here, Montaigne prescribes a remedy to increase the "faon,"
that is to say the actio or energie, of "notre langage," namely a
greater use of terms borrowed from " [le] jargon de nos chasses et de
nostre guerre, qui est un genereux terrein emprunter" (874[B]).
He furthermore justifies his own constant recourse to Latin and (very

infrequently) Greek: "Il [= nostre langage} succombe ordinairement

une puissante conception. Si vous allez tendu, vous sentez souvent
qu'il languit soubs vous et fleshchit, et qu' son deffaut le Latin se
prsente au secours, et le Grec d'autres" (874[B}). Any intrusion
of Latin in the Essais operates as the index of such a "secours." The
"puissante conception" arises in the mind of the writer as he is attempting to further the living self-portrait, to clothe the "chair et os," the
body of thought, with the words that will guarantee its reception by
the reader. However, the French vernacular's inherent weaknesses
create an obstacle: "[B] Je le trouve suffisamment abondant, mais non
pas [C} maniant et [B] vigoureux suffisamment" (847). The late addition of the adjective "maniant," stipulating the activity or actio of a
"main," is a direct reminiscence of "digitos habet," of the sensually
manipulative power characteristic of Latin and Greek. In "Sur des vers
de Virgile," the use of Latin takes on additional significance, for it is a
text where the sexual dimensions of the rhetorical term conception,
closely related to invention, come into their own and are energized
by the thematic fascination with "cet accouplage," "ce centre o toutes
choses regardent." The essay, addressing the most powerful of "indignations naturelles""accouplage' ' and "puissante conception"-thus
longs for a language equally natural, namely Latin, about which Montaigne declares in "Du repentir": "Le langage latin m'est comme naturel" (3.2.810[B]). Cross-dressing as Juvenal's "vetula," he is thus
endorsing a bilingualism always commanding the possibility to rescue
French with Latin, an idiom originally adapted to "1'accouplage"
between reader and text, and endowed with more "fingers," more
"maniant." Such an acceptance of the use of Latin as a substitute for
French in instances of challenging conceptual difficulty indicates the
uniqueness of the essays' position in the French literary-critical debate
over the sufficiency of the vernacular. Montaigne's rewriting of Juvenal transfers the sexual and linguistic anxieties of the satirist to this
debate, and the antigeneric nature of the essayist's endeavor, "un livre
; unique," allows him to be fair to both languages, to adopt French while
remaining open to the use of the classical languages whenever he re: quires their sentential and conceptual conciseness.35
The juxtaposition of "versus" and "digitos" announces the linguistic,
theoretical meditations of the essay in a captivating manner: when one


34. This transformation occurs within the final citation, from Catullus's Poem 65.


35. For a recent treatment of Montaigne's intimate psychological and cultural bonds
to Latin, see Floyd Gray, Montaigne bilingue: Le Latin des "Essais", Etudes mon; taignistes 7 (Paris: Honor Champion, 1991).

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

reads "versus" as the technical appellation of prosodically numbered

language, verses do have fingers, for the dactyl (the Greek name of
digitus) is a prosodie measure. Thus, the intrusion of Greek in Juvenal's
text is subtly imitated by Montaigne by forcing our attention on the
bilingual pun digitus jdakty los: the old woman's Greek "vox" is to
Latin as Latin is to French, much more arousing of the intellectual and
physical senses. On one level, the commentary on the verses of Virgil
addresses their remarkable versification, the perfection to which the
Latin poet has brought the dactylic hexameter. In this perspective,
"digitos" refers to the polemic, whose most eminent protagonists are
Joachim Du Bellay and Pierre de la Rame, over the possibility to produce, in French, a numbered poetry capable of rivalry with the ancients, who are favored by the naturally long and short nature of Greek
and Latin syllables.36 As Du Bellay attempts to make clear in two chapters of the Deffense, the controversy centers around the precise meaning of the term rhythme, which, corrupted by previous French
writers, has been limited in application to the phenomenon known as
omoioteleuton, the "rime" of twentieth-century French. 37 Earlier,
he had argued that all languages are perfectible, and that it was up
to "notz ancestres de varier toutes les parties dclinables, d'allonger
une syllabe et accoursir l'autre, et en faire des piedz ou des mains"
(1.9), playing, as Montaigne does, with the terms "feet" and "fingers,"
which catachrestically designate rhythmic units of verse. However,
Du Bellay does not seem to advocate for French the problematic development of a scansion similar to the Greek and Latin systems. His
interest is rather to put the accent on "rhythme" as a poetic device
much more important than French theorists had theretofore been willing to recognize. For "rhythme" (= "rime") is the technical territory
on which emulative battles with the ancients must take place, and it
alone bears the promise of a wealth and complexity equal to ancient
prosodies. In his own way, Montaigne hints at the momentous significance of "rhythme" for the poetic text. We have mentioned that the
passage of Virgil showcasing the "digitos" of superior poetry (that is,
its numbered or rhythmic quality) shows at its center the energetic/
enargetic flash of lightning presiding over the divine "accouplage" of
Venus and Vulcan: "A fiery cleft [ignea rima] flashingly runs through

the clouds." In his close association of the Juvenalian maxim and the
text of Virgil, Montaigne is conceptually rhyming digitos with rima-,
this collage of texts greatly emphasizes the fiery cleft, the rhyme uniting
man and woman is sexual embrace. As a further "subtilit ambitieuse,"
we will recall that the same rima, a periphrasis for cunnus, appears in
Satire 3 of Juvenal, an attack against Greek actors who play women's
roles so well that they lose their masculinity, "for, below the belt, is
only a small crack [tenui distantia rima]" (I. 97).38
As the focal point of Montaigne's virtuosic intertextual productions,
rvma concentrates a remarkable number of the topoi the essay displays.
It operates as a key term both in a discussion of linguistic capabilities
and in an unveiling of the primordial power of sexuality, especially
when the term inguen lurks in the allusive background. In a corroboration of Cave's and Kritzman's insights, sex and language are inextricably
entertwined in the flash of light (enargeia) presiding over the embrace
of Virgil's divine protagonists, and the reader is left aghast by the
supernatural "je ne sais quoi" inhabiting the words of the poet. However, in this chapter, which insists on defying a taboo and on (almost)
frankly naming the sexual organs (the phallus as "membre inobedient et
tyrannique" and the vagina as "un animal glouton et avide"; 859 [C] ),
the passage that so skillfully weds the Juvenalian sententia to the
verses it introduces obeys the aesthetic prescriptions of restraint in
naming. It veils the obvious in order to tantalize and allure, applying
a strategy in which intertextual commerce acts as the blanket we find
in Juvenal's original text ("these words are better left under the blanket [sub lodice]," 1. 195). As twentieth-century readers less familiar
with both Juvenal and Virgil, we have to reconstruct consciously and
elaborately what the essayist, at the precise instant he is writing, takes
for the spontaneously granted response of a literate and "sufficient"
reader. But the fact remains that rima, hidden in the midst of a metaphor the Montaignian context exploits and extends, and inguen, revealed only by reference to the original text, draw their erotic spell
because they, as sexual organs, both appear and disappear. In this re-


36. For this polemic see Kees Meerhof's erudite Rhtorique et potique au XVIe

sicle en France. Du Bellay, Ramus et les autres (Leiden: Brill, 1986).

37. Dejfense 2.7, "De la rhythme et des vers sans rhythme." and 2.8, "De ce mot
rhytme, de l'invention des vers rymez, et de quelques autres antiquitez usites en notre
langue." See the excellent analysis of Meerhoff, Rhtorique et potique, 109-34.


38. The bilingual pun on "rime," a poetic device in French and the female sexual
organs in Latin, is fully substantiated later in the essay (888-89[C]), when Montaigne
tas about the sexually explicit "rime" or poetic production of a churchman, Thodore
de Bze. To pleasantly illustrate his point, the essayist produces a small cento, made up
of one line of De Bze's Juvenalia and one of St. Gelais: "Rimula, dispeream, ni monogramma tua est. / Un vit d'amy la contente et bien traicte." What the "vit d'amy"
satisfies is the "rimula" ("little crack"), whose identity is, interestingly, equated to a
"monogramma," a Greek neologism referring to a written character used as signature:
"May I die, if your rimula is not your monogram."


Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

spect, the essay's collage is superior to, for instance, the raw descriptions of Martial or Ovid, which, Montaigne writes, do not arouse but
castrate him ("chaponnent," 880[B]) as a reader of erotic texts. Prefiguring Roland Barthes, the essayist recognizes t h a t ' T endroit le plus
erotique [c'est l] o le vtement baille . . . c'est l'intermittence . . .
celle de la peau qui scintille entre deux p i c e s . . . c'est ce scintillement
mme qui sduit, ou encore: la mise en scne d'une apparition-disparition." 39 In the essay, the "scintillement," the intermittent flash,
appears in the epithets attached to the "rima" ("ignea rima micans"),
and Montaigne states that apparition-disparition is an essential phenomenological ingredient of the erotic, the sacred (the interactions
of Venus, Vulcan, and Mars in effect hearken to a preternatural;
realm) and the artistic spheres of experience: "Les vers de ces deux
potes [Lucretius and Virgil], traitant ainsi reservement et discret-i
tement de la lascivet comme ils font, me semblent la descouvrir et
esclairer de plus pres. Les dames couvrent leur sein d'un reseu, les
prestres plusieurs choses sacres; les peintres ombragent leur ouvrage,
pour luy donner plus de lustre" (3.5.88o[B]).In these assertions, the
necessary counterpart to enargeia ("esclairer," "lustre") is an obscurity, a shadow or a concealment ("discrettement," "couvrent,"
"ombragent"), which paradoxically heightens the evidential or illuminative effect. Light requires a furtive maneuver to manifest itself fully,
and Montaigne sententially concludes: "Et l'action et la peinture
[energeia/enargeia] doivent sentir le larrecin" (880[B]).
IV. "Emprunt" and self-portrait
T h e mention of "peinture," whenever it surfaces in the essays, functions as a "mise en abyme" of the overarching project, the painting of
the self-portrait. Moreover, when "peinture" is associated with "larrecin" (thievery or plagiarism), one of the fundamental dimensions of
the self-portrait asks for scrutiny. "Le larrecin," as Montaigne repeatedly proclaims (e.g. 1.26.147[C], 3.i2.i056[B]) is a main feature of
his compositional strategy, and it is a synonym for the type of "emprunt" or borrowing he constantly practices. The "librairie" and its
"cabinet" are the privileged physical spacesduly eroticized, as we
have seenwhere these thefts occur. As a conclusion to this study, I
would like to contend that the problem of the emprunt, something that
centrally worries Montaigne and elicits from him a series of often con39. Roland Barthes, Le Plaisir du texte (Paris: Seuil, 1973), 19.

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal


tradictory justifications, rejoins two of the dichotomies we have encountered in our discussion: the doublets apparition/disparition and
art/nature. Montaigne's reading and rewriting of Juvenal acts as an
exemplary emprunt, forcing the reader to theoretically reflect upon a
writing practice typical of the sixteenth century, whose modes of literary production were still self-consciously imitative or emulative.
As Antoine Compagnon has pointed out in his excellent diachronic
analysis of citation, Montaigne's emprunts are "a hybrid mixture of
citation of authorities and of quotation; he uses them by turns." 40 Citation ("allgation"), according to Compagnon's classification, is typical
of the scholastic culture of auctoritas, whereby any text is totally subservient to its unquestionably superior predecessors, e.g. the Bible, the
Fathers of the Church, or Aristotle. Quotation, on the other hand,
properly belongs to the modern realm of the subject (the seventeenth
century and after), which totally appropriates the quoted text and is
interested only in its immobilization as an expression of the writer or
reader's "self." The emprunt of Juvenal in the two essays in question
clearly illustrates Compagnon's theses. Immediately noticeable is an
irreverence toward the ontological integrity of the ancient Latin text:
Montaigne takes liberties, changes words and adds his own, exercising
a subjective prerogative geared toward the polished composition of
the self-portrait. A hypothetical reader totally ignorant of the classics
yet well versed in Latin would find the Latin fragments to be fully
congruent with the development of Montaigne's arguments, participating seamlessly in both the syntagmatic and paradigmatic unfolding
of the French text, this down to imagistic and semantic detail. We
have discussed, however, how the original context also comes into play:
a glance at the satire establishes a host of thematic and semantic links
proving that the essayist understands perfectly the function of the
fragment within its initial whole. In his own text, Montaigne clearly
inscribes his reading of, if not the whole satire, at least major stretches
of it, and the traces of this exposure collaborate further in the fleshing
out of the essay. This aspect of emprunt therefore captures many of
the semantic dimensions of allgation, whose derivation (ad-legare)
implies that the essayist is sending, delegating the reader to the original
locus for consultation and transaction.41 It is therefore the responsi40. Antoine Compagnon, La Seconde Main (Paris: Seuil, 1979), 283.

41. See A. Ernout and A. Meillet, Dictionnaire tymologique de la langue latine

(Paris: Klincksieck, 1985), 350. For a perceptive diachronic study of readers' understanding of this invitation to examine the original context of citations, see Christine M.

Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 23 (1993) 1

Wiesmann Montaigne reads Juvenal

bility of the "diligent lecteur" to smell out and to weigh the theft,
"sentir le larrecin," and to understand how Montaigne has naturalized
in his own text what was a "naturel usage" (3.12.1056]) in the
An important development of "De la phisionomie" (3.12.1055-56)
suggests that the worrisome necessity of emprunt belongs to the nature
vs. art syndrome and parallels that other important theoretical coupling,
apparition-disparition: "Parmy tant d'emprunts, je suis bien aise d'en
pouvoir desrober quelqu'un, les desguisants et difformant nouveau
service" ( 1056 [C] ). Desrober, desguiser, and difformer are terms central to a situation whereby the writer, in his attempt to recreate a
natural usage for his borrowings, gives them "some particular turn of
the hand, that they might be less purely foreign" ("quelque particulire
adresse de [sa] main ce qu'ils en soient d'autant moins purement
estrangers"; 1056 [C] ). The manual dexterity of the essayist, his artistry
or artifice, is responsible for the natural effect he aims at, a goal he proclaims by calling himself a "naturaliste": "Nous autres naturalistes
estimons qu'il y aie grande et incomparable preferance de l'honneur de
l'invention l'honneur de l'allgation" (io50[C]). This statement,
sounding like an artistic credo, applies the rhetorical term invention
(which, with important reservations, we could translate as "originality") to the naturalization of foreign texts, their seamless inclusion in
the French product. Allegation, on the other hand, is here a term of
abuse hurled at those writers who stuff their volumes with "fagots de
provisions incognucs" ( 105[C] ), dead wood, bundles of quotations
whose "naturel usage" they have not made the effort to perceive.
Within the context of an essay whose very title announces a meditation
on the struggle between art and nature ("phisionomie" = physis vs.
nomos) f "allegations" thus fall in the category of "fard" and "farder,"
cosmetic invasion of a natural surface, an affectation Socrates, a few
pages earlier, is said to reject: "Et sa riche et puissante nature eust elle
commis l'art sa dfense, et en son plus haut essay renonc la vrit
et nafvet, ornements de son parler, pour se parer du fard des figures
et feintes d'une oraison apprinse?" (1054PB]). Montaigne, a skeptical
or "downgraded" version of Socrates, also tests his being through essais.
However, as a belated writer he must abide by the tremendous con-

straints imposed by nomos, especially the public demand ("l'opinion

publique") for "parements empruntez" (1055[]). T h e essayist is a
captive of the desire for auctoritas in a hybrid period that has not yet
learned how to shake off the habit of "allegation," yet already feels it
as a profound malaise. The solution, then, is to don alien vestments,
with this proviso: "Je n'entends pas qu'ils me couvrent, et qu'ils me
cachent: c'est le rebour de mon dessein, qui ne veux faire montre que
du mien" (i055[B]). The term dessein, as Marc Blanchard argues, is
an equivalent of peinture, and it underlines here the metaphorically
visual concerns of the essayist as he employs foreign pigment as a primary method in the composition of his constantly expanding canvas.43
Montaigne is aware that the logic of the visual metaphor forces him to
consider the text as a surface working actively to display, on a superficial level ("la montre"), the inner aspects ("le mien"). This quandary
between depth and surface feminizes the problem of written self-representation. in "De trois commerces," for example, amplifying upon
"concumbunt docte," Montaigne criticizes women who make an empty
show of their erudition in terms similar to those of his attack against
writers who do not know how to naturalize their borrowings"Elles
cachent et couvrent leurs beautez soubs des beautez estr anger es"and
he prescribes the following remedy lest they destroy the "clart"
that properly belongs to them: "C'est elles d'honnorer les arts et de
farder le fard" (3.3.822 [B]). "Farder le fard" is the equivalent of the
essayist's "particulire adresse de la main," an artistic, surreptitious
gesture performing both the neutralization of the foreign nature of
fard or pigment ("allegations") and its conversion into "la montre du
mien." Our analysis of the "parements emprunts" from Juvenal's sixth
satire has attempted to follow this partially hidden process step by step,
and to detect the traces of the essayist's hand and fingers at work. T h e
furtive maneuver whose goal is "naturaliser l'art" instead of "artialiser
la nature" (cf. 3.5.874[C]) places Montaigne in the company of
women and painters, who experience a similar need for the veil, the
texture woven to conceal and to reveal, to give beauty and "lustre" to
the face and to the work of art.


Brousseau-Beuermann, La Copie de Montaigne: Etude sur les citations dans les "Essais",

Etudes montaignistes 3 (Paris and Geneva: Champion-Slatkine, 1989).

42. Although this is a fanciful etymology (not nomos but gnomoi), the first sentences of the essay justify it: "opinion," "approbation publique," "usage" immediately
suggest nomos (3.12.1037]).


43. Marc E. Blanchard, Trois portraits de Montaigne: Essai sur la reprsentation la

Renaissance (Paris: Nizet, 1990) , 75. This book takes seriously the visual metaphors
present in se peindre, dessiner, ombre, clart, and voile, and it sometimes relates them,
as I do, to the use of foreign texts in the essays (63-67). One of its most fascinating
aspects is the relationship Blanchard discovers between portraits produced in the
sixteenth century and the vocabulary Montaigne uses to describe his own, metaphorically painterly enterprise (73-89). The third chapter, "Poppe voile" (203-72), is quite
relevant to the apparition-disparition dichotomy I find crucial here.