Home > Uncategorized > Montaigne: Blood on the sword: From slaughter of animals to slaughter of men

Montaigne: Blood on the sword: From slaughter of animals to slaughter of men

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Montaigne: Selections on war

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Michel de Montaigne
From Of Cruelty
Translated by Charles Cotton

I could hardly persuade myself, before I saw it with my eyes, that there could be found souls so cruel and fell, who, for the sole pleasure of murder, would commit it; would hack and lop off the limbs of others; sharpen their wits to invent unusual torments and new kinds of death, without hatred, without profit, and for no other end but only to enjoy the pleasant spectacle of the gestures and motions, the lamentable groans and cries of a man dying in anguish. For this is the utmost point to which cruelty can arrive:

“Ut homo hominem, non iratus, non timens,
tantum spectaturus, occidat.”

[“That a man should kill a man, not being angry, not
in fear, only for the sake of the spectacle.”
–Seneca, Ep., 90.]

For my own part, I cannot without grief see so much as an innocent beast pursued and killed that has no defence, and from which we have received no offence at all; and that which frequently happens, that the stag we hunt, finding himself weak and out of breath, and seeing no other remedy, surrenders himself to us who pursue him, imploring mercy by his tears:

“Questuque cruentus,
Atque imploranti similis,”

[“Who, bleeding, by his tears seems to crave mercy.”
–Aenead, vii. 501.]

has ever been to me a very unpleasing sight; and I hardly ever take a beast alive that I do not presently turn out again. Pythagoras bought them of fishermen and fowlers to do the same:

“Primoque a caede ferarum,
Incaluisse puto maculatum sanguine ferrum.”

[“I think ’twas slaughter of wild beasts that first stained
the steel of man with blood.” – Ovid, Met., xv. 106.]

Those natures that are sanguinary towards beasts discover a natural proneness to cruelty. After they had accustomed themselves at Rome to spectacles of the slaughter of animals, they proceeded to those of the slaughter of men, of gladiators. Nature has herself, I fear, imprinted in man a kind of instinct to inhumanity; nobody takes pleasure in seeing beasts play with and caress one another, but every one is delighted with seeing them dismember, and tear one another to pieces.

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