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Montaigne’s Desire to Escape European Society

Despite being a wealthy European, a retired French magistrate, Michel De Montaigne seemingly romanticizes the Native American lifestyle in his comparison between Europeans and other people in his essay “of Cannibals.” This is most likely due to his desire to escape European society to find a better place to live in. In his previous essay, “Of the Power of the Imagination,” Michel notes the power of people’s thoughts and makes the claim that the best and most useful thoughts come from nature. He continues his point in “Of Cannibals” on page 355, “all things…are produced by nature, by fortune, or by art: the greatest and most beautiful by one or the other of the first two, the least … by the last.” Throughout his essays, Montaigne, refers back to this idea.

This idea reinforces Michel’s view of the Native American lifestyle being superior.  Michel claims that the Native Americans know only two things, valor in combat and love for their wives.  This is closer to the pure and original nature of living beings since they do not know the Europeans corrupted tastes. Michel then rattles of the various corruptions, lying, treachery, dissimulation (pretense), avarice, envy, belittling, and pardon (forgiveness of an offense). These corruptions are artificial creations that degrade the quality of life in Europe and that are better left unknown to other people. When three Native Americans arrive in Europe, Montaigne recounts how they disapproved of the inequality between the rich and the poor and how they didn’t understand the concept of a young, inexperienced ruler. The scene ends with the Native Americans describing their natural order where everyone followed the captain into battle, with the captain leading from the front.

Montaigne’s description for the innocence of the Native Americans continues as he describes their beliefs, simple daily life, and the foundations of their subsistence society and how they relate to various ideal societies, including references to Plato’s Ideal City. While this clearly reflects Montaigne’s favoritism, this shows the reader a huge insight and motivations of Montaigne’s behavior. While Montaigne could have been a rich magistrate in France, he instead chose to retreat from French politics. In his retreat, he constantly meditated and wrote. This shows that not only does Montaigne like Native American society, but despises his own.  Montaigne’s writings ultimately provide an escape route from his current reality into a world he finds simpler, purer, and more comforting than the one he currently inhabits.

Ramayana Polygamy and Monogamy

It is interesting to note that in the Ramayana, only Rama and Sita are monogamous making a special bond between them. Every other character is either single or has multiple wives. Rama’s father, Dasaratha, and Ravana both have multiple wives and their relationship with them seems to be somewhat less than ideal. Rama’s mother, Kausalya, weeps when she finds out that Rama will not become the crown prince. She states that, “I have always been treated with less affection and respect than Kaikeyi’s servants were treated.” Ravana tells Sita that she is his most favorite and that he would gladly get rid of his other wives for her. In both cases the polygamous relationship features disrespect towards the wives. Only Rama and Sita respect each other, both of them come to each other’s aid, Rama saving Sita from a crow, demons, and Ravana himself, while Sita joins him in his exile claiming that she was his other half. They both remain virtuous towards each other and they are both triumphant in the end. It seems that even though Valmiki, the author, lived in a society that accepted polygamy, he favored monogamy instead.

Qur’an Gardens

The reason why the Islamic heaven is a rich and fertile garden isn’t stated in the text explicitly, but there are some connections that can be made to explain this. The first connection is the fact that Muslims, Christians , and Jews share some similar foundations between their religions, one of which is the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden was where people were close to God and enjoyed peaceful lives in bliss, which is the reward for following the Qur’an and God’s will. The Qur’an states that there will be a Judgement Day and that the “good” people who accepted God and followed his will, will go to heaven and be under his protection, living their life in bliss and happiness. This seems to be a return to the same Garden of Eden. However, the ones who disobey God will not return and instead be forbidden to enter the Garden, just like the time when Adam and Eve were cast out for eating the Forbidden fruit. Those “losers” will be forced to live in a hellish, hot, and dry place which coincidentally seems closer to the conditions in the Arabian peninsula, where the religions first started, than heaven.

Love in Plato’s Symposium

The term “love” is not an easy thing to define or talk about and in Plato’s Symposium the reader is presented with many ideas of what love can be and why those ideas can be misleading. During the symposium, Phaedrus suggests that love is one of the oldest and strongest forces and that it inspires people to behave with good morals. Eryximachus picks up saying that love inspires order in not only people but in the arts and sciences as well. Aristophanes and Agathon say that love is young, wise, and beautiful inspiring people to search for their other half. Socrates however, does not buy into their speeches and instead says that love is not all of these good things (beauty, wisdom, virtue, etc) but it is instead the desire for those good things, and that in their speeches the other men confused the topic with the things they love. Desire that in Socrates mind isn’t bad or good. This conflict shows suggests that Plato sees love as an amoral concept (not good or bad) that is hard to grasp for people, since they talk instead about the thing they love and not love itself when they talk.