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Title: Montaigne and the ancients : reassessing nobility in 16th century France
Author: McDermott, James Sebastian
ISNI:       0000 0004 6056 7412
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis seeks to examine the role of Sparta in the writing of the 16th century French author Michel de Montaigne. As he lived during the Religious Wars period in France, Montaigne's work was heavily influenced by the social and political upheaval that surrounded him. In particular, the actions of the elite throughout this era come under scrutiny in Montaigne's Essais. Although primarily analysed in modern scholarship as a man of letters, this thesis will examine the essayist through his social position of a nobleman, a position which was still defined by a martial chivalric ideal in Renaissance France. From the perspective of Montaigne as a member of this class of warrior-nobility, a unique reading of the Essais emerges. When considered alongside the literature of his peers, the extent to which the essayist's work complemented the rhetoric of the traditional military elite becomes apparent. Within this historical and literary context, the classics and especially Sparta become a mechanism through which Montaigne espoused his ideas on nobility in the Essais. Through an analysis of the ancients' presence in Montaigne's writing, the manner in which the classically educated essayist married the traditional military virtues of the nobility to the humanist teaching of the Renaissance becomes clear. By combining the noble ideal with developments in learning, Montaigne hoped to forge a new definition of nobility whose proponents' virtuous and just rule would restore peace to a troubled France. Through a combination of old concepts of nobility with the new ideas of the age, Montaigne was also able to justify his own place as a nobleman in France. With his family having risen to a noble rank from a mercantile background Montaigne was determined to establish his own credentials as a legitimate martial nobleman. He would accomplish this partly through his celebration of Sparta and her military reputation but also through his denunciation of Cicero. As the personification in the Essais of a new class of learned nobility who were roundly criticised within the traditional elite for the problems afflicting France, Montaigne condemns Cicero throughout his writing. As a foil to Montaigne's idealisation of Sparta, an understanding of Cicero's place in the Essais is crucial in order to define the essayist's thoughts on the noble ideal. This analysis of these classical sources within the literary and historical context of Montaigne's period, allows for a fresh insight into the Essais and Montaigne's conclusions on the role of nobility in French society. This thesis will contribute to the increasing interest in the reception of Sparta from the Renaissance onwards as well as offering a rare concerted study into the role of the classics in Montaigne's work, an often neglected area of Montaigne studies. By approaching Montaigne's work through his classical muses, entirely new perspectives on his thought can be recognised. Similarly, an appreciation of his use of Sparta can help chart future studies into the impact of the polis in European socio-political thought.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available