Wednesday, August 03, 2011


The Learned Virgins

Grace Norton, Studies in Montaigne (New York: Macmillan, 1904), pp. 165-166:
The same year in which he edited La Boëtie's works (1571) Montaigne withdrew from life in the world, and established himself permanently in his château of Montaigne, placing in a room adjoining his Library a Latin inscription which, translated, runs thus:

"In the year of Christ 1571 Michael Montaigne, aged 38, on his birthday, the day preceding the Kalends of March, already long wearied of the servitude of the law-courts, and of public offices, has retired, with faculties still entire, to the arms of the learned virgins, there to pass in all quiet and security, such length of days as remain to him, of his already more than half-spent years, if so the fates permit him to finish this abode and these sweet ancestral retreats consecrated to his freedom and tranquillity and leisure."
J.S. Phillimore said, "quot editores, tot Propertii." This saying came to mind when I looked at the slightly different versions of Montaigne's Latin inscription published in various books. Here is the text from Donald Frame's biography of Montaigne (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965), p. 353, except that I removed periods before some of the brackets enclosing editorial insertions:
An[no] Christi [1571] aet[ate] 38, pridie cal[endas] Mart[ias], die suo natali, Mich[aelis] Montanus, servitii aulici et munerum publicorum jamdudum pertaesus, dum se integer in doctarum Virginum recessit sinus, ubi quietus et omnium securus [quant]illum id tandem superabit decursi multa jam plus parte spatii, si modo fata duint, exigat istas sedes et dulces latebras avitasque libertati suae tranquillitatique et otio consecravit.
The "learned virgins" are the Muses, of course.

Valerio Mezzanotti, photograph of Alberto Manguel's library,
accompanying Manguel's essay
"A 30,000-Volume Window on the World,"
New York Times (May 15, 2008)

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