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Intertextual Labyrinths: Ariadne's Lament in Montaigne's "Sur des vers de Virgile" [*].

This study reconstructs the thematic and literary presence of a labyrinth in Montaigne's "Sur des vers de Virgile." Indispensable to such a reconstruction will be a consideration of Catullus's epithalamium on the marriage of Peleus and Thetis from which are derived the hexameters textually anchoring the labyrinth in Montaigne's text. I will then place these verses in their French surroundings and pursue the insights that an awareness of the Catullan context makes available for interpretations of the essay.

The multicursal labyrinth is an edifice designed to prevent the discovery or attainment of its center by entangling the person who enters the building in a multiplicity of detours or "ambages." Urging repeated directional choices upon the traveler, the duplicity or "doubleness" of the structure (in Latin, the "ambo" of "ambages" means "both") endlessly defers penetration to the precious core and simultaneously renders exit almost impossible. [1] Commentators of Montaigne have often used the multicursal labyrinth as a metaphor for the essays themselves, texts that stubbornly refuse to be resolved into one single interpretation and that specialize in multiple digressions forcing the reader to lose his or her way as the argument progresses. [2] In a recent article, Mary B. McKinley has demonstrated the aptness of this metaphor when it is applied to both Montaigne's style and to the sequencing of topics or "subjects" in individual essays. She has discussed Montaigne's own awareness of the ambiguous quality of hi s writing, and traced his view of the labyrinth, a term he uses only once, to essential passages in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Virgil's Aeneid. [3] One could add to her remarks that a medieval etymology for "labyrinth," "labor" + intus" or "internal work," adequately captures the nature of Montaigne's literary project: an exploration of an individual's consciousness in its multifarious meanderings, turns and returns, which represent the inner and apparently directionless labor the essayist believes to be characteristic of human efforts at reasoning and at assessing our place in the world. [4] Moving away from this general exposition of the phenomenological relations between labyrinths and Montaigne's literary practice, the following pages will concentrate upon an actual instance of a labyrinth imagistically surfacing in the dense fabric of "Sur des vers de Virgile" (3.5), and will demonstrate the significance of the thematic dimensions of the maze on several levels. The articulation of the labyrinth in the essa y depends upon an intertextual reconstruction: the folds of the building appear in all their detail only through the dialogic commerce the French text engages with a long and complex poem of Catullus, a poet who, besides Ovid and Virgil, is the major exponent of Daedalus's architectural masterpiece in Latin literature. [5]

The polymath and historian Estienne Pasquier (1529-1615), a friend of Montaigne and a great admirer of his "chefs-d'oeuvre," nevertheless singles out "Sur des vers de Virgile" for criticism precisely because of its overly labyrinthine or disorienting nature. Pasquier observes that this chapter's intelligibility suffers from the essayist's propensity to "jump from one topic to the other" (sauter d'un propos l'autre) and that Montaigne would have done better to give it the title Cocq a l'Asne. [6] This comment targets the foundational saut or sudden turn marking the topical organization of a text which, in its title, installs a clear expectation in the reader, namely the discussion of a passage of Virgil, only to frustrate this promise and to spell our another "theme": "What has the sexual act, so natural, so necessary, and so just, done to mankind, for us not to dare to talk about it without shame and to exclude it from serious and decent conversation?" [7] However, as soon as this theme is announced, the tex t abruptly abandons it to introduce "Ces vers ..." (848 B), referring to Virgil's verses in the title and to their painting or "peinture" of "1'action genitale." One could continue to chart the essay according to these baffling, unannounced shifts in direction from "vers" to "action genitale," "ambages" which tend to confuse even the admiring Pasquier and give the impression we are dealing with a literary "cocq l'asne," a playful obfuscation of the reader through illogical juxtapositions of "res" and totally unpredictable ramblings. But the essay's radical and insistent topical swerve from "vers" to action participates in the elusiveness of the phenomenon Montaigne is trying to address: the fact that speaking frankly, directly, or clinically about sex somehow always fails to convey the most fascinating and most intimate aspects of the subject. It is only by using the highly artificial medium of prosody and indirect or chastened poetic language that Virgil and Lucretius, the most exemplary of poets, achieve an esthetically or sensually unsurpassed expression of "this coupling" [8] and represent "an indefinable mood that is more amorous than love itself." [9] In this perspective, the indirection of "Sur des vers de Virgile," its "cocq l'asne" or labyrinthine detours, becomes mimetic of the ability of verse to reveal while hiding, to cover and simultaneously make available to the reader's sight the enticing spectacle of "l'action genitale. {10}

Tellingly, the passage of the essay in which the labyrinth appears (880-881 B, from "les vets des ces deux poetes ..." to the Latin citation ending with the words "nihil perjuria curant") deviates once more from comments on "these two poets' verses" [11] as they paint "l'action genitale" to a consideration of "l'action" itself. Modern editors of Montaigne have divided this passage into two paragraphs: the first deals with successful poetic "peinture" and its choice to represent sex rather "indirectly" [12] than "blatantly," [13] a statement of the "ouvert/couvert" or "hide/reveal" complex just mentioned. The second paragraph discusses "l'action" itself, and holds that, in order for men to achieve true sexual pleasure, they should delay reaching the climactic moment, termed "le plus haut poinct" (881 B; i.e., jouyssance or orgasm), as long as possible. Here, prolongation ("estendre"; 881 B) of physical intercourse corresponds to the veiling or partial occultation ("par reflexion") of erotic and/or esthetic ob jects in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph, the labyrinth tangibly surfaces in the reader's consciousness through Montaigne's metaphorical equation between the prolongation of sexual pleasure and the extensive perambulations marking the visit of a magnificent palace ("palais magnifique") whose intricate architecture mobilizes "diverse porticoes and passages, long and pleasant galleries, and many windings." [14] This glancing reference to the architectural labyrinth implies, on the most superficial level, that the more intricate and protracted the maze, the more satisfying the sexual pleasure it metaphorizes. [15]

In the second paragraph, Montaigne assigns a clear role to women in the gradual maintenance and increase of male enjoyment, and points out the precarious situation in which women are left after having sexually gratified their male partners. The essay declares that, once the man has "mastered" or "possessed" a woman, she is in great danger of being abandoned or taken for granted: "Our mastery and entire possession is something for them to fear infinitely. . . as soon as the ladies are ours, we are no longer theirs." [16] It is at this juncture that the labyrinth becomes indisputably anchored in "Sur desvers de Virgile." Indeed, this last statement is punctuated with a Latin cita-tion ending the paragraph, two hexameters from a poem of Catullus. The intertextual reader will recognize that these two verses of Catullus enlist in the essay the voice of the Cretan princess Ariadne, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae who supplied Theseus with the clue or ball of thread which allowed the hero to retrace his steps th rough the labyrinth after his victory over the monstrous Minotaur. Theseus subsequently seduced Ariadne and abandoned her on Naxos, the island on whose beaches Catullus depicts the wronged girl lamenting her fate and indicting men in general. The fragment from Ariadne's lament in Montaigne's text confirms the thematic importance of the labyrinth in the passage, and invites a more systematic analysis of the essay's oblique disclosure or surreptitious occultation of the symbolically powerful maze. The first phase of this reading must thus concern itself closely with the sophisticated fabric of Catullus's poem in order to allow us to examine Montaigne's unique contribution to the approximately one hundred-year old history of the interpretation and uses of Catullus's verse in Renaissance Italy and France. [17]

The 408 dactylic hexameters of Catullus 64, an epithalamium occupying the very center of the poet's slim yet hugely influential corpus, honor the wedding of the future parents of Achilles, the mortal Argonautic hero Peleus and the goddess Thetis. [18] Catullus's wedding poem, highly praised by Ronsard who refers to it as "Les Nopces de Peleus" in the 1587 "Preface sur la Franciade," is a digressive and interpretively difficult Alexandrian exercise, a manifesto of the literary avant-garde of the late Roman Republic. [19] Its initial movement (1-50) briskly tells of Peleus's encounter with Thetis and introduces the wedding ceremony and its focal point, the marriage bed. Here, a digression of some 200 hexameters (51-264, more than half of the text) portrays the scene which has been woven into the ornate bed-spread covering the couch where Peleus and Thetis will embrace for the first time and, presumably, conceive Achilles. The inner ekphrasis (the verbal representation of the imaginary visual representation ado rning the bed-spread) recounts the story of Ariadne's abandonment by Theseus (52-131). This section allusively incorporates the key elements of the hero's fight with the Minotaur ("saevum monstrum"; 101) and his escape from the labyrinth, an edifice ("tectum"; 115) characterized by its undetectable strayings ("inobservabilis error"; 115), its flexings or detours ("labyrintheis flexibus"; 114). To exit safely ("sospes;" 112), Theseus turns back ("pedem ... reflexit"; 112) by guiding his wandering footsteps with the tiny thread ("errabunda regens tenui vestigia fib"; 113). He then leaves Crete with Ariadne, to whom he has promised marriage. But, once they reach Naxos, he abandons her in her sleep on the island's shore, presumably after having made love to her (Catullus indicates, at line 123, that he has become her de-facto "coniunx" or husband). This situation leads to Ariadne's delivery of her desperate lament (in which Montaigne finds the two verses relevant to our concerns) ending with her curse on the perf idious Theseus (132-201). The ekphrasis continues with a description of the effects of the curse: Aegeus's suicide (202-248). After sketching, as the final scene of the ekphrasis, Bacchus's cortege arriving to liberate Ariadne from her woes (249-264), the poem returns to the wedding and describes the departures of mortal celebrants and the arrivals of divine guests (265-302), until it focuses on the spinning Parcae, who sing a prophetic wedding hymn whose stanzas proleptically recount the exploits of Achilles on the Trojan plains (303-381). The imagery conveying his martial exploits gradually increases in violence to culminate with the human sacrifice of the Trojan virgin Polyxena, loved by Achilles and immolated on his tomb by his son Neoptolemus as a revenge for his father's death. The poem ends with a coda in which the narrator bewails the sad state of human affairs in his own troubled times of looming civil wars heralded by parricides, fratricides and a plethora of sexual crimes, including incests (382-40 8). [20]

This macroscopic view of Catullus's longest poem reveals the unsettling ambiguities of an epithalamium which rapidly abandons its subject, the celebration of the wedding, to digress inordinately and introduce the story of the prototypical faithlessness of an abusive hero. The horror of Polyxena's sacrifice and the pessimistic tone of the coda further qualify the joy and hope traditionally associated with weddings. The transgressive sexual union of a mortal (Peleus) with a goddess (Thetis), doubled by the spectral presence of Pasiphae's mating with the bull, creates an imbalance conjuring up hosts of stark calamities. The poem thus cultivates the human fears relating to sexual deviance and its monstrous repercussions, such as the creation of the Minotaur, the half-human half-beastly creature dwelling both at the center of the labyrinth and at the heart of Ariadne's legend, or the birth of Achilles and Neoptolemus, mortal heroes whose deeds constantly verge upon the worst of abuses and involve the brutal mistr eatment of women.

The two hexameters selected and slightly modified by Montaigne in "Sur des vers de Virgile" arise in the initial phase of the speech of Ariadne, victim of this type of male violence. The girl has just woken up marooned on the island, and she realizes that Theseus has departed while she was sleeping. He has perjured himself by neglecting his promises to marry her legally in Athens, and the poet exploits this "perjurium" in Ariadne's pejorative characterization of Theseus: "postquam cupidae mentis satiata libido est, / Verba nihil metuere, nihil perjuria curant" (After the lust of their greedy mind is satiated, they [the male sex] fear no longer the effect of their words, they care nothing for their false oaths). [21] The expression "libido cupidae mentis" (lust of their greedy mind) conspicuously combines the physical and the intellectual spheres, as if the former had invaded the latter and men were momentarily reduced to the controlling hungers or lusts of animals. [22] Theseus's contempt for the sacredness of the social bonds humans achieve through the performative use of "verba" designates him as a destructive brute similar to the one he has killed. In this context, the verb "satio" (cf. "satiata est . . ." in the preceding quotation), literally "to sate or satiate with food," heightens this similarity since the Minotaur had to be annually satiated with the meal ("dapem"; 79) constituted by seven young men and seven young virgins shipped from Athens. In a sense, Ariadne herself has now been devoured by the monster Theseus.

Montaigne expects us to have in mind the exact manner in which the two hexameters we have just read function in their own context because Ariadne and her Catullan portrayal are evoked in the essay immediately preceding "Sur des vers de Virgile," "De la diversion" (3.4): "Thus the laments in fiction trouble our souls, and in Virgil and Catullus the regrets of Dido and Ariadne impassion even those who do not believe in them." [23] This inscription of the plight of Ariadne in "De la diversion" acts as an intertextual triggering mechanism, a signal urging the diligent reader to consider carefully Catullus's lengthy poem. Ariadne, mentioned by name only here in the corpus of the Essais, joins another archetypal female victim of Roman poetry, Virgil's Dido, as Montaigne stresses the convincing literary pathos these two canonical authors invest in their renditions of the "plaintes" and "regrets" of women ignobly sacrificed to the political purposes of male heroic figures such as Aeneas and Theseus. A few lines prio r to the mention of Dido and Ariadne, a brief remark prefigures the brutality of their treatment: "as we are struck by the piteous voice of an animal that is being killed for our use." [24] The ill-treatment of women is thus linked to a cynegetic or hunting image, an association which will have important reverberations in our reading of the labyrinth in "Sur des vers de Virgile." [25]

From a literary standpoint, Montaigne, in "De la diversion," is placing Catullus, as does Ronsard, in the same category as Virgil, assigning him a pantheonic status established in the essay "Des livres": "It has always seemed to me that in poetry Virgil, Lucretius, Catullus and Horace hold first rank by very far." [26] Such a valorization of Catullus's verse is reiterated at the beginning of "Sur des vers de Virgile," when Montaigne describes himself as vainly attempting to tear his mind away from the ills of an aging body: "In vain do I offer to my mind Seneca and Catullus, and the ladies and the royal dances...." [27] This ploy does not work, although it attests to the profound "diversionary" or consoling powers Montaigne believes to pervade the Roman writer's productions. [28] Moreover, Catullus 64, as one of the exemplary epithalamia Antiquity wills to the Renaissance, proves to be especially consonant with the thematic contents of "Sur des vers de Virgile," a text concerned for major stretches with the sexual, moral, and social aspects of marriage. [29] One of the main organizational axes of the rambling essay is indeed the comparison between the verses of Virgil which depict sexual relations between a married couple (Venus and Vulcan), and the passage of Lucretius, which conveys an episode of illicit, extramarital sex between Venus and Mars, lovemaking amounting to the cuckolding or "cocuage" of Vulcan. To these contrasting situations, Ariadne's Catullan lament adds a third scene, the vicious refusal of a male bachelor to many a post-pubescent girl who intensely desires, after she has been seduced, to contract a licit union. Virgil, Lucretius, Catullus: the three Latin poets Montaigne considers the most eminent thus enter the fabric of the essay as illustrators of the wide array of possible socio-sexual situations binding men to women. [30]

Armed with a fuller appreciation of the literary currency Catullus brings to Montaigne in "Sur des vers de Virgile," I can now embark on an informed integration of the two hexameters from Ariadne's lament in the passage where the labyrinth makes its appearance. In the phrase "postquam cupidae mentis satiata libido est" (the lust of greedy mind once satisfied), the verb "satio" particularly stands out because it echoes a citation illustrating an earlier development which, in its pursuit of a traditional misogynist topos, invokes Messalina to express the unquenchable sexual appetite of women. Here, Montaigne enrolls the famous lines of Juvenal's Sixth Satire describing the return of Claudius's wife to the palace after a night of debauchery: "adhuc ardens rigidae tentigine vulvae, / Et lassata viris, nondum satiata, recessit" (Still ardent with the lust of her stiff vulva, she retires, weary of men yet still not satiated; 854 B). [31] As tit for tat in a game of intertextual tennis, Ariadne's "satiata est," ref erring to men's animal drive towards sex, thus counters the traditional male conception of the insatiable ("nondum satiata") female sexuality that Messalina incarnates. The alimentary or digestive tenor of the imagery underscored by "satiata est" likens the archetypal male Theseus, monstrous devourer of virgins, to the hyper-sexed empress, who herself assumes male traits through the terms "tentigo" and "rigidus," generally applied to male erections. Moreover, the juxtaposition of Juvenal and Catullus the essay encourages correlates men's lustful "mens" with women's hungry "vulva," a term which, through intertextual play, tacitly invades and sexualizes the palatial labyrinth. On a purely semantic level, vulva, which Varro derives from volvere, "to twist and turn around," harbors the phenomenological characteristics of the maze, its twists and turns, and also the edifice's enveloping and concealing function, since the primary (botanical) acceptance of volva in Latin is a "wrapper" or "integument." [32] As we sh all soon see, the vulva, intertextually encrypted in Ariadne's complaint, joins other elements of Montaigne's text to endow it with an overtly carnal dimension, that of the female genital labyrinth.

It is through the thematic and imagistic register of swallowing and digestion we have begun to outline that the passage ensconcing the labyrinth inaugurates its momentous conversation with the Catullan intertext. In order to promote the prolongation of male sexual pleasure, corresponding to visual / textual veiling in the domains of art and literature, Montaigne adopts an internationalist's stance, berating the French for their "impetuosite" in the sex act, their feverish rush towards orgasm and "prinse" (literally, the capture or killing of game in hunting). Whereas he declares himself to be guilty of French impatience and "a failure by my suddenness," [33] he advocates instead "the love-making of the Spaniards and the Italians, more respectful and timid, more measured and veiled." [34] This comment is followed by a metaphorical statement making use of an allusion to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: "I don't know who it was in ancient times who wanted his throat so long as a crane's neck so as to relish long er what he swallowed." [35] Two sentences later, another remark, a reference to an anecdote of Rabelais's Tiers Livre, amplifies the gustatory and digestive imagery insinuated by the long neck of the ingurgitating crane: "If a man could dine off the steam of a roast, wouldn't that be a fine saving?" [36] The pleasures afforded by food and sex are thereby intertwined, as the essay capitalizes upon a lengthy philological orbit it has prepared, in its preceding wanderings, for an intersection with Catullus's "satiata est": "while eating," "to chew," "appetite," "it stuffs us up and disgusts us." [37] Once picked up and affirmed by "satiata est," this topical strand flourishes again, with equal and sustained vigor: "to sate ... was grazing," "expense gives taste to meat," "tender stomach," "to feed oneself with erotic joy," "she eats," "it's a feature of gluttony," "intestines." [38] Although Montaigne applies to both sexes the topos relating the pleasurable consumption of food to sexual satisfaction, Ariadne's v oice momentarily focuses its relevance upon men's achievement of "jouyssance." Theseus, as a representative of males in general, is strongly chastised for swallowing the virgin with Minotaurian appetite and for inhumanly disregarding all social consequences of his perfidious act.

The architectural labyrinth is closely associated with this gory consumption, and can effectively be read as an imagistic reinforcement of a cranes neck ("col d'une grue"), an anatomical feature which enhances gustatory and (metaphorically) sexual sensations. To introduce the labyrinth, Montaigne emphasizes that the Spanish and Italian "escole" does not admit among its adepts those men who experience "jouyssance" only at the point of orgasm:

He who has no sexual pleasure except in orgasm, who feels rewarded only at the climactic moment, who loves the chase only in the capture, has no business mixing with our school. The more steps and degrees there are, the more height and honor there is in the topmost seat. We should take pleasure in being conducted there by diverse porticoes and passages, long and pleasant galleries, and many windings. [39]

The many steps, degrees, porticoes, passages, galleries, and detours of the palace figuratively function as a deferral of the attainment of that brief spasm of fulfillment, the "plus haut poinct" of sexual commerce also known in the Renaissance as the "cinquieme point" or "pas," a fact reflected by the numbering of an essay so closely concerned with sexuality: fifth chapter of the third book. [40] The term "palais" cleverly accents the overlap between the digestive connotation introduced by the "col d'une grue" and its architectural and perambulatory counterpart: indeed, "palais" is at once a building and, as Cotgrave defines it, "the roafve, or palate of the mouth, the tast." The munificence of Montaigne's description of the edifice connotes the poise and decorum ("hauteur" and "honneur") of a courtly atmosphere dedicated to pleasure and sustained by the architectural extravagance of sixteenth-century French kings and great noblemen. However, the mouth hidden in "palais" and the detail about "la chasse" and "la prinse" also intimate the carnality and violence latent in the structure. As the Catullan citation and its original context emerge in the reader's consciousness, this "ebauche" of a maze-like edifice combines physical pleasure (food and sex) with cynegetic brutality (the prey's demise in the hunt).

The connection between Catullus 64 and the imagery and thematic of the passage at hand compels the reader to retrace his or her footsteps through a French text that obliquely points to its own maze-like qualities and "destours" by exhibiting the labyrinthine palace. One of the most salient and proverbial counters of the story of Ariadne and Theseus is, of course, the thread or clue (Catullus's "tenui hilo") she provides the hero to escape the treacherous building after his slaying of the monster. In the intertextual "montage" Montaigne expects his reader to perform, the motif of Ariadne's thread ("fil d'Ariane") becomes crucial to the investigation of the role the essayist assigns to women in the achievement of a superior male "jouyssance":

Let us teach the ladies to make the most of themselves, to respect themselves, to beguile and fool us. We make our ultimate attack the first one; the French impetuosity is always there. If the ladies spin out and spread their favors in every detail, each man, even to miserable old age, will find there some small thread of pleasure, according to his worth and merit. [41]

This is the statement to which our back-tracking quickly leads us, as the fil surfaces in "faisant filer leurs faveurs et les estallant en detail." Montaigne momentarily forgets some of his earlier comments stipulating that men have nothing to teach women when it comes to "cette science" ("they have no need to learn it, they breed it" [42]), namely the multifarious aspects of sexuality. Instead, he here indulges a typical male illusion of control and superior wisdom vis-a-vis sexual behavior, and insists that men must teach women ("apprenons aux dames") the techniques necessary to the prolongation of (male) sexual pleasure. Such a pedagogical fiction, which the term "nostre escole" (our school) will soon reinforce, recalls that it is a man, Daedalus, who both constructs the edifice and educates Ariadne concerning its secret. Nevertheless, the expression "faisant filer" ascribes to women thus "educated" by men the major share of the responsibility in the protraction of their male partners' pleasure. The verb "filer" activates the very ancient Western association of women with the work of thread, spinning, and looming. As a representative of women, Montaigne's Ariadne actively produces the thread that proves to be the salvation of Theseus and that also becomes a metaphor for the pleasant "conduction" ("we should take pleasure in being conducted there" [43]) of men to the central orgasmic "haut poinct." [44]

As the device enabling the re-visitation of every "detail" of the labyrinth, the conducting thread of Ariadne assumes another key function in the signifying potential of the text. Indeed, the thread can be read as facilitator of a (male?) scopophilia which the essay forcefully enunciates in an earlier, finally chiselled sentential utterance: "The whole movement of the world resolves itself into and leads to this coupling. It is a matter infused throughout, it is a center to which all things look." [45] The phrase "spinning out and spreading their favors in every detail" [46] enhances the crucial visual component of human sexuality for it mobilizes the commercial image referring to the vendor's "stall" (a term we find etymologically hidden in "estallant" or "spreading"), the wooden shed facilitating the spreading-out of the seller's wares to the gaze of the buyer. [47] "Estallant ses faveurs" sounds a misogynistic note whereby our Ariadne becomes a prostitute bent upon an adequate exposure of intimate flesh t o the prospective customer and voyeur. The essay soon embroiders upon this motif in several ways: by stressing the digestive, carnal imagery we have already traced; by noting the Italians' peculiar habits when dealing with prostitutes; and by euphemistically referring to women's genitalia as "cela," the "something" they involve in commercial transactions. [48] One thematic strand of the text thus clearly exposes sex as a commercial pact involving the purchase of objectified flesh in order to satisfy animal, gastric, or intestinal urges. "Cela," with its folds and detours, is thus superimposed upon the half-hidden labyrinth that concerns us. The essay is subtly plying the medieval topos of the "laberinto d'amore" so virulently exploited by Boccaccio in the Corbaccio, an allegorical fiction in which the aging protagonist, a scholar, loses his bearings on account of his unfulfilled desire for the maze-like "comment a nom" of a greedy widow. [49] Our earlier remarks about the intertextual projection of Juvenal's "vulva" onto the verses of Catullus play a leading role in this blatant carnalization of the labyrinth.

As noted earlier, besides the prurience we have just made explicit, the "palais," even before we read it through the gruesome events marking the tale of Theseus and Ariadne in which the hunting and killing of the Minotaur is a high point, attracts a cynegetic topos peering through the phrase "who loves the chase only in the capture." [50] When we continue to retrace our reading itinerary backwards, we arrive at a locus which will now strike us as an anchor of the hunting imagery in the text. The passage in question is intertextually quite important, for it exhibits the first fragment from Ariadne's Catullan lament in "Sur des vets de Virgile," one single hexameter in a context addressing marriage and, as Rabelais's Panurge too well knows, its irremediable counterpart, the cuckolding or "cocuage" of the husband:

Miserable passion [i. e., the pain or pathos of being a "cocu"] which has also this about it, that it is incommunicable, "Fortune refuses even eats to our wailings." For to what friend do you dare to entrust your griefs, who, even if he does not laugh at them, will not use them as an approach and an instruction to get a share in the quarry himself? [51]

Cotgrave defines "curee" (quarry) as "a (dogs) reward; the hounds fees of, or part in, the game they have killed." The metaphor thus transforms the friends of the cuckold into hunting dogs who, once they have learned that his wife is unfaithful, use this hint to chase the female prey, kill her and devour her, equivalents of sleeping with her and, in the process, of destroying both her and her husband's honor. Under the influence of the Catullan intertext, the words "acheminement" and "instruction" easily conjure the hounds' smart, educated tracking of the prey in a labyrinthine setting. Even more remarkable, however, is the implicit castration or feminization of the cuckold, who becomes a woman by assuming Ariadne's personality and speaking the words Catullus has crafted for her: "Fortune refuses even ears to our wailings." [52] The defilement of the wife eliminates, for the husband, the possibility of the human bond which, in Montaigne's view, is the noblest and most enriching, namely friendship between male s. The ensuing social isolation of the "cocu" reduces him to a silence that, with great perceptiveness, Montaigne recognizes as belonging exclusively to women in a world unwilling to listen to their grievances: hence the necessity to inscribe as the cuckold's the voice of Ariadne, as she helplessly recounts her mistreatment to the winds whirling over Naxos.

When we come back to the second instance of the plaint of Ariadne breaking through the essay's fabric ("Postquam cupidae mentis libido satiata est"), it is important to note how the whole passage resonates with the poignancy we have just found to surround the feminized cuckold. Ariadne's piteous voice ("voix piteuse"), when it appears and reappears, is indissociable from the primeval, cynegetic violence inherent in the labyrinth. It adds the pathetic color of the quarry ("la curee") of the hunt ("la chasse") and the capture ("la prinse") and, as "De la diversion" observes, of the crying out of the helpless creature men are killing, very often for their mere pleasure. The "palais magnifique," superficially the site of the male's leisurely orgasm and civilized comfort, is thus traversed by unsavory undertones: female flesh bought and sold ("estallant leurs faveurs"), hunted and killed ("chasse" and "prinse"), devoured and digested ("col d'une grue"). Ariadne's voice clearly allows Montaigne to underline for hi s readers (whom, for this essay, he has saliently designated as "les dames") the silenced point-of-view of women used and abused by a multiplicity of Theseuses. [53] From what we gather from these connotations of the labyrinth, sex, as Montaigne construes it within the societal parameters of sixteenth-century France, often amounts to preying by men upon women, a predatory behavior which affects even men through the anxieties and realities of being cuckolded. As we have hinted, it is tempting, within the confines of the passage enlisting Ariadne's complaint for the second time, to make of Theseus, and of the male sex in general, a yet unslayed Minotaur. Nevertheless, no concrete semantic due exists, within the particular "lexie" or reading unit we are dealing with, for such a conclusion. Once more, it is essential to retrace our footsteps outside of the "lexie" in order to answer the burning question: exactly where and who is the monster?

The essay yields to this inquiry in a development (877-880) starting some two pages upwards from the sketch of the labyrinth. At that point (877), Montaigne typically reorients the discussion from "les livres" and their stylistic and compositional problematics, to "l'amour" in its most "material" (and male) of acceptances, the "pleasure in discharging our vessels." [54] This discussion of "l'amour" stresses the perpetually ambiguous nature of carnal love, a duality emblematized by the physiognomy of the male lover in the throes of "jouyssance": "fureur" and "cruaute" indissociably wedded to the "doux effect" of intercourse; severity, gravity and ecstasy occupying the same space as the "folly" characterizing "l'action." [55] This unsettling and incommensurable hybridity perceivable in the most vital (besides the intake of food) of all human acts forces Montaigne to exclaim, along with Plato, that we are "le jouet" of the Gods, who, in creating us, have seen fit "that our delights and our excrements have been lodged together pell-mell." [56] Montaigne christianizes his comments by referring to our "corruption originelle" (878 B), the original sin which, in the traditional Catholic view, explains our precarious situation between the beasts or "bruttes" and, presumably, the angels. However, he is reluctant, as he amply shows in "L'apologie de Raymond Sebond" (2.12), to consider the "bruttes" or "bestes" as a negative, axiologically "inferior" entity on a scale of being which would automatically put humans in a superior position. Instead, he names nature herself, which both drives us towards sex and repels us from it, as the agent of the painful double-bind that racks us with respect to "l'action genitale" and that gives rise to the monstrous entity we have been seeking, namely the human species. A series of sentential statements sharpens the paradox of beings perpetually accusing themselves for being: "Are we not brutes to call brutish the operation that makes us?" [57] "We regard our being as vice." [58] And: "What a monstrous animal [my emphasis] to be a horror to himself, to be burdened by his pleasures, to regard himself as a misfortune!" [59] Human monstrosity, a product of nature's "diversitas," therefore dwells in our self-reflexive ability to invest guilt and shame in the very "operation" to which we owe our existence. As spelled out in his initial articulation of the "theme" of the essay -- "What has the sexual act, so natural, so necessary, and so just, done to mankind for us not to dare to talk about it without shame?" [60] -- language ("nommer," "n'en oser parler") functions as the manifestation of this monstrosity. Our hesitancies to name sex and our eagerness to fustigate it linguistically are symptoms of the alienation from our own selves which intimately inhabits us and makes us irremediably double and/or monstrous. [61]

No other animal harbors any of these traits, encapsulated in the special perversity required to view and name as an "ordure" or "mal-heur" a necessary, natural, and just "plaisir" or "delice." From a gendered perspective, the text strains to erase any masculine or feminine inscription from the pronoun "nous," especially between "we regard our being as vice," [62] a late addition, and the quip "what a monstrous animal." [63] The "we" of "we regard" is indeed followed by three sentences which pointedly include both men and women in the "we": "I know a lady" and "I know a man." [64] At this point, the abrupt projection of eating ("There are nations that cover themselves when eating" [65]) upon sexual "action," a long with the emphasis upon the "ouvert/couvert" complex, prepare the ground for the labyrinth passage, where the pleasures of food and sex are metaphorically co-mingled. [66]

Montaigne is here integrating and expanding upon an earlier [C] addition which, in a borrowing from Plato's Timacus (91 b-c), graphically depicts human sexual nature, for both men and women, as the controlling will of a hungry animal: in men, "a furious animal which, by the violence of its appetite, undertakes to subject everything to itself"; in women, a "gluttonous and voracious animal which, if denied its food ... goes mad, impatient of delay." [67] In Montaigne's view, both sexes share in this tyrannical hunger of a beast constantly clamoring to be fed, and the Minotaur assumes both a male and a female nature whose doubleness reflects the duplicities or "ambages" of the labyrinth to which it is confined.

The "ambages" of the multicursal labyrinth offer two possibilities when one attempts to solve its structure. For the reader struggling within it, everything is chaos and "error," there are no criteria by which one can decide upon the validity of directional decisions. However, for the reader standing on a slightly elevated vantage point outside of the building and able to behold its center, the interior confusion evaporates, and there materializes an esthetically pleasurable whole whose careful organization amazes and delights. [68] By placing and defining the doubly gendered "monstrueux animal" I have just described immediately outside of and preceding the textual site that embroils the reader in the "labyrintheis flexibus," Montaigne is simultaneously providing us with the visual access to the maze's center, which the creature traditionally occupies. With this cartographic tool we gain by re-reading, we obtain a better sense of the particular duplicities of the edifice, a sense undermining the ease with wh ich we can establish, through Ariadne's voice, the equation "Theseus = males = monsters." The hermeneutic prize or prey this equation affords springs from the justified yet gendered bias of Ariadne's accusation, launched from the viewpoint of one mired in the sexual labyrinth. With Ariadne as "porte-parole," women are accusing men for their brutality just as men have always accused women of, for example, being lustful Messalinas, Pasiphaes or Eves. The last statement of the essay sententially warns us against the facile nature of these accusations and the intractable "error" that de-legitimizes them: "It is much easier to accuse one sex than to excuse the other. It is the old saying: the pot calls the kettle black." [69] In this easily reversible proverb, "the kettle calls the pot black," (la poele se moque du fourgon) the male, phallic "fourgon" or "oven-fork" accuses the female "poele" or "fire-shovel" of being "dirty" or blackened with soot. [70] The proverb stresses the blindness of the "fourgon" to its o wn grime, a blindness that can be re-metaphorized into the "inobservabilis error" of the multicursal Catullan labyrinth.

There remains a crucial dimension of the "fil d'Ariane" in the phrase: "If the ladies spin out and spread out their favors in every detail, each man, even to miserable old age, will find there some small thread of pleasure." [71] The literally textual connotations of "filer," spinning and the work of the loom as the traditional province of women's activities, finds a semantic companion in "lisiere," signifying here the extremity or frontiere" of a garment. [72] By tying, through lisiere," his own "vieillesse miserable" to the "flu d'Ariane," Montaigne reminds us that one of the key thematic concerns of "Sur des vers de Virgile" is the relation between (male) old age and sexuality, a physical function exceptional in its ability "to enliven a heavy body and soul" and "to rouse him and keep him in vigor till he is well on in his years." [73] Hanging on to life by a thread ("lisiere") amounts to the accessibility of Eros, such as Ariadne provides it. In these metaphonics, Ariadne, as life-giver, thus assumes the personality of the Greek Moirai or Roman Parcae, three divine old women who spin and weave the "filum" or thread of our existence into a pattern until, at our death, Atropos ("the one of no return") cuts it at the foreordained limit of its extension (again, "lisiere"). With the mention of Lachesis ("Dum superest Lachesi quod torqueat... "892 B), the Fates appear later in the essay in a citation from Juvenal's Third Satire occurring in the very passage where Montaigne underlines the salutary effects of sex on old age. A glance at the context or "non-dit" of this intertext assures us that we are following the right thread, since the hexameters preceding the quotation invoke Daedalus and Cumae, the Italian Sibyl's haunt and the landing field of the archetypal artist and engineer after his own escape from the labyrinth. [74] The citation from Juvenal, through its "non-dit," therefore confirms the concatenation of the myth of Ariadne and of the Daedalian labyrinth with that of the Fates. This link also reflects t he main organizational axis of Catullus 64, in whose final movements the Parcae, engaged in the textual activities which hallmark both their specific tasks and those of women in general, are extensively represented. In the epithalamium, they chant about Achilles's future life while laboring at their threads, and their strophic hymn corresponds to the fatidic "twisting" (the Latin "torquere") which dictates the life-course of every human being. [75] In this manner, the Catullan intertext electrifies and exponentially enriches the suggestive potential of "Sur des vers de Virgile." The essay's "bout de lisiere," while retaining for old age the erotic charge emblematized by the "fil d'Ariane," also involves the tragic specter of death, the limit of our pleasure and of our lives, a telos towards which Catullus's singing Parcae are spinning and weaving.

The conjunction of Ariadne and Parcae reinforces the encounters between Life and Death, Eros and Thanatos that the essay constantly facilitates. As Starobinski notes: "It is thanatos that gives eros its freedom to speak. In this chapter, the book thus presents itself as a messenger of both death and love." [76] One could also say that, in this chapter, the labyrinth functions in the same manner as the anamorphic Death's Head opening its vertiginous abyss within the sensual fabric of Holbein's great painting, "The Ambassadors" (1533). [77] From a handful of hints Montaigne sows, the inquisitive reader can discover, within the text, viewing positions from which these indices coalesce into the finely executed picture of the labyrinth and of the mythological actors staking their destinies in its structure. Once the labyrinth has gradually revealed itself and gained volume and specificity through dialogic interchanges with "Les Nopces de Peleus," it functions as a "focalisateur" of many of the main themes of the e ssay: the social inequities from which women suffer, men's voyeuristic fascination with "cela," the primeval violence at the heart of sexuality, the blindness specific to narrowly gendered points of view, the existential relations between Eros and Thanatos. However, these insights, which the "palais magnifique" magnifies and inextricably intertwines, all belong to the second paragraph of the passage in question, Montaigne's discussion of "l'action genitale." To conclude this study, it will be necessary to examine how the labyrinth plays a role within the first paragraph, which deals with "la peinture" of erotic love and praises the successes of Virgil and Lucretius in a textual ("woven") medium metaphorized as a visual representation. In this last phase of this discussion, the highly self-reflexive facture of Catullus's poem foreshadows Montaigne's own meta-discursive obsessions and becomes a sort of specular pendant of the essay.

As I mentioned at the outset, Virgil and Lucretius's mimetic success in "painting" amorous scenes is based on the "ouvert/couvert" representational paradox Montaigne points out and perhaps reproduces through his highly indirect or "cocq a l'asne" approach to sex in the essay. In the paragraph in question, a sentential kernel resumes the paradox: "But there are certain things that people hide only to show them." [78] Montaigne privileges "les vers de ces deux poetes" because they expertly hide sexual matters in order to show them more vividly, and he compares their literary product to woven materials: the "reseu" or lace-work that women choose to veil their breasts and that priests employ to conceal "plusieurs choses sacrees," and the occulting "manteau" of the Egyptian (880 B). The textual drift of the imagery finds reinforcement in the terms "reflexion" and "droit fil": "painters put shadows in their work to bring out the light more; and it is said that the sun and wind strike harder by reflection than dire ct." [79] Statius (94-99) has recently discussed the manner in which Montaigne's philosophy subverts "concepts" with metaphors, and this passage is exemplary for its layering and imbrication of several metaphors whose harmoniously coordinated transfers amount to the articulation of notions almost ineffable in conceptual terms. The metaphor "text = woven fabric" is here grafted onto another, "text = painting," and "reading = viewing." As Blanchard argues, Montaigne is here referring to a genre of painting whose popularity is synchronous with the composition of the essays, the portrayal of the veiled woman or "Poppee voilee," where a simulated "textum" or "reseu" actually invades the painted surface in order to induce the "couvert/ouvert" effect. [80] This solicitation of painting inevitably activates the arch-metaphor subtending Montaigne's own project, the writing of a self-portrait, of an ekphrasis verbally representing an absent visual representation. Furthermore, the presence of "vent" and "Soleil" propose s another transfer, "text = imitation of nature," whereby great painters and poets tacitly become those artists who mysteriously reproduce in their techniques the very processes of the natural world. Finally (an arbitrary closure since the feuillete or layering of the superimposed metaphors is even richer), "reflexion" and "droit fil" bring us back to the "reseu" while proleptically sounding the Catullan notes "tenui fib" and "reflexibus/reflexit." [81] The operating principle of the successful literary or visual representation of "l'action genitale" is not the "droit fil" but, rather, the circumvolutions of the "fil d'Ariane" which reproduce the windings of the labyrinth. In other words, Virgil and Lucretius are experts in the crafting of labyrinthine texts which refuse to expose bluntly a central "meaning," and, while endlessly deferring the conquest of this "prey," exponentially increase the reader's pleasure, thereby assuring their esthetic superiority.

It is with the Parcae that the eminently self-reflexive nature of 64 fully asserts itself and draws our attention to its similarities with the thematic concerns of Montaigne's essay. In Catullus, the elaborate description (211-322) of the Fates at their work constitutes an arresting "mise en abyme" of the textual crafting or composition of the poem itself. Catullus employs the ancient topos of "textum" as weaving in order to compel the reader to consider the process of writing poetry at the same time that he or she reads the product of this process. This maneuver acquires a special significance in a poem occupied by an immense digression, the ekphrasis of the woven blanket, "purpura" or "textum," formulating its version of the myth of Ariadne and Theseus and covering the marriage bed ("pulvinar geniale") of Peleus and Thetis. By focusing upon the weaving Parcae, Catullus entices the reader to foreground the "purpura" as a "concrete" product of the Parcae's activities, and to reflect upon the phenomenologies of covering enacted by the blanket. Before the physical consummation of the union of Peleus and Thetis, the blanket covers ("tegit"; 49) only the bed, but it will soon embrace ("complexa"; 266) the very embraces of the couple on their wedding night. In other words, the poem asks us to behold the licit encounter of the two married lovers only inasmuch as the "purpura" or "vestis" reveals it, thereby enacting the "ouvert/couvert" dichotomy central to Montaigne's thought about the representability of sex through a "textum." Catullus's poem further owes its vertiginous complexity to the fact that the occulting "manteau" or "vestis," specularized by the Parcae's labor, is itself half-hiding and half-revealing other sexual scenarios: the illicit love between Ariadne and Theseus and, at a further remove, the lust of Pasiphae for the bull. We thus have to read the "main" narrative, the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, through the protocolar cover of the blanket, which acts as a filter imposing a pessimistic textual "spi n" on the generic exertions of the epithalamium, and also announces the dialectical "licit" versus "illicit" lovemaking we find in "Sur des vers de Virgile." Even more significantly, the fact that Catullus's blanket is an ekphrasis accents the metaphor "reading = viewing," a transfer of primordial importance for the mimetic rationale of Montaigne's Essais, texts that wish to consider themselves as pictorial representations of their author's true self. According to the logic of Catullus's text, the words of Ariadne Montaigne quotes are re-marked both for their textuality (the Parcae, in a sense, spin them before the reader's eyes) and for their visibility (although they represent human speech, they paradoxically belong to ekphrastic "peinture"): they thus exemplify exactly the type of visible "language-in-progress" the essayist posits as the impossible prospect of his own literary performance. [82]

Montaigne's citation from Catullus's complaint of Ariadne can thus be read as a meta-discursive gesture of great import, a self-conscious maneuver that enlists the complex epithalamium in the essayist's metaphorical conceptualizations of his own activity, both in literary terms and in those of the psycho-sexual interactions of Eros and Thanatos. This argument requires a belief in the extreme sensitivity and intelligence of Montaigne as a reader of Catullus, and it gains credibility when we consider the reception of "Les Nopces de Peleus" by the essayist's great literary predecessor Ronsard, whose poetry Montaigne judges "not far from the perfection of the Ancients," [83] and who, besides designating it as a sine-qua-non for literary imitation in the composition of an epic, makes extensive use of Catullus 64 in his ambitious "Hymne de l'Automne" (1563). [84] In this long piece, Ronsard prefigures Montaigne's awareness of the meta-discursive qualities of Catullus's "Nopces" by stating that his "maistre" in the art of poetry, Jean Dorat, "showed me how / One must feign and expertly hide the old fables / As well as skillfully disguise the truth of things / With the fabulous coat that wraps up this truth. ..." [85] Twenty five lines later, in an apparent digression, Ronsard elaborately depicts Automne's "nourrice" (nurse) spinning, and the eight verses of this hypotyposis offer a skilled imitation of Catullus's description of the Parcae at their work. By foregrounding the literal dimensions of textuality, of the wovenness of the hiding/revealing "hymne," the Catullan digression functions as a mise-en-abime" of the programmatic statement about "cacher," "desguiser," and "fabuleux manteau" Ronsard has just offered the reader. Towards the end of the "Hymne," another long imitation of Catullus 64 portrays Bacchus falling in love with Automne, who replaces Ariadne as the god's object of desire. As Ford observes, the description of Bacchus and his cortege is strongly reminiscent of Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne," a painting whose main literary reference is Catullus's poem. [86] As an immediate and towering literary forebear, Ronsard has thus drawn for Montaigne the "horizon of reception" of the "Nopces de Peleus" by discovering or "inventing," through imitation, the epithalamium's most salient characteristics: speculariry, an emphasis upon "couverture" and the "ouvert/couvert" dichotomy, a prolonged meditation on the relationship between visual and verbal representations, and even the fascinating conjunction Eros/Thanatos which the "hymne" duplicates by addressing the season both regorging with the fruit of Eros and poised upon the sterility of death.

The initial observation joining the two hexameters of Ariadne's Catullan complaint with the labyrinthine "palais magnifique" has driven us to an explanatory length which testifies to Montaigne's own skill at executing Dorat's advice to Ronsard, "one must feign and expertly hide the old fables." [87] Montaigne proposes his own version of this advice as a sentential bridge between the two paragraphs I started from: "both the sexual act and the picture of it should smack of theft." [88] In a sense, the fabled Ariadne, Theseus, labyrinth, monster, and Parcae are stolen from Catullus and hidden by Montaigne's text, and such a "larrecin" or theft and its integration in the essay hallmark the special brand of imitation Montaigne practices. Only minute hints reveal the presence of the mythological actors in question, hints that form an odorous trace ("sentir") for a cynegetically minded reader interested in exploring the networks, detours, and insights to which they lead. 89 A developing body of scholarship examinin g Montaigne's quotesmanship has pointed out numerous cases in which such detective work centering upon a citation and delving into the particularities of its original context richly rewards the reader. [90] In this instance, however, the philological hunt the text urges upon us is accompanied by a theorization of the intertextual moves Montaigne cultivates in order to heighten the pleasure of his readers and to sustain their curiosity and desire for the essayist's self-portrait. Reading, inasmuch as it seeks to discover what is hidden (see the quip "il y a certaines choses qu'on cache pour les montrer"), becomes a quest whose final hermeneutic "haut poinct" or "jouyssance" is deferred by the "errores" or wanderings of both the intertextual pursuit and of the philological orbits traversing the text and intersecting each other. The figure of the labyrinth, while inscribed in the "palais" and lending itself to much elaboration through dialogic play with Catullus 64, also surfaces in the filigrane markings that o ur eyes weave back and forth through the essay as they pursue the multicursal itineraries it proposes. In this manner, the maze, which reflects the many-leveled tracery of sexual pleasure, also doubles as an emblem of our own "erotic" or life-asserting pursuit of meaning. However, the violence that inhabits the circumcircuitous edifice, Thanatos present as the killing of the prey and/or the satiation and end of Eros, also warns us that meaning only exists as a function of its absence, and that immobilizing it amounts to the resolution of all the antinomies which found our existence, to the cancellation of sexual/textual labyrinths and, in short, to our own death.

(*.) I wish to express my gratitude to Richard Regosin and to the other (anonymous) referee of this paper, who were most helpful with their valuable suggestions towards its improvement. My thanks also to Dora Polachek, who saw and commented upon an earlier and very inchoate version, and to Steve Light, whose sharp editing was essential.

(1.) In her book, an indispensable study of the literary and artistic uses of the labyrinth from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Doob, 48-51, establishes a fundamental distinction between the unicursal labyrinth, which consists of a single path making its way unambiguously to the center without any directional choices facing the traveler, and the multicursal maze which multiplies "ambages" and confusion. For Doob's discussion of the semantic import of "ambages," see especially 53-54. The Latin "axnbages" is closely related to "ambiguus" and "ambiguitas." In French, the expression "sans ambages" means "without circumlocution," "straight to the point."

(2.) For example Pouilloux, 45-46, uses the image of Ariadne and the labyrinth to express the reader's experience of the book: "L'image du labyrinthe dont nul fil d'Ariane apparent n'indique la sortie represente la premiere figure du livre." Pouilloux's 1969 monograph is in many ways a manifesto for the scholarship which has since attempted to respect and account for the density and complexity of the textual fabric of the Essais.

(3.) McKinley, 1996, 56-61, starts chap. 3, "Montaigne dans le labyrinthe," of her recent book by discussing the import of Montaigne's unique mention of"labyrinthe" in "De la praesumption" (2.17, .634-35). The relevant passages in Ovid and Virgil that McKinley evokes are Metamorphoses 8 (157-63 and 166-68) and Aeneid 5 (580-95).

(4.) For this etymology see Doob, 97.

(5.) McKinley, 1996, does nor mention Catullus's poem. Doob, 20, while observing that the Catullan passage in question (Catullus's Carmen 64, 50-266) presents the "most intriguing dassical version of the myth [of the labyrinth]," finds no need to examine it since it is "irrelevant to the medieval tradition."

(6.) Pasquier: "pouvoit meilleur compte [l'] intituler Cocq l'Asne." Pasquier's expression "chefs-d'oeuvre," 46, applied to the Essais,] and his criticism of "Sur des vers de Virgile," 43, occur in a letter, probably written in 1602, to Monsieur de Pellejay, "Conseiller du Roy er Maistres en sa Chambre des Comptes de Paris." For an assessment of Pasquier's honesty in his prodamation of dose and repeated contacts with Montaigne, see Magnien-Simonin. The untranslatable expression "cocq 1'asne" refers to a desultory discourse jumping atbitrarily from one subject to another, from "rooster" to "donkey."

(7.) 847 B: "Qu'a faict l'action genitale aux hommes, si naturelle, si necessaire et juste, pour n'en oser parler sans vergnongne er pour 1'exclurre des propos serieux er reglez?" In the Villey-Saulnier edition of the Essais I am using, the letters A, B, and C refer to the different compositional strata of the text, respectively 1580, 1588 and 1595. Throughout, I supply Donald Frame's English translation of the Essais At times, I slightly modify this translation.

(8.) 857 B: "cet accouplage."

(9.) 849 B: "je ne scay quel air plus amoureux que l'amour mesme."

(10.) With respect to indirection and the constant turning away from the straightforward discussion of "l'action genitale," the title of the essay is itself programmatic since it echoes that of the chapter preceding it, "De la diversion" (3.4). "Vets" and "diversion" share the Latin etymon "vertere," to turn."

(11.) 880 B: "les vers de ces deux poetes."

(12.) Ibid: "par reflexion."

(13.) Ibid.: "a droit fil."

(14.) 881 B: "divers portiques et passages, longues et plaisantes galleries, et plusieurs destours."

(15.) Compagnon, 1993, 71-83, analyzes the two paragraphs in question in terms of the presence of allegory in Montaigne's thought about interpretation, and uses the expressions" ouvert/couvert" (overt/covert) to capture the veiling effect the essayist assigns to the verses of Virgil and Lucretius. He observes how "cette reflexion sur la superorite de la voie couverte sur la voie ouverte aboutit a l'image des degree ou de la gradation," image whose embodiment is the labyrinth. Starobinski, 232, to whom Compagnon refers, calls the labyrinth a "palais metaphorique" and an "itineraire allegorique"

(16.) 881 B: "Nostre maistrise et possession leur est infiniment craindre ... soudain qu'elles sont a nous, nous ne sommes plus elles"

(17.) Gaisser has recently drawn the history of Catullus's literary fortune from the time the "carmina" "go underground" in the second century, to their resurfacing in the fourteenth and fifteenth century. The edition princeps of Catullus's poems dates from 1472, a corrupt and very unsatisfactory text. The first Aldine edition appears in 1502. From 1472 onward, Catullus occupies an increasingly privileged place in European literary imitation and in the debates it elicits in both the Neo-Latin and the vernacular domains. Marc-Antoine de Muret (1526-1585) did much to facilitate the reception of Catullus in France and Europe. See Gaisser, 151-68. Trinquet, 548-49, points out that Muret was Montaigne's teacher at the College de Guyenne in 1547, and considers plausible that, five years later, Montaigne heard his brilliant lectures on Catullus at the Parisian College du Cardinal Lemoine. Coleman, 152-54, makes some valuable comments on Montaigne's use of Catullus 65 and 68 in "De l'amitie." On Monraigne and Catull us, see also Villey, 103-04.

(18.) Quinn, 297-351, in his edition of Catullus's corpus I use here, provides a helpful introduction and notes to the poem. Putnam gives a sensitive reading of the text as a whole, as does Fitzgerald, 140-68.

(19.) For the revolutionary nature of the poem see Quinn, 1971, 44-69, who paints a clear picture of Catullus as spokesman of the "poetae novi" of that period.

(20.) In the essay "De la physionomie" (1041 B), Montaigne uses two verses from Catullus's conclusion to 64 in order to emphasize the horror of the French religious civil wars.

(21.) Lines 147-48. In his citation, which I reproduce here, Monraigne replaces Catullus's "dicta" with "verba."

(22.) A few lines later (155-56), Catullus emphasizes Theseus's animalistic behavior when Ariadne, making use of a very common topos, compares him to the son of a lioness and, with more originality, to the offspring of female monsters such as Scylla and Charybdis.

(23.) 837 B: "Ainsi nous troublent l'ame les plaintes des fables; et les regrets de Didon et d'Ariadne passionnent ceux mesmes qui ne les croient point en Virgile et en Gatulle."

(24.) Ibid.: "... comme nous frappe la voix piteuse d'une beste qu'on tue pour nostre service."

(25.) For very perceptive remarks on Montaigne's attitude towards hunting in general, see Rigolot, 1988, 194-200.

(26.) 2.10 410 B: "Il m'a toujours semble qu'en la Poesie, Vergile, Lucrece, Catulle et Horace tiennent de bien loing le premier rang."

(27.) 844 B: "J'ai beau...luy presenter et Seneque et Catulle, et les dames et les danses royales...."

(28.) His special affinity for Catullus can also be felt at the very end of the essay (897 B), where he selects a substantial citation from Catullus 65 to act as an "envoi" of the entire text to its potential readers.

(29.) See especially 849-54 for the discussion of marriage in the essay. Besides the Parcae's wedding hymn we find at the end of 64, Catullus's poems 61 and 62 are both marriage songs. Joachim Du Bellay imitates these two texts in his "epithalame" for Madame Marguerite. On this imitation, which confirms Catullus's Renaissance repute as a writer of epithalamia, see Morrison, 1963, 54-56.

(30.) Horace also figures prominently in the intertextual fabric of the essay, and I am developing a study of his specific contributions in "Sur des vers de Virgile."

(31.) Juvenal 6, lines 129-30. On Montaigne's use of Juvenal's Sixth Satire in the essay, see Wiesmann

(32.) See Lewis's A Latin Dictionary for the privileging of the acceptance integumentum. For the semantic history of vulva, see Adams, 101-08, who indicates that Varro, in De re rustica (2.1, 19), gives us the first Latin prose usage of volva, based on a popular etymology which ties the term to volvere. Varro uses the term ("volvis intimis," "deep lying folds") as an equivalent of the Greek "xorion," the membrane which surrounds the foetus. Volva then evolves to mean both "womb" and "vagina." Adams, 103-04, comments on tentigo and rigidus.

(33.) 880 B: "vitieux en soudainete."

(34.) Ibid.: "I'amour des Espagnols et des Italiens, plus respectueuse et craintifve, plus mineuse et couverte.

(35.) Ibid.: "Je ne scay qui, anciennement, desiroit le gosier allonge comme le col d'une grue pour gouster plus longtemps ce qu'il avalloit." At Nicomachean Ethics 3.10, Aristotle discusses the pleasures of touch and taste, which "man shares with the lower animals, and which consequently appear slavish and bestial. ..." He links the pleasures of touch with those of eating, drinking, and sex, and concludes thus: "This is why a certain gourmand wished that his throat might be longer than a crane's, showing that his pleasure lay in the sensation of contact." Montaigne's reference to this epicure is remarkable for its alliterative patterning of the letters "g" and "I" mimetically evoking deglutition.

(36.) 881 B: "Qui se pourroit disner de la fumee du rost, feroit-il pas une belle espargne?" See Rabelais, Tiers Livre, 462-64, for the anecdote in which "Signy Joan le fol, citadin de Paris" solves the quarrel between a roaster and a workingman who smelled the roast without financial compensation to its owner.

(37.) 879 B: "en mangeant," "macher," "appetir"; 880 B: "il nous saoule et nous desgoute."

(38.) 881 C: "rassasier ... paissait"; 881 B: "La cherre donne goust la viande," "estomac tendre,"; 881 C: "se paistre de la jouyssance,"; 883 B: "elle mange"; 884 C: "C'est un traict de gourmandise," "intestins."

(39.) 881 B: "Qui n'a jouyssance qu'en la jouyssance, qui ne gagne que du plus haut poinct, qui n'aime la chasse qu'en la prinse, il ne luy appartient pas de se mesler nostre escole. Plus il y a de marches et degrez, plus il y a de hauteur er d'honneur au dernier siege. Nous nous devrions plaire d'y estre conduicts, comme il se fait aux palais magnifiques, par divers portiques et passages, longues et plaisantes galleries, et plusieurs destours."

(40.) Curtius, 512-14, gives a rapid overview of the medieval and Renaissance tradition that assigns the five "lignes," "pas" or "points" to amorous engagements. Pantagruel, in Rabelais's Tiers Livre, 398, describes the number five thus: "Car Pythagoras appeloit le nombre quinaire nombre nuptial, nopces et manage consomme, pour ceste raison qu'il est compose de Trias qui est premier nombre impar et superflu, et de Dyas qui est nombre premier par, comme de masle et de femelle coublez ensemble."

(41.) 880-881B: "Apprenons aux dames a se faire valoir, a s'estimer, a nous amuser et a nous piper. Nous faisons nostre charge extreme la premiere: il y a tousjours de l'impetuosite francoise. Faisant filer leurs faveurs et les estallant en detail, chacun, jusques a la vieillesse miserable, y trouve quelque bout de lisiere, selon son vaillant et son merite."

(42.) 857 B: "elles n'ont que faire de l'apprendre, elles l'engendrent."

(43.) 881 B: "Nous nous devrions plaire d'y estre conduicts...."

(44.) With his usual etymological resourcefulness, Montaigne reinforces the notion that women provide and wield the thread delaying and therefore increasing paroxysmal pleasure through his use of the term "dispensation": "Cette dispensation reviendroit a nostre commodite" (this arrangement would redound [i. e., if men were patient enough] to our advantage; 881 B). The Latin "dispendere" comes from "pendo," "to suspend" or "to weigh," a verb which, by extension, gives "pensum," "poids de lame a filer distribue aux servantes." See Ernout and Meillet, 494.

(45.) 857 B: "Tout le mouvement du monde se resoult et rend a cet accouplage: c'est une matiere infuse pattout, c'est un centre ou toutes choses regardent."

(46.) 880-881 B: "faisant filer leurs faveurs et les estallant en detail."

(47.) For "estaler" Cotgrave gives the following definition: "To display, unfould, shew, spread wide, lay open wares on stalls; to expose unto the view of all passengers, commers, customers; to place or set upon a stall." The "estal" is "the stall of a shop or booth; anything whereon wares are layed, and shewed to be sold."

(48.) For digestive, carnal imagery, see 881B: "La cherte donne goust a la viande" (expense gives taste to meat) and "estomac tendre" (tender stomach); for Italians and prostitutes, see 882 B: "Ils font les poursuivans, en Italie, et les transis, de celles mesmes qui sont a vendre" (in Italy they play the part of timid suitors even with the women who are for sale); for euphemistic references to women's genitalia, see 882 B: "J'en scay qui ayment mieux prester cela que leur coche" (I know some ladies who would rather lend that than their coach).

(49.) "Comment a nom" is Rabelais's euphemism equivalent to Montaigne's "cela." See Frere Jean's salacious anecdote about the ring of Hans Carvel in the Tiers Livre, 433. Doob, 167-71, discusses how the labyrinth plays a central imagistic and thematic role in Boccaccio's Corbaccio (ca. 1365), which bears the title "Il laberinto d'amore" in several manuscripts. Doob convincingly argues that the labyrinth, mentioned twice in the text, 14 and 73, must be linked to the medieval tradition which compares the female genitalia to a maze in which males lose themselves spiritually. Boccaccio's gruesome description of the widow's pudenda (55-56) invites such an interpretation. Following this description, Boccaccio uses the expression "to buy le gatte in sacco," the proverb the French render as "acheter chat en poche" (to buy a cat in a bag) to stress how men are fooled by the attractive outward appearance of women. In the essay Montaigne also enlists this proverb (855 B), but reverses its application by indicating that it is women who are often deceived by men's exterior shows of virility or phallic length. Compagnon, 1993, chooses "chat en poche" to entitle his study of Montaigne's thought on allegory. The Corbaccio is the last vernacular fiction we have from Boccaccio, and its interpretation remains quite problematic. Modern readers have generally been struck by its violently misogynistic passages, but Hollander (42) argues that it can be read as a satire of misogynous "male hysterics." The sixteenth-century awareness of the labyrinth as a visual counter against the dangers of excessive lust surfaces in Guillaume de la Perriere's thirty-fifth emblem of this popular emblem collection, first published in 1539, Le theatre des bons engins.

(50.) "qui n'ayme la chasse qu'en la prinse."

(51.) 870 B: "Miserable passion, qui a cecy encore, d'estre incommunicable, 'Fors etiam nostris invidit questibus aures': Car a quel amy osez vous fier vos doleances, qui, s'il ne s'en rit, ne s'en serve d'acheminement et d'instruction pour prendre luy-mesme sa part a la curee?"

(52.) Catullus 64, line 170. This gender transformation emphasizes Montaigne's latent fascination, throughout the essay, with androgyny. It paradigmatically joins the mention of the man/woman prophet Tiresias (854 B) and the essayist's final metamorphosis, through the concluding citation from Catullus 65, from old man to nubile "Virgo," which Pot, 104, calls a literary instance of "transexualisme."

(53.) "Early in the essay (847 B), Montaigne specifies his desire for a female audience: "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'aime leur commerce un peu prive" (I am annoyed that my essays serve the ladies only as a public article of furniture, an article for the parlor. This chapter will put me in the boudoir. I like their society when it is somewhat private). On the significance of this passage, see McKinley, 1981a.

(54.) 877 C: "plaisir a decharger ses vases."

(55.) 877 B: "... cete rage indiscrette, ce visage enflamme de fureur et de cruaute au plus doux effect de l'amour, et puis cette morgue grave, severe et ecstatique en une action si fole" (that reckless frenzy, that face inflamed with fury and cruelty in the sweetest act of love, and then that grave, severe and ecstatic countenance in so silly an action).

(56.) 877 C: "peslemesle nos ordures et nos delices ensemble."

(57.) 878 C: "Sommes nous pas bien bruttes de nommer brutale l'operation qui nous a faict?"

(58.) 879 C: "Nous estimons a vice nostre estre."

(59.) 879: [B] "Quel monstrueux animal qui se fair horreur a soy mesme, [C] a qui ses plaisirs poisent, qui se tient mal-heur!"

(60.) 847 B: "Qu'a faict l'acrion genitale aux hommes, si naturelle, si necessaire et si juste, pour n'en oser parler sans vergnongne?"

(61.) On Montaigne's reflections on monstrosity, self-alienation and our irreducible "etonnement" at our own condition, see Regosin, 167-70. In this recent book, Regosin, 7-8 and 154-58, discusses Montaigne's sense that both his literary output ("chimeres et monstres fantasques" 1.8, 33 A) and his own self ("Je n'ay veu monstre et miracle au monde plus expres que moy-mesme" 3.11, 1029 B) are monsters. For other excellent treatments of Montaigne's references to the monstrous, see Mathieu-Castellani, 221-40, Starobinski, 33-40, and Garavani, whose book makes "monstres et chimeres" a central theme in an analysis of Montaigne's subconscious motivations. The problem of monsters fascinated sixteenth-century France, and has been studied extensively by Ceard in a fundamental work which includes a long section on Montaigne (409-36).

(62.) "Nous estimons a vice nostre estre.

(63.) "Quel monstrueux animal."

(64.) "Je scay une dame"; "Et scay un homme."

(65.) "Il y a des nations qui se couvrent en mangeant.

(66.) 879: "[C] Nous estimons a vice nostre estre. [B] Je scay une dame, et des plus grandes, qui a cette mesme opinion, que c'est une contenance desagreable de macher, qui rabat beaucoup de leur grace et de leur beaute; et ne se presente pas volontiers en public avec appetit. Et scay un homme qui ne peut souffrir de voir manger n'y qu'on le voye, et fuyt toute assistance, plus quand il s'emplit que s'il se vuide." (We regard our being as vice ... I know a lady, and one of the greatest, who has this same opinion, that chewing is a disagreeable grimace which takes away much of women's grace and beauty; and she does not like to appear in public with an appetite. And I know a man who cannot bear to see anyone eat or to be seen eating, and who avoids any company even more when he is filling than when he is emptying himself.)

(67.) 859 C: "animal furieux [qui] ... par la violence de son appetit ... entreprend de soumettre tout a soy"; "animal glouton er avide auquel ... si on refuse aliments ... forcene impatient de delai." For a trenchant essay on Montaigne's treatment of men and women's sexuality in "Sur des vers de Virgile," see Jordan. In Bury's translation, here is the relevant passage from Plato's Timaeus (91b-c): "Wherefore in men the nature of the genital organs is disobedient and self-willed, like a creature that is deaf to reason, and it attempts to dominate all because of its frenzied lusts. And in women again, owing to the same causes, whenever the matrix or womb ... remains without food long beyond due season, it is vexed and takes it ill."

(68.) See Doob, 192-95.

(69.) 897 B: "II est bien plus aise d'accuser l'un sexe, que d'excuser l'autre. C'est ce qu'on dit, le fourgon se moque de la poele."

(70.) Starobinksy (256) comments on the proverbial nature of "Le fourgon se moque de la poele" and notes that "fourgonner" is a metaphor for the sexual act in the sixteenth century.

(71.) "Faisant filer leurs faveurs et les estallant en detail, chacun, jusques a la vieillesse miserable, y trouve quelque bout de lisiere."

(72.) For the prevalence of the association between texuality, weaving, and women, see Nancy Miller, who uses Ovid's recounting (Metamorphoses 6, 1-145) of the rivalry between Arachne and Minerva as a locus for a feminist critique of traditional literary criticism. Rigolot, 1987, refers to Miller's notion of "arachnology" or female textual weaving in a discussion of Louise Labe's "sutils ouvrages."

(73.) 891 B: "desgourdir un esprit et un corps poisant" and "esveiller er tenir en force bien avant dans les ans."

(74.) At 892 B, Montaigne cites these three verses of Juvenal 3 (lines 26-28): "Dum nova canities, dum prima et recta senectus, I dum superest Lachesi quad torqueat et pedibus me / porto meis, nullo dextram subeunte bacillo...." I translate: "While my white hair are still recent, while I dwell in my early and upright old age, while Lachesis has something left to spin for me and I still carry myself on my own two feet without any staff present in my right hand." The context describes the departure from Rome of one of Juvenal's aging friends who has decided to retire at Cumae, "where Daedalus stripped off his tired wings" ("proponimus illuc / ire, fatigatas ubi Daedalus exuit alas"; 24-25). Juvenal's reference to Daedalus and Cumae alludes to the beginning of Aeneid 6 (14-37) where the Trojans, arriving to consult the Sibyl, pass by the doors of the temple of Apollo upon which Daedalus had depicted the labyrinth and the story of the Minotaur, Ariadne, and Theseus. P. Miller studies, in books 5 and 6 of Vergil's Aeneid, the thematic function of the labyrinth as a male device intended to contain the destructive aspects of women's sexuality.

(75.) The verb "torquere" appears in Catullus's description of the Moirai's spinning of the threads of life (313).

(76.) Starobinski, 228: "C'est thanatos qui libere la possibilite de laisser parler eros. Le livre, en ce chapitre, s'offre donc conjointement comme messager de mort et d'amour."

(77.) Holbein's "The Ambassadors" (London National Gallery) depicts two munificently dressed French ambassadors in a palatial room. An anamorphic skull juts our from the ornate floor represented in the painting. The skull remains unrecognizable until the viewer finds the precise angle from which the gaze can reconstruct it. Compagnon, 1979, 278-81, in his treatment of citation in sixteenth-century texts, establishes a relation between this mode of reconstruction and Montaigne's comment about anamorphic qualities the essays possess for the reader: "Cette farcissure est un peu hors de mon theme...mes fantasies se suivent, mais par fois c'est de loing, et se regardent, mais c'est d'une veue oblique" (This stuffing [i. e., digressive propensity] is a little out of my subject... my musings follow one another, but sometimes it is from a distance, and look at each other, but with a sidelong glance; 994 C). The reconstruction my analysis proposes shares in this obliqueness, whose purpose here is to hide the emblemat ic labyrinth in order to reveal it better as an emblem of Eros and Thanatos. For a theoretical treatment of "The Ambassadors," see Collins.

(78.) 880 B: "Mais il y a certaines choses qu'on cache pour les montrer."

(79.) Ibid.: "les peintres ombragent leur ouvrage, pour luy donner plus de lustre; et dict-on que le coup du Soleil et du vent est plus poisant par reflexion qu'a droit fil."

(80.) As examples of this vogue of the veiled woman in painting, Blanchard, 224-31, lists three anonymous canvasses, "Sabina Poppea" (ca. 1570), "La femme a sa toilette" (ca. 1580, second "School of Fontainebleau"), and "La femme entre deux ages" (1580), and a figure in Niccolo dell' Abbate's "La continence de Scipion" (ca. 1560). Mirollo, 99-124, discusses the motif of the veil in Perratch and its repercussions upon the "mannerist" sensibilities of the sixteenth century.

(81.) Another important aspect of the passage addressing "les vers de ces deux poetes" is the contrast between light and darkness it articulates. Virgil and Lucretius know how to use the veil, which casts a concealing shadow on their representations, in order, paradoxically, to "esclairer de plus pres" (illuminate more closely) its sexual dimensions. So do painters, who "ombragent leur ouvrage" (put shadows in their work) so as to "luy donner plus de lustre" (bring out the light more). This dialectic of brightness and shade elaborates in a different register Montaigne's earlier comments about human propensities to hide in a dark corner to copulate and propagate the species ("pour le construire on se musse dans un lieux tenebreux et contraint; 878 C) and to choose an open and well-lit field to kill our own kind ("Pour le destruire on cherche un champ spacieux en pleine lumiere"; 878 C). Eros and Thanatos thus participate in a complex manner in these dichotomies of light and darkness.

(82.) See Laird for a discussion of the "visible voice" paradox in Catullus 64.

(83.) 1.26, 661 A: "guieres eloign[ee] de la perfection ancienne."

(84.) Ronsard, 338, in his 1587 "Preface sur la Franciade, touchant le Poeme Heroique," dedicated "Au lecteur apprentif," extols Virgil's "divine Aeneide" as the only Latin model for the "style nombreux, plein d'une venerable Majeste" required for epic verse. Only Lucretius occasionally produces "divine" verse. The other notable exception is "Catulle, en son Athis et aux Nopces de Peleus." Significantly, Ronsard begins his preface by emphasizing the beauties of the very passage of book 8 of the Aeneid Montaigne selects for commentary in "Sur des vers de Virgile."

(85.) 79-83: "me montra comment / On doit feindre & cachet les fables proprement, / Er a bien desguiser la verite des choses, / D'un fabuleux manteau dont elles sont encloses...."

(86.)Ford's discussion, 261-66, of the "Hymne de l'Automne" ends with the reference to Titian, but does not mention the Catullan intertext. Morrison, 1956, 266-67, remarks upon Ronsard's attraction to the "grandiose scene in which Catullus describes the Parcae," and she notes the "long and blatantly deliberate digression" of the "Hymne de l'Automne" imitating Catullus.

(87.)"On doit feindre er cacher les fables proprement."

(88.)"Et l'action et la peinture doivent sentir le larrecin."

(89.)Compagnon, 1993, 77, briefly remarks on the "modele cynegetique" of (allegorical) interpretation to which seems to point Montaigne's comment about "la chasse" and "la prinse" in the context of the labyrinthine "palais magnifique."

(90.) See especially McKinley, 1981b, who explores aspects of Montaigne's uses of Ovid, Virgil, and Horace. Brousseau-Breuermann attempts a theoretical typology of citation in the Essais, and has valuable comments on the historical reception of these myriad Latin fragments, which many readers have perceived as obstacles in their enjoyment of Montaigne. Gray gives an excellent account of Montaigne's bilingualism and constant recourse to citation. Gray's chapter on "Sur des vers de Virgile," "Eros et l'ecriture," 99-118, focuses on the Virgil/Lucretius rivalry in the essay. Compagnon, 1979, has given a very influential treatment of the history and semiotic function of citation. This book, 279-313, discusses Montaigne's case extensively.


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La poesie en Egypte aujourd'hui: etat des lieux d'un champ "en crise".

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