In his essay On Pedantry (Du pedantisme, I 25),1 Montaigne seems at first sight to tally with the common place argument for the early modern time scholarly discourse concerning citations. The profusion of references and verbatim repetitions of especially canonical verba or passages taken from Greek and Latin classical texts and authorities has been the object of various critiques by his predecessors like Erasmus and Castiglione.2
But not only does his discussion of pedantic name- and phrase-dropping go beyond the question of stylistic originality: Montaigne does not question citations in general as a sign of a low or instable style, but levels criticism at the mere reproduction of sententiae that does not include neither understanding nor moral evaluation. What is even more, his very own text is assembled of quotes and paraphrases from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca and – for our use most important – Plutarch.3 Instead of hiding his dependency on these canonical positions for the sake of his argument, Montaigne underlines his own ‘pedantry’ and counts himself among those writers the essay addresses. Doing so, On pedantry describes a complex theory of the good use of quotations and paraphrases, leading into an idea of writing that reflects the form of the essay.
In my talk, I want to analyse the interplay between the classical lines evoked in On pedantry concentrating on the effect the borrowed phrases and topoi play for the structure of the text. In reconstructing this composition, I want to highlight the role of the Greek authors for this complex and reflexive argument, namely Plato and Plutarch. In a next step, I will try to illustrate the importance of the latter for the genesis of the essay as the paragon of the comparative approach towards history, literature, and experience that form the constitutive elements of Montaigne’s writing. For this purpose, I will propose very briefly a connected reading of a later essay, Defence de Seneque et de Plutarque.4 I will argue that Montaigne’s technique of quoting as discussed in On pedantry leads him to a citational practice that goes beyond mere textual reference, spreading to his book as a whole becoming a discourse in quotation marks. As an effect of the transformation of classical passages, citing becomes the method of the essay. “Les autres forment l’homme; je le recite.”5
1 Montaigne, Michel de: Les Essais, ed. A. Thibaudet, I 25, Paris: Gallimard 1950, S. ###.
2 Both of them, of course, in line with the authorities of rhetoric such as Quintilian and Cicero. For an overview, cf. Metschies, Michael: Zitat und Zitierkunst in Montaignes „Essais“, Genf (u.a.): Droz (u.a.) 1966.
3 Montaigne relied widely on the translations of Plutarch by Amyot; I will try to illustrate the relevance of this reception in my talk. Cf. Schottlaender, Rudolf: „Montaignes Verhältnis zu Plutarch. Anregungen und Affinitäten“, in: Antike und Abendland 32 (1986), pp. 159-172
4 The “second” apology included in the Essais, Montaigne 1950, II 32.
5 Montaigne 1950, III 2, p. 899.