Ethos and Cannibal Song

Jonathan Bortinger '04, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2003

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Montaigne paints a picture of a barbourous civilization, whose practices he believes may be more civilized than European customs. Montaigne quotes a "Song of War" and a "Love Song" as examples of the tenacity, valor, and culture of these cannibals.

Besides what I repeated to you before, which was one of their songs of war, I have another, a love-song, that begins thus:

"Stay, adder, stay, that by thy pattern my sister may draw the fashion and work of a rich ribbon, that I may present to my beloved, by which means thy beauty and the excellent order of thy scales shall for ever be preferred before all other serpents."

Wherein the first couplet, "Stay, adder," &c., makes the burden of the song. Now I have conversed enough with poetry to judge thus much that not only there is nothing barbarous in this invention, but, moreover, that it is perfectly Anacreontic. To which it may be added, that their language is soft, of a pleasing accent, and something bordering upon the Greek termination. [7]

Thus, Montaigne establishes credibility in examining this culture by stating he "has conversed enough with poetry to judge." He states that he is capable of interpreting poetry in order to support his argument that these cannibals are not as savage as one may originally believe.

My questions

1. What other techniques does Montaigne use to build his authority on this topic?

2. Is Montaigne attempting to write as if he is making a subjective analysis of this group's culture?

3. Is Montaigne successful in using the voice of the cannibal as a way to criticize his own culture?

4. Does Montaigne use classic texts to support his analysis of the cannibals or does he use the cannibals to prove that the values expounded by classic authors are true and good?

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Last modified 14 September 2002