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Montaigne - Les Essais

Primary Texts
  • Michel de Montaigne, Essais (a selection: e.g. I.45 ‘De la bataille de Dreux’; ‘Des Cannibales’; II.11 ‘De la cruauté’; II.12 ‘Apologie de Raimond de Sebonde’ [extract]).
Look at the originals!
  • Go to the Bibliothèques virtuelles humanistes website for new digital images of various early editions of Montaigne -- look up the 1580 edition and the exemplaire de Bordeaux! (the digitization is on-going as part of a French government-funded programme MONLOE: see the weblinks section below).
Editions of the Essais:
  • There are a wealth of editions to choose from. Make sure you have a reliable version of the complete text (3 books), that takes into account Montaigne's handwritten additions and alterations of the so-called exemplaire de Bordeaux (posthumously published in 1595).
  • When quoting Montaigne in a formative or assessed essay, make sure you systematically refer to one and the same edition throughout. Some editions will have a critical apparatus and/or indicate the different couches or layers (A, B, and C): noting such variants can be helpful on finer points (if required) but needs to be handled sensibly and, again, consistently.
Translations of the Essais:
  • For an "Early Modern" flair, it is worth turning to English translation by Shakespeare's contemporary John Florio: you can find digitized facsimiles of the 1603, 1613 or 1632 editions (on the "Historical Texts" [EEBO] database), as well as various later reprints, some with modernised spelling.
  • Modern scholars debate the relative merits of two well-known twentieth-century translations, by Donald Frame (Everyman's Library) and Michael Screech (Penguin) respectively. Either will be very helpful for your reading of Montaigne: just don't mix them (unless you wish to make a comparative point).
  • MONLOE: Montaigne à l'œuvre: the new Montaigne "gateway" bringing together digitized images of Montaigne's writings, documents pertaining to his life and family, his study, and his library insofar as it can be reconstructed
  • Montaigne Studies: Prof. Philippe Desan's website for the Montaigne Studies journal, searchable transcripts of the Essais (various editions), a Montaigne portrait gallery and more.
  • A YouTube documentary on Montaigne and the Wars of Religion
  • Balsamo, Jean, "Des "Essais" pour comprendre les Guerres civiles," Bibliothèque d'Humanisme et Renaissance 72. 3 (2010), 521-40.