Montaigne’s Latin.

AJP Crown posted this remarkable passage from Montaigne on Facebook; since it was new to me and I figure will be new to at least some of my readership, I thought I’d rescue it from the oblivion that is the fate of all FB posts and copy it here:

The expedient [for learning Latin] found by my father was to place me, while still at the breast and before my tongue was untied, in the care of a German (who subsequently died in France as a famous doctor); he was totally ignorant of our language but very well versed in Latin. He had been brought over expressly and engaged at a very high fee: he had me continuously on his hands. He had two others with him, less learned: their task was to follow me about and provide him with some relief. They never addressed me in any other language but Latin. As for the rest of the household, it was an inviolable rule that neither he nor my mother nor a manservant nor a housemaid ever spoke in my presence anything except such words of Latin as they had learned in order to chatter a bit with me. It is wonderful how much they all got from it. My father and mother learned in this way sufficient Latin to understand it and acquired enough to be able to be able to talk it when they had to, as did those other members of the household who were most closely devoted to my service. In short we became so latinized that it spilled over into neighbouring villages, where, resulting from this usage, you can still find several Latin names for tools and for artisans. As for me I was six years old before I knew French any more than I knew the patois of Périgord or Arabic. And so, without art, without books, without grammar, without rules, without whips and without tears, I had learned Latin as pure as that which my schoolteacher knew – for I had no means of corrupting it or contaminating it. So if they wanted me to assay writing a prose (as other boys do in the colleges by translating from French) they had to give me some bad Latin to turn into good. And Nicholas Grouchy, Guillaume Guerente (who wrote a commentary on Aristotle), George Buchanan, that great Scottish poet, Marc-Antoine Muret whom France and Italy recognise as the best prose-writer in his day, who were my private tutors, have often told me that in my infancy I had that language so fluent and so ready that they were afraid to approach me.
  —On Educating Children 1:26, M.A. Screech translation

AJP adds: “His tutor was Albert Horstanus (aka Dr Horst, the anus is a Latin version).”

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for rescuing my typing, Language.

    It’s quite a jolt to think of his father doing such a thing in the 1530s, when such experiments seem more typically a post-1960s thing. As John Emerson pointed out on the facebook, the most endearing bit is In short we became so latinized that it spilled over into neighbouring villages, where, resulting from this usage, you can still find several Latin names for tools and for artisans.

    One thing. I wonder if Montaigne’s claims in this passage are exaggerated. For example, when I googled the great Scottish poet George Buchanan, I found that Hugh Trevor-Roper regarded him as by universal consent, the greatest Latin writer, whether in prose or in verse, in sixteenth century Europe. And even if that’s hyperbole, it’s surely absurd (or a joke) that the young Montaigne’s fluency would cause Buchanan to be afraid to approach him.

    Two other things:
    1. translating medieval French with the occasional Latin and Greek quotation must be a bugger of a job. The Screech version of Montaigne is as good as you’ll find in English, so I’m told, and I’ve enjoyed his careful choice of current colloquial words & phrases.
    2. An ideal companion for Montaigne’s Essays is Sarah Bakewell’s extraordinary How To Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. It give additionally all sorts of digressions on everything from the Stoics to the 16C claret business.

  2. I’ll have to look for it — as you know, I love me some digressions!

  3. Since I first read that, I too have wondered how strict the policy of only speaking to young Michel in Latin really was. Montaigne was not above exaggeration for dramatic effect in his essays.

  4. translating medieval French with the occasional Latin and Greek quotation must be a bugger of a job.

    Screech has also translated Rabelais, talking about a bugger of a job.

    As for digressions – Montaigne’s cousin and travel companion to Rome Joachim Du Bellay wrote a strong defense of the French language as a medium for higher poetry. Which was not to say that he couldn’t turn his hand to Latin – he wrote a series of elegies during his time in Italy. Also wrote Les Regrets (after the manner of Ovid’s ex Ponto) to express his longing for lovely lovely France. Check them out..

    (You may also enjoy Montaigne’s travels, just for fun.)

  5. Greg Pandatshang says:

    Whoa, D’Armond Speers could’ve taken some notes from Mr. and Mme. de Montaigne!

  6. David Marjanović says:

    In short we became so latinized that it spilled over into neighbouring villages, where, resulting from this usage, you can still find several Latin names for tools and for artisans.

    Stunning.

  7. Jim (another one) says:

    I saw a heartbreaking Chinese movie over the weekend where the father gets custody and sends his kid to an elite school where he gets so immersed in English that he can barley speak to his mother and needs an interpreter to talk to his father. The name escapes me at the moment.

    “aka Dr Horst, the anus is a Latin version”

    AJP, you really have no mercy, do you?

  8. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t remember reading this, but it is a long time since I have read the Essai. In another place Montaigne describes his tutor as having persuaded him that they were inventing a language together, and that is what struck me and stayed in my memory. Perhaps what was happening was the tutor introducing Latin words, perhaps slightly distorted, as if he was making them up, and both of them trying on variants before settling on the actual words.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Jim (another one): a heartbreaking Chinese movie … where the father … sends his kid to an elite school where he gets so immersed in English that he can barely speak to his mother and needs an interpreter to talk to his father.

    This loss of language happened to thousands of native children sent at a young age to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language but had to speak English. Many of them had to stay at school for years as their families were too poor to afford the trip home and back.

  10. {making note}

    Latin – extinct classical language. Last native speaker died on 13 September 1592.

  11. I wonder which tools were used so heavily by Montaigne and his family that villagers for miles around dumped the traditional French words for the Latin.

    My guess is manure shovels. They would seem to have been in great demand at the villa of M. Montaigne.

  12. not leoboiko says:

    > His tutor was Albert Horstanus

    Why not Albertus though?

  13. a heartbreaking Chinese movie

    Mountains May Depart?

  14. Desan’s newly Englished biography appears to report the Latinizing-the-boy plan uncritically. Perhaps just because it better fits his portrait of Pierre Eyquem than that Michel made it all up.

  15. Jim (another one) says:

    Will, that’s it!

    M-L,
    “This loss of language happened to thousands of native children sent at a young age to residential schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language but had to speak English”

    This happened in Scotland too. Beware the social reformers with a vision of a better world.

    In Mountains May Depart the scenario was more like those Russian noble families that would speak French on Monday and German on Tuesday and Russian the rest of the week. This was an intentional move on the part of this father to give his kid an edge, basically language shift at an elite level. This is probably how Greek basically died out in Anatolia.

  16. This is probably how Greek basically died out in Anatolia.

    Not sure what you mean. Greek was spoken in Anatolia right up until the criminal and unconscionable “population exchange” of 1923.

  17. From what I read, it appears that Greek-speaking population of Anatolia represented secondary colonization of Anatolia by ethnic Greek Ottoman subjects from mainland Greece and Aegean islands after restoration of relative stability in 17th century.

    Previous Byzantine Greek population was basically exterminated or driven out from Anatolia in the process of Turkish conquest (with exception of northeastern coast of Anatolia – former Trebizond empire, where conquest was much lighter. Its population switched to Turkish language while retaining their religion and ethnic identity).

    Interestingly enough, population exchange of 1923 was based on religious criteria, so Greece ended up with a lot of Turkish-speaking Greek refugees (and I imagine, Turkey got many Greek-speaking Turks.

  18. From what I read, it appears that Greek-speaking population of Anatolia represented secondary colonization of Anatolia by ethnic Greek Ottoman subjects from mainland Greece and Aegean islands after restoration of relative stability in 17th century.

    Hmm, I’ve never heard of that. If so, it would be a sort of mirror image of the re-hellenization of Greece in the 8th and 9th centuries.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    It’s hard to imagine that all the linguistic diversity documented for the Greek of Asia Minor around the beginning of the 20th century was just 300 years old.

  20. Yeah, that doesn’t make sense.

  21. SFReader: Like Lazar, I have never heard of this theory, and like David and our cyberhost I find it very hard to believe that the Greek dialects of Anatolia could have split off from European Greek varieties in the seventeenth century. Since linguistic distinctiveness seems to grow with distance from the seacoast in Anatolian Greek varieties I can well believe that some exchanges with/settlement from Europe may have taken place, spreading new words and morphemes in the process.

    You are right, however, that the Turko-Greek “population exchange” involved defining people on the basis of religion, not language, and thus a great many Muslims with non-Turkish L1’s ended up either sent to Turkey or remaining in Turkey: among the former were, inter alia, some Megleno-Romanian speakers (who at the time probably constituted the only significant Muslim community with a Romance variety as their L1 on the planet), and among the latter there (still) remains in Turkey a community of Pontic Greek speakers in the Of valley.

  22. I rely on Speros Vryonis book “The Decline of medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor”, he writes that share of Christians in population of Anatolia almost tripled between 16th and early 20th century, a process which he attributes to recolonization of Anatolia by Balkan Christians.

    Especially striking is former Anadolu province (westernmost part of Asia Minor) which went from the historic low of 1.5% Christian at the beginning of 16th century to over one quarter Christian by early 20th century.

    I am not saying that all Anatolian Greeks were of relatively recent Balkan origin, but very big majority were, especially in Western Anatolia.

  23. Latin – extinct classical language. Last native speaker died on 13 September 1592.

    Or possibly 16 June 1935: Arcadius Avellanus (translator among other things of Robertus Ludovicus Stevenson’s Insula Thesauraria) is said to have spoken Latin as his first language.

  24. Re: the population “exchange”
    I very much liked Louis de Bernieres’s “Birds without Wings” , a novel set during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, which describes the effects of growing nationalism, WW I, and the accompanyimg ethnic cleansings on a small Anatolian town.

  25. I rely on Speros Vryonis book “The Decline of medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor”

    An excellent book, but it should be read in conjunction with Claude Cahen’s appreciative but critical review in International Journal of Middle East Studies 4.4 (Oct. 1973): 112-117. I have a Xerox copy, and was going to download the review from JSTOR and offer to send it to you, but for some reason they only have a small selection of the reviews from that issue, and Cahen’s is not one of them. One of the things Cahen points out is that Vryonis’s book was so long in production it takes no account of important recent work (like Cahen’s own 1968 Pre-Ottoman Turkey).

  26. Jim (another one) says:

    “Not sure what you mean. Greek was spoken in Anatolia right up until the criminal and unconscionable “population exchange” of 1923.”

    Whichever theory explains the situation, Greek went from being the majority language in western Anatolia during the Byzantine period to a heritage language in a series of refugia.

  27. I find it very hard to believe that the Greek dialects of Anatolia could have split off from European Greek varieties in the seventeenth century. Since linguistic distinctiveness seems to grow with distance from the seacoast in Anatolian Greek varieties

    Matters were not so simple before 1923, as this map shows. The orange area along the Black Sea is Pontic and the green area in the center is Cappadocian, and these languages are indeed sharply divergent from Contemporary Standard Modern Greek (CSMG) to the point that they are barely, if at all, mutually intelligible. Cappadocian in particular, though it retains some pre-Koine features, is basically a Koine descendant with a massive Turkish superstrate, to the point in some dialects of vowel harmony and SOV word order. Both clearly reflect very old settlement patterns.

    But the Greek-speakers in the yellow area in Western Anatolia spoke a local variety of Demotic Greek, quite mutually intelligible with CSMG. I find it perfectly plausible that they got there by recent settlement.

  28. Sure, so do I, but the original statement was about “Greek-speaking population of Anatolia” tout court.

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