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Essay attributed to Étienne de La Boétie, first published in 1576 (English translation by Freedom Circle)


Having several masters, no good there I see,
  That one, no more, be the master, and that only one be the king,

thus said Ulysses in Homer1, speaking in public. If he had said nothing else, but

Having several masters, no good there I see,

that was as well said as saying nothing else; but, instead, to reason with him, one would have to say that the domination of several could not be good, since the power of one alone, as soon as he takes that title of master, is hard and unreasonable, instead he went on to add, everything backwards,

That one, no more, be the master, and that only one be the king.

It would be necessary, perchance, to excuse Ulysses, who possibly needed to use this language to appease the rebellion of the army; conforming, I believe, his argument more to the times than to the truth. But, speaking wisely, it is an extreme misfortune to be subject of a master, of whom one can never be sure that he is good, since it is always in his power to be bad whenever he wants; and having several masters is, as many as one has, that many times of being extremely unfortunate. If I do not want, at this time, to debate this much discussed question, whether the other forms of republic are better than the monarchy, I would still like to know, before casting doubt on what rank the monarchy should have among the republics, if it should have any, for it is difficult to believe that there is anything public in this government, where everything accrues to one. But this question is reserved for another time, and would demand a separate treatise, or rather would bring with it all the political disputes.

In this case, I would like but to understand how can it be that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations endure sometimes a lone tyrant, who has no power but that which they give him; who is not capable of harming them, except insofar as they want to endure him; who would not know how to cause them any harm, other than when they prefer to tolerate him rather than to contradict him. A great thing indeed, and yet so commonplace that it is all the more painful and less astonishing to see a million men serving miserably, with their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater force, but somehow (it seems) enchanted and charmed by the mere name of one, of whom they should neither fear the power, since he is alone, nor love the qualities, since to them he is inhuman and savage. The weakness among us men is such that we often need to obey by force, we need to compromise, we cannot always be the strongest. Thus, if a nation is compelled by the force of war to serve one, as the city of Athens under the Thirty Tyrants2, one need not be surprised that it serves, but to lament the accident; or rather neither be surprised nor lament, but to bear the evil patiently and to maintain oneself for the future with better fortune.

Our nature is such, that the common duties of friendship prevail for a good part of the course of our life; it is reasonable to love virtue, to appreciate good deeds, to recognize the good from whence one has received it, and to diminish often our ease in order to increase the honor and advantage of the one whom one loves and who deserves it. Hence, if the inhabitants of a country have found some great personage who has shown them by trial a great foresight to look after them, a great boldness to defend them, a great attention to govern them; if, from then on, they subdue themselves to obey him and trust him so much as to give him some advantages, I do not know if that would be wisdom, as long as he is taken from where he was doing good, to advance him instead to where he could do wrong; but certainly if he could not fail to have kindness, no need to fear any wrong from whom one has only received good.

But, oh good God! what can this be? what shall we say it is called? what misfortune is this one? what vice, or rather what unfortunate vice? To see an infinite number of people not obeying, but serving; not being governed, but tyrannized; having neither goods nor parents, neither women nor children, nor the very life that is theirs! to suffer the plundering, the bawdiness, the cruelties, not from an army, not from a barbaric camp against which one would have to shed his blood and his life ahead, but from one alone; not from a Hercules3 nor a Samson4, but from a single little man, and most often the most pusillanimous and effeminate in the nation; not accustomed to the gunpowder of battles, but still with great difficulty in the arena of tourneys; not who can by force command men, but totally incapable of serving vilely the slightest woman! Shall we call this pusillanimity? Shall we say that those who serve are cowards and craven? If two, if three, if four do not defend themselves from one, that is strange, but nevertheless possible; it may well be said then, with good reason, that is for a lack of spirit. But if a hundred, if a thousand endure one alone, will it not be said that they do not want to, not that they do not dare attack him, and that it is not cowardice, but rather contempt or disdain? If one sees not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred countries, a thousand cities, a million men, not assault a single one, from whom the best treated of all receives this wrong of being a serf and slave, how can we name that? is it pusillanimity? Now, in all vices there is naturally some milestone, beyond which they cannot pass: two can fear one, and possibly ten; but a thousand, but a million, but a thousand cities, if they do not defend themselves against one, that is not cowardice, it does not go that far; any more than bravery extends to one alone scaling a fortress, attacking an army, conquering a kingdom. So what monster of vice is this that does not even deserve the title of cowardice, that cannot find a vile enough name, that nature disavows having made and language refuses to name?

Let fifty thousand men in arms stand on one side, and as many on the other; let them be arrayed for battle; let them come together, the former free, fighting for their freedom5, the others to take it away: to whom shall victory be promised by conjecture? which ones will be thought to go more gallantly to combat, those who expect to maintain their liberty as a reward for their pains, or those who can expect no other reward for the blows they give or receive than the servitude of others? The former always have before their eyes the happiness of the past life, the expectation of similar ease in the future; it does not remind them so much of this little that they endure, the time that a battle lasts, as of that which will never be fitting for them, their children and all posterity to endure. The others have nothing to encourage them, except a small point of covetousness that suddenly dulls in the face of danger and cannot be so ardent that it should not, it seems, be extinguished by the least drop of blood that comes out of their wounds. In the so famous battles of Miltiades6, Leonidas7, Themistocles8, which have been waged two thousand years ago and which even today are still as fresh in the memory of books and men as if it had been the other day, which were waged in Greece for the sake of the Greeks and as example for the whole world, what does one think that gave so few people, as were the Greeks, not the power, but the heart to sustain the force of ships with which the sea itself was loaded9, to defeat so many nations, which were in such great numbers that the Greek squadron could not have supplied, had it been necessary, captains for the enemy armies, except it seems that in those glorious days it was not so much the battle of the Greeks against the Persians, as the victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over covetousness?

It is a strange thing to hear about the bravery that liberty puts in the hearts of those who defend it; but what happens in all countries, among all men, every day, that one man mistreats a hundred thousand and deprives them of their liberty, who would believe it, if they only heard it said and did not see it? and, if it only happened in foreign countries and distant lands, and as they say, who would not think that it is rather feigned and imagined than truthful? Again this one tyrant, there is no need to fight him, there is no need to destroy him, he is destroyed by himself, as long as the country does not consent to its servitude; there is no need to take anything from him, but to give him nothing; there is no need for the country to worry about doing anything for itself, as long as it does nothing against itself. It is then the people themselves who allow or, rather, make themselves be mistreated, since by ceasing to serve they would be free; it is the people who enslave themselves, who cut their throats, who, having the choice of being serfs or being free, abandon freedom and take up the yoke, who consent to their harm, or rather who pursue it. If it would cost him something to regain his freedom, I would not urge him, although what should a man consider dearer than to return to his natural right and, so to speak, for the beast to return as man; but still I do not wish for him such great boldness; I allow that he prefer I know not what guarantee of living miserably to a dubious hope of living at ease. What? if to have liberty you only have to desire it, if you only need a mere intention, will one find any nation in the world which considers it still too dear, being able to earn it with a single wish, and who complains to his will for recovering the good that he would have to redeem at the cost of his blood, and which lost, all the people of honor should deem life as unpleasant and death as salutary? Certainly, as the fire from a small spark grows large and always strengthens, and the more wood it finds, the more it is ready to burn and, without putting water on it to extinguish it, only by putting no more wood, having nothing else to consume, it consumes itself and ends without any force and neither fire: similarly the tyrants, the more they plunder, the more they demand, the more they ruin and destroy, the more one yields to them, the more one serves them, so much more they strengthen and become ever stronger and fresher to annihilate and destroy everything; and if one yields nothing to them, if one does not obey them, without fighting, without striking, they remain naked and undone and are no longer anything, but like the root, having no more water nor nutrients, the branch becomes dry and dead.

The bold, to acquire the good they demand, do not fear danger; the knowledgeable do not refuse sorrow: the pusillanimous and dull know not how to endure harm nor to regain the good; they stop at the point of wishing for it, and the virtue of claiming it is taken away from them by their pusillanimity; the desire to have it remains in them by nature. This desire, this will is common to the sensible and to the indiscreet, to the courageous and to the cowards, to wish for all things which, being acquired, would make them happy and contented: but one thing has to be said, in that I know not how nature fails men in desiring it; it is liberty, which, however, is a good so great and so pleasant, that if lost, all wrongs come in single file, and the goods even if they remain afterwards completely lose their taste and flavor, corrupted by the servitude: the only liberty, men do not desire it, not for any other reason, it seems, but that if they desired it, they would have it, as if they refused to make this nice acquisition, only because it is too easy.

Poor and miserable senseless peoples, nations obdurate in your harm and blind to your good, you allow yourselves to be deprived, in your presence, of the best and most distinct part of your revenue, to have your fields plundered, your houses robbed and stripped of old and family furniture! You live so that you cannot vaunt that anything is yours; and it would seem that from now on it would be great fortune for you to rent back your property, your families and your lives; and all this damage, this misfortune, this ruin, comes to you, not from enemies, but certainly yes from the enemy, and from the one you make so great as he is, for whom you go so courageously to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your persons to death. The one who masters you so much has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, and has nothing else than what the least man of the great and infinite number in our cities has, if not the advantage that you give him to destroy you. From where did he get so many eyes, with which to spy on you, if you do not give them to him? How does he have so many hands to hit you, if he does not take them from you? The feet with which he tramples on your cities, whence does he get them, if they are not yours? How does he have any power over you, except through you? How would he dare to persecute you, if he had no collusion with you? What could he do to you, if you were not fences for the thief who loots you, accomplices of the murderer who kills you and traitors to yourselves? You sow your fruits, so that he may damage them; you furnish and fill your houses, so as to supply his lootings; you feed your daughters so that he may have the means to satiate his lust; you feed your children, so that, the best he would do for them, is that he may guide them in his wars, that he may lead them to the butchery, that he may make them the ministers of his covetousness, and the executors of his revenges; you break your persons with toil, so that he may preen himself in his delights and wallow in filthy and vile pleasures; you weaken yourselves, in order to make him stronger and unbending to keep your reins shorter; and of so many indignities, that the very beasts would not feel them, or endure them, you can deliver yourselves from this, if you try, not by acting to deliver yourselves, but only by wanting to do it. Be resolved not to serve anymore, and hence you will be free. I do not want you to push him or shake him, but only not to sustain him anymore, and you will see him, like a large colossus whose base has been stolen, from its own weight it collapses and breaks.

But certainly the doctors advise well not to put the hand in incurable wounds, and I am not smart in wanting to preach about this to people who have lost, long ago, all knowledge, and of which, since they no longer feel their pain, it shows enough that their illness is fatal. So let us seek by conjecture, if we can find it, how is this obstinate will to serve became so ingrained, that now it seems that the very love of liberty is not so natural.

In the first place, it is, as I believe, beyond doubt that, if we lived with the rights that nature has given us and with the lessons it teaches us, we would be naturally obedient to parents, subject to reason and serfs of no one. Of the obedience that each one, with no other notice than his nature, has for his father and mother, all men have witnessed it, each for himself; of reason, whether it is born with us, or not, which is a question thoroughly debated by academics and dealt with by the entire school of philosophers. At this time I will not think to fail in saying this, that there is in our soul some natural seed of reason, which, sustained by good advice and custom, flourishes in virtue and, on the contrary, often not being able to last against the ensuing vices, being suffocated, it aborts. But certainly, if there is nothing clear or apparent in nature and where it is not allowed to go blind, it is that nature, the minister of God, the governess of men, has made us all of the same form and, as it seems, of the same mold, so that we all recognize each other as companions or rather as brothers; and if, in dividing up the gifts she made to us, she has made some advantage of her good, either in the body or in the spirit, to some more than to others, she has not intended however to put us in this world as in a closed camp, and has not sent down here the strongest nor the most knowledgeable, like armed brigands in a forest, to swallow up the weakest there; but rather we should believe that, by thus making the parts of some larger, of others smaller, she wanted to make room for fraternal affection, so that she would have where to apply herself, having some the power to give help, the others the need to receive it. Since this good mother has given us all the whole earth as a dwelling, has logdged us all in the same house, has represented us all using the same pattern, so that each one could look at oneself and almost recognize one in the other; if she has given us all this great gift of voice and speech so that we may acquaint ourselves and fraternize better, and to make, by the common and mutual declaration of our thoughts, a communion of our wills; and if she has tried by all means to tighten and squeeze so hard the knot of our alliance and society; if she has shown, in all things, that she did not want so much to make us all united as to make us all as one, there is no need to doubt that we are naturally free, since we are all companions, and it cannot enter anyone's understanding that nature has put any one in servitude, having put us all in company.

But, in truth, it is good for nothing to debate whether liberty is natural, since one cannot hold anyone in servitude without harming him, and that there is nothing in the world so contrary to nature, being all reasonable, than injury. It stands then that liberty is natural and by the same token, in my opinion, that we are born not only in possession of our freedom, but also with fondness to defend it. Now, if by chance we have any doubts about this, and are so bastardized that we cannot recognize our goods nor similarly our innate inclinations, it will be necessary for me to do the honor that belongs to you and to mount, so to speak, the brute beasts on the professor's chair, to teach you your nature and condition. The beasts, so help me God! if men do not act too deaf, shout at them: Long live liberty! There are many among them which die as soon as they are caught: just as the fish leaves life as soon as it leaves the water, likewise those leave the light and do not want to survive their natural freedom. If animals had any preeminences among them, they would make of those their nobility. The others, from the largest to the smallest, when one seizes them, make such great resistance with claws, horns, beaks and paws, that they declare enough how much they hold dear what they lose; then, being caught, they give us so many apparent signs of the knowledge they have of their misfortune, that it is beautiful to see that from then on for them it is more to languish than to live, and that they continue their lives more to lament their lost ease than to take pleasure in servitude. What else does the elephant mean which, having defended itself until it could no longer do so, not seeing any other means, being about to be caught, sinks its jaws and breaks its tusks against the trees, other than the great desire it has to remain free, as it was born, it does so with the spirit and hint of bargaining with the hunters if, for the price of its tusks, it will be set free, and whether it will be admitted to give up its ivory and pay this ransom for its liberty? We provision the horse from the moment it is born to train it to serve; and if we do not know how to gratify it so well that, when it comes to taming it, it does not bite the bit, it does not kick against the spur, as if (it seems) to show nature and attest at least by this that, if it serves, it is not of its own accord, but by our coercion. What then is there to say?

Even the oxen under the weight of the yoke groan, And the birds in the cage complain,

as I once said10, idling the time with our French rhymes; for I will not fear, writing to you, O Longa11, to mix in my verses, which I never read to you so that, by the semblance you make of being contented with them, you may not make me vainglorious. Hence, since everything that has feeling, as soon as they have it, feel the evil of subjection and run after liberty; since the beasts, which are still made for service to man, cannot get used to serve but with the protest of a contrary desire, what misfortune has it been that was able to so denature man, only born, in truth, to live freely, and make him lose the memory of his essence and the desire to reclaim it?

There are three kinds of tyrants: some have the kingdom by election of the people, others by force of arms, others by succession of their lineage. Those who have acquired it by the right of war, behave in such manner that one knows well that they are (as they say) on conquered land. Those who are born kings are not generally much better, as being born and nourished in the bosom of tyranny, they draw with the milk the nature of the tyrant, and consider the people who are under them as their hereditary serfs; and, according to the constitution to which they are more common inclined, miserly or prodigal, such as they are, they make of the kingdom as they do of their inheritance. The one to whom the people have given the state should be, it seems to me, more bearable, and he would be, as I believe, if it were not that when he sees himself elevated above the others, flattered by an indescribable one calls greatness, he decides not to budge from there; commonly this one considers turning over to his children the power that the people have ceded to him: and once these have taken this opinion, it is strange how much they surpass the other tyrants in all sorts of vices and even in cruelty, seeing no other means to ensure the new tyranny than to embrace servitude so strongly, and to alienate so much their subjects from liberty, that even if its memory be fresh, they may make them lose it. So, to tell the truth, I see well that there is some difference between them, but of choice, I do not see any; and the means of attaining the kingships being diverse, the manner of ruling always is quite similar: the elected, as if they had taken bulls to be tamed, so they treat them; the conquerors make them as of their prey; the successors think of making them as of their natural slaves.

But by the way, if perchance some entirely new people were born today, not accustomed to subjection, nor attracted to liberty, and who did not know one from the other, nor hardly the names; if one presented to them either to be serfs, or to live free, according to laws of which they would not agree: there can be no doubt that they would like much better to obey reason alone than to serve a man; if not, it is possible that they were those from Israel, who, without constraint nor any need, made themselves a tyrant12: of whose people I never read the history without feeling too much vexation, and almost to the point of becoming inhuman for rejoicing at the many evils which befell them. But certainly all men, as long as they have something human, before allowing themselves to be subjugated, it must be one of two things, that they be constrained or they be deceived: constrained by foreign weapons, like Sparta or Athens by the forces of Alexander13, or by factions, as the seigneury of Athens was before coming into the hands of Peisistratos14. By deception they often lose their liberty, and, in this, they are not so often seduced by others as deceived by themselves: thus the people of Syracuse, the principal city of Sicily (I am told that today it is called Sarragousse15), being pressured by the wars, inconsiderately wanting only to remedy the present danger, elevated Dionysius16, the first tyrant, and put him in charge of leading the army, and did not realize that they had made him so great that this rogue, returning victorious, as if he would have defeated not his enemies but his citizens, made himself from captain, king, and from king, tyrant. It is incredible how the people, as soon they are subjugated, fall so suddenly into such a deep oblivion of freedom, that it is not possible for them to wake up to regain it, serving so freely and so willingly that one would say, upon seeing it, that they have not lost their liberty, but gained their servitude. It is true that at the beginning one serves constrained and defeated by force; but those who come later serve without regret and willingly do what their predecessors had done under compulsion. It is this, that men born under the yoke, and then nourished and raised in serfdom, without looking further, are content to live as they were born, and thinking they have no other good nor other right than those which they have found, they take as natural the state of their birth. And yet there is no heir so prodigal and indifferent that does not sometimes look over the records of his father, to see if he enjoys all the rights of his succession, or if anything has been undertaken against him or his predecessor. But certainly custom, which has great power over us on all matters, has nowhere as great a virtue as in this, of teaching us to serve and, as it is said of Mithridates17, who made himself used to drinking the poison, to instruct us to swallow and not find bitter the venom of servitude. It cannot be denied that nature has a large part in us, to draw us wherever it wants and declare us well or badly born; but it must be confessed that it has less power in us than custom: for what is natural, no matter how good, is lost if it is not maintained; and nourishment always makes us in its own fashion, however it may be, despite nature. The seeds of good that nature puts in us are so minute and slippery that they cannot endure the slightest clash from opposite nourishment; they do not maintain themselves so readily as they degenerate, they melt and come to nothing: neither more nor less than the fruit trees, which all have something natural separately, which they keep well if one lets them grow, but they leave it at once to bear other strange fruits, and not theirs, depending on what one grafts in them. Herbs each have their own property, their nature and uniqueness; but nonetheless the frost, the weather, the soil or the gardener's hand add or diminish much of their virtue: the plant that one has seen in one place, one finds difficulty to recognize it elsewhere. He who would see the Venetians, a handful of people living so freely that the most wicked of them would not want to be the king of them all, so born and nurtured that they do not recognize any ambition other than who would best counsel and most carefully pay attention to maintaining their liberty, so taught and brought up from the cradle that they would not take all the rest of the joys of the earth to lose the least bit of their freedom; he who will have seen, I say, these characters, and from there go to the lands of the one we call Grand Seigneur18, seeing people there who want to be born only to serve him, and who to maintain his power abandon their lives, would he think that these and the others had the same nature, or rather would he not consider that, having left a city of men, he had entered a park of beasts? Lycurgus19, the administrator of Sparta, had nurtured, it is said, two dogs, both brothers, both suckled on the same milk, one fattened in the kitchen, the other accustomed along the fields to the sound of the bugle and the horn, wanting to show the Lacedaemonian people that men are such as the food makes them, put the two dogs in the middle of the market, and between them a soup and a hare: one ran to the plate and the other to the hare. Nevertheless, he said, they are brothers. Thus that one, with his laws and his administration, nurtured and made so well the Lacedaemonians, that each of them would have preferred to die a thousand deaths rather than to acknowledge another lord than the king and reason.

I take pleasure in recalling an exchange that took place long ago between one of the favorites of Xerxes20, the great king of the Persians, and two Lacedaemonians21. When Xerxes was assembling the equipment for his great army to conquer Greece, he sent his ambassadors through the Greek cities to ask for water and earth: that was the way that Persians admonished the cities to surrender to them. He did not send anyone to Athens nor Sparta, because those whom Darius22, his father, had sent there, the Athenians and the Spartans had thrown some into the pits, the others into the wells, telling them to take without hesitation water and earth from there to take to their prince: these people could not tolerate that, with only the slightest word, one would touch their liberty. For having acted thus, the Spartans knew that they had incurred the hatred of the gods, even of Talthybius, the god of the heralds23: they resolved to send to Xerxes, to appease them, two of their citizens, to appear before him, that he may do with them as he pleased, and be payed thence for his father's ambassadors whom they had killed. Two Spartans, one named Sperthias and the other Bulis, volunteered to go make this payment. In fact there they went, and on the way they arrived at the palace of a Persian named Hydarnes24, who was the king's lieutenant in all the cities of Asia that are on the shores of the sea. He received them very honorably and made them a great meal, and after several words about one thing and the other, he asked them why they refused so much the king's friendship. "Look", he said, "Spartans, and learn from me how the king knows how to honor those who deserve it, and believe that if you were on his side, he would do the same for you: that if you were on his side and he had known you, there is not one of you who would not be lord of a city in Greece". — "In this, Hydarnes, you would not know to give us good advice", said the Lacedaemonians, "because the good which you promise us, you have tested it, but that which we enjoy, you do not know what it is: you have tried the king's favor; but of liberty, what taste it has, how sweet it is, you do not know. Now, if you had felt it, you yourself would advise us to defend it, not with spear and shield, but with teeth and nails". This Spartan said what had to be said, but certainly both spoke as they had been nurtured; for it could not be that the Persian have regrets for liberty, never having had it, nor for the Lacedaemonian to endure subjugation, having tasted freedom.

Cato of Utica25, while still a child and under the rod, often came and went to the home of Sulla the dictator26, both because of the place and the house of which he was, they never refused him entry, also as they were close relatives. He always had his teacher when he went there, as is customary with children from a good household. He noticed that in Sulla's guest house, in his presence or at his command, some were imprisoned, others were condemned; one was banished, the other strangled; one demanded the confiscation of a citizen, the other the head; in short, everything there was going on not as at the place of a city official, but as at a tyrant of the people, and that was not a chamber of justice, but a workshop of tyranny. So said then this young lad to his teacher: Why do not you give me a dagger? I will hide it under my robe: I often go into Sulla's room before he gets up, I have an arm strong enough to dispatch the city of him. This is certainly a phrase that really belongs to Cato: it was a beginning of this character, worthy of his death. And yet that neither his name nor his country be said, that only the fact be told as it is, the very thing will speak and one will judge, with good fortune, that he was Roman and born in Rome, and while it was free. To what purpose all this? Certainly not because I believe that the country nor the land do nothing there, since in every region, in every climate, subjugation is bitter and being free is pleasant; but because I am of the opinion that one ought to have pity on those who, being born, have found the yoke on their necks, and that, they be excused, or be forgiven, if, having seen only the shadow of liberty and not being informed about it, they do not perceive what an evil it is for them to be slaves. If there was some country, as Homer said of the Cimmerians27, where the sun shows itself differently than to us, and after having illuminated them for six continuous months, leaves them slumbering in the dark without returning to them until the other half year, those who would be born during this long night, if they had not heard of the brightness, would they be astonished or, not having seen daylight, would they get used to the darkness in which they were born, without desiring the light? One never laments what one has never had, and regret does not come but after pleasure, and always, with awareness of wrongs, is the recollection of past joy. The nature of man is to be free and to want to be so, but also his nature is such that he naturally supports the folds that nourishment gives him.

Let us say thus, that all things are as natural to man, from which he nourishes and accustoms himself; but what is only innate to him, is what his simple and unaltered nature summons in him: thus the first reason for voluntary servitude is custom: like that of the bravest stubby horses28, who at first bite the brake and then play with it, and where they almost kicked against the saddle, now they adorn themselves in the harnesses and very proudly strut under the barding. They say that they have always been subjects, that their fathers lived like that; they think they are bound to endure wrongs and let themselves be fooled by examples, and they founder under the long time of possession of those who tyrannize them; but in truth, the years never give the right to do wrong, thus magnifying the insult. There are always some, better born than others, who feel the weight of the yoke and cannot resist shaking it off; who are never domesticated by subjugation and who always, like Ulysses, who by sea and land always sought to see the smoke of his house, cannot help but perceive their natural privileges and to remember their ancestors and their prime being; there are those who willingly, having a clear understanding and a perceptive spirit, are not content, like the large populace, with looking at what is before their feet if they do not look backward and forward and do not yet recall the things past to judge those of the time to come and to measure the present ones; there are those who, having their own heads well set, have still polished it with study and knowledge. Those who, when liberty would be entirely lost and all out of the world, would imagine it and feel it in their spirit, and still savor it, and servitude is not to their taste, no matter how well it is attired.

The Grand Turk29 is well aware of this, that books and doctrine give men, more than anything else, the sense and understanding to know oneself and to hate tyranny; I understand that he has hardly any learned people in his lands nor does he ask for any. Now, commonly, the good zeal and affection of those who despite the times have maintained their devotion to freedom, however many there are, remain without effect for not recognizing each other: under the tyrant, liberty is completely taken away, to do, to speak and almost to think; they become all singular in their fantasies. Therefore, Momus, the mocking god30, did not mock much at what he found fault with in the man that Vulcan31 had made, that he had not put a small window in the heart, so that through it one could see his thoughts32. One would like to say that Brutus, Cassius and Casca33, when they undertook the deliverance of Rome, or rather of all the world, did not want Cicero34, that great guardian of the public welfare if there ever was one, to be part of it, and considered his heart too weak for such a tall deed: they trusted his will, but were not sure of his courage. And yet, whoever wants to discuss the events of the past and the ancient annals, will find few or none of those who, seeing their country badly led and in the wrong hands, have undertaken with good intention, whole and not feigned, to liberate it, who have carried it out, and that liberty, to make an appearance, did not put her shoulder to the wheel. Harmodius, Aristogeiton35, Thrasybulus36, Brutus the elder37, Valerius38 and Dion39, as they virtuously thought it, so they happily executed it: in that case, almost never with goodwill nor for lack of fortune. Brutus the younger and Cassius happily eliminated servitude, but in restoring liberty they died: not miserably (for what blasphemy would it be to say that there was anything miserable in these folk, either in their death, or in their life?) but certainly to the great damage, the perpetual misfortune and the whole ruin of the republic, which was, as it seems, buried with them. The other undertakings that have been made since against the Roman emperors were nothing but conspiracies of ambitious people, who cannot lament the inconveniences that have befallen them, being plain to see that they wanted, not to eliminate, but to remove the crown, pretending to give chase to the tyrant and retain the tyranny. To these I myself would not want them to have done well, and I am happy that they have shown, by their example, that one must not abuse the holy name of liberty for a bad undertaking.

But to return to our purpose, from which I had almost lost myself, the primary reason that men serve willingly is that they are born serfs and are thus nurtured. From this comes another, how easily people become, under tyrants, pusillanimous and effeminate: which I wonderfully recognize in Hippocrates, the great father of medicine, who paid attention to it, and thus said in one of his books which he titled On Diseases40. This character certainly had his heart in a good place, and he showed it well when the Great King41 wanted to draw him to his side by means of offers and large presents, he replied frankly that he would be very conscious of taking part in curing the Barbarians who wanted to kill the Greeks, and to serve well by his art he who undertook to enslave Greece. The letter he sent can still seen today among his other works42, and it will forever attest to his good heart and noble nature. Now, it is therefore certain that when liberty is lost, at a stroke so does valor. People who are subjects have no joy nor bitterness in combat: they go into danger almost as if bound and all numb, by way of acquittal, and they do not feel boiling in their hearts the ardor of freedom that makes them underestimate danger and to want to acquire honor and glory by a good death among their companions. Among free people, it is in striving of who is better, each for the common good, each for himself, they expect to have their share in the ill of defeat or the good of victory; but people in bondage, besides this warrior courage, also lose among all other things the vivacity, and have the heart low and soft and incapable of all great things. The tyrants know this well and, seeing that people take this bent, to weaken them further, they even help them.

Xenophon43, a serious historian and of the first rank among the Greeks, has written a book44 in which he makes Simonides45 talk with Hieron46, tyrant of Syracuse, about the miseries of the tyrant. This book is full of good and serious remonstrances, and, in my opinion, they have as good grace as possible. How much would it please God that the tyrants who have ever been would have put it before their eyes and used it as a mirror! I cannot believe they would not have recognized their warts and felt some shame of their blemishes. In this treatise he tells of the pain in which tyrants are, who are constrained, doing wrong to everyone, they fear everything. Among other things, he says this, that bad kings use foreigners in war and bribe them, not daring to trust to put weapons in the hands of their people, whom they have harmed. (There have been good kings who had foreign nations in their pay, like the French themselves, and even more in the past than today, but with another intention, to protect their own, not reckoning at all the money damage to spare the men. This is what Scipio47 said, I think, the great African, that he would have liked it better to save one citizen than to defeat a hundred enemies.) But, of course, that is quite certain, that the tyrant never thinks that power is assured to him, except when he has reached the point when he does not have any worthy man under him: thus with good reason one can tell him this, that Thraso in Terence48 boasts to have reproached the master of the elephants:

For that you are so fierce
That you have command over the beasts.49

But this ruse of tyrants to stultify their subjects cannot be known more clearly than by what Cyrus50 did regarding the Lydians, after he seized Sardis, the main city of Lydia51, and had taken Croesus52, that so rich king, at his mercy and had him led before him: they brought him news that the inhabitants of Sardis had rebelled; he had soon reduced them under his hand; but, not wanting to sack such a beautiful city, nor always be troubled to have an army there to keep watch over it, he came up with a great expedient to ensure that: he established there brothels, taverns, and public games, and had an order issued that the inhabitants should visit them. He found this garrison so good that since then it was never necessary to draw a sword against the Lydians. These poor and miserable people amused themselves by inventing all kinds of games, so much that the Latins took from it their word, and what we call pastime, they call Lvdi53, as if they meant Lydi54. Not all tyrants have so expressly declared that they would want to make their people effeminate; but, truly, what he ordered formally and in effect, is what most of them have pursued underhand. In truth, it is the nature of the lowly public, whose number is always greater in the cities, who is suspicious of those who love him, and a simpleton with those who deceive him. Do not think that there is any bird that is better caught in the trap55, nor some fish which, for how appetizing is the worm, is better attached to the hook than all people are enticed quickly into servitude, by the smallest feather that is passed, as they say, before their mouths; and it is a marvellous thing that they let themselves go so easily, just if one tickles them. The theaters, the games, the farces, the spectacles, the gladiators, the strange beasts, the medals, the pictures and other such opiates, these were to ancient people the baits of servitude, the price of their liberty, the tools of tyranny. This means, this practice, these enticements had the ancient tyrants, to lull their subjects under the yoke. Thus the people, befuddled, finding these pastimes beautiful, amused by a vain pleasure, which passed before their eyes, became accustomed to serve as foolishly, but worse, than small children who, to see the shiny images of illuminated books, learn to read. The Roman tyrants noticed yet another point: to feast often the public decemvirs56, abusing this rabble as one should, which lets itself go, more than anything else, by the pleasure of the mouth: the most sensible and knowledgeable among them would not have left his soup bowl to regain the liberty of the republic of Plato. The tyrants made largesse with a quadrantal57 of grain, a sextarius58 of wine and a sestertius59; and then it was a pity to hear the cry Long live the king! The louts did not realize that they were only recovering a part of what was theirs, and that the very thing they were recovering, the tyrant could not have given, if beforehand he had not taken it from them. Just as he had amassed the sestertius today, and gorged himself at the public feast, blessing Tiberius60 and Nero61, and their beautiful liberality that, on the next day, being forced to abandon his goods to their avarice, his children to lust, even his blood to the cruelty of these magnificent emperors, he said nothing, any more than a stone, nor moved any more than a stump. The public has always had that: it is all open and dissolute to the pleasure it cannot honestly receive, and insensitive to the harm and pain it cannot honestly suffer. I do not see anyone now who, hearing talk of Nero, does not even tremble at the nickname of this wicked monster, of this filthy and dirty plague of the world; and yet of that one, that arsonist, that executioner, that wild beast, it can well be said that after his death, as vile as his life, the noble Roman people received such displeasure, remembering his games and feasts, that they were on the verge of wearing mourning; thus wrote Cornelius Tacitus62, a good and serious author, and one of the most certain. That will not be found strange, given that this very people had done before at the death of Julius Caesar, who gave leave to the laws and to liberty, which figure did not have, it seems to me, anything worthwhile, for his very humanity, that is preached so much, was more damaging than the cruelty of the most savage tyrant that ever was, because in truth it was this poisonous tenderness of his, towards the Roman people, that sweetened the servitude; but, after his death, this people, who still had in the mouth his banquets and in the spirit the remembrance of his prodigality, to do his honors and dispose of him to ashes, vied to pile up on the benches of the square, and then raised a column to him, as the Father of the people (thus told the capital), and made more honor to him, dead as he was, than should be done by right to any man of the world, if it were not perchance to those who had killed him. They also did not forget that, the Roman emperors, of commonly taking the title of tribune of the people, both because this office was held as holy and sacred and also because it was established for the defense and protection of the people, and by the favor of the state. By this means, they ensured that the people would trust them more, as if they should when hearing the name, and not feel the effects to the contrary. Today they do not do much better those who do almost no harm, even of consequence, than not to overlook a pretty proposal about the public good and common relief: for you know well, oh Longa, the formula, which in some places they could use subtly enough; but, for the most part, certainly, there can be no finesse where there is so much impudence. The kings of Assyria63, and even after them those of Media64, presented themselves in public as late as they could, to cast doubt in this populace whether they were in some way more than men, and to leave in this daydream the people who are readily imaginative about things which they cannot judge by sight. Thus so many nations, which were under that Assyrian empire for quite a long time, with this mystery became accustomed to serve and they served more willingly, for not knowing which master they had, nor hardly if they had one, and they feared all, giving credence, to one whom nobody had ever seen. The first kings of Egypt65 rarely showed themselves, if not carrying sometimes a cat, sometimes a branch, sometimes fire on the head, and disguised themselves thus and did concealment tricks; and in doing so, by the strangeness of the matter, they created in their subjects a certain reverence and admiration, where, for people who had not been too dumb or too enslaved, they would not have set up, in my opinion, but pastimes and jests. It is a pity to hear about how many things the tyrants of past times took advantage of to establish their tyranny; of how many small means they used, having at all times found this populace made to their will, to which they did not know so badly to cast a net that they did not come to be caught there; whom they always cheated so cheaply that they never subjugated them as much as they mocked them more.

What shall I say about another beautiful tall story that ancient people accepted as hard cash? They firmly believed that the big toe of Pyrrhus, king of the Epirotes66, worked miracles and healed those sick in the spleen; they enriched the tale even better, that this toe, after the entire corpse had been burned, was found among the ashes, being saved, despite the fire67. Always thus the foolish people make up lies themselves, to then later believe them. Many people have thus written it, but in such a way that it is easy to see that they have amassed it from the noises of the town and the vain talk of the populace. Vespasian68, returning from Assyria and passing through Alexandria to go to Rome, to seize the empire, made wonders: he straightened the lame, restored clear sight to the blind, and many other beautiful things of which those who could not see the fault there was, were in my opinion more blind than those he cured. The tyrants themselves found it very strange that men could endure a man doing them harm; they very much wanted to put religion in front as a bodyguard, and, if possible, to borrow some token of the divinity for the maintenance of their wicked life. Therefore Salmoneus69, if one believes Virgil's sibyl70 in his underworld, for thus having mocked the people and wanting to be as Jupiter, is now held accountable, and she sees him in the deepest hell,

Suffering cruel torments, for wanting to imitate
The thunders of the heaven, and fires of Jupiter,
On top of four steeds that one went, brandishing,
Mounted high, in his fist a great torch shining.
Through the Greek towns and in the open market,
From the city of Elis on high he had marched
And doing his bravado thus he demanded
The honor which, without more, to the gods belonged.
The senseless, that the inimitable storm and lightning
Counterfeited with bronze, and with a dreadful course
From horses hooves, the Father almighty!
Who, soon after, this great evil punishing,
Threw, not a torch, nor a light
From a wax torch, with its fumes,
And by that hard blow of a horrible tempest,
He carried him down, the feet over the head.71

If this one who only played the fool at this time is treated well down there, I think that those who have abused religion, for being wicked, will be found there for even better signs.

Our own sowed in France, I know not what, of frog-mouths72, of fleurs-de-lis73, the ampulla74 and the oriflamme75. For my part, whatever it may be, I do not want to refuse to believe, since neither we nor our ancestors have until now had any occasion for not believing it, having always had kings so good in peace and so brave in war, that though they were born kings, it seems that they have not been made like the others by nature, but chosen by the almighty God, before being born, for the government and preservation of this kingdom; and still, if that would not be so, I would not want for that to enter the fray to debate the truth of our histories, nor to flay them so privately, so as not to suppress this beautiful amusement, where may well be wielded our French poetry, now not equipped, but, as it seems, made all new by our Ronsard76, our Baïf77, our du Bellay78, who in this advance so well our language, that I dare to hope that soon neither the Greeks nor the Latins will have much, regarding this, ahead of us, but, possibly, the birthright. And certainly I would do great harm to our rhyme, for I gladly use this word, and it does not displease me that though many would have rendered it mechanically, yet I see enough people who are able to ennoble it and to give it its first honor; but I would do it, I say, great harm to take away now these pretty tales about King Clovis79, in which I already see, it seems to me, how pleasantly, how much at ease will spread there the vein of our Ronsard, in his Franciade80. I understand his import, I know the sharp spirit, I know the grace of the man: he will do his tasks with the oriflamme as well as the Romans with their ancilia81

and the shields from heaven downward thrown,82

so said Virgil; he will take care of our ampulla as well as the Athenians of the basket of Erichthonius83; he will make speak of our weapons as well as they of their olive that they still keep in the tower of Minerva84. Certainly I would be outrageous to want to deny our books and run thus over the footsteps of our poets. But to return from where, I know not how, I had diverted the thread of my purpose, it has never been that the tyrants, to assure themselves, have not made an effort to accustom the people to them, not only to obedience and servitude, but also to devotion. Thus what I have said so far, which teaches the people to serve more willingly, scarcely serves the tyrants other than for the lowly and uncouth people.

[To be continued]


Bonnefon, Paul. Œuvres complètes d’Estienne de La Boétie, publiées avec notice biographique, variantes, notes et index par Paul Bonnefon, Bordeaux: G. Gounouilhou, Paris: J. Rouam & Cie., 1892.

Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500). Analyse et Traitement Informatique de la Langue Française, version dated 31 July 2019.

Goulart, Simon, editor. Mémoires de l'estat de France sous Charles IX, Volume III, 117-140. 1578.

La Boétie, Étienne de, Henri de Mesmes. Discours de la Servitude volontaire. Manuscript transcribed by de Mesmes, supposedly from the original in Michel de Montaigne's posession.

  1. Iliad, book II, lines 204-205. ↩︎

  2. Group of 30 oligarchs who ruled Athens for about eight months in 404 BCE, after the end of the Pelopponesian War. ↩︎

  3. Roman mythological hero, equivalent of the Greek Heracles, famous for his strength. ↩︎

  4. Last of the judges of Israel, according to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament, famous for his extraordinary strength. ↩︎

  5. Here and elsewhere in the essay, the Middle French word "franchise" is used, with a sense of opposite to being in servitude. This has been translated as "freedom", whereas the word "liberté" has been translated as "liberty". ↩︎

  6. Athenian general (550-488 BCE), one of the Greek commanders at the battle of Marathon (490 BCE), in which they defeated the Persian invaders of King Darius I. ↩︎

  7. King and military leader of Sparta (c. 540 BCE-480 BCE) who defended, with 300 Spartan soldiers, the narrow pass of Thermopylae against the Persian forces of Xerxes I, dying in the attempt. ↩︎

  8. Athenian general (c. 525 BCE-460 BCE) who, besides participating in the battle of Marathon, commanded the Greek ships in the battle of Salamis (480 BCE), managing to defeat the Persian fleet of Xerxes I. ↩︎

  9. At the battle of Salamis, according to Herodotus, the Persians had 1207 ships and the Greeks 378. ↩︎

  10. According to Bonnefon, these two verses have not been found among La Boétie's poems. ↩︎

  11. Guillaume de Lur de Longa, La Boétie's predecessor as counsel to the Bordeaux Parliament. ↩︎

  12. Refers to Saul, first king of the united kingdom of Israel and Judah in the 11th century BCE. ↩︎

  13. Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), king of ancient Macedonia. ↩︎

  14. Peisistratos (c. 607-527 BCE), tyrant of Athens for three non-consecutive periods during 561-528 BCE. ↩︎

  15. "Sarragousse" probably means Zaragoza, the capital city of Aragon in Spain. This appears to be a misunderstanding: about the time of the Discourse, the Aragonese ruled over Sicily and Syracuse was the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, but the Italian city did not change its name. ↩︎

  16. Dionysius I of Syracuse (c. 430-367 BCE), tyrant of Syracusa (405-367 BCE). ↩︎

  17. Mithridates VI (c. 135-63 BCE), king of Pontus (120-63 BCE), who, after the death of his father by poisoning, made himself immune by drinking non-lethal doses. ↩︎

  18. That is Great Lord, name that was used by the French for the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. ↩︎

  19. Semi-legendary lawmaker of ancient Sparta, reportedly in the 9th century BCE. ↩︎

  20. Xerxes I (c. 519-465 ), known as Xerxes the Great, king of the Achaemenid Empire (486-465 BCE). ↩︎

  21. See Histories by Herodotus, book VII, chapters 131-136. ↩︎

  22. Darius I (549-486 BCE), king of the Achaemenid Empire (522-486 BCE). ↩︎

  23. Talthybius was a herald of Agamemnon in the Trojan War, according to the Iliad, and so described by Herodotus, but he also mentions there was a temple to Talthybius in Sparta. ↩︎

  24. Supposedly, Hydarnes II (VI century BCE), satrap of the Achaemenid Empire and commander of the Immortals in the Battle of Thermopylae. ↩︎

  25. Marcus Porcius Cato (95-46 BCE), Roman senator, also known as Cato the Younger. ↩︎

  26. Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138-78 BCE), general and dictator of the Republic of Rome (82-79 BCE). ↩︎

  27. Odyssey book 11, lines 13-22. ↩︎

  28. Bonnefon, in the Oeuvres Completes, explains that brave used to mean beautiful, pompous, superb, and that is the correct sense in this sentence. Stubby horses (courtaus in the original) refers either to low stature horses or those whose mane and ears have been cropped. ↩︎

  29. This refers, generally, to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and in particular to Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566), the tenth Sultan. ↩︎

  30. In Greek mythology. ↩︎

  31. God of fire in Roman mythology, equivalent to the Greek Hephaestus. ↩︎

  32. According to a story by Lucian of Samosata (125-181) in his work Hermotimus, section 20. ↩︎

  33. Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 BCE), Gaius Cassius Longinus (86-42 BCE) y Publius Servilius Casca Longus (84-42 BCE), Roman senators, leaders of the group which assassinated Julius Cesar. ↩︎

  34. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), Roman senator and philosopher. ↩︎

  35. Harmodius and Aristogeiton (died 514 BCE), Athenians who assassinated Hipparchus, son of Peisistratos (see note 14), tyrant of Athens. ↩︎

  36. Thrasybulus (c. 440-388 BCE), Athenian general opposed to the Thirty Tyrants (see note 2), who led a group of exiles in the battle at which Critias, leader of the Thirty, was killed. ↩︎

  37. Presumably, Lucius Junius Brutus (died c. 509 BCE), leader of the revolt against the last Roman king; founder of the Roman Republic. ↩︎

  38. Presumably, Publius Valerius Poplicola (died 503 BCE), Roman aristocrat who participated with Lucius Junius Brutus in the overthrow of their last king. ↩︎

  39. Probably, Dion of Syracuse (408-354 BCE), brother-in-law of Dionysius I (see note 16), who was banished by Dionysius II (son of Dionysius I) but eventually returned and deposed the latter. Dion is compared to Marcus Junius Brutus (see note 33) in Plutarch's Parallel Lives. ↩︎

  40. The observation by Hippocrates (c. 460-c. 370 BCE) is, not in On Diseases, but in his treatise On Airs, Waters, Places, part 16. ↩︎

  41. Artaxerxes II (c. 436-358 BCE), king of the Achaemenid Empire. ↩︎

  42. In the Hippocratic Corpus there are several letters, including from Artaxerxes II to Hystanes (governor of the Hellespont), from him to Hippocrates andthe latter's reply, as well as Hippocrates' reply to the Senate and people of Abdera who were threatened by Artaxerxes II if he did not abide by the king's request (see Smith, Wesley D. (editor and translator). Hippocrates: Pseudepigraphic Writings, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1990, pp. 18-19, 48-63). ↩︎

  43. Xenophon of Athens (c. 431-354 BCE), Greek historian, military leader and philosopher. ↩︎

  44. Hiero, dialogue by Xenophon from c. 474 BCE. ↩︎

  45. Simonides of Ceos (c. 556-468 BCE), Greek poet. ↩︎

  46. Hieron I (d. 467 a.e.c.), tyrant of Syracuse (478-467 BCE). ↩︎

  47. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (265-183 BCE), Roman general and politician. ↩︎

  48. In the comedy Eunuchus (The Eunuch), Act III, written by (Terence) in the second century BC. ↩︎

  49. Eunuchus, act III, scene 1, line 25. ↩︎

  50. Cyrus II (c. 600-530 BCE), known as Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Empire (559-530 BCE). ↩︎

  51. Kingdom in the Anatolian peninsula (c. 1300-546 BCE). ↩︎

  52. Croesus (595-546 BCE), last king of Lidia (c. 560-546 BCE). ↩︎

  53. The board game now called ludo. Note that in Roman Latin (as well as Middle French), "v" was used for "u". ↩︎

  54. In the Greek name for Lydia (Λυδία), the "y' was actually an upsilon (in uppercase,"Υ", in lowercase "υ"). ↩︎

  55. In the original, pipee (or pipée in modern French), refers to a kind of whistle which mimics a bird call, used to lure birds towards a trap of sticky branches. ↩︎

  56. In the original, dizaine (group of ten). In La Boétie's time, this referred to divisions of a popular militia responsible for the security of a city. In ancient Rome, the decemvirs (ten men) were magistrates. ↩︎

  57. Aproximately 26,000 cm³. ↩︎

  58. Aproximately 0.546 liters. ↩︎

  59. Coin, originally valued at about 2.5 grams of silver, later made of brass (about 27 grams). ↩︎

  60. Tiberius Caesar Augustus (42 BCE-37 CE), second Roman emperor. ↩︎

  61. Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37-68 e.c.), fifth Roman emperor. ↩︎

  62. Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56-ca. 120), Roman historian. ↩︎

  63. Empire (2500-609 BCE) to the north of Mesopotamia. ↩︎

  64. Empire (c. 678-549 BCE) between Mesopotamia and the Caspian Sea. ↩︎

  65. Presumably, the pharaohs of the third millenium BCE. ↩︎

  66. Pyrrhus of Epirus (c. 319-272 BCE), king of the state of Epirus in northwestern Greece. ↩︎

  67. See Plutarch, Pyrrhus, Bernadotte Perrin, ed., chapter 3, sections 4-5. ↩︎

  68. Titus Flavius Vespasianus (9-79 CE), Roman emperor (69-79 CE). ↩︎

  69. King of Elis, in Greek mythology. ↩︎

  70. See Book VI of the Aeneid. ↩︎

  71. Aeneid, Book VI, lines 585-594 ↩︎

  72. Helmet resembling the head of a toad, also used as part of the coat of arms of some kings of France. ↩︎

  73. The fleur-de-lis was a heraldic symbol of the kings of France. ↩︎

  74. The Holy Ampulla (or Ampoule), whose oil was used to anoint the kings of France. ↩︎

  75. The banner of the Abbey of Saint Denis used in battle by the kings of France. ↩︎

  76. Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), French poet. ↩︎

  77. Jean-Antoine de Baïf (1532-1589), French poet. ↩︎

  78. Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560), French poet. ↩︎

  79. Clovis I (c. 466-511), king of "all the Franks" (c. 509-511). ↩︎

  80. Epic poem about the Valois kings of France, written by Ronsard, published in 1572. Bonephon notes that Ronsard had conceived it more than twenty years earlier, having talked about it with his friends and possibly, according to a witness, its prologue was read before king Henry II in 1550 or 1551. ↩︎

  81. Twelve sacred shields in ancient Rome. ↩︎

  82. Aeneid, Book VIII, lines 664-665 ↩︎

  83. Legendary king of Athens, placed at birth in a basket by the goddess Athena. ↩︎

  84. According to Greek mythology, the goddess Athena (called Minerva by the Romans), gave the city of Athens an olive tree that was kept in the Erechtheion, a temple on the Acropolis. ↩︎