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.

[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. ↩︎