Montaigne, Michel (Eyquem) de

Montaigne, Michel (Eyquem) de

biographical name

(born Feb. 28, 1533, Château de Montaigne, near Bordeaux, France—died Sept. 23, 1592, Château de Montaigne) French courtier and author. Born into the minor nobility, Montaigne received an excellent Classical education (speaking only Latin up to age 6) before studying law and serving as counselor at the Bordeaux Parliament. There he met the lawyer Étienne de La Boétie, with whom he formed an extraordinary friendship; the void left by La Boétie's death in 1563 likely led Montaigne to begin his writing career. He retired to his château in 1571 to work on his Essais (1580, 1588), a series of short prose reflections on many subjects that form one of the most captivating and intimate self-portraits ever written. At once deeply critical of his time and deeply involved in its struggles, he sought understanding through self-examination, which he developed into a description of the human condition and an ethic of authenticity, self-acceptance, and tolerance. Though most of his later years were devoted to writing, he occasionally served as mediator in episodes of religious conflict in his region and beyond, and served as mayor of Bordeaux during the troubled period 1581–85. See also essay.

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