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Health, Medicine, Profession, Disease, Philosopher, Variety, Publication, Seigneur
Michael Seigneur de Montaigne’s last essay is an exploration of his own quest for insight into himself through the experiences of life. Such topics as his own health, including experiences with physicians, disease and medicines dominate the essay, as reference after reference to doctors and the state of the profession run through the piece. Since this piece was first published in 1588, one might expect there to be significant differences in his perspective on the medical profession, but his hatred for “remedies that are more troublesome than the disease itself” (646) rings as true now, in an age when there is a pill for just about every real or imagined ailment on the planet, each with its own wide variety of side effects, as it did then, when a highly popular method for dealing with a wide variety of diseases was to attach leeches to the back until they had sucked out enough of your “bad” blood, and to apply hot glass to your skin, leaving painful blisters behind. Again, the idea was to “drain” the disease out of the body.
I particularly enjoyed a passage that, however, had very little to do with medicine. On page 641, Montaigne gives an example of antiquity to show the humility that is part of being wise, with the story of the philosopher Antisthenes, who told his students, “Let us go and hear Socrates. I will be a pupil with you.” This willingness to sit at the feet of another philosopher and take instruction required that Antisthenes set his own ego aside and be ready to learn – this unending openness to new perspectives is an essential element of wisdom.
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