Montaigne's Children: Metaphor, Medicine, and the Imagination

Wes Williams

in Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern Culture

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199577026
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728662 | DOI:
Montaigne's Children: Metaphor, Medicine, and the Imagination

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‘I have seen … no more evident monster or miracle in nature than myself,’ writes Montaigne. This chapter revisits key themes — children, allegory, natural history, medicine, the imagination, and war — and explores how the Essais give distinctive shape to Montaigne's own and inherited monsters. Following his lead in describing Heliodorus's affection for ‘his daughter’ (The Aethiopica), it explores the commonplace of the book as (monstrous) child; this leads to a new, contextual, account of the early modern fortunes of the medical theory of the force of the imagination, and of ‘maternal impression’ in particular. Throughout, monsters prove to be richly meaningful figures for Montaigne: medical, political, confessional, and reflexively poetic. The final section concerns his encounter with ‘a monstrous child’, in which he does more than sceptically assert the limits of human knowledge; his insistence on the contemporaneity of the (reading) encounter also encourages us to explore the contours of human being.

Keywords: Montaigne; Heliodorus's Aethiopica; children; metaphor; miracles; medicine; maternal impression; politics; witness; the human

Chapter.  26191 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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