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The Core Curriculum

Michel de Montaigne

1533 CE – 1592 CE

Statue of Montaigne, Square Paul Painlevé, Paris by Paul Landowski, 1855. (Wikimedia Commons)Statue of Montaigne, Square Paul Painlevé, Paris by Paul Landowski, 1855. (Wikimedia Commons)

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born at the Château de Montaigne on February 28, 1533 in the Périgord Region of Southwestern France. He was the son of Pierre Eyquem, a rich merchant who had acceded to nobility following his campaign in Italy with King Francis I of France, and Antoinette López de Villanueva (or Antoinette de Louppes), a rich heiress from a Protestant Spanish family with Jewish origins. Educated in Latin from infancy and given a classical education through his teens at the Humanist Collège de Guyenne in Bordeaux, Montaigne had become a magistrate in the Parlement (or high court) at Bordeaux by 1557 after having served as counselor in the Cour des Aides in Périgueux, a nearby city in Southwestern France. While at the Bordeaux Parlement, he befriended the jurist and poet Etienne de La Boétie, whose death in 1563 deeply affected him and motivated him to write the Essays.

After his father’s death in 1568, Montaigne moved into the family estate, finally retiring from his magisterial duties in 1570. There, he started his Essays in 1572, frequently confining himself to his library, where he famously had quotations from his favorite ancient authors engraved into the ceiling’s beams. Dividing his time between his writing, stewardship of his estate, various public and political duties (including a stint as mayor of Bordeaux from 1581-1585) and a trip to Italy — which he undertook partly to find a cure for recurring kidney stones — Montaigne spent the majority of his remaining years at the Château de Montaigne, where he died in 1592 at the age of 59.


Written by Paul Wimmer, Ph.D. candidate in French, Columbia University


Works Consulted:

Marie Le Jars de Gournay, Apology for the Woman Writing and Other Works. Trans. and Eds. Richard Hillman and Colette Quesnel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002

"Montaigne, Michel de 1533-1592,"  Ullrich Langer (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Montaigne. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005

Encyclopedia of Life Writing: Autobiographical and Biographical Forms. London: Routledge, 2001

Credo Reference. Web. 28 December 2010. Albert Thibaudet, Montaigne. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1963

Foglia, Marc, "Michel de Montaigne", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)