Chapter 53On a Saying of Caesar
If we would sometimes bestow a little consideration upon ourselves, and employ the time we spend in prying into other men’s actions, and discovering things without us, in examining our own abilities we should soon perceive of how infirm and decaying material this fabric of ours is composed. Is it not a singular testimony of imperfection that we cannot establish our satisfaction in any one thing, and that even our own fancy and desire should deprive us of the power to choose what is most proper and useful for us? A very good proof of this is the great dispute that has ever been amongst the philosophers, of finding out man’s sovereign good, that continues yet, and will eternally continue, without solution or accord;
dum abest quod avemus, id exsuperare videtur
Cetera; post aliud, quum contigit illud, avemus,
et sitis aequa tenet.
While that which we desire is wanting, it seems to surpass all the rest; then, when we have got it, we want something else; ‘tis ever the same thirst. ❦
Whatever it is that falls into our knowledge and possession, we find that it satisfies not, and we still pant after things to come and unknown, inasmuch as those present do not suffice for us; not that, in my judgment, they have not in them wherewith to do it, but because we seize them with an unruly and immoderate haste,
Nam cum vidit hic, ad usum quæ flagitat usus,
Omnia jam ferme mortalibus esse parata,
Divitiis homines, et honore, et laude potentes
Aflluere, atque bona natorum excellere fama,
Nec minus esse domi cuiquam tamen anxia corda,
Atque animum infestis cogi servire querelis:
Intellexit ibi vitium vas efficere ipsum,
Omniáque illius vitio corrumpier intus,
Quæ collata foris et commoda quœque venirent.
For when he saw that almost all things necessarily required for subsistence are already prepared to their hand, that men may abundantly attain wealth, honour, praise, may rejoice in the reputation of their children, yet that, notwithstanding, every one has none the less in his heart and home anxieties and a mind enslaved by wearing complaints, he saw that the vessel itself was in fault, and that all good things which were brought into it from without were spoilt by its own imperfections. ❦
Our appetite is irresolute and fickle; it can neither keep nor enjoy anything with a good grace: and man concluding it to be the fault of the things he is possessed of, fills himself with and feeds upon the idea of things he neither knows nor understands, to which he devotes his hopes and his desires, paying them all reverence and honour, according to the saying of Caesar: communi fit vitio naturae, ut invisis, latitantibus atque incognitis rebus magis confidamas, vehementiusque exterreamur. Tis the common vice of nature, that we at once repose most confidence, and receive the greatest apprehensions, from things unseen, concealed, and unknown. ❦
How to cite this page
- Montaigne, Michel de. “On a Saying of Caesar.” Translated by Charles Cotton. HyperEssays.net. Last modified March 30, 2021. https://hyperessays.net
Translation by Charles Cotton (1686, Public domain). • Alternate title(s): Of a Saying of Caesar; On one of Caesar’s sayings • Word count in French editions: Ⓐ 291, Ⓑ 368, Ⓒ 334 (Bordeaux copy 332) • Last modified on March 30, 2021.