Monday, July 4, 2011

Mondays with Montaigne (on experts)

From I:17. The doings of certain ambassadors

On my travels, in order to be ever learning something from my meetings with other people (which is one of the best of all schools), I observe the following practice: always to bring those with whom I am talking back to the subjects they know best.
Basti al nocchiero ragionar de' venti,
Al bifolco dei tori, e le sue piaghe
Conti'l guerrier, conti'l pastor gli armenti.
[Let the sailor talk but of the winds, the farmer of oxen, the soldier of his own wounds and the herdsman of his cattle.]

For the reverse usually happens, everyone choosing to orate about another's job rather than his own, reckoning to increase his reputation by so doing; witness the reproof Archimadamus gave to Periander: that he was abandoning an excellent reputation as a good doctor to acquire the reputation of a bad poet. Just observe how Caesar spreads himself when he tells us about his ingenuity in building bridges and siege-machines: in comparison he is quite cramped when he talks of his professional soldiering, his valour or the way he conducts his wars. His exploits are sufficient proof that he was an outstanding general: he wants to be known as something rather different: a good engineer.

The other day a professional jurist was taken to see a library furnished with every sort of book including many kinds of legal ones. He had nothing to say about them. Yet he stopped to make blunt comments, like an expert, on a defence-work fixed to the head of a spiral staircase in that library; yet hundreds of officers and soldiers came across it every day without comment or displeasure.

The elder Dionysius, as befitted his fortune, was a great leader in battle but he strove to become mainly famed for his poetry - about which he knew nothing.
Optat ephippia bos piger, optat arare caballus.
[The lumbering ox years for the saddle: the nag yearns for the plough.]

Follow that way and nobody achieves anything worthwhile.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.