Title

"Montaigne's Anti-Demonology and Satire of Witchcraft"

Subject Area

French and Francophone Studies

Abstract

Montaigne's chapter "Des boyteux" is most often read as an exercise in Greek pyrrhonism whereby the essayist puts into question dogmatism of all kind, including demonology. This paper argues that Montaigne's chapter goes beyond the parameters of a sceptical critique, which would have dictated scepticism regarding both witchcraft belief and disbelief. More than a sceptical suspension of judgment, "Des Boyteux" takes position against witchcraft prosecution and against demonological truths. The reader is not left with an equal weighing of opposing views, wondering whether or not contemporary witches might be plotting the destruction of humanity and unable to determine "the truth." Rather, we are led to interpret what demonologists termed "witchcraft" instead as "madness." Scepticism would not have allowed the essayist to reach this conclusion --a leap of faith. A truly sceptical approach to the question of witchcraft would not have allowed the essayist to make what is in fact a dogmatic assertion (the so called witch's madness is real, but her witchcraft is fictional). This paper proposes that Montaigne's true allies in "Des Boyteux" are not classical Greek sceptical philosophers, but rather contemporary physicians -- most notably, Johann Weyer, the author of De Praestigiis daemonum, between the lines of Montaigne's chapter. Moreover, the essayist's primary tool is not scepticism, but rather satire. Montaigne does not suspend belief in witchcraft so much as subtly ridicule it.

Brief Bio Note

Christian Martin is Associate Professor of Foreign Languages at Stonehill College. He is the author of Roland Barthes et l'éthique de la Fiction (2003) and a number of articles exploring a broad range of topics (from Marie de France to contemporary theory). His current research focuses on witchcraft theory in early modern France. He has published on Montaigne, Bodin, and Weyer and is currently working on a critical edition of Jean Bodin's De la démonomanie des sorciers (1580) with Virginia Krause and Eric MacPhail.

Keywords

Montaigne, Witchcraft, Demonology, Satire, Scepticism

Location

Room 221

Presentation Year

2015

Start Date

3-27-2015 10:30 AM

End Date

3-27-2015 11:45 AM

Embargo

5-23-2017

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Mar 27th, 10:30 AM Mar 27th, 11:45 AM

"Montaigne's Anti-Demonology and Satire of Witchcraft"

Room 221

Montaigne's chapter "Des boyteux" is most often read as an exercise in Greek pyrrhonism whereby the essayist puts into question dogmatism of all kind, including demonology. This paper argues that Montaigne's chapter goes beyond the parameters of a sceptical critique, which would have dictated scepticism regarding both witchcraft belief and disbelief. More than a sceptical suspension of judgment, "Des Boyteux" takes position against witchcraft prosecution and against demonological truths. The reader is not left with an equal weighing of opposing views, wondering whether or not contemporary witches might be plotting the destruction of humanity and unable to determine "the truth." Rather, we are led to interpret what demonologists termed "witchcraft" instead as "madness." Scepticism would not have allowed the essayist to reach this conclusion --a leap of faith. A truly sceptical approach to the question of witchcraft would not have allowed the essayist to make what is in fact a dogmatic assertion (the so called witch's madness is real, but her witchcraft is fictional). This paper proposes that Montaigne's true allies in "Des Boyteux" are not classical Greek sceptical philosophers, but rather contemporary physicians -- most notably, Johann Weyer, the author of De Praestigiis daemonum, between the lines of Montaigne's chapter. Moreover, the essayist's primary tool is not scepticism, but rather satire. Montaigne does not suspend belief in witchcraft so much as subtly ridicule it.