Reading Ultima Verba: Commemoration and Friendship in Montaigne’s Writing
Studies treating the theme of death in the Essais are numerous and varied in tone and perspective. The Essais are riven by the conflict between these views of language which in turn give rise to two distinct paradigms of reading: on the one hand, if words are semiotically unstable, then their meaning must depend on their reception, on the person hearing, reading, or quoting them. In a number of the death scenes Montaigne describes in the Essais — for instance, those of Socrates, Seneca, Eudamidas, and Epicurus — the presence of friends appears to be of paramount importance. Montaigne’s apparent inability to understand his dying friend’s words points to the kind of duplicity of meaning that the notion of pectus and the ideal of friendship are supposed to counter. Montaigne’s own death is, perhaps not surprisingly, a subject of contemplation and discussion in the Essais.