54 Ancient Quotes Inscribed in Montaigne’s Tower

Inscriptions from Château de Montaigne

After taking a retreat from the world, at the age of 38, Michel de Montaigne sorted a room for himself in his famous tower. He was surrounded by books and a view over his garden.

In order to prepare himself for (unexpected) 10 years of writing first two volumes of the Essays, he inscribed 54 latin quotes on the roof of his main room.

Below are 54 inscriptions from Latin authors.

[I] Remain poised in the balance…

Undecided(Sextus Empiricus)

One thing being no more than another. (Sextus Empiricus)

[I am] without inclination. (Sextus Empiricus)

I do not understand. (Sextus Empiricus)

I stop. (Sextus Empiricus)

I examine. (Sextus Empiricus)

[I take for my guide] the ways of the world and the experiences of the senses.

One lives but a little, shelter yourself from evil. (Theognis, from Joannes Stobaeus, Greek anthologist of the 5th Century AD)

The ultimate wisdom of man is to consider things as good, and for the rest to be untroubled. (Ecclesiastes)

Autonomy is the only just pleasure. (Sotades, from Stobaeus)

God gave to man the desire for knowledge for the sake of tormenting him. (Ecclesiastes)

Happy is he who has fortunes and reason. (Menander–Mon. 340, from Stobaeus)

As the wind puffs out empty wineskins, so pride of opinion, foolish men. (Socrates in Stobaeus–Florilgium: Of Arrogance)

Never say that marriage brings more joys than tears. (Euripides–Alcestis 147, from Stobaeus)

Everything under the sun follows the same law and the same destiny. (Ecclesiastes 9)

It is no more in this way than in that, or in neither. (Aulus Gellius, via Henricius Stephanus’ 1562 annotated edition of Sextus Empiricus)

It is hard!; but that which we are not permitted to correct is rendered lighter by patience. (Horace–Odes 1.24.19)

The notion of everything, large and small, of all the innumerable creatures of God, is to be found within us. (Ecclesiastes 3)

For I see that we are but phantoms, all we who live, or fleeting shadows. (Sophocles–Ajax, 125-6, in Stobaeus–Of Arrogance)

O wretched minds of men! O blind hearts! in what darkness of life and in how great dangers is passed this term of life whatever its duration.(Lucretius–De Natura Rerum: II.14)

To not think at all is the softest life,

Because not thinking is the most painless evil. (Sophocles, from Erasmus’ collection of aphorisms, the Adagia, first published in Paris in 1500)

What man will account himself great,

Whom a chance occasion destroys utterly? (Euripides–[Lost work], in Stobaeus- Of Arrogance)

All things, together with heaven and earth and sea, are nothing to the sum of the universal sum. (Lucretius–De Natura Rerum, VI.678-9)

The fool has more hope of wisdom than the man who calls himself wise. (Proverbs 26)

No new delight may be forged by living on. (Lucretius–De Natura Rerum III.1081)

You who know nothing of how the soul marries the body, you therefore know nothing of God’s works.  (Ecclesiastes 11)

It is possible and it is not possible. (Sextus Empiricus–Hypotyposes)

The good is admirable. (Plato, via Sextus Empiricus)

A man of clay. (Saint Paul, via Erasmus)

Impiety follows pride like a dog.  (Socrates, from Stobaeus)

Be not wise in your own conceits. (Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 12.)

Neither fear nor desire [your] last day. (Martial–Epigrams, X.47)

God permits no one but Himself to magnify Himself. (Herodotus–VII.10, from Stobaeus)

I shelter where the storm drives me. (Horace–Epistles I.i.14)

You are unaware if your interest is here rather than there, or if they are alike in value. (Ecclesiastes, 11.)

I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me. (Terence–Heauton Timoroumenous [‘The Self-Tormentor’])

Be not overwise lest you become senseless. (Ecclesiastes 7)

If any man thinks he knows anything, he knows nothing. (First letter of Paul to the Corinthians, 8)

If any man thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Letter of Paul to the Galatians, 6)

Be no wiser than is necessary, but be wise in moderation. (Letter of Paul to the Romans, 12)

No one has ever known the truth and no one will know it. (Xenophanes, in Diogenes Laertius and Sextus Empiricus)

Who knows whether that which we call dying is living,

and living is dying? (Euripides–fragment of the Phrixus, from Stobaeus- Of the Praise of Death)

Nothing is more beautiful than being just, but nothing is more pleasant than being healthy. (Theognis, from Stobaeus)

All things are too difficult for man to understand them. (Ecclesiastes 1.)

Wide is the range of man’s speech, this way and that. (Homer–Iliad 20.249, from Diogenes Laertius)

The whole race of man has overgreedy ears. (Lucretius–De Natura Rerum IV.598)

How great is the worthlessness of things. (Persius, I.1)

All is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 1)

To keep within due measure and hold fast the end and follow nature. (Lucan–Pharsalia II.381-2)

Earth and ashes, wherefrom your pride? (Ecclesiastes 10)

Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes. (Isaiah 5)

Character is fate. [lit. ‘To each the destiny his character makes.’] (Cornelius Nepos, from Erasmus- Adages)

To every opinion an opinion of equal weight is opposed. (Sextus Empiricus–Hypotyposes)

Our mind wanders in darkness, and, blind, cannot discern the truth.(Michel de l’Hôpital–Poem: ‘Ad Margaritam, Regis sororem’ )

God has made man like a shadow, of which who shall judge after the setting of the sun? (Ecclesiastes 7.)

The only certainty is that nothing is certain, and that nothing is less noble or more proud than man. (Pliny–Naturalis Historia II.5)

Of all the works of God nothing is more unknown to any man than the track of the wind. (Ecclesiastes 11.)

Each has his own tastes, Gods and men alike. (Euripides–Hippolytus 104, from Erasmus)

That on which you so pride yourself will be your ruin, you who think yourself to be somebody. (Menander–fragment of the Empipragmene, from Stobaeus- Of Arrogance)

That which worries men are not things

but that which they think about them. (Epictetus–Enchiridion, from Stobaeus- Of Death)

It is fitting for a mortal to have thoughts appropriate to men. (Sophocles–fragment from The Colchians, from Stobaeus- Of Arrogance)

Why with designs for the far future do you weary a mind that is unequal to them? (Horace–Carmina II.11)

As you are ignorant of the way of the spirit, so you do not know the works of God. (Ecclesiastes 11.)

The judgments of the Lord are as a great deep. (Psalm 35)

I determine in nothing. (Sextus Empiricus)

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