In his essay, ?On Some Lines of Virgil?, Montaigne assays the nature of affairs of love entered into by women and men relating the nature of the body and soul to that of language. He discusses things from the importance of training the soul, to the ability of women to be as infidel as men. Throughout his essay he maintains the outlook that bodily pleasure, in mediation, should not be forsaken because of the soul. ?For it is, as they say, right the body should never follow its appetites to the prejudice of the soul. Why is it not right, then, that the soul should not follow hers to the prejudice of the body?? (Page 324.)
The relationship of the soul to the body is seen as one of a student and teacher with the roles interchanging as it is considered necessary. Montaigne says we need our souls to be instructed in the way of doing good and keeping away evil, but that this must be done in moderation — ?lest you drive her [the soul] mad.? (Page 261.) He even says that he allows himself time for lascivious thoughts for this purpose.
At times, however, it is necessary for the soul to take the instructor role to keep the body in line. Montaigne makes an example of saints inflicting great pain on their bodies (by denying it of certain pleasures) to perfect their souls. Their bodies, he says, could have had little to do with this; it was more their bodies following behind their souls (page 323.)
In Montaigne?s eyes, it is unjust to prejudice the soul toward bodily pleasures in this manner. These pleasures are natural and should therefore be enjoyed in moderation, not completely avoided. Resistance, instead, should be employed against unnatural pleasures (page 322.)
Since sex is a natural pleasure, it fits into the category of things to be enjoyed in moderation. Montaigne makes a point of including an age limit on those like himself that wish to maintain some dignity, saying that ?A man who can receive pleasure when he gives none at all is in no wise generous: it is a base soul which will owe the lot and is pleased to nurse contacts with women who do all the playing.? (Page 325.) Though he says he has no passion but love (page 324) he would let his imagination suffice than to go gallivanting about among the youth; ?Why should we go and show our wretchedness among such eager joy [so that burning youth, not without many a laugh, may see our nuptial torch decayed into ashes?] (Pages 324-5.) Rather, he says, make room for the youth.
Montaigne?s view is also be applied to young men who brag about their sexual prowess only to leave their partners dissatisfied. He denounces any man who can, without shame, look his lover in the eyes — ?her silent features eloquent with loud reproach? (page 317) — after an unsatisfactory encounter.
According to Montaigne women as well as men should be allowed to indulge in their carnal desires. He says that women are made the same as men and differ only education. In judging women, in fact, he says that men are just as unjust as women are of men (page 314.) Men should not be surprised that women are capable of having just as many lovers — if not more — as men since ?it is against the nature of sex-love not to be impetuous, and it is against the nature of what is impetuous to remain constant. . .? (Page 394.) If men are surprised by this action then they should be amazed at the same trait within themselves.
Since women are cast from the same mold as men, then why should they be expected to remain chaste and virginal? Their souls have been taught the same morals, and their bodies have the same desires. A man who engages in extramarital affairs is doing the same thing as a woman who engages in them. An affair is a conscientious and voluntary agreement of two parties, not one. Montaigne addresses this when he says, ?. . .from what do you derive that sovereign authority you assume over any ladies who, to their own cost, grant you their favors– [If she gives you some little stolen present in the black of night]– so that you immediately invest yourselves with rights, cold disapproval and husbandly (sic) authority?? (Page 319.) In Montaigne?s eyes, only the soul of a woman has a right to judge her, not a man, since the same goes for men.
Even in cases such as these, where society has taken over the role of the soul, Montaigne asserts that the wishes of the body should be adhered. Using quotations from Plato, Virgil (hence the name of the essay), Horace and others, he continues to work through the questions of marriage-love, sex-love and the soul?s purpose pertaining to them. Still applying the nature of the body, Montaigne sites examples of marriage.
Unlike Augustine, Montaigne does not view marriage as a way to monopolize desires; it is instead a dedication to future generations. He uses examples of wives who, though they dearly love their husbands, have affairs, and wives who, out of love for their husbands, ?. . . daily lend their bodies to others solely to help on their husbands. . .? (Page 294.) Montaigne also notes, however, that these situations must be rectified by the husband lest he be chastised. ?Marriages and wives are called good not because they are good but because they are not talked about.? (Page 295.)
To Montaigne, the nature of the soul is like that of language: it must be manipulated to suit the situation (preferably to suit the body?s desires.) ?What enriches a language is its being handled and exploited by beautiful minds — not so much by making innovations as by expanding it through more vigorous and varied applications. . .? (Page 300.) His discussion of love, both sex and marriage-oriented, follows this understanding. The use of Virgil and other authors to assay his point is evidence of his belief that the soul (and love for that matter) is like language; these authors embodying the ?exploitation by beautiful minds.?
The mind and the body work together to manipulate the soul. The soul, like language, is flexible but not completely mutable. According to Montaigne, the soul should be manipulated to allow the body some indulgence, but not to the point that it becomes debased — like the usage of slang depreciates a language. Mediation in indulgence of bodily desire is important so we don?t hamper the action of our souls, but mediation in educating the soul is important to keep our sanity.