Appeals for pity in the Heptameron

Appeals for pity in the Heptameron

Baker, Mary J

MARGUEITE de Navarre’s Heptameron, a major Renaissance collection of stories, is both derivative and distinctive. This unfinished book (it contains seventy-two stories rather than the projected one hundred), was published posthumously (1559), and was undoubtedly inspired in part by Boccaccio’s Decameron (1353). Marguerite’s work distances itself from the Italian model in a number of ways, however. For instance, the ten storytellers (devisants) are divided equally between men and women (as compared to seven women and three men in the Decameron), an arrangement that suggests parity between the sexes. Additionally, the catalyst for the storytelling is a flood rather than the Plague. The flood, which causes those taking a cure at Cauterets in the Pyrenees to flee, evokes the biblical flood (reference is made to Noah), and establishes a Christian framework for the stories. The future devisants, all endangered by the rising waters, face various hazards (including encounters with bears and bandits) as they escape. They ultimately meet up with each other in a monastery, where they are described as “miraculeusement assemble [miraculously brought together]”. Their gratitude to God is so great that the night does not seem long enough for praising God for his grace (6).

The Heptameron does have, however, an obvious secular dimension. Mixed in with pious narratives are stories in a lighter, occasionally bawdy vein, a few of which are analogous to tales in the more consistently racy fifteenth-century story collection, the anonymous Cent nouvelles nouvelles (c. 1462). Furthermore, discussions following the Heptameron stories sometimes address practical or worldly questions, such as why, if a love was virtuous, it had to be kept secret (tale 70); or they expose interpersonal conflicts among the devisants. The Christian foundation in the Heptameron is nevertheless firm. It manifests itself not only in Biblical allusions and in the expression of gratitude to God, or in direct quotations from the Bible, but also in ways that are not always explicit. A case in point is the treatment of appeals for pity. In this context we find a critique of rhetorical manipulation that includes within its scope a confirmation of Christian values. Marguerite is an instructive contrast to Michel de Montaigne in this regard, who looks at appeals for pity through a secular lens. This present study shows that treatment of appeals for pity can be a significant marker of adhesion to or dissociation from certain Christian principles, and that these kinds of appeals can give us an important angle from which to examine religious attitudes in Renaissance France.

Near the end of the “Prologue” to the Heptameron, Parlamente, a leader among the devisants, reminds her companions that when monseigneur le Daulphin originally proposed the story-telling project that she is now endorsing, he sought to exclude as narrators those “qui avoient estudie et estoient gens de lettres [who had studied and who were men of letters]” (9). He did not want to involve “art” in the project, fearing that “la beaulte de la rethoricque feit tort en quelque partye a la verite de :l’histoire [rhetorical ornament might compromise in some way the truth of the story]” (9). Parlamente’s remarks constitute a caveat to the devisants about the dangers of the artifice of rhetoric. This stance is consistent with the effort on the part of Renaissance storytellers to counter the indictment of fiction as lie.1

The “Prologue” does not furnish the only example in the Heptameron of a critique of rhetorical manipulation. Marguerite de Navarre’s suspicion of rhetoric is pervasive in this work.2 One significant area of rhetorical abuse occurs in the context of appeals for pity,3 which are compelling instances of rhetorical “art” designed to manipulate the behavior of others! These self-interested, often hypocritical appeals prove largely to be disingenous and/or misleading, and at worst, deliberately deceitful. Their presence in the Heptameron calls attention to the importance of certain Christian virtues, and indicates that criticism of rhetoric in this work covers more than simply suspicion of “art” in the telling of stories.

Three kinds of appeal were recognized in classical rhetoric-pathos (an appeal to emotion), ethos (an appeal to character), and logos (an appeal to reason).5 An example of an appeal to character in the Heptameron would be a reference to a devisant as a person of bon sens [good sense]. An appeal to pity falls under the rubric of pathos.6 A criticism of rhetorical manipulation is apparent when an individual in the Heptameron makes an appeal for pity on his or her own behalf. Such an appeal is commonly devalorized. An appeal to reason is not denigrated, however, but can be ambiguous if hypocrisy or deceit is also implicated.

The Heptameron features both characters who feel pity for the suffering or misfortune of others, and those who attempt to have others pity them. In the first instance, the feeling of pity for others, a sentiment with Christian overtones, is generally validated, even if the pity is conferred on an unworthy object. Here pity is synonymous with compassion, and there is no evidence of rhetorical manipulation. The virtue of those characters who try to get others to pity them is doubtful, however. In these cases, a link to compassion is more tenuous, and the presence of rhetorical manipulation is more palpable.

Two examples of pity for others viewed favorably occur in tales 2 and 26. In the case of tale 2, the devisantes, after hearing the story of the brutal rape and murder of the muletiere [mule-driver’s wife] at the hands of her valet, have identical reactions: “II n’y eut dame en la compaignye, qui n’eut la larme Li l’oeil pour la compassion de la piteuse et glorieuse mort de cette mulletiere [There was not a woman present without tears in her eyes out of compassion for the pitiful and glorious death of the mule– driver’s wife]” (21). This pity, or compassion, that they feel is an empathetic response associated with knowledge that a similar fate might befall them: each devisante considers what she would herself do “si la fortune leur advenoit pareille [if a similar misfortune should befall them]” (21).’ Notably, the muletiere herself never appeals to pity in order to thwart the attack, but she deserves pity nonetheless. Her persuasive efforts were based on appeals to reason, but to no avail.

Another example of laudable pity, or compassion, for the suffering of someone else occurs in tale 26 at the deathbed of the dame de Pampelune. The seigneur d’Avannes is distressed by the sight of the agony of the dame: “[il] avoit le cueur aussi mort par compassion qu’elle par douleur” [his heart was as stricken by compassion as hers by suffering]” (219). Her husband looks at her “piteusement [with pity].” In both tales 2 and 26 there is no pitying party who can mitigate the suffering of another.

Pity is sometimes differentiated from mercy (misericorde) in the Heptameron, which is praiseworthy. Misericorde refers most often to God’s mercy towards humans, but it can also refer to one person’s mercy towards another. In both cases it may be a “gift” that is not specifically requested. When one individual asks for mercy from another, the second person is often in a position of substantially greater power and/or status; s/he is someone who would go beyond the call of duty by lifting a penalty, punishment, or sanction, or by reducing the severity of some verdict already imposed (Walton, Appeal to Pity 78-81). Such a dimension is generally absent when an appeal is made simply to pity, although the hope may certainly be present on the part of an individual making such an appeal that the person appealed to (who may not necessarily have greater power or status, but may simply be in a position to get the first person something he or she wants) will indeed take a particular course of action. The course of action here would normally have no relevance to lifting a penalty or sanction, however. The appeal to pity could nevertheless be motivated by the fear that a penalty might be imposed.

Tale 38 validates the wife who takes pity on her husband, but this story is more complex than tales 2 and 26, as pity and mercy are intertwined. In tale 38 the wife is merciful; she goes beyond the call of duty, bestowing on her husband a “gift” that he has not sought. Unlike the compassionate pitiers in tales 2 and 26, the wife effects a change. Here the wife comfortably furnishes the dirty room of the metayere [tenant farmer’s wife] who is her husband’s mistress. This is an action motivated by pity for her husband: “[Elle] avoit eu tant de pitie de son mauvays traictement [she took great pity on him because of the poor treatment he was receiving]” (271). Her gratuitous generosity is described by the narrator of the story (Longarine) as an example of “grande doulceur et bonte [great gentleness and goodness]” (271), and it so affects her husband that he gives up his mistress and returns to his wife. In the discussion Parlamente speaks of mercy:

Ceulx qui par eulx-mesmes se peuvent aydern’ont poinct besoin d’ayde. Car Celluy qui a dist qu’il est venu pour les mallades, et non poinct pour les rains, est venu par la loy de sa misericorde secourir a noz infirmitez, rompant les arrestz de la rigueur de sa justice.

[Those who can help themselves don’t need any aid. For He who said that he came to help the sick and not the healthy, came by the law of his mercy to heal our infirmities, thereby breaking the harsh decrees of his justice.] (272, italics mine)

The wife has acted in a godly fashion, freely dispensing mercy, even though her husband did not ask for it. Given Parlamente’s statement, it does not seem coincidental that in the story itself the husband’s condition is described in terms of an illness. The wife’s goal is to heal him. The adjective sain [healthy] is used once, the noun same [health], twice.

In tale 32 we find a character who makes a specific appeal for mercy on behalf of another. Bernage, moved by the sight of the repentant adulterous wife whose head is shaved and who drinks from the skull of her dead lover, urges her husband to be merciful: “vous luy debvez user de misericorde [you should be merciful]” (245). The story illustrates the greater power that may be possessed by the individual to whom an appeal for mercy is made, and the capacity of that more powerful person to lift a sanction or revoke a punishment. The husband reflects on the situation, and promises that if his wife “perseveroit en ceste humilite il en auroit quelquefois pine [continued to be humble, he would take pity on her]” (245). He is ultimately merciful to her, and terminates the punishment. As in tale 38, a change is effected. His act of mercy, though commendable, is somewhat less praiseworthy than the actions of the wife in tale 38, however, since it is not entirely selfless. His decision is motivated in part by the pity he had for his wife, but also by his desire for children.

LOOKING at appeals for pity made on one’s own behalf, we find that the petitioners are commonly depicted as manipulative and calculating. The Duke in tale 12 makes an appeal for pity to the serviteur [manservant] whose sister he desires. He begins by telling the gentleman of his affection for him, and asserting that if he had a wife, mother, or daughter who could save his life, ‘je les y emploirois, plutost que de vous laisser en tourment [I would make use of them in such a situation rather than leave you in torment]” (90). He then declares that he will reveal a secret about his life that can be remedied only by death or by action taken by the gentleman. The gentleman succumbs to (misplaced) pity-“oyant les raisons de son maistre, et voyant son visaige non fainct, tout baigne de larmes, en eut .. grande compassion [hearing the reasons of his master, and seeing the unfeigned emotion on his face all bathed in tears, he took great pity on him]” (91)-and agrees to do everything within his power to help his master: “ce qui sera en ma puissance est en vos mains [what will be in my power to do for you will be done]” (91). The word “compassion” is used here in a situation in which the pitying party is in a position to mitigate suffering (unlike the examples of compassion in tales 2 and 26). Although the Duke’s misery is not feigned, his appeal for pity is calculating and manipulative, as he seeks to secure a promise of help from the gentleman before revealing what he wants from him.

The Duke is also able to support his appeal for pity by underscoring the fact that he and the gentleman have something in common-their strong attachment to each other. Since there is nothing the Duke would not do for the gentleman, he assumes that “l’amour que vous me portez est reciprocque ii la mienne; et que si moy, qui Buys vostre maistre, vous portois telle affection, que pour le moins ne la sqauriez porter moindre [the love which you have for me is the same as mine for you; if I, who am your master, had such an affection for you, you would not have any less affection for me]” (90). Walton has pointed out that a problem with this kind of appeal (where the presumption is that “the ways of thinking of the one party are similar enough to, or have enough in common with, those of the other party”) can arise when the requirement of common interest is not met (Appeal to Pity 77). That criterion is certainly not satisfied here, as the gentleman’s wish to preserve his sister’s honor and the honor of his lineage conflicts with the Duke’s desire for the sister. The implication that the appeal for pity has been a sham is also indicated when the Duke threatens the gentleman after it becomes apparent that the latter is reluctant to meet his demands. The Duke, “se mordant l’ungle [biting his fingernail] speaks in fury: “Or bien, puisque je ne treuve en vous nulle amitye, je stay que j’ay a faire [Well then, since I do not find any friendship in you, I know what I have to do]” (91). The gentleman is afraid, “congnoissant la cruaulte de son maistre [knowing the cruelty of his master]” (91). Such an appeal to force, known as the ad baculum fallacy, is also an attempt at persuasion, but one of dubious argumentative value.

Another calculating appeal for pity is made by Floride in tale 10. Why her appeal is so singularly inefficacious is one of the more intriguing questions raised in this complex and fascinating story. Floride deliberately wounds her face with a stone so that her aggressive suitor Amadour will pity her and not try to take her by force. She is discovered by her mother in a piteux estat [pitiful state] shortly after she damages her face (78), and soon thereafter she pleads with Amadour, who seems determined to rape her, that “s’il y a encores en vous quelques reliques de l’amour passee, il est impossible que la pine ne vaincque votre fureur [if there remain any remnants of your past love for me, it would be impossible for pity not to vanquish your fury]” (79). She follows this appeal for pity with a threat that if he raped her she would expose him, with the result that his life would not be safe. Amadour, who has been valorous on the battlefield, is undeterred by the threat. He is also unresponsive to the appeal for pity. Significantly, he rejects the appeal on the basis of the fact that she caused the injury to her face herself: “la difformite de vostre visaige, que je pense estre faicte de vostre volunte, ne m’empeschera poinct de faire la mienne [the deformity of your face, which I believe you deliberately caused yourself, will not stop me from accomplishing my will]” (79). Amadour’s reaction to her appeal suggests that an appeal for pity may be ineffective if the individual making it is not an innocent victim, but is somehow personally responsible for the pathetic circumstance!

In this connection, Geburon makes a relevant point in the discussion following tale 43. He opens the discussion with a commentary on the behavior of Jambicque, who initiated an affair with a gentleman at court, but hid her identity from him while continuing to condemn publicly illicit love. The devisant observes:

Et si ne peut estre excuse de simplicite, et amour naifve, de laquelle chascun doibt avoir pitie, mais, accusee d’avoir convert sa malice du double manteau d’honneur et de gloire, et se faire devant Dieu et les hommes aultre qu’elle n’estoit ….

[And she cannot be excused on the basis of naivete, which if it were so, would cause all of us to take pity on her, but she is guilty of hiding her mischief under the double mantle of honor and glory, and to present herself before God and men other than who she was …. ] (301)

Although Amadour does not accuse Floride of hypocrisy, he does appear to deny her pity because of her lack of “simplicite;” she is not an ignorant victim.

A blatant example of a manipulative and hypocritical appeal for pity occurs in tale 60. After her adultery with a cantor is discovered, a deceitful wife feigns a grievous terminal illness in order to evoke pity and to secure the freedom she needs in order to continue to conduct her affair: “[elle] feit semblant de plourer et de congnoistre son peche en some qu’elle faisoit pine a toute la compaignye, qui cuydoit fermement qu’elle parlast du fonds de son cueur [she pretended to weep and to be cognizant of her sin, with the result that those present pitied her, believing that she spoke from the bottom of her heart]” (366). The good women who are witnesses to this performance have (misplaced) compassion for her. They assure her that God “jamais … ne luy refuseroit sa misericorde [would never deny her his mercy]” (366), and when the cure arrives to administer the sainct sacrement, they weep at. her devotion, “louans Dieu qui par sa bonte avoit eu pine de ceste pauvre creature [praising God who out of goodness had taken pity on this poor creature]” (367). The wife, presumed dead, is buried, only to be dug up and recovered alive by her lover soon afterwards. Her appeal for pity is an intentional deception, a sentimentalist fallacy, characterized by “the feigning of distress that is not real, in order to achieve some end” (Appeal to Pity 71). It represents a patent abuse of rhetorical “art.”

In tale 15 a manipulative appeal for pity is supported by an appeal to reason. This appeal can, I believe, be aptly described as an argumentum ad misericordiam. The use of the term is appropriate for an analysis of the appeal in this story because the appeal made here has an explicit argumentative structure, and some external evidence is proferred. The main character makes an appeal to reason as well as to emotion. In this story, the intent to persuade or influence someone else is a recommendation against taking a certain course of action, specifically, against punishment.

The neglected wife in tale 15 consoles herself with conversational friendships with men other than her husband. After her husband discovers one friendship, he threatens to kill her if he finds her talking again in public or private with the man in question. But, as the narrator tells us, “pource que les choses out l’on a volume, plus elles sont defendues et plus elles sont desir&s [because when one wants something, the more it is forbidden, the more it is desired]” (120), the wife again sends for her latest gentleman friend. Her husband, who has been having her watched, learns of the proposed rendez-vous, and summons her. Fearing for her life, she launches an appeal for pity, beginning with this entreaty: “Monsieur, je vous supplie avoir pine de moy [Monsieur, I beg you to take pity on me]” (121). Her tactic is to argue for his pity by shifting the burden of proof to him.9 Basically, she reasons that he should feel sorry for her because he is really the one at fault. She opens by asserting that the law of God applies to men as well as women in the area of marital infidelity. Then, in an impassioned but reasoned discursive amplification, she proceeds to outline differences between herself and her husband:

vous estes homme saige et experiments et d’eage, pour congnoistre et eviter le mal; moy, jeune et sans experience nulle de la force et puissance d’amour. Vous avez une femme qui vous cherche, estime et ayme plus que sa vie propre, et j’ay ung mary qui me fait, qui me hait et me desprise plus que chamberiere. Vous aymez une femme desja d’eage et en mauvais poinct et moins belle que moy; et j’ayme ung gentil homme plus jeune que vous, plus beau que vous, et plus aymable que vous. Vous aymez la femme d’un des plus grands amys que vous ayez en ce monde et Payme de vostre maistre, offensant d’un coasts l’amitye et de l’autre la reverence que vous devez a tous deux; et j’ayme ung gentil homme qui West a rims lye, sinon a l’amour qu’il me porte. Or jugez sans faveur lequel de nous deux et le plus punissable ou excusable ….

[you are a mature, experienced older man who can recognize and avoid what is wrong; I am young, with no experience of the force and power of love. You have a wife who seeks your company, who esteems and loves you more than her own life, and I have a husband who avoids me, and who hates and scorns me more than a chambermaid. I love a gentleman younger than you, better looking than you, and more pleasant than you. You love the wife of one of the best friends you have in the world, and someone who is at the same time the mistress of your monarch; therefore you are betraying on the one hand friendship, and on the other hand the respect you owe both of them. I love a gentleman who has no attachments except for the love he has for me. Now, judge impartially, which one of us most deserves to be punished and which one should be excused …. ] (124)

The husband, who is initially rendered speechless by these “propos pleins de verite [remarks full of truth]” (124), ultimately takes pity on his wife, and does not punish her. Despite the fact that she has argued persuasively, she has injected deceit into this combined appeal to reason and pity. The following morning she laughs when she tells a concerned demoiselle in her service that “il West poinct ung meilleur mary que le mien, car il m’a creue a mon serment [there’s no husand better than mine, for he believed everything I swore to him]” (124). What might seem to be a legitimate appeal for pity on one’s own behalf, an appeal bolstered by a rational argument, is devalorized when a deceitful intent is apparent. The wife’s intent to deceive undermines the legitimacy of her argument.

As we have seen, those who attempt to evoke pity on their own behalf are portrayed as manipulative or disingenuous, or even deliberately deceitful and hypocritical. Conversely, in one important story, the refusal to make an appeal for pity on one’s own behalf is validated, and as a consequence the value of reason, truth, and good conscience is affirmed. In tale 21, Rolandine, speaking to her mistress, defends her secret marriage to the batard [bastard], and underscores the rationality of her decision to marry him: “apres avoir bien pese tout le bien et le mal qui m’en peut advenir, je me suis arrest& a la partye qui m’a semble la meilleure [after weighing the advantages against the harm that might come to me, I settled on the course of action that seemed the best to me]” (169). The Queen is stunned by this “parole tant veritable [these truthful words]” and is herself unable to reply “par raison [rationally]” (169). In fact, she responds emotionally-she starts to cry, and reproaches Rolandine for not herself making an emotional appeal to her: “Malheureuse que vous estes . . . vous parlez audatieusement, sans en avoir la larme a l’oeil [Wretch that you are … you speak boldly without a tear in your eye]” (169). For Rolandine, such an appeal would not be indicated in her case, since truth is on her side: “je n’ay advocat qui parle pour moy, sinon la verite [I have no advocate to speak for me except the truth]” (169). In her particular circumstances, weeping would be hypocritical. Indeed, such an appeal to emotion would make sense only if she did not have a clear conscience:

Et pourquoy doncques doibs-je pleurer, veu que ma conscience et mon cueur ne me reprennent poinct en cest affaire, et que je suis si loing de m’en repentir, que, s’il estoit a recommences, j’en ferois ce que j’ai faict?

[And why now should I weep, given that my conscience and my heart are clear in this matter, and that I am so far from being repentant that if it were possible to start over again, I would do exactly as I have done?] (170)10

The means of persuasion depicted most favorably in the Heptameron is not pathos, but logos. The most compelling example of the favorable depiction of this kind of appeal occurs in tale 4. Here the appeal to reason is devoid of pathos. The character making the appeal is the lady-inwaiting. She successfully persuades her mistress (a Princess) not to take vengeance on the gentleman who has tried to rape her. Initially, the Princess, responding emotionally (she speaks to her lady-in-waiting with great anger), wants to tell her brother what has happened so that he will have the man put to death. Before formulating her argument, the lady-inwaiting asks to hear the facts of the case: “. . . je vous supplye, ma dame, me vouloir dire la verite du faict [I beg you, milady, to tell me what actually happened]” (31), and when the Princess has told her the whole story, she seeks to verify essential information: “Vous m’asseurez qu’il n’a eu aultre chose de vous que les esgratinures et coups de poing? [Can you assure me that he got nothing from you other than scratches and blows?]” (31).

The essential argument of the lady-in-waiting is a slippery slope argument, which is “a kind of argument that warns you if you take a first step, you will find yourself involved in a sticky sequence of consequences from which you will be unable to extricate yourself, and eventually you will wind up speeding faster and faster towards some disastrous outcome.”11 Her argument goes like this: If the Princess tries to enhance her honor by telling her brother about the gentleman, and her brother then takes action, she may end up achieving the opposite effect. If the gentleman is put to death, people will then say that he must have gotten his way. Furthermore, some will say that, in such a situation, he will even have been given encouragement. After all, she is “belle et jeune, vivant en toute compaignye bien joieusement . . . [good-looking and young, and vivacious in all kinds of company]” (32). The end result (this is the “disastrous outcome”) will be that her honor “sera mis en dispute en tous les lieux lb ou cette histoire sera racomptee [will be questioned everywhere this story will be told]” (32).

The Princess is persuaded that the reasoning of her lady-in-waiting is sound: “entendant les bonnes raisons de sa dame d’honneur, congneut qu’elle luy disoit verite, et que a tres juste cause elle seroit blasmee [hearing the good reasoning of her lady-in-waiting, she understood that what she said was true, and that she would indeed be blamed]” (32). The lady-in-waiting then gives some additional advice, and characterizes the dangers of love. The language she uses reflects the slippery slope argument she has just made: “Ayez memoire, ma dame, que Amour est aveugle, lequel aveuglit de some que, out l’on pense le chemyn plus seur, c’est a l’heure qu’il est le plus glissant [Remember, milady, that Love is blind, and dazzles one in such a way that when one thinks the road is safe, that is the time when it is most slippery]” (32). Just as love is a slippery slope, so too would be the fate of the Princess if she sought public vengeance for the attempted rape.

Marguerite’s valorization of an appeal based on logos (tales 21 and 4) overlaps in some respects with Montaigne’s thinking, who later in the century vaunts Socrates in “De la Phisionomie [Of Physiognomy]” (3:12) when the latter makes this rational appeal: “ce West pas a mes prieres de vous persuader, c’est aux raisons pures et solides de la justice [it is not my entreaties that should persuade you, but the pure and solid reasoning of justice]” (1031). Montaigne lauds Socrates’ refusal of the rhetoric of pity:

Et sa riche et puissante nature eust elle commis a fart sa defense, et en son plus haut essay renonce a la verite et naifveti, ornemens de son parler, pour se payer du fard des figures et feintes d’une oraison apprinse?

[And would his fine and strong nature have rallied artifice to his defense, and in his greatest trial would he have renounced truth and artlessness, embellishments of his speech, to adorn himself with the disguise of figures of speech and the tricks of studied oratory?] (1031)

At the same time, when Montaigne portrays Socrates denigrating an appeal for pity, the reasons for this denigration would be foreign to the ethic of the Heptameron, as they are suggestive of pride. Using a rhetorical figure, prosopoeia, Montaigne has the deceased Socrates speak for himself: “Ne prenez pas a obstination ou desdain que, suivant la coustume, je n’aille vous suppliant et esmouvant a commiseration [Don’t attribute it to stubbornness or disdain that, following custom, I refuse to move you to pity with entreaties]” (1030). Socrates has friends and relatives “capables de se presenter avec des lannes et le deuil, et ay trois enfans esplorez de quoy vous tirer h pine [capable of presenting themselves with tears and grief, and I have three teary children who can elicit your pity]” (1030). For reasons of pride, he would himself refuse to make an appeal for pity: “je ferois honte a nostre ville, en l’aage que je suis et en telle reputation de sagesse que m’en voicy en prevention, de Waller desmettre a si lasches contenances [I would shame our city, at my age and with the reputation for wisdom of which I now stand accused, to debase myself with such cowardly behavior]” (1030).

Another intriguing difference between Marguerite and Montaigne can be observed with reference to “Par divers moyens on arrive a pareille fin [By Diverse Means we Arrive at the Same End]” (1:1). Montaigne opens a discussion of pity in an heroic context with this antithesis:

La plus commune Javon d’amollir les coeurs de ceux qu’on a offensez, lors qu’ayant la vengeance en main, ils nous tiennent a leur mercy, c’est de les esmouvoir par submission a commiseration et & pine. Toutesfois la braverie, et la constance, moyens tons contraires, ont quelquefois servi a ce mesme effect.

[The most common way to soften the hearts of those whom one has offended, men who are ready to exact vengeance and who hold us at their mercy, is to move them to commiseration and mercy by means of submission. However, bravery and steadfastness, which are completely different means, have sometimes achieved the same effect.] (11)

Unlike stories in the Heptameron which give us examples of appeals for pity on one’s own behalf that are tainted with self-interest, manipulation, hypocrisy, or deceit, “Par divers moyens on arrive a pareille fin” provides us with cautionary examples implying that one might want to deliberate carefully before making an appeal for pity, but for reasons that have nothing to do with such vices, and everything to do with the unreliabilty and unpredictability of the human beings to whom such an appeal is made. Whereas Marguerite considers motives, and evaluates individuals making such appeals, Montaigne looks here at those to whom the appeals are made, and suggests that their motives are indecipherable.2 In sum, what is a moral issue in certain Heptameron stories is in part a practical problem in Montaigne’s essay.

Lastly, one significant area in which Marguerite’s position is undeniably different from that of Montaigne pertains to mercy. Unlike Montaigne, Marguerite validates individuals who demonstrate the Christian quality of mercy. David Quint’s recent discussion of the ethical and political implications of the “quality of mercy” in the Essais is pertinent here.” Quint argues that Montaigne gives “a new role for an ethical humanism when accord on Christian principles no longer seems possible” (xiii), and that Montaigne himself, with his “pliant goodness,” becomes the model for ethical and political behavior (30). Examination of appeals for pity in the Heptameron helps substantiate some of Quint’s claims about the “newness” of Montaigne. Marguerite de Navarre, critical of appeals for pity on the basis of their association with such sins as hypocrisy and deceit, and supportive of acts of Christian mercy, clearly articulates positions where accord on certain Christian principles can still be assumed.


1) See William Nelson.

2) Marguerite does nevertheless owe a debt to rhetoric, as several critics have noted. For example, Gisele Mathieu-Castellani points out that certain rhetorical figures carry the ideology of the text (32), though she does not provide a systematic discussion of these figures. Francis Goyet looks at the relationship between rhetoric and truth, and claims that the rhetoric of the first story in the Heptameron privileges one point of view over another. Goyet further argues that Marguerite, as an omniscient narrator, would like to situate herself as a sovereign judge who alone can decide the moment when the sinner is definitively hardened (endurci) and therefore unpardonable (irremissible) (165).

3) Eliane Kotler claims that in the HeptamEron the sentiment most universally shared by all the players seems to be that of pity (498), but her treatment of the topic is limited, and she does not address the topic of appeals for pity. Emma Stojkovic Mazzariol notes that many different kinds of stories can fit under the broad designation of “piteuses histoires,” but her discussion is quite general, and she also does not examine the specific category of appeals for pity.

4) By underscoring rhetorical abuse, I take a different approach from that of Carol Thysell, who makes the bold claim in her recent book, The Pleasure of Discernment: Marguerite de Navarre as Theologian, that in the Heptameron Marguerite adopts the tradition of allegorical rhetoric as a vehicle for establishing a “constructive theological program” (6).

5) See Edward P. J. Corbett and Robert J. Connors for a useful general introduction to these distinctions.

6) In The Place of Emotion in Argument Douglas Walton focuses on four appeals to emotion: the argumentum ad populum, ad baculum, ad misericordiam, and ad hominem. It is his contention that not all appeals to emotion (“arguments” designed to persuade someone to take a certain course of action) are fallacious. They can be reasonable and appropriate (as well as irrelevant or excessive, and open to critical questioning). To some, the word argumentum, might suggest conventional deductive reasoning. For that reason, when referring to appeals to pity, the chief focus of this essay, I will use it sparingly. As Walton points out, all appeals to pity are inherently subjective. They are “arguments” in a somewhat broad sense-“basically tactics or mechanisms used to gain assent by an appeal to a party in the dialogue rather than an appeal to external evidence” (10). Walton sees the fundamental problem with these “arguments” being the fact that “they involve a different kind of reasoning, or use of reasoning, in argument than customarily found in logic” (10). Specifically, they involve interactive reasoning, where “the reasoning is directed toward another party,” as opposed to deductive reasoning, which is a self-contained system (14). He points out that this is nothing new: “the idea of two-person interactive reasoning in dialogue was widely accepted by the ancient Greeks” (15).

7) In a more recent and more detailed study, Appeal to Pity: Argumentum ad Misericordiam, Walton draws from Aristotle, and notes that empathy “requires that the pitying party be able to see himself (or one of his friends) in the same kind of distressing situation as the pitied party” (50).

8) Walton, again relying on Aristotle, outlines “distinctive adequacy requirements” that identify situations meriting pity. A violation of one of these requirements occurs when “persons who appeal to pity for their bad situation were themselves instrumemtal in bringing about that situation” (Appeal to Pity 75).

9) Her appeal for pity is an excuse. Walton points out that “in law, excuses have long been recognized as a way of reducing or absolving guilt for an alleged crime,” and that presenting an excuse “as a type of argument [can involve] a shifting of the burden of proof” (Appeal to Pity 20).

10. This statement calls to mind Montaigne’s famous declaration in “Du Repentir””Si j’avois a revivre, je revivrois comme j’ay vescu” (794).

11) Walton, Slippery Slope Arguments 1.

12) For example, the reasons for the reactions of Edouard, Prince de Galles, or Scanderberch, Prince de FEpire, who are both indifferent to appeals for pity, are not understood. Montaigne does himself admit to being compassionate by nature, and to having “une merveilleuse lascheti vers la misericorde et la mansuetude [a wondrous laxity impelling him towards mercy and mildness]” (12). He thus separates himself somewhat from the Stoical position, though by using the word “laschete” he does not glorify his penchant. (See Appeal to Pity 51-54, for a brief discussion of the Stoic condemnation of pity. Walton describes the Stoics as “sharply dismissive of emotion as a basis for reasoning” [52]. The wise man should be guided “only by rational impulses” [53]).

13) Quint states that his book can be read as “an extended commentary” of “Par divers moyens on arrive a pareille fin.” He claims that the other essays he examines replay “with variations the opening scenario of warring enemies” (ix). One reservation I have with regard to this generally admirable study is the absence of a distinction between mercy and pity. A more sustained discussion differentiating those who seek clemency from those who demonstrate it would also have been helpful.


Corbett, P. J. Edward, and Robert J. Connors. Classical Rhetoric for the Modem Student. New York, Oxford UP, 1999.

Goyet, Francis. “Rhetorique et ‘verite’: la premiere nouvelle de l’Heptameron.” Recherches et travaux 50 (1996): 159-68.

Kotler, Eliane. “L’implicite narratif ou la morale incidente de l’Heptameron.” Marguerite de Navarre: 1492-1992. Actes du Colloque international de Pau (1992), textes reunis par Nicole Cazauran et James Dauphine. Mont-de-Marsan, Editions Interuniversitaires, 1995. 491-509.

Mathieu-Castellani. La Conversation conteuse: les nouvelles de Marguerite de Navarre. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1992.

Mazzariol, Emma Stojkovic. “Le ‘Piteuses Histoires’ di Margherita di Navarra.” Studi di letteratura Francese. vol. XVIII. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1990. 203-21.

Montaigne, Michel de. Oeuvres completes. Ed. Albert Thibaudet and Maurice Rat. Paris: Gallimard, 1962.

Navarre, Marguerite de. l’Heptameron. Ed. Michel Franqois. Paris: Garnier, 1967. Nelson, William. Fact or Fiction: The Dilemma of the Renaissance Storyteller. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1973.

Quint, David. Montaigne and the Quality of Mercy: Ethical and Political Themes in the Essais. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998.

Thysell, Carol. The Pleasure of Discernment: Marguerite de Navarre as Theologian. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.

Walton, Douglas. The Place of Emotion in Argument. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1992.

– Slippery Slope Arguments. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

_. Appeal to Pity Argumentum ad Misericordiam. Albany: State U. of New York P, 1997.

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