Diaz vs. Montaigne Barbarism' According to Bernal Term Paper

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Diaz vs. Montaigne

Barbarism' According to Bernal Diaz and Michel de Montaigne

In his famous essay "Of Cannibals," the French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) observes that in general, humanity tends to criticize or degrade that which it does not understand, or that which feels or appears foreign. Nowhere is that more apparent than in various historical writings of European explorers and others about indigenous peoples of the New World, who observed and more often than not tried to 'civilize' them. In particular, I will compare and contrast two very different 16th century European viewpoints about indigenous peoples of the New World: those of Spanish conquistador of Mexico Bernal Diaz [del Castillo] (1492-1584) and French philosopher and essayist Montaigne.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Diaz vs. Montaigne Barbarism' According to Bernal Assignment

Michel de Montaigne was not only a Renaissance thinker (and skeptic), but arguably an Enlightenment-style one as well: that is, someone who assertively questioned established beliefs about class; race; hegemony; authority, and hierarchy. The Renaissance of the mid-to-late 16th century (Montaigne's heyday) was a time not only of new expansive thought about human creativity and possibility, but also of increasing empirical knowledge worldwide - scientific; geographic, and otherwise. Columbus had encountered the New World in 1492 (the year of Diaz del Castillo's birth). In the early 1500's scientific facts were being empirically proven and acknowledged, challenging beliefs that natural occurrences and phenomena (e.g., floods; earthquakes, etc.), could only be explained as manifestations of God. New discoveries and ideas, scientific and otherwise, therefore made old "truths" seem (depending on who insisted on them, and in what circumstances) simple-minded and anachronistic, if not dogmatic, especially when they could be concretely proven false. Toward that end, Montaigne's writings of the time pointed out, often humorously, the relativistic nature of humanity's view of itself and the world, its familiar and unfamiliar aspects. Later, true Enlightenment era (about 1660-1770) thinkers were the likes of Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin. They, as Montaigne had done much earlier in his writings, continued to forcefully challenge conventional wisdom; traditional practices, and institutional authority, especially that of monarchy and the church.

Within Bernal Diaz's first-hand reflective account of the Spanish conquest of "New Spain" (areas of the New World now considered

Mexico and Central and Latin America) by Cortez and his soldiers, Diaz describes native peoples in ways condescending and derisive. For example, upon arriving at the Incan city of Cempoala with Cortez, Diaz describes the native leader there thus:

When we came to the buildings, this fat Cacique (chief) came out to receive us in the courtyard. He was so fat that I must call him the fat Cacique. He mad deep bow to Cortes and perfumed him as is their custom. (from the Conquest of New Spain 1560s).

Within Diaz's description, both tone and content are derisive, rather than open-minded, curious, or respectful, as, for example, Montaigne suggests in various parts of his essay "Of Cannibals." Here, Diaz may be reflectively justifying the war waged by Cortez against the native caciques, both in the name of religion (which pleased the Spanish Crown that funded the conquistadores), and also to glorify Cortes (a move Diaz apparently later regretted, when he sought his own credit for helping conquer New Spain). Whatever his reasons, however one thing is clear: Diaz's account glorifies Cortez; Catholicism; war and bloodshed; Spain itself, and the Crown in particular, while denigrating the indigenous peoples; their religious beliefs; their customs; their appearances, and just about everything else Diaz observes about them.

In sharp contrast, Montaigne suggests Europeans abroad would do well, in order to understand native customs, practices, and beliefs, to withhold judgment, or desire to conquer or dominate, and seek to value and appreciate natives as they are in their own environment instead of viewing them through an ethnocentric lens.

Diaz's account is typically scornful of native peoples' physical appearances (e.g., "large gold lip-rings and rich cloaks," material offerings, sexual and other practices, and most of all, their centuries old worship of idols. Diaz describes how, before leaving the area (with seven or eight native female "prizes") Cortez and his men forcibly replace idol worship with their own Catholicism. As Diaz writes at the outset, for example, of Cortez's usual interactions with the natives of the region: "Cortes... told them many things about our holy religion, as it was our habit to do wherever we went [emphasis added] (from the Conquest of New Spain 1560s). Cortez is especially adamant that religious idols of the natives… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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