So I am reading the essay "On Some Verses of Virgil" by Michel de Montaigne (translation by Donald M. Frame) and I came across this particular sentence.

Is there any ugliness in doing wrong that can dispense us from the duty of confessing it?

The choice of vocabulary here is, honestly, quite confusing to me. Here is the sentence again with the preceding paragraph for context:

The diseases of the body become clearer as they increase. We find that what we were calling a cold or a sprain is the gout. The diseases of the soul grow more obscure as they grow stronger; the sickest man is least sensible of them. That is why they must be handled often in the light of day, with a pitiless hand, be opened up and torn from the hollow of our breast. As in the matter of good deeds, so in the matter of evil deeds, mere confession is sometimes reparation. Is there any ugliness in doing wrong that can dispense us from the duty of confessing it?

It's been a long time sense I've had this much difficulty understanding the exact conclusion a sentence was trying to reach.

My first instinct is to assume that the sentence is somewhat synonymous with:

Is there any ugliness in doing wrong that can [spare] us from the [ordeal] of confessing it?

But then a friend of mine offered an interpretation more to the effect of:

Is there any [wrongdoing so exceptional] that [it will] [render our confession truly unprecedented in the context of humanity]?

Meanwhile, another translation (found on Project Gutenberg) renders the sentence thus:

Is there any deformity in doing amiss, that can excuse us from confessing ourselves?

I don't have much confidence in either his or my interpretation, and this other translation isn't clearing things up for me much at all. What is Michel de Montaigne saying?

  • The last half is easy- "dispense us from the duty of confessing it" translates to: that excuses us from having to confess it. But I'm a little stuck on what he meant by ugliness in doing wrong because doing wrong is ugly by definition.
    – Jim
    Nov 20, 2013 at 6:12

1 Answer 1


How about:

Is there any deed so vile, that confession is wholly unnecessary; through the indelible evidence that the deed has left on our body; our mind; and our soul?

To which question I would answer "Most certainly - for example the Holocaust."

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