Carlos García Gual
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Montaigne did not invent the essay genre, although he did give it a proper name ("essay") and boosted like no one before its personal nature by portraying himself with singular lucidity. Presenting his ego in the foreground and marking the genre with his personal stamp in a way that no one had done before. Thus, it is not a matter of haggling him the originality when we mention some clear precedents to his Essais. Short reflexive texts on different topics with a strong personal component and full of references and anecdotes, have already been found in the Antiquity, in Greek and Latin authors frequently visited by Montaigne. This is the case of Plutarch and Seneca (and to a lesser extent, Cicero and Lucian), who not unexpectedly are among his preferred and most cited authors. The topics treated by Seneca and Plutarch are in many occasions the same ones that Montaigne assays, and he frequently refers to their woks using their books and citing them. Sometimes the format is not too different (in Greek, these short prose texts received the general designation of "lectures", "dialogues" or "letters" (homilíai, or diatribaí, epistolaídiálogoi) and had a certain declamatory nature. Montaigne cites these classical authors in many occasions, but sometimes he uses them without mentioning. He does not do it for an itching of scholarship, but because he uses them as a support for his own reflections and digressions. He takes from them what he likes and what suits him, and thus, is a "hedonistic" reader in words of Borges. As a matter of fact, the authors he cites also used to do something similar. Plutarch made an effort to remember historical anecdotes (not only in his Lifes, but also -and especially- in his miscellaneous Moralia) to find in them a certain "sagesse", while Seneca was more judgmental and moralist, but with a much more personal style. He was also liberal, as he was as generous in citing Epicurus as his Stoic masters, or even more. During the Renaissance, this genre attained a renewed relevance, partially due to these same influences (Erasmus  especially appreciated these two same masters, Seneca and Plutarch, and his abundant letters show a colloquial style and a singular spiritual opening of great influence). The essayist tries to connect with the readers through a faked conversations, using a certain familiar tone, and enjoying the references to other texts, always separated from sermons and technical tones, using an agile and modern prose. In Spanish literature of the 16th century we find a peculiar precursor of the essays, although its Plateresque and rhetoric style proper of a court preacher is very differentiated from the free sincerity and clear and precise style used by Montaigne. Friar Antonio de Guevara (particularly in his Marco Aurelio and his Epístolas familiares, both of them with great success across Europe and very well known by Montaigne) deserves being considered in this framework due to his "will of style" (as pointed out by J. Marichal) and to his relationship with the readers. This is so, not to hinder the work of Montaigne, but to further appreciate the singular originality and acuity of his Essais.

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