The Wolf: Homo Homini Lupus

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As Europeans explored the new world discovered by Columbus in 1492, they encountered countless tribes and societies that were less technologically advanced than the Western world. In 1580, Michel de Montaigne wrote an essay, On Cannibals, describing an indigenous tribe that lived along the Brazilian coastline. In the essay, Montaigne discusses whether cultures or groups of people are barbaric. His essay reflects the concept expressed in the phrase, "Homo homini lupus," or “man is a wolf to man”. Montaigne argues that our perception of whether a man is a wolf, or if a particular group of people are barbarians depends on how much we know and, understand the other person or people. By comparing a stranger to a wolf, the saying suggests that, throughout history, man has learned to be cautious of unknown men, much as man is weary of a wolf. The phrase implies that this treatment continues until the character of the stranger becomes more apparent. Montaigne carefully analyzes the cannibals’ society and concludes that the initially, seemingly, barbaric people no longer seem uncivilized; rather, they come across as quite heroic, once insight is gained into their culture and mindset. In On Cannibals, Montaigne discusses the use of the word “barbaric” as a description of foreign people. In fact, the opening line of the essay says, “When King Pyrrhus crossed into Italy, after noting the excellent formation of the army which the Romans had sent ahead towards him, he said, ‘ I do not
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