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La Boétie, Etienne de

LA BOÉTIE, ETIENNE DE (1530–1563), French humanist. Born in Sarlat, la Boétie studied law and became counselor to the parlement of Bordeaux. He tried to carry out the tolerant religious policies of the chancellor, Michel de l'Hôpital. La Boétie was apparently a Marrano. In the letter by his closest friend, Montaigne (Works, tr. by D. Frame (1958), 1054), describing his death la Boétie said to the priest who was giving him the last rites, "I protest that as I have been baptized as I have lived, so I want to die in the faith and religion which Moses first planted in Egypt, which the patriarchs then received in Judea, and which, from hand to hand, in the progress of time, has been brought into France," clearly indicating that he wanted to die a Jew.

La Boétie's most important writing is his Discours de la servitude volontaire, written when he was 16 or 18, first published in a collection entitled Memoires de l'Estat de France (1576), and later together with Montaigne's Essays. It is a plea for human freedom and dignity against the tyranny of rulers, and is the first modern statement of nonviolence as the means of protest. An English translation appeared in 1942 as Anti-dictator. La Boétie was also an important translator of the classics (Plutarch and Xenophon) and one of the first major poets of the French Renaissance, connected with the members of the Pléiade.


C. Paulus, Essai sur La Boétie (1949); V. Lugli, Une amitié illustre: Montaigne et La Boétie (1935); H. Day (M. Dieu), Etienne de la Boétie (Fr., 1939); P. Bonnefon, Etienne de la Boétie, sa vie, ses ouvrages et ses relations avec Montaigne (1888).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.