Micromégas, by Voltaire

Chapter IV.

What happened on planet Earth.

After resting for some time they ate two mountains for lunch, which their crew fixed up pretty nicely. Then they decided to get to know the small country they were in. They went first from north to south. The usual stride of the Sirian and his crew was around 30,000 feet. The dwarf from Saturn, who clocked in at no more than a thousand fathoms, trailed behind, breathing heavily. He had to make twelve steps each time the other took a stride; imagine (if it is alright to make such a comparison) a very small lapdog following a captain of the guards of the Prussian king.

Since our strangers moved fairly rapidly, they circumnavigated the globe in 36 hours. The sun, in truth, or rather the Earth, makes a similar voyage in a day; but you have to imagine that the going is much easier when one turns on one’s axis instead of walking on one’s feet. So there they were, back where they started, after having seen the nearly imperceptible pond we call the Mediterranean, and the other little pool that, under the name Ocean, encircles the molehill. The dwarf never got in over his knees, and the other hardly wet his heels. On their way they did all they could to see whether the planet was inhabited or not. They crouched, laid down, felt around everywhere; but their eyes and their hands were not proportionate to the little beings that crawl here, they could not feel in the least any sensation that might lead them to suspect that we and our associates, the other inhabitants of this planet, have the honor of existing.

The dwarf, who was a bit hasty sometimes, decided straightaway that the planet was uninhabited. His first reason was that he had not seen anyone. Micromegas politely indicated that this logic was rather flawed: “For,” said he, “you do not see with your little eyes certain stars of the 50th magnitude that I can perceive very distinctly. Do you conclude that these stars do not exist?”

“But,” said the dwarf, “I felt around a lot.”

“But,” answered the other, “you have pretty weak senses.”

“But,” replied the dwarf, “this planet is poorly constructed. It is so irregular and has such a ridiculous shape! Everything here seems to be in chaos: you see these little rivulets, none of which run in a straight line, these pools of water that are neither round, nor square, nor oval, nor regular by any measure; all these little pointy specks scattered across the earth that grate on my feet? (This was in reference to mountains.) Look at its shape again, how it is flat at the poles, how it clumsily revolves around the sun in a way that necessarily eliminates the climates of the poles? To tell the truth, what really makes me think it is uninhabited is that it seems that no one of good sense would want to stay.”

“Well,” said Micromegas, “maybe the inhabitants of this planet are not of good sense! But in the end it looks like this may be for a reason. Everything appears irregular to you here, you say, because everything on Saturn and Jupiter is drawn in straight lines. This might be the12 reason that you are a bit puzzled here. Have I not told you that I have continually noticed variety in my travels?”

The Saturnian responded to all these points. The dispute might never have finished if it were not for Micromegas who, getting worked up, had the good luck to break the thread of his diamond necklace. The diamonds fell; they were pretty little carats of fairly irregular size, of which the largest weighed four hundred pounds and the smallest fifty. The dwarf recaptured some of them; bending down for a better look, he perceived that these diamonds were cut with the help of an excellent microscope. So he took out a small microscope of 160 feet in diameter and put it up to his eye; and Micromegas took up one of 2,005 feet in diameter. They were excellent; but neither one of them could see anything right away and had to adjust them. Finally the Saturnian saw something elusive that moved in the shallow waters of the Baltic sea; it was a whale. He carefully picked it up with his little finger and, resting it on the nail of his thumb, showed it to the Sirian, who began laughing for a second time at the ludicrously small scale of the things on our planet. The Saturnian, persuaded that our world was inhabited, figured very quickly that it was inhabited only by whales; and as he was very good at reasoning, he was determined to infer the origin and evolution of such a small atom; whether it had ideas, a will, liberty. Micromegas was confused. He examined the animal very patiently and found no reason to believe that a soul was lodged in it. The two voyagers were therefore inclined to believe that there is no spirit in our home, when with the help of the microscope they perceived something as large as a whale floating on the Baltic Sea. We know that a flock of philosophers was at this time returning from the Arctic Circle, where they had made some observations, which no one had dared make up to then. The gazettes claimed that their vessel ran aground on the coast of Bothnia, and that they were having a lot of difficulty setting things straight; but the world never shows its cards. I am going to tell how it really happened, artlessly and without bias; which is no small thing for an historian.

12 All the editions that precede those of Kehl read: “It might be for this” B.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25