Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter XI.

The Evening’s Entertainment.

Setoc, who would never stir out without his Bosom–Friend (in whom alone, as he thought, all Wisdom center’d) resolv’d to take him with him to Balzora Fair, whither the richest Merchants round the whole habitable Globe, us’d annually to resort. Zadig was delighted to see such a Concourse of substantial Tradesmen from all Countries, assembled together in one Place. It appear’d to him, as if the whole Universe was but one large Family, and all happily met together at Balzora. On the second Day of the Fair, he sat down to Table with an Egyptian, an Indian, that liv’d on the Banks of the River Ganges, an Inhabitant of Cathay, a Grecian, a Celt, and several other Foreigners, who by their frequent Voyages towards the Arabian Gulf, were so far conversant with the Arabic Language, as to be able to discourse freely, and be mutually understood. The Egyptian began to fly into a Passion; what a scandalous Place is this Balzora, said he, where they refuse to lend me a thousand Ounces of Gold, upon the best Security that can possibly be offer’d. Pray, said Setoc, what may the Commodity be that you would deposit as a Pledge for the Sum you mention. Why, the Corpse of my deceased Aunt, said he, who was one of the finest Women in all Egypt. She was my constant Companion; but unhappily died upon the Road. I have taken so much Care, that no Mummy whatever can equal it: And was I in my own Country, I could be furnish’d with what Sum soever I pleas’d, were I dispos’d to mortgage it. ’Tis a strange Thing that Nobody here will advance so small a Sum upon so valuable a Commodity. No sooner had he express’d his Resentment, but he was going to cut up a fine boil’d Pullet, in order to make a Meal on’t, when an Indian laid hold of his Hand, and with deep Concern, cried out, For God’s Sake what are you about? Why, said the Egyptian, I design to make a Wing of this Fowl one Part of my Supper. Pray, good Sir, consider what you are doing, said the Indian. ’Tis very possible, that the Soul of the deceas’d Lady may have taken its Residence in that Fowl. And you wouldn’t surely run the Risque of eating up your Aunt? To boil a Fowl is, doubtless, a most shameful Outrage done to Nature. Pshaw! What a Pother you make about the boiling of a Fowl, and flying in the Face of Nature, replied the Egyptian in a Pet; tho’ we Egyptians pay divine Adoration to the Ox; yet we can make a hearty Meal of a Piece of roast Beef for all that. Is it possible, Sir, that your Country-men should act so absurdly, as to pay an Ox the Tribute of divine Worship, said the Indian? Absurd as you think it, said the other, the Ox has been the principal Object of Adoration all over Egypt, for these hundred and thirty five thousand Years, and the most abandon’d Egyptian has never been as yet so impious as to gain-say it. Ay, Sir, an hundred thirty five thousand Years, say you, surely you must be out a little in your Calculation. ’Tis but about fourscore thousand Years, since India was first inhabited. Sure I am, we are a more antient People than you are, and our Brama prohibited the eating of Beef long before your Nation ever erected an Altar in Honour of the Ox, or ever put one upon a Spit. What a Racket you make about your Brama! Is he able to stand the least in Competition with our Apis, said the Egyptian? Let us hear, pray, what mighty Feats have been done by your boasted Brama? Why, replied the Bramin, he first taught his Votaries to write and read; and ’tis to him alone, all the World is indebted for the Invention of the noble Game of Chess. You are quite out, Sir, in your Notion, said a Chaldean, who sat within Hearing: All these invaluable Blessings were deriv’d from the Fish Oannés; and ’tis that alone to which the Tribute of divine Adoration is justly due. All the World will tell you, that ’twas a divine Being whose Tail was pure Gold, whose Head resembled that of a Man, tho’ indeed the Features were much more beautiful; and that he condescended to visit the Earth three Hours every Day, for the Instruction of Mankind. He had a numerous Issue, as is very well known, and all of them were powerful Monarchs. I have a Picture of it at Home, to which, as in Duty I ought, I Say my Prayers at Night before I go to Bed, and every Morning that I rise. There is no Harm, Sir, as I can conceive, in partaking of a Piece of roast Beef; but, doubtless, ’tis a mortal Sin, a Crime of the blackest Dye, to touch a Piece of Fish. Besides, you cannot justly boast of so illustrious an Origin, and you are both of you mere Moderns, in Comparison to us Chaldeans, You Egyptians lay claim to no more than 135,000 Years, and you Indians, but of 80,000. Whereas we have Almanacks that are dated 4000 Centuries backwards. Take my Word for it; I speak nothing but Truth; renounce your Errors, and I’ll make each of you a Present of a fine Portrait of our Oannés.

A Native of Cambalu, entring into the Debate, said, I have a very great Veneration, not only for the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Greeks, and Celtæ; but for Brama, Apis, and the Oannés, but in my humble Opinion, the *Li, or as ’tis by some call’d, the *Tien, is an Object more deserving of divine Adoration than any Ox, or Fish, how much soever you may boast of their respective Perfections. All I shall say, in regard to my native Country, ’tis of much greater Extent, than all Egypt, Chaldea, and the Indies put together. I shall lay no Stress on the Antiquity of my Country; for I imagine ’tis of much greater Importance to be the happiest People, than the most antient under the Sun. However, since you were talking of the Almanacks, I must beg the Liberty to tell you, that ours are look’d upon to be the best all over Asia; and that we had several very correct ones before the Art of Arithmetick was ever heard of in Chaldea.

* The Chinese Term, Li, signifies, properly
  speaking, natural Light, or Reason; and
Tien, the
  Heavens, or the supreme Being.

You are all of you a Parcel of illiterate, ignorant Bigots, cry’d a Grecian: ’Tis plain, you know nothing of the Chaos, and that the World, as it now stands, is owing wholly to Matter and Form. The Greek ran on for a considerable Time; but was at last interrupted by a Celt, who having drank deep, during the whole Time of this Debate, thought himself ten Times wiser than any of his Antagonists; and wrapping out a great Oath, insisted, that all their Gods were nothing, if set in Competition with the Teutath or the Misletoe on the Oak. As for my part, said he, I carry some of it always in my Pocket: As to my Ancestors, they were Scythians, and the only Men worth talking of in the whole World: ’Tis true, indeed, they would now and then make a Meal of their Country-men, but that ought not to be urg’d as any Objection to his Country; and, in short, if any one of you, or all of you, shall dare to say any thing disrespectful of Teutath, I’ll defend its Cause to the last Drop of my Blood. The Quarrel grew warmer and warmer, and Setoc expected that the Table would be overset, and that Blood-shed would ensue. Zadig, who hadn’t once open’d his Lips during the whole Controversy, at last rose up, and address’d himself to the Celt, in the first Place, as being the most noisy and outrageous. Sir, said he, Your Notions in this Affair are very just: Good Sir, oblige me with a Bit of your Misletoe. Then turning about, he expatiated on the Eloquence of the Grecian, and in a Word, soften’d in the most artful Manner all the contending Parties. He said but little indeed to the Cathayian; because he was more cool, and sedate than any of the others. To conclude, he address’d them all in general Terms, to this or the like Effect: My dear Friends, You have been contesting all this while about an important Topick, in which ’tis evident, you are all unanimously agreed. Agreed, quotha! they all cried, in an angry Tone, How so, pray? Why said he to the hot, testy Celt, is it not true, that you do not in effect adore this Misletoe, but that Being who created that Misletoe and the Oak, to which it is so closely united? Doubtless, Sir, reply’d the Celt. And you, Sir, said he, to the Egyptian, You revere, thro’ your venerable Apis, the great Author of every Ox’s Being. We do so, said the Egyptian. The mighty Oannés, tho’ the Sovereign of the Sea, continued he, must give Precedence to that Power, who made both the Sea, and every Fish that dwells therein. We allow it, said the Chaldean. The Indian, adds he, and the Cathayan, acknowledge one supreme Being, or first Cause, as well as you. As to what that profound worthy Gentleman the Grecian has advanc’d, is, I must own, a little above my weak Comprehension, but I am fully persuaded, that he will allow there is a supreme Being on whom his favourite Matter and Form are entirely dependent. The Grecian, who was look’d upon as a Sage amongst them, said, with Abundance of Gravity, that Zadig, had made a very just Construction of his Meaning. Now, Gentlemen, I appeal to you all, said Zadig, whether you are not unanimous to a Man, in the Debate upon the Carpet, and whether there are any just Grounds for the least Divisions or Animosities amongst you. The whole Company, cool at once, caress’d him; and Setoc, after he had sold off all his Goods and Merchandize at a round Price, took his Friend Zadig Home with him to the Land of Horeb. Zadig, upon his first Arrival was inform’d, that a Prosecution had been carried on against him during his Absence, and that the Sentence pronounc’d against him was, that he should be burnt alive before a slow Fire.

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