Zadig, by Voltaire

Chapter XVIII.

The ÆNigmas, or Riddles.

Zadig, as one beside himself, and perfectly thunder-struck, beat his March at random. He entred, however, into the City of Babylon, on that very Day, when those Combatants who had been before engag’d in the List or Circus, were already assembled in the spacious Outer–Court of the Palace, in order to solve the Ænigmas, and give the wisest Answers they could to such Questions, as the Grand Magus should propose. All the Parties concern’d were present, except the Knight of the Green Armour. No sooner had Zadig made his Appearance in the City, but the Populace flock’d round about him: No Eye was satisfied with gazing at him: All in general were lavish of their Praises, and in their Hearts wish’d him their Sovereign, except the envious Man, who as he pass’d by, fetch’d a deep Sigh, and turn’d his Head aside. The Populace with loud Acclamations attended him to the Palace–Gate. The Queen, who had heard of his Arrival, was in the utmost Agony, between Hope and Despair. Her Vexation had almost brought her to Death’s Door; she couldn’t conceive why Zadig should appear without his Accoutrements, nor imagine which Way Itobad could procure the snow-white Armour. At the Sight of Zadig a confus’d Murmur ran thro’ the whole Place. Every Eye was surpriz’d, tho’ charm’d at the same Time to see him again: But then none were to be admitted into the Assembly–Room except the Knights.

I have fought as successfully as any one of them all, said Zadig, tho’ another appears clad in my Armour; but in the mean Time, before I can possibly prove my Assertion, I insist upon being admitted into Court, in order to give my Solutions to such Ænigmas as shall be propos’d. ’Twas put to the Vote. As the Reputation of his being a Man of the strictest Honour and Veracity was so strongly imprinted on their Minds, the Motion of his Admittance was carried in the Affirmative, without the least Opposition.

The first Question the Grand Magus propos’d was this: What is the longest and yet the shortest Thing in the World; the most swift and the most slow; the most divisible, and the most extended; the least valu’d, and the most regretted; And without which nothing can possibly be done: Which, in a Word, devours every Thing how minute soever, and yet gives Life and Spirit to every Object or Being, however Great?

Itobad had the Honour to answer first. His reply was, that a Man of his Merit had something else to think on, than idle Riddles; ’twas enough for him, that he was acknowledg’d the Hero of the Circus. One said, the Solution of the Ænigma propos’d was Fortune; others said the Earth; and others again the Light: But Zadig pronounced it to be Time. Nothing, said he, can be longer, since ’tis the Measure of Eternity; Nothing is shorter, since there is Time always wanting to accomplish what we aim at. Nothing passes so slowly as Time to him who is in Expectation; and nothing so swift as Time to him who is in the perfect Enjoyment of his Wishes. It’s Extent is to Infinity, in the Whole; and divisible to Infinity in part. All Men neglect it in the Passage; and all regret the Loss of it when ’tis past. Nothing can possibly be done without it; it buries in Oblivion whatever is unworthy of being transmitted down to Posterity; and it renders all illustrious Actions immortal. The Assembly agreed unanimously that Zadig was in the Right.

The next Question that was started, was, What is the Thing we receive, without being ever thankful for it; which we enjoy, without knowing how we came by it; which we give away to others, without knowing where ’tis to be found; and which we lose, without being any ways conscious of our Misfortune?

Each pass’d his Verdict. Zadig was the only Person that concluded it was LIFE. He solv’d every Ænigma propos’d, with equal Facility. Itobad, when he heard the Explications, always said that nothing in the World was more easy, than to solve such obvious Questions; and that he could interpret a thousand of them without the least Hesitation, were he inclin’d to trouble his Head about such Trifles. Other Questions were propos’d in regard to Justice, the sovereign Good, and the Art of Government. Zadig’s Answers still carried the greatest Weight. What Pity ’tis, said some who were present, that one of so comprehensive a Genius, should make such a scurvy Cavalier?

Most illustrious Grandees, said Zadig, I was the Person that had the Honour of being Victor at your Circus; the white Armour, most puissant Lords, was mine. That awkward Warrior there, Lord Itobad, dress’d himself in it whilst I was asleep. He imagin’d, it is plain, that it would do him more Honour than his own Green one. Unaccoutred as I am, I am ready, before this august Assembly, to give them incontestable Proof of my superior Skill; to engage with the Usurper of the White Armour with my Sword only in my Mantle and Bonnet; and to testify that I only was the happy Victor of the justly admired Hottam.

Itobad accepted of the Challenge with all the Assurance of Success imaginable. He did not doubt, but being properly accoutred with his Helmet, his Cuirass, and his Bracelets, he should be able to hue down an Antagonist, in his Mantle and Cap, and nothing to skreen him from his Resentment, but a single Sabre. Zadig drew his Sword, and saluted the Queen with it, who view’d him with Transport mix’d with Fear. Itobad drew his, but paid his Compliments to Nobody. He approach’d Zadig, as one, whom he imagin’d incapable of making any considerable Resistance. He concluded, ’twas in his Power to cut Zadig into Atoms. Zadig, however, knew how to parry the Blow, by dexterously receiving it upon his Fort (as the Swords-men call it) by which Means Itobad’s Sword was snapt in two. With that Zadig in an Instant clos’d his Adversary, and by his superior Strength, as well as Skill, laid him sprawling on his Back. Then holding the Point of his Sword to the opening of his Cuirass, Submit to be stripp’d of your borrow’d Plumes, or you are a dead Man this Moment. Itobad, always surpriz’d, that any Disappointment should attend a Man of such exalted Merit as himself, very tamely permitted Zadig to disrobe him by Degrees of his pompous Helmet, his superb Cuirass, his rich Bracelets, his brilliant Cuisses, or Armour for his Thighs, and other Martial Accoutrements. When Zadig had equipp’d himself Cap-a-pee, in his now recover’d Armour, he flew to Astarte, and threw himself prostrate at her Feet. Cador prov’d, without any great Difficulty, that the White Armour was Zadig’s Property. He was thereupon acknowledg’d King of Babylon, by the unanimous Content of the Whole Court; but more particularly with the Approbation of Astarte, who after such a long Series of Misfortunes, now tasted the Sweets of seeing her darling Zadig thought worthy, in the Opinion of the whole World, to be the Partner of her royal Bed. Itobad withdrew, and contented himself with being call’d my Lord within the narrow Compass of his own Domesticks. Zadig, in short, was elected King, and was as happy as any Mortal could be.

Now he began to reflect on what the Angel Jesrad had said to him: Nay, he reflected so far back as the Story of the Arabian Atom of Dust metamorphosed into a Diamond. The Queen and He ador’d the Divine Providence. Zadig permitted Missouf, the Fair Coquet, to make her Conquests where she could. He sent Couriers to bring the Free-booter Arbogad to Court, and gave him an Honourable Military Post in his Army, with a farther Promise of Promotion to the highest Dignity; but upon this express Condition, that he would act for the future as a Soldier of Honour; but assur’d him at the same Time, that he’d make a publick Example of him, if he follow’d his Profession of Free-booting for the future.

Setoc was sent for from the lonely Desarts of Arabia, together with the fair Almonza, his new Bride, to preside over the commercial Affairs of Babylon. Cador was advanc’d to a Post near himself, and was his Favourite Minister at Court, as the just Reward of his past Services. He was, in short, the King’s real Friend; and Zadig was the only Monarch in the Universe that could boast of such an Attendant. The Dwarf, tho’ dumb, was not wholly forgotten. The Fisherman was put into the Possession of a very handsome House; and Orcan was sentenc’d, not only to pay him a very considerable Sum for the Injustice done him in detaining his Wife; but to resign her likewise to the proper Owner: The Fisherman, however, grown wise by Experience, soften’d the Rigour of the Sentence, and took the Money only in full of all Accounts.

He didn’t leave so much as Semira wholly disconsolate, tho’ she had such an Aversion to a blind Eye; nor Azora comfortless, notwithstanding her affectionate Intention to shorten his Nose; for he sooth’d their Sorrows by very munificent Presents. The envious Informer indeed, died with Shame and Vexation. The Empire was glorious abroad, and in the full Enjoyment of Tranquility, Peace and Plenty, at home: This, in short, was the true golden Age. The whole Country was sway’d by Love and Justice. Every one blest Zadig; and Zadig blest Heav’n for his unexpected Success.

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