Candide, by Voltaire

Chapter VII.

The history of Zirza.

“My father was a Christian, and so likewise am I, as far as I have been told. He had a little hermitage near Cotatis, where, by his fervent devotion and practising austerities shocking to human nature, he acquired the veneration of the faithful. Crowds of women came to pay him their homage and took a particular satisfaction in bathing his posteriors, which he lashed every day with several smart strokes of discipline; doubtless it was to one of the most devout of these visitants that I owe my being. I was brought up in a cave in the neighborhood of my father’s little cell. I was twelve years of age and had not yet left this kind of grave, when the earth shook with a dreadful noise; the arch of the vault fell in, and I was drawn out from under the rubbish half dead when light struck my eyes for the first time. My father took me into his hermitage as a predestined child. The whole of this adventure appeared strange to the people; my father declared it a miracle, and so did they.

“I was called Zirza, which in Persian signifies ‘child of providence.’ Notice was soon taken of my poor charms; the women already came but seldom to the hermitage and the men much oftener. One of them told me that he loved me. ‘Villain,’ said my father to him, ‘hast thou substance sufficient to love her? This is a great gift which God has intrusted to me; He has made His appearance to me this night, under the shape of a venerable hermit, and He forbade me to give up the possession thereof for less than a thousand sequins. Get thee gone, poor devil, lest thine impure breath should blast her charms.’ ‘I have,’ answered he, ‘only a heart to offer her. But say, barbarian, dost thou not blush to make sport of the Deity, for the gratification of thine avarice? With what front, vile wretch, darest thou pretend that God has spoken to thee? This is throwing the greatest contempt upon the Author of beings, to represent Him conversing with such men as thou art.’ ‘O blasphemy!’ cried my father in a rage, ‘God Himself has commanded me to stone blasphemers.’ As he spoke these words, he fell upon my lover, and with repeated blows laid him dead on the ground, and his blood flew in my face. Though I had not yet known what love was, this man had interested me, and his death shocked me, and rendered the sight of my father insufferable to me. I took a resolution to leave him; he perceived it. ‘Ungrateful,’ said he to me, ‘it is to me thou owest thy being. Thou are my daughter — and thou hatest me; but I am going to deserve thy hatred, by the most rigorous treatment.’ He kept his word but too well with me, cruel man! During five years, which I spent in tears and groans, neither my youth nor my clouded beauty could in the least abate his wrath. Sometimes he stuck a thousand pins into all the parts of my body; at other times, with his discipline, he made the blood trickle down my body.” “This,” said Candide, “gave you less pain than the pins.” “True, my lord,” answered Zirza. “At last,” continued she, “I fled from my father’s habitation; and not daring to trust myself to anybody, I flung myself into the thickest part of the woods, where I was three days without food, and should have died were it not for a tiger which I had the happiness to please, and who was willing to share with me the prey he caught. But I had many horrors to encounter from this formidable beast; and the brute had moods as changeable and dangerous as those which render men, in certain conditions, the prey of brutal passions which degrade their humanity. Bad food gave me the scurvy. Scarcely was I cured, when I followed a merchant of slaves, who was going to Tiflis. The plague was there then, and I took it. These various misfortunes did not absolutely affect my features, nor hinder the sophi’s purveyor from buying me for your use. I have languished in tears these three months that I have been among the number of your women. My companions and I imagined ourselves to be the objects of your contempt; and if you knew, my lord, how disagreeable eunuchs are, and how little adapted for comforting young girls who are despised — in short, I am not yet eighteen years of age; and of these I have spent twelve in a frightful cavern; undergone an earthquake; been covered with the blood of the first good man I had hitherto seen; endured, for the space of four years, the most cruel tortures, and have had the scurvy, and the plague. Consumed with desires, amidst a crew of black and white monsters, still preserving that which I have saved from the fury of an awkward tiger; and, cursing my fate, I have passed three months in this seraglio; where I should have died of the jaundice, had not your excellency honored me at last with your embraces.” “O heavens!” cried Candide, “is it possible that you have experienced such great misfortunes at so tender an age? What would Pangloss say could he hear you? But your misfortunes are at an end, as well as mine. Everything does not go badly now; is not this true?” Upon that Candide resumed his caresses, and was more than ever confirmed in the belief of Pangloss’ system.

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