Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

“How unfortunate am I to have been born!” said Ardassan Ougli, a young icoglan of the grand sultan of the Turks. “Yet if I depended only on the sultan — but I am also subject to the chief of my oda, to the cassigi bachi; and when I receive my pay, I must prostrate myself before a clerk of the teftardar, who keeps back half of it. I was not seven years old, when, in spite of myself, I was circumcised with great ceremony, and was ill for a fortnight after it. The dervish who prays to us is also my master; an iman is still more my master, and the mullah still more so than the iman. The cadi is another master, the kadeslesker a greater; the mufti a greater than all these together. The kiaia of the grand vizier with one word could cause me to be thrown into the canal; and finally, the grand vizier could have me beheaded, and the skin of my head stripped off, without any person caring about the matter.

“Great God, how many masters! If I had as many souls and bodies as I have duties to fulfil, I could not bear it. Oh Allah! why hast thou not made me an owl? I should live free in my hole and eat mice at my ease, without masters or servants. This is assuredly the true destiny of man; there were no masters until it was perverted; no man was made to serve another continually. If things were in order, each should charitably help his neighbor. The quick-sighted would conduct the blind, the active would be crutches to the lame. This would be the paradise of Mahomet, instead of the hell which is formed precisely under the inconceivably narrow bridge.”

Thus spoke Ardassan Ougli, after being bastinadoed by one of his masters.

Some years afterwards, Ardassan Ougli became a pasha with three tails. He made a prodigious fortune, and firmly believed that all men except the grand Turk and the grand vizier were born to serve him, and all women to give him pleasure according to his wishes.

§ II.

How can one man become the master of another? And by what kind of incomprehensible magic has he been able to become the master of several other men? A great number of good volumes have been written on this subject, but I give the preference to an Indian fable, because it is short, and fables explain everything.

Adimo, the father of all the Indians, had two sons and two daughters by his wife Pocriti. The eldest was a vigorous giant, the youngest was a little hunchback, the two girls were pretty. As soon as the giant was strong enough, he lay with his two sisters, and caused the little hunchback to serve him. Of his two sisters, the one was his cook, the other his gardener. When the giant would sleep, he began by chaining his little brother to a tree; and when the latter fled from him, he caught him in four strides, and gave him twenty blows with the strength of an ox.

The dwarf submitted and became the best subject in the world. The giant, satisfied with seeing him fulfil the duties of a subject, permitted him to sleep with one of his sisters, with whom he was disgusted. The children who sprang from this marriage were not quite hunchbacks, but they were sufficiently deformed. They were brought up in the fear of God and of the giant. They received an excellent education; they were taught that their uncle was a giant by divine right, who could do what he pleased with all his family; that if he had some pretty niece or grand-niece, he should have her without difficulty, and not one should marry her unless he permitted it.

The giant dying, his son, who was neither so strong or so great as he was, believed himself to be like his father, a giant by divine right. He pretended to make all the men work for him, and slept with all the girls. The family lagued against him: he was killed, and they became a republic.

The Siamese pretend, that on the contrary the family commenced by being republican; and that the giant existed not until after a great many years and dissensions: but all the authors of Benares and Siam agree that men lived an infinity of ages before they had the wit to make laws, and they prove it by an unanswerable argument, which is that even at present, when all the world piques itself upon having wit, we have not yet found the means of making a score of laws passably good.

It is still, for example, an insoluble question in India, whether republics were established before or after monarchies; if confusion has appeared more horrible to men than despotism! I am ignorant how it happened in order of time, but in that of nature we must agree that men are all born equal: violence and ability made the first masters; laws have made the present.

Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55