Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Was the ox Apis worshipped at Memphis as a god, as a symbol, or as an ox? It is likely that the fanatics regarded him as a god, the wise as merely a symbol, and that the more stupid part of the people worshipped the ox. Did Cambyses do right in killing this ox with his own hand? Why not? He showed to the imbecile that their god might be put on the spit without nature’s arming herself to avenge the sacrilege. The Egyptians have been much extolled. I have not heard of a more miserable people. There must always have been in their character, and in their government, some radical vice which has constantly made vile slaves of them. Let it be granted that in times almost unknown they conquered the earth; but in historical times they have been subjugated by all who have chosen to take the trouble — by the Assyrians, by the Greeks, by the Romans, by the Arabs, by the Mamelukes, by the Turks, by all, in short, but our crusaders, who were even more ill-advised than the Egyptians were cowardly. It was the Mameluke militia that beat the French under St. Louis. There are, perhaps, but two things tolerable in this nation; the first is, that those who worshipped an ox never sought to compel those who adored an ape to change their religion; the second, that they have always hatched chickens in ovens.

We are told of their pyramids; but they are monuments of an enslaved people. The whole nation must have been set to work on them, or those unsightly masses could never have been raised. And for what use were they? To preserve in a small chamber the mummy of some prince, or governor, or intendant, which his soul was to reanimate at the end of a thousand years. But if they looked forward to this resurrection of the body, why did they take out the brains before embalming them? Were the Egyptians to be resuscitated without brains?

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01