Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


This is a mountain of Armenia, on which the ark rested. The question has long been agitated, whether the deluge was universal — whether it inundated the whole earth without exception, or only the portion of the earth which was then known. Those who have thought that it extended only to the tribes then existing, have founded their opinion on the inutility of flooding unpeopled lands, which reason seems very plausible. As for us, we abide by the Scripture text, without pretending to explain it. But we shall take greater liberty with Berosus, an ancient Chaldæan writer, of whom there are fragments preserved by Abydenus, quoted by Eusebius, and repeated word for word by George Syncellus. From these fragments we find that the Orientals of the borders of the Euxine, in ancient times, made Armenia the abode of their gods. In this they were imitated by the Greeks, who placed their deities on Mount Olympus. Men have always confounded human with divine things. Princes built their citadels on mountains; therefore they were also made the dwelling place of the gods, and became sacred. The summit of Mount Ararat is concealed by mists; therefore the gods hid themselves in those mists, sometimes vouchsafing to appear to mortals in fine weather.

A god of that country, believed to have been Saturn, appeared one day to Xixuter, tenth king of Chaldæa, according to the computation of Africanus, Abydenus, and Apollodorus, and said to him:

“On the fifteenth day of the month Oesi, mankind shall be destroyed by a deluge. Shut up close all your writings in Sipara, the city of the sun, that the memory of things may not be lost. Build a vessel; enter it with your relatives and friends; take with you birds and beasts; stock it with provisions, and, when you are asked, ‘Whither are you going in that vessel?’ answer, ‘To the gods, to beg their favor for mankind.’ ”

Xixuter built his vessel, which was two stadii wide, and five long; that it, its width was two hundred and fifty geometrical paces, and its length six hundred and twenty-five. This ship, which was to go upon the Black Sea, was a slow sailer. The flood came. When it had ceased Xixuter let some of his birds fly out, but, finding nothing to eat, they returned to the vessel. A few days afterwards he again set some of his birds at liberty, and they returned with mud in their claws. At last they went and returned no more. Xixuter did likewise: he quitted his ship, which had perched upon a mountain of Armenia, and he was seen no more; the gods took him away.

There is probably something historic in this fable. The Euxine overflowed its banks, and inundated some portions of territory, and the king of Chaldæa hastened to repair the damage. We have in Rabelais tales no less ridiculous, founded on some small portion of truth. The ancient historians are, for the most part, serious Rabelais.

As for Mount Ararat, it has been asserted that it was one of the mountains of Phrygia, and that it was called by a name answering that of ark, because it was enclosed by three rivers.

There are thirty opinions respecting this mountain. How shall we distinguish the true one? That which the monks now call Ararat, was, they say, one of the limits of the terrestrial paradise — a paradise of which we find but few traces. It is a collection of rocks and precipices, covered with eternal snows. Tournefort went thither by order of Louis XIV. to seek for plants. He says that the whole neighborhood is horrible, and the mountain itself still more so; that he found snow four feet thick, and quite crystallized, and that there are perpendicular precipices on every side.

The Dutch traveller, John Struys, pretends that he went thither also. He tells us that he ascended to the very top, to cure a hermit afflicted with a rupture.

“His hermitage,” says he, “was so distant from the earth that we did not reach it until the close of the seventh day, though each day we went five leagues.” If, in this journey, he was constantly ascending, this Mount Ararat must be thirty-five leagues high. In the time of the Giants’ war, a few Ararats piled one upon another would have made the ascent to the moon quite easy. John Struys, moreover, assures us that the hermit whom he cured presented him with a cross made of the wood of Noah’s ark. Tournefort had not this advantage.

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