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FRANCOIS MARIE AROUET DE VOLTAIRE

Introduction To Zadig The Babylonian
Jealousy
The Basilisk
The Blind Of One Eye
The Combats
The Disputes And The Audiences
The Dog And The Horse
The Envious Man
The Fisherman
The Funeral Pile
The Generous
The Hermit
The Minister
The Nose
The Robber
The Stone
The Supper
The Woman Beaten

Library Of The World's Best Mystery And Detective Stories

An Uncomfortable Bed
Fear
Ghosts
Introduction To Zadig The Babylonian
Jealousy
Melmoth Reconciled
Pliny The Younger
The Adventure Of The Three Robbers
The Basilisk
The Blind Of One Eye
The Combats
The Confession
The Conscript
The Deposition
The Disputes And The Audiences
The Dog And The Horse
The Enigmas
The Envious Man
The Fisherman
The Funeral Pile
The Generous
The Hermit
The Horla Or Modern Ghosts
The Invisible Eye
The Minister
The Miracle Of Zobeide
The Nail
The Necklace
The Nose
The Owl's Ear
The Robber
The Stone
The Supper
The Torture By Hope
The Waters Of Death
The Woman Beaten



The Basilisk








Arriving in a beautiful meadow, he there saw several women, who were
searching for something with great application. He took the liberty to
approach one of them, and to ask if he might have the honor to assist
them in their search. "Take care that thou dost not," replied the
Syrian; "what we are searching for can be touched only by women."

"Strange," said Zadig, "may I presume to ask thee what it is that women
only are permitted to touch?"

"It is a basilisk," said she.

"A basilisk, madam! and for what purpose, pray, dost thou seek for a
basilisk?"

"It is for our lord and master Ogul, whose cattle thou seest on the
bank of that river at the end of the meadow. We are his most humble
slaves. The lord Ogul is sick. His physician hath ordered him to eat a
basilisk, stewed in rose water; and as it is a very rare animal, and
can only be taken by women, the lord Ogul hath promised to choose for
his well-beloved wife the woman that shall bring him a basilisk; let me
go on in my search; for thou seest what I shall lose if I am prevented
by my companions."

Zadig left her and the other Assyrians to search for their basilisk,
and continued to walk in the meadow; when coming to the brink of a
small rivulet, he found another lady lying on the grass, and who was
not searching for anything. Her person seemed to be majestic; but her
face was covered with a veil. She was inclined toward the rivulet, and
profound sighs proceeded from her mouth. In her hand she held a small
rod with which she was tracing characters on the fine sand that lay
between the turf and the brook. Zadig had the curiosity to examine what
this woman was writing. He drew near; he saw the letter Z, then an A;
he was astonished; then appeared a D; he started. But never was
surprise equal to his when he saw the two last letters of his name.

He stood for some time immovable. At last, breaking silence with a
faltering voice: "O generous lady! pardon a stranger, an unfortunate
man, for presuming to ask thee by what surprising adventure I here find
the name of Zadig traced out by thy divine hand!"

At this voice, and these words, the lady lifted up the veil with a
trembling hand, looked at Zadig, sent forth a cry of tenderness,
surprise and joy, and sinking under the various emotions which at once
assaulted her soul, fell speechless into his arms. It was Astarte
herself; it was the Queen of Babylon; it was she whom Zadig adored, and
whom he had reproached himself for adoring; it was she whose
misfortunes he had so deeply lamented, and for whose fate he had been
so anxiously concerned.

He was for a moment deprived of the use of his senses, when he had
fixed his eyes on those of Astarte, which now began to open again with
a languor mixed with confusion and tenderness: "O ye immortal powers!"
cried he, "who preside over the fates of weak mortals, do ye indeed
restore Astarte to me! at what a time, in what a place, and in what a
condition do I again behold her!" He fell on his knees before Astarte,
and laid his face in the dust at her feet. The Queen of Babylon raised
him up, and made him sit by her side on the brink of the rivulet. She
frequently wiped her eyes, from which the tears continued to flow
afresh. She twenty times resumed her discourse, which her sighs as
often interrupted; she asked by what strange accident they were brought
together, and suddenly prevented his answers by other questions; she
waived the account of her own misfortunes, and desired to be informed
of those of Zadig.

At last, both of them having a little composed the tumult of their
souls, Zadig acquainted her in a few words by what adventure he was
brought into that meadow. "But, O unhappy and respectable queen! by
what means do I find thee in this lonely place, clothed in the habit of
a slave, and accompanied by other female slaves, who are searching for
a basilisk, which, by order of the physician, is to be stewed in rose
water?"

"While they are searching for their basilisk," said the fair Astarte,
"I will inform thee of all I have suffered, for which Heaven has
sufficiently recompensed me by restoring thee to my sight. Thou knowest
that the king, my husband, was vexed to see thee the most amiable of
mankind; and that for this reason he one night resolved to strangle
thee and poison me. Thou knowest how Heaven permitted my little mute to
inform me of the orders of his sublime majesty. Hardly had the faithful
Cador advised thee to depart, in obedience to my command, when he
ventured to enter my apartment at midnight by a secret passage. He
carried me off and conducted me to the temple of Oromazes, where the
magi his brother shut me up in that huge statue whose base reaches to
the foundation of the temple and whose top rises to the summit of the
dome. I was there buried in a manner; but was saved by the magi; and
supplied with all the necessaries of life. At break of day his
majesty's apothecary entered my chamber with a potion composed of a
mixture of henbane, opium, hemlock, black hellebore, and aconite; and
another officer went to thine with a bowstring of blue silk. Neither of
us was to be found. Cador, the better to deceive the king, pretended to
come and accuse us both. He said that thou hadst taken the road to the
Indies, and I that to Memphis, on which the king's guards were
immediately dispatched in pursuit of us both.

"The couriers who pursued me did not know me. I had hardly ever shown
my face to any but thee, and to thee only in the presence and by the
order of my husband. They conducted themselves in the pursuit by the
description that had been given them of my person. On the frontiers of
Egypt they met with a woman of the same stature with me, and possessed
perhaps of greater charms. She was weeping and wandering. They made no
doubt but that this woman was the Queen of Babylon and accordingly
brought her to Moabdar. Their mistake at first threw the king into a
violent passion; but having viewed this woman more attentively, he
found her extremely handsome and was comforted. She was called Missouf.
I have since been informed that this name in the Egyptian language
signifies the capricious fair one. She was so in reality; but she had
as much cunning as caprice. She pleased Moabdar and gained such an

ascendancy over him as to make him choose her for his wife. Her
character then began to appear in its true colors. She gave herself up,
without scruple, to all the freaks of a wanton imagination. She would
have obliged the chief of the magi, who was old and gouty, to dance
before her; and on his refusal, she persecuted him with the most
unrelenting cruelty. She ordered her master of the horse to make her a
pie of sweetmeats. In vain did he represent that he was not a
pastry-cook; he was obliged to make it, and lost his place, because it
was baked a little too hard. The post of master of the horse she gave
to her dwarf, and that of chancellor to her page. In this manner did
she govern Babylon. Everybody regretted the loss of me. The king, who
till the moment of his resolving to poison me and strangle thee, had
been a tolerably good kind of man, seemed now to have drowned all his
virtues in his immoderate fondness for this capricious fair one. He
came to the temple on the great day of the feast held in honor of the
sacred fire. I saw him implore the gods in behalf of Missouf, at the
feet of the statue in which I was inclosed. I raised my voice, I cried
out, 'The gods reject the prayers of a king who is now become a tyrant,
and who attempted to murder a reasonable wife, in order to marry a
woman remarkable for nothing but her folly and extravagance.' At these
words Moabdar was confounded and his head became disordered. The oracle
I had pronounced, and the tyranny of Missouf, conspired to deprive him
of his judgment, and in a few days his reason entirely forsook him.

"Moabdar's madness, which seemed to be the judgment of Heaven, was the
signal to a revolt. The people rose and ran to arms; and Babylon, which
had been so long immersed in idleness and effeminacy, became the
theater of a bloody civil war. I was taken from the heart of my statue
and placed at the head of a party. Cador flew to Memphis to bring thee
back to Babylon. The Prince of Hircania, informed of these fatal
events, returned with his army and made a third party in Chaldea. He
attacked the king, who fled before him with his capricious Egyptian.
Moabdar died pierced with wounds. I myself had the misfortune to be
taken by a party of Hircanians, who conducted me to their prince's
tent, at the very moment that Missouf was brought before him. Thou wilt
doubtless be pleased to hear that the prince thought me beautiful; but
thou wilt be sorry to be informed that he designed me for his seraglio.
He told me, with a blunt and resolute air, that as soon as he had
finished a military expedition, which he was just going to undertake,
he would come to me. Judge how great must have been my grief. My ties
with Moabdar were already dissolved; I might have been the wife of
Zadig; and I was fallen into the hands of a barbarian. I answered him
with all the pride which my high rank and noble sentiment could
inspire. I had always heard it affirmed that Heaven stamped on persons
of my condition a mark of grandeur, which, with a single word or
glance, could reduce to the lawliness of the most profound respect
those rash and forward persons who presume to deviate from the rules of
politeness. I spoke like a queen, but was treated like a maidservant.
The Hircanian, without even deigning to speak to me, told his black
eunuch that I was impertinent, but that he thought me handsome. He
ordered him to take care of me, and to put me under the regimen of
favorites, that so my complexion being improved, I might be the more
worthy of his favors when he should be at leisure to honor me with
them. I told him that rather than submit to his desires I would put an
end to my life. He replied, with a smile, that women, he believed, were
not so bloodthirsty, and that he was accustomed to such violent
expressions; and then left me with the air of a man who had just put
another parrot into his aviary. What a state for the first queen of the
universe, and, what is more, for a heart devoted to Zadig!"

At these words Zadig threw himself at her feet and bathed them with his
tears. Astarte raised him with great tenderness and thus continued her
story: "I now saw myself in the power of a barbarian and rival to the
foolish woman with whom I was confined. She gave me an account of her
adventures in Egypt. From the description she gave me of your person,
from the time, from the dromedary on which you were mounted, and from
every other circumstance, I inferred that Zadig was the man who had
fought for her. I doubted not but that you were at Memphis, and,
therefore, resolved to repair thither. Beautiful Missouf, said I, thou
art more handsome than I, and will please the Prince of Hircania much
better. Assist me in contriving the means of my escape; thou wilt then
reign alone; thou wilt at once make me happy and rid thyself of a
rival. Missouf concerted with me the means of my flight; and I departed
secretly with a female Egyptian slave.

"As I approached the frontiers of Arabia, a famous robber, named
Arbogad, seized me and sold me to some merchants, who brought me to
this castle, where Lord Ogul resides. He bought me without knowing who
I was. He is a voluptuary, ambitious of nothing but good living, and
thinks that God sent him into the world for no other purpose than to
sit at table. He is so extremely corpulent that he is always in danger
of suffocation. His physician, who has but little credit with him when
he has a good digestion, governs him with a despotic sway when he has
ate too much. He has persuaded him that a basilisk stewed in rose water
will effect a complete cure. The Lord Ogul hath promised his hand to
the female slave that brings him a basilisk. Thou seest that I leave
them to vie with each other in meriting this honor; and never was I
less desirous of finding the basilisk than since Heaven hath restored
thee to my sight."

This account was succeeded by a long conversation between Astarte and
Zadig, consisting of everything that their long-suppressed sentiments,
their great sufferings, and their mutual love could inspire into hearts
the most noble and tender; and the genii who preside over love carried
their words to the sphere of Venus.

The women returned to Ogul without having found the basilisk. Zadig was
introduced to this mighty lord and spoke to him in the following terms:
"May immortal health descend from heaven to bless all thy days! I am a
physician; at the first report of thy indisposition I flew to thy
castle and have now brought thee a basilisk stewed in rose water. Not
that I pretend to marry thee. All I ask is the liberty of a Babylonian
slave, who hath been in thy possession for a few days; and, if I should
not be so happy as to cure thee, magnificent Lord Ogul, I consent to
remain a slave in her place."

The proposal was accepted. Astarte set out for Babylon with Zadig's
servant, promising, immediately upon her arrival, to send a courier to
inform him of all that had happened. Their parting was as tender as
their meeting. The moment of meeting and that of parting are the two
greatest epochs of life, as sayeth the great book of Zend. Zadig loved
the queen with as much ardor as he professed; and the queen more than
she thought proper to acknowledge.

Meanwhile Zadig spoke thus to Ogul: "My lord, my basilisk is not to be
eaten; all its virtues must enter through thy pores. I have inclosed it
in a little ball, blown up and covered with a fine skin. Thou must
strike this ball with all thy might and I must strike it back for a
considerable time; and by observing this regimen for a few days thou
wilt see the effects of my art." The first day Ogul was out of breath
and thought he should have died with fatigue. The second he was less
fatigued, slept better. In eight days he recovered all the strength,
all the health, all the agility and cheerfulness of his most agreeable
years.

"Thou hast played at ball, and thou hast been temperate," said Zadig;
"know that there is no such thing in nature as a basilisk; that
temperance and exercise are the two great preservatives of health; and
that the art of reconciling intemperance and health is as chimerical as
the philosopher's stone, judicial astrology, or the theology of the
magi."

Ogul's first physician, observing how dangerous this man might prove to
the medical art, formed a design, in conjunction with the apothecary,
to send Zadig to search for a basilisk in the other world. Thus, having
suffered such a long train of calamities on account of his good
actions, he was now upon the point of losing his life for curing a
gluttonous lord. He was invited to an excellent dinner and was to have
been poisoned in the second course, but, during the first, he happily
received a courier from the fair Astarte. "When one is beloved by a
beautiful woman," says the great Zoroaster, "he hath always the good
fortune to extricate himself out of every kind of difficulty and
danger."





Next: The Combats

Previous: The Fisherman



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