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


"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


"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


"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


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


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