The Enigmas


Zadig, entranced, as it were, and like a man about whose head the

thunder had burst, walked at random. He entered Babylon on the very day

when those who had fought at the tournaments were assembled in the

grand vestibule of the palace to explain the enigmas and to answer the

questions of the grand magi. All the knights were already arrived,

except the knight in green armor. As soon as Zadig appeared in the city

the peo
le crowded round him; every eye was fixed on him; every mouth

blessed him, and every heart wished him the empire. The envious man saw

him pass; he frowned and turned aside. The people conducted him to the

place where the assembly was held. The queen, who was informed of his

arrival, became a prey to the most violent agitations of hope and fear.

She was filled with anxiety and apprehension. She could not comprehend

why Zadig was without arms, nor why Itobad wore the white armor. A

confused murmur arose at the sight of Zadig. They were equally

surprised and charmed to see him; but none but the knights who had

fought were permitted to appear in the assembly.

"I have fought as well as the other knights," said Zadig, "but another

here wears my arms; and while I wait for the honor of proving the truth

of my assertion, I demand the liberty of presenting myself to explain

the enigmas." The question was put to the vote, and his reputation for

probity was still so deeply impressed in their minds, that they

admitted him without scruple.

The first question proposed by the grand magi was: "What, of all things

in the world, is the longest and the shortest, the swiftest and the

slowest, the most divisible and the most extended, the most neglected

and the most regretted, without which nothing can be done, which

devours all that is little, and enlivens all that is great?"

Itobad was to speak. He replied that so great a man as he did not

understand enigmas, and that it was sufficient for him to have

conquered by his strength and valor. Some said that the meaning of the

enigmas was Fortune; some, the Earth; and others the Light. Zadig said

that it was Time. "Nothing," added he, "is longer, since it is the

measure of eternity; nothing is shorter, since it is insufficient for

the accomplishment of our projects; nothing more slow to him that

expects, nothing more rapid to him that enjoys; in greatness, it

extends to infinity; in smallness, it is infinitely divisible; all men

neglect it; all regret the loss of it; nothing can be done without it;

it consigns to oblivion whatever is unworthy of being transmitted to

posterity, and it immortalizes such actions as are truly great." The

assembly acknowledged that Zadig was in the right.

The next question was: "What is the thing which we receive without

thanks, which we enjoy without knowing how, which we give to others

when we know not where we are, and which we lose without perceiving


Everyone gave his own explanation. Zadig alone guessed that it was

Life, and explained all the other enigmas with the same facility.

Itobad always said that nothing was more easy, and that he could have

answered them with the same readiness had he chosen to have given

himself the trouble. Questions were then proposed on justice, on the

sovereign good, and on the art of government. Zadig's answers were

judged to be the most solid. "What a pity is it," said they, "that such

a great genius should be so bad a knight!"

"Illustrious lords," said Zadig, "I have had the honor of conquering in

the tournaments. It is to me that the white armor belongs. Lord Itobad

took possession of it during my sleep. He probably thought that it

would fit him better than the green. I am now ready to prove in your

presence, with my gown and sword, against all that beautiful white

armor which he took from me, that it is I who have had the honor of

conquering the brave Otamus."

Itobad accepted the challenge with the greatest confidence. He never

doubted but what, armed as he was, with a helmet, a cuirass, and

brassarts, he would obtain an easy victory over a champion in a cap and

nightgown. Zadig drew his sword, saluting the queen, who looked at him

with a mixture of fear and joy. Itobad drew his without saluting

anyone. He rushed upon Zadig, like a man who had nothing to fear; he

was ready to cleave him in two. Zadig knew how to ward off his blows,

by opposing the strongest part of his sword to the weakest of that of

his adversary, in such a manner that Itobad's sword was broken. Upon

which Zadig, seizing his enemy by the waist, threw him on the ground;

and fixing the point of his sword at the breastplate, "Suffer thyself

to be disarmed," said he, "or thou art a dead man."

Itobad, always surprised at the disgraces that happened to such a man

as he, was obliged to yield to Zadig, who took from him with great

composure his magnificent helmet, his superb cuirass, his fine

brassarts, his shining cuishes; clothed himself with them, and in this

dress ran to throw himself at the feet of Astarte. Cador easily proved

that the armor belonged to Zadig. He was acknowledged king by the

unanimous consent of the whole nation, and especially by that of

Astarte, who, after so many calamities, now tasted the exquisite

pleasure of seeing her lover worthy, in the eyes of all the world, to

be her husband. Itobad went home to be called lord in his own house.

Zadig was king, and was happy. The queen and Zadig adored Providence.

He sent in search of the robber Arbogad, to whom he gave an honorable

post in his army, promising to advance him to the first dignities if he

behaved like a true warrior, and threatening to hang him if he followed

the profession of a robber.

Setoc, with the fair Almona, was called from the heart of Arabia and

placed at the head of the commerce of Babylon. Cador was preferred and

distinguished according to his great services. He was the friend of the

king; and the king was then the only monarch on earth that had a

friend. The little mute was not forgotten.

But neither could the beautiful Semira be comforted for having believed

that Zadig would be blind of an eye; nor did Azora cease to lament her

having attempted to cut off his nose. Their griefs, however, he

softened by his presents. The envious man died of rage and shame. The

empire enjoyed peace, glory, and plenty. This was the happiest age of

the earth; it was governed by love and justice. The people blessed

Zadig, and Zadig blessed Heaven.