The Generous

The time now arrived for celebrating a grand festival, which returned

every five years. It was a custom in Babylon solemnly to declare at the

end of every five years which of the citizens had performed the most

generous action. The grandees and the magi were the judges. The first

satrap, who was charged with the government of the city, published the

most noble actions that had passed under his administration. The

ition was decided by votes; and the king pronounced the sentence.

People came to this solemnity from the extremities of the earth. The

conqueror received from the monarch's hand a golden cup adorned with

precious stones, his majesty at the same time making him this


"Receive this reward of thy generosity, and may the gods grant me many

subjects like to thee."

This memorable day being come, the king appeared on his throne,

surrounded by the grandees, the magi, and the deputies of all nations

that came to these games, where glory was acquired not by the swiftness

of horses, nor by strength of body, but by virtue. The first satrap

recited, with an audible voice, such actions as might entitle the

authors of them to this invaluable prize. He did not mention the

greatness of soul with which Zadig had restored the envious man his

fortune, because it was not judged to be an action worthy of disputing

the prize.

He first presented a judge who, having made a citizen lose a

considerable cause by a mistake, for which, after all, he was not

accountable, had given him the whole of his own estate, which was just

equal to what the other had lost.

He next produced a young man who, being desperately in love with a lady

whom he was going to marry, had yielded her up to his friend, whose

passion for her had almost brought him to the brink of the grave, and

at the same time had given him the lady's fortune.

He afterwards produced a soldier who, in the wars of Hircania, had

given a still more noble instance of generosity. A party of the enemy

having seized his mistress, he fought in her defense with great

intrepidity. At that very instant he was informed that another party,

at the distance of a few paces, were carrying off his mother; he

therefore left his mistress with tears in his eyes and flew to the

assistance of his mother. At last he returned to the dear object of his

love and found her expiring. He was just going to plunge his sword in

his own bosom; but his mother remonstrating against such a desperate

deed, and telling him that he was the only support of her life, he had

the courage to endure to live.

The judges were inclined to give the prize to the soldier. But the king

took up the discourse and said: "The action of the soldier, and those

of the other two, are doubtless very great, but they have nothing in

them surprising. Yesterday Zadig performed an action that filled me

with wonder. I had a few days before disgraced Coreb, my minister and

favorite. I complained of him in the most violent and bitter terms; all

my courtiers assured me that I was too gentle and seemed to vie with

each other in speaking ill of Coreb. I asked Zadig what he thought of

him, and he had the courage to commend him. I have read in our

histories of many people who have atoned for an error by the surrender

of their fortune; who have resigned a mistress; or preferred a mother

to the object of their affection; but never before did I hear of a

courtier who spoke favorably of a disgraced minister that labored under

the displeasure of his sovereign. I give to each of those whose

generous actions have been now recited twenty thousand pieces of gold;

but the cup I give to Zadig."

"May it please your majesty," said Zadig, "thyself alone deservest the

cup; thou hast performed an action of all others the most uncommon and

meritorious, since, notwithstanding thy being a powerful king, thou

wast not offended at thy slave when he presumed to oppose thy passion."

The king and Zadig were equally the object of admiration. The judge,

who had given his estate to his client; the lover, who had resigned his

mistress to a friend; and the soldier, who had preferred the safety of

his mother to that of his mistress, received the king's presents and

saw their names enrolled in the catalogue of generous men. Zadig had

the cup, and the king acquired the reputation of a good prince, which

he did not long enjoy. The day was celebrated by feasts that lasted

longer than the law enjoined; and the memory of it is still preserved

in Asia. Zadig said, "Now I am happy at last"; but he found himself

fatally deceived.