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Antiquity

Have you sometimes seen in a village Pierre Aoudri and his wife Peronelle wishing to go before their neighbours in the procession? "Our grandfathers," they say, "were tolling the bells before those who jostle us to-day owned even a pig-sty."

The vanity of Pierre Aoudri, his wife and his neighbours, knows nothing more about it. Their minds kindle. The quarrel is important; honour is in question. Proofs are necessary. A scholar who sings in the choir, discovers an old rusty iron pot, marked with an "A," first letter of the name of the potter who made the pot. Pierre Aoudri persuades himself that it was his ancestors' helmet. In this way was Csar descended from a hero and from the goddess Venus. Such is the history of nations; such is, within very small margins, the knowledge of early antiquity.

The scholars of Armenia demonstrate that the terrestrial paradise was in their land. Some profound Swedes demonstrate that it was near Lake Vener which is visibly a remnant of it. Some Spaniards demonstrate also that it was in Castille; while the Japanese, the Chinese, the Indians, the Africans, the Americans are not sufficiently unfortunate to know even that there was formerly a terrestrial paradise at the source of the Phison, the Gehon, the Tigris and the Euphrates, or, if you prefer it, at the source of the Guadalquivir, the Guadiana, the Douro and the Ebro; for from Phison one easily makes Phaetis; and from Phaetis one makes the Baetis which is the Guadalquivir. The Gehon is obviously the Guadiana, which begins with a "G." The Ebro, which is in Catalonia, is incontestably the Euphrates, of which the initial letter is "E."

But a Scotsman appears who demonstrates in his turn that the garden of Eden was at Edinburgh, which has retained its name; and it is to be believed that in a few centuries this opinion will make its fortune.

The whole globe was burned once upon a time, says a man versed in ancient and modern history; for I read in a newspaper that some absolutely black charcoal has been found in Germany at a depth of a hundred feet, between mountains covered with wood. And it is suspected even that there were charcoal burners in this place.

Phaeton's adventure makes it clear that everything has boiled right to the bottom of the sea. The sulphur of Mount Vesuvius proves invincibly that the banks of the Rhine, Danube, Ganges, Nile and the great Yellow River are merely sulphur, nitre and Guiac oil, which only await the moment of the explosion to reduce the earth to ashes, as it has already been. The sand on which we walk is evident proof that the earth has been vitrified, and that our globe is really only a glass ball, just as are our ideas.

But if fire has changed our globe, water has produced still finer revolutions. For you see clearly that the sea, the tides of which mount as high as eight feet in our climate, has produced mountains of a height of sixteen to seventeen thousand feet. This is so true that some learned men who have never been in Switzerland have found a big ship with all its rigging petrified on Mount St. Gothard, or at the bottom of a precipice, one knows not where; but it is quite certain that it was there. Therefore men were originally fish, quod erat demonstrandum.

To descend to a less antique antiquity, let us speak of the times when the greater part of the barbarous nations left their countries, to go to seek others which were hardly any better. It is true, if there be anything true in ancient history, that there were some Gaulish brigands who went to pillage Rome in the time of Camillus. Other Gaulish brigands had passed, it is said, through Illyria on the way to hire their services as murderers to other murderers, in the direction of Thrace; they exchanged their blood for bread, and later established themselves in Galatia. But who were these Gauls? were they Berichons and Angevins? They were without a doubt Gauls whom the Romans called Cisalpines, and whom we call Transalpines, famished mountain-dwellers, neighbours of the Alps and the Apennines. The Gauls of the Seine and the Marne did not know at that time that Rome existed, and could not take it into their heads to pass Mount Cenis, as Hannibal did later, to go to steal the wardrobes of Roman senators who at that time for all furniture had a robe of poor grey stuff, ornamented with a band the colour of ox blood; two little pummels of ivory, or rather dog's bone, on the arms of a wooden chair; and in their kitchens a piece of rancid bacon.

The Gauls, who were dying of hunger, not finding anything to eat in Rome, went off therefore to seek their fortune farther away, as was the practice of the Romans later, when they ravaged so many countries one after the other; as did the peoples of the North when they destroyed the Roman Empire.

And, further, what is it which instructs very feebly about these emigrations? It is a few lines that the Romans wrote at hazard; because for the Celts, the Velches or the Gauls, these men who it is desired to make pass for eloquent, at that time did not know, they and their bards, how either to read or write.

But to infer from that that the Gauls or Celts, conquered after by a few of Csar's legions, and by a horde of Bourguignons, and lastly by a horde of Sicamores, under one Clodovic, had previously subjugated the whole world, and given their names and laws to Asia, seems to me to be very strange: the thing is not mathematically impossible, and if it be demonstrated, I give way; it would be very uncivil to refuse to the Velches what one accords to the Tartars.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire