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Chapter 10

The FUNERAL PILE.


_Setoc_, transported with his good Success, of a Slave made _Zadig_
his Favourite Companion and Confident; he found him as necessary in
the Conduct of his Affairs, as the King of _Babylon_ had before done
in the Administration of his Government; and lucky it was for
_Zadig_ that _Setoc_ had no Wife.

He discover'd, that his Master was in his Temper benevolent,
strictly honest, and a Man of good natural Parts. _Zadig_ was very
much concern'd, that One of so much Sense should pay divine
Adoration to a whole Host of created, tho' Celestial Beings, that is
to say, the Sun, Moon, and Stars, according to the antient Custom of
the _Arabians_. He talk'd, at first, to his Master, with great
Precaution on so important a Topick. But at last told him, in direct
Terms, that they were created Bodies, as others, tho' of less
Lustre, and that there was no more Adoration due to them, than to a
Stock or a Stone. But, said _Setoc_, they are eternal Beings to whom
we are indebted for all the Blessings we enjoy; they animate Nature;
they regulate the Seasons; they are, in a Word, at such an infinite
Distance from us, that it would be downright impious not to adore
them. You are more indebted, said _Zadig_, to the Waters of the Red
Sea, which transport so many valuable Commodities into the _Indies_.
Why, pray, may not they be deem'd as antient as the Stars? And if
you are so fond of paying your Adoration on Account of their vast
Distance; why don't you adore the Land of the _Gangarides_, which
lies in the utmost Extremities of the Earth. No, said _Setoc_, there
is something so surprisingly more brilliant in the Stars than what
you speak of; that a Man must adore them whether he will or not.

At the Close of the Evening, _Zadig_ planted a long Range of Candles
in the Front of his Tent, where _Setoc_ and he were to sup that
Night: And as soon as he perceiv'd his Patron to be at the Door, he
fell prostrate on his Knees before the Wax-Lights. O ye everlasting,
ever-shining Luminaries, be always propitious to your Votary, said
_Zadig_. Having repeated these Words so loud as _Setoc_ might hear
them, he sat down to Table, without taking the least Notice of
_Setoc_. What! said _Setoc_, somewhat startled at his Conduct, art
thou at thy Prayers before Supper? I act just as inconsistently,
Sir, as you do; I worship these Candles; without reflecting on their
Makers, or yourself, who are my most beneficent Patron.

_Setoc_ took the Hint, and was conscious of the Reproof that was
conceal'd so genteely under a Vail. The superior Wisdom of his Slave
enlightned his Mind; and from that Hour he was less lavish than ever
he had been, of his Incense to those created Beings, and for the
future, paid his Adoration to the eternal God who made them.

At that Time there was a most hideous Custom in high Repute all over
_Arabia_, which came originally from _Scythia_; but having met with
the Sanction of the bigotted Brachmans, threatn'd to spread its
Infection all over the _East_. When a married Man happen'd to die,
if his dearly beloved Widow ever expected to be esteem'd a Saint,
she must throw herself headlong upon her Husband's Funeral-Pile.
This was look'd upon as a solemn Festival, and was call'd the
Widow's Sacrifice. That Tribe which could boast of the greatest
Number of burnt-Widows, was look'd upon as the most meritorious. An
_Arabian_, who was of the Tribe of _Setoc_, happen'd just at that
Juncture, to be dead, and his Widow (_Almona_ by Name) who was a
noted Devotee, publish'd the Day, nay, the Hour, that she propos'd
to throw herself (according to Custom) on her deceased Husband's
Funeral Pile, and be attended by a Concert of Drums and Trumpets.
_Zadig_ remonstrated to _Setoc_, what a shocking Custom this was,
and how directly repugnant to human Nature; by permitting young
Widows, almost every Day, to become wilful Self-Murderers; when they
might be of Service to their Country, either by the Addition of new
Subjects, or by the Education of such as demanded their Maternal
Indulgence. And, by arguing seriously with _Setoc_ for some Time, he
forc'd from him at last, an ingenuous Confession, that the barbarous
Custom then subsisting, ought, if possible, to be abolish'd. 'Tis
now, replied _Setoc_, above a thousand Years since the Widows of
_Arabia_ have been indulg'd with this Privilege of dying with their
Husbands; and how shall any one dare to abrogate a Law that has been
establish'd Time out of Mind? Is there any Thing more inviolable
than even an antient Error? But, replied _Zadig_, Reason is of more
antient Date than the Custom you plead for. Do you communicate these
Sentiments to the Sovereigns of your Tribes, and in the mean while
I'll go, and sound the Widow's Inclinations.

Accordingly he paid her a Visit, and having insinuated himself into
her Favour, by a few Compliments on her Beauty, after urging what a
pity it was, that a young Widow, Mistress of so many Charms, should
make away with herself for no other reason but to mingle her Ashes
with a Husband that was dead; he, notwithstanding, applauded her for
her heroic Constancy and Courage. I perceive, Madam, said he, you
was excessively fond of your deceased Spouse. Not I truly, reply'd
the young _Arabian_ Devotee. He was a Brute, infected with a
groundless Jealousy of my Virtue; and, in short, a perfect Tyrant.
But, notwithstanding all this, I am determin'd to comply with our
Custom. Surely then, Madam, there's a Sort of secret Pleasure in
being burnt alive. Alas! with a Sigh, cried _Almona_, 'tis a Shock
indeed to Nature; but must be complied with for all that. I am a
profess'd Devotee, and should I shew the least Reluctance, my
Reputation would be lost for ever; all the World would laugh at me,
should I not burn myself on this Occasion: _Zadig_ having forc'd her
ingenuously to confess, that she parted with her Life more out of
Regard to what the World would say of her, and out of Pride and
Ostentation, than any real Love for the deceas'd, he talk'd to her
for some considerable Time so rationally, and us'd so many
prevailing Arguments with her to justify her due Regard for the Life
which she was going to throw away, that she began to wave the
Thought, and entertain a secret Affection for her friendly Monitor.
Pray, Madam, tell me, said _Zadig_, how would you dispose of
yourself, upon the Supposition, that you could shake off this vain
and barbarous Notion? Why, said Dame, with an amorous Glance, I
think verily I should accept of yourself for a second Bed-fellow.

The Memory of _Astarte_ had made too strong an Impression on his
Mind, to close with this warm Declaration: He took his leave,
however, that Moment, and waited on the Chiefs. He communicated to
them the Substance of their private Conversation, and prevailed with
them to make it a Law for the future, that no Widow should be
allow'd to fall a Victim to a deceased Husband, till after she had
admitted some young Man to converse with her in private for a whole
Hour together. The Law was pass'd accordingly, and not one Widow in
all _Arabia_, from that Day to this, ever observ'd the Custom. 'Twas
to _Zadig_ alone that the _Arabian_ Dames were indebted for the
Abolition, in one Hour, of a Custom so very inhuman, that had been
practis'd for such a Number of Ages. _Zadig_, therefore, with the
strictest Justice, was look'd upon by all the Fair Sex in _Arabia_,
as their most bountiful Benefactor.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire

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