Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary
The Philosophical Dictionary
Selected and Translated by H.I. Woolf
New York: Knopf, 1924

Scanned by the Hanover College Department of History in 1995.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.


"UNFORTUNATE that I am to have been born! " said Ardassan Ougli, young page of the great Sultan of the Turks. "If it were only the great Sultan on whom I am dependent; but I am subject to the chief of my oda, to the capigi pasha; and when I receive my pay, I have to bow down to one of the tefterdar's clerks who deducts half of it. Before I was seven years old I had cut off, in spite of myself, in ceremony, the end of my prepuce, and it made me ill for a fortnight. The dervish who prays for us is my master; an iman is still more my master; the mollah is still more my master than the iman. The cadi is another master; the cadi-leskier is master still more; the mufti is much more master than all these together. The grand vizier 's kaia can with a word have me thrown into the canal; and the grand vizier, finally, can have my neck wrung at his pleasure, and stuff the skin of my head, without anybody even taking notice.

"How many masters, great God! even if I had as many bodies and as many souls as I have duties to accomplish, I could not attend to everything. Oh, Allah ! if only you had made me a screech-owl! I should live free in my hole, and I should eat mice at my ease without masters or servants. That assuredly is man's real destiny; only since he was perverted has he masters. No man was made to serve another man continuously. Each would have charitably aided his fellow, if things were as they should be. The man with eyes would have led the blind man, the active man would have acted as crutch to the cripple. This world would have been the paradise of Mohammed; and it is the hell which is exactly under the pointed bridge."

Thus did Ardassan Ougli speak, after receiving the stirrup-leather from one of his masters.

After a few years Ardassan Ougli became pasha with three tails. He made a prodigious fortune, and he firmly believed that all men, excepting the Great Turk and the Grand Vizier, were born to serve him, and all women to give him pleasure in accordance with his caprice.


How has it been possible for one man to become another man s master, and by what species of incomprehensible magic has he been able to become the master of many other men? On this phenomenon a great number of good volumes have been written; but I give the preference to an Indian fable, because it is short, and because the fables have said everything.

Adimo, the father of all the Indians, had two sons and two daughters by his wife Procriti. The elder son was a giant, the younger was a little hunchback, the two daughters were pretty. As soon as the giant was conscious of his strength, he lay with his two sisters, and made the little hunchback serve him. Of his two sisters, one was his cook, the other his gardener. When the giant wanted to sleep, he started by chaining his little hunchback brother to a tree; and when the brother escaped, he caught him in four strides, and gave him twenty strokes with a length of ox sinew.

The hunchback became submissive and the best subject in the world. The giant, satisfied to see him fulfilling his duties as subject, permitted him to lie with one of his sisters for whom he himself had taken a distaste. The children who came of this marriage were not entirely hunchbacked; but they had sufficiently misshapen forms. They were reared in fear of God and the giant. They received an excellent education; they were taught that their great uncle was giant by divine right, that he could do with his family as pleased him; that if he had a pretty niece or great-niece, she was for him alone without a doubt, and that no one could lie with her until he wanted her no longer.

The giant having died, his son, who was not by a long way as strong and as big as he, thought nevertheless that he, like his father, was giant by divine right. He claimed to make all the men work for him, and to lie with all the women. The family leagued itself against him, he was beaten to death and the others turned themselves into a republic.

The Siamese, on the contrary, maintain that the family had started by being republican, and that the giant did not come until after a great number of years and dissensions; but all the authors of Benares and Siam agree that mankind lived an infinity of centuries before having the intelligence to make laws; and they prove it by an unanswerable reason, which is that even to-day when everyone plumes himself on his intelligence, no way has been found of making a score of passably good laws.

It is indeed still an insoluble question in India whether republics were established before or after monarchies, whether confusion appeared more horrible to mankind than despotism. I do not know what happened in order of time; but in that of nature it must be agreed that all men being born equal, violence and adroitness made the first masters, the laws made the last.

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