Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter XIII
Usbek to the Same
 
I CANNOT say half I wish to about the virtue of the Troglodites. One of them once said, “To-morrow it is my father’s turn to work in the fields; I shall rise two hours before him, and when he comes to his work he will find it all done.”  1
  Another said to himself, “I think my sister has taken a fancy for a young cousin of mine. I must talk to my father about it, and get him to arrange a marriage.” 1  2
  Another, being told that robbers had carried off his herd, replied, “I am very sorry, because it contained a white heifer which I meant to offer to the gods.”  3
  One was heard telling another that he was bound for the temple to return thanks to Heaven for the recovery from sickness of his brother, who was so dear to his father, and whom he himself loved so much.  4
  This also was once said: “In a field adjoining my father’s, the workers are all day long exposed to the heat of the sun. I shall plant some trees there that these poor folks may sometimes rest in their shade.”  5
  On one occasion, in a company of Troglodites, an elderly man reproached a young one with the commission of an unworthy action. “We do not think him capable of such a deed,” said the young men; “but if he has been guilty, may he outlive all his family.”  6
  A Troglodite having been told that strangers had robbed his house of all his goods, replied, “If they had not been unrighteous men, I would have prayed the gods to give them a longer use of them than I have had.”  7
  Their unexampled prosperity was not regarded without envy. A neighboring nation gathered together, and on some paltry pretext determined to carry off their cattle. As soon as they heard this, the Troglodites dispatched ambassadors, who addressed their enemies in the following terms: “What evil have the Troglodites done you? Have they carried off your wives, stolen your cattle, or ravaged your lands? No; we are just men, and fear the gods. What, then, do you require of us? Would you have wool to make clothes? Do you wish the milk of our cows, or the products of our fields? Lay down your arms, then; come with us, and we will give you all you demand. But we swear by all we hold most sacred, that if you enter our territories in enmity, we will regard you as dishonest men, and deal with you as we would with wild beasts.”  8
  This speech was received with contempt; and, believing that the Troglodites had no means of defense except their innocence, the barbarians invaded their territory in warlike array.  9
  But the Troglodites were well prepared to defend themselves. They had placed their wives and children in their midst. Astonished they certainly were at the injustice of their enemies, but were not dismayed by their number. Their hearts burned within them with an ardor before unknown. One longed to lay down his life for his father, another for his wife and children, this one for his brothers, that one for his friends, and all for each other. When one fell in the fight, he who immediately took his place, besides fighting for the common cause, had the death of his comrade to avenge.  10
  And so the battle raged between right and wrong. Those wretched creatures, whose sole aim was plunder, felt no shame when they were put to flight. They were forced to yield to the prowess of that virtue, whose worth they were unable to appreciate.

  ERZEROUM, the 9th of the second moon of Gemmadi, 1711.
  11
 
Note 1. In Montesquieu’s time it was not uncommon for parents of noble descent to compel their daughters to enter a convent in order that the eldest son might have greater means of display. [back]
 
 
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