Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter XCIV
Usbek to his brother, Santon at the Monastery of Casbin
 
I HUMBLE myself in the dust before you, holy Santon; 1 your footprints are to me as the apple of my eye. Your holiness is so great that it seems as if you had the heart of our sacred Prophet: your austerities astonish Heaven itself; the highest angels have watched you from the skies, and have said, “How is he still on earth, since his spirit is with us, and flies about the throne which the clouds bear up?”  1
  How then should I not honor you, I who have learned from our doctors that dervishes, even though infidels, have always a character of holiness which makes them venerable in the eyes of true believers; and that God has chosen for Himself, in every corner of the earth, souls purer than the rest, whom He has separated from the impious world, that their mortifications and their fervent prayers may suspend His wrath, ready to fall upon so many rebel nations?  2
  Christians narrate wonders of their first santons who took refuge by thousands in the dreadful desert of the Thebaid, and whose chiefs were Paul, Antony, and Pacomus. If what is told of them be true, their lives are as full of marvels as those of our most sacred Imans. They sometimes spent ten whole years without seeing a single soul; but they dwelt night and day with demons; they were ceaselessly tormented by these evil spirits, who haunted their beds, and sat down with them at meat; there was no refuge from them. If all this is true, reverend Santon, it must be confessed that nobody ever lived in more disagreeable company.  3
  The more sensible Christians regard all these stories as a very natural allegory, which may be of use in making us realize the wretchedness of our condition as human beings. We search in vain for a state of repose in the desert; temptations follow us everywhere: our passions, symbolized by the demons, never quit us altogether; those monsters of the heart, those illusions of the mind, those vain phantoms of error and falsehood, haunt us continually to mislead us, and attack us even in our fasts and our hair-cloths, that is to say, even in our strongholds.  4
  As for me, reverend Santon, I know that God’s messenger has chained Satan, and flung him headlong into the abyss: He has purified the earth, formerly filled with his power, and has made it worthy of the abode of angels and prophets.

  PARIS, the 9th of the moon of Chahban, 1715.
  5
 
Note 1. A Mussulman living a conventual life. [back]
 
 
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