François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (16941778). Candide, or The Optimist. 1884.
The History of the Old Woman
I HAVE not always been blear eyed; my nose did not always touch my chin; nor was I always a servant. You must know that I am the daughter of Pope Urban X. and of the Princess of Palestrina. To the age of fourteen I was brought up in a castle, to which all the castles of the German barons would not have been fit for stabling, and one of my robes would have bought half the province of Westphalia. I grew up, and improved in beauty, wit, and every graceful accomplishment; and in the midst of pleasures, homage, and the highest expectations. I already began to inspire the men with love. My breast began to take its right form; and such a breastwhite, firm, and formed like that of Venus of Medicis. My eyebrows were as black as jet; and as for my eyes, they darted flames, and eclipsed the lustre of the stars, as I was told by the poets of our part of the world. My maids, when they dressed and undressed me, used to fall into an ecstasy in viewing me before and behind; and all the men longed to be in their places.
I was contracted to a sovereign prince of Massa Carara. Such a prince! as handsome as myself, sweet-tempered, agreeable, witty, and in love with me over head and ears. I loved him too, as our sex generally do for the first time, with rapture, transport, and idolatry. The nuptials were prepared with surprising pomp and magnificence; the ceremony was attended with feasts, carousals, and burlettas: all Italy composed sonnets in my praise, though not one of them was tolerable. I was on the point of reaching the summit of bliss, when an old marchioness, who had been mistress to the prince my husband, invited him to drink chocolate. In less than two hours after he returned from the visit, he died of most terrible convulsions. But this is a mere trifle. My mother, distracted to the highest degree, and yet less afflicted than I, determined to absent herself for some time from so fatal a place. As she had a very fine estate in the neighbourhood of Gaieta, we embarked on board a galley, which was gilded like the high altar of St. Peters at Rome. In our passage we were boarded by a Sallee rover. Our men defended themselves like true popes soldiers; they flung themselves upon their knees, laid down their arms, and begged the corsair to give them absolution in articulo mortis.
The Moors presently stripped us as bare as ever we were born. My mother, my maids of honour, and myself, were served all in the same manner. It is amazing how quick these gentry are at undressing people. But what surprised me most was, that they thrust their fingers into every part of our bodies that their fingers could in any way reach. I thought it a very strange kind of ceremony; for thus we are generally apt to judge of things when we have not seen the world. I afterwards learnt that it was to discover if we had no diamonds concealed. This practice had been established time immemorial among those civilized nations that scour the seas. I was informed that the religious Knights of Malta never fail to make this search whenever any Moors of either sex fall into their hands. It is a part of the law of nations, from which they never deviate.
I need not tell you how great a hardship it was for a young princess and her mother to be made slaves and carried to Morocco. You may easily imagine what we must have suffered on board a corsair. My mother was still extremely handsome, our maids of honour, and even our common waiting-women, had more charms than were to be found in all Africa. As to myself, I was enchanting; I was beauty itself, and then I had my innocence. But, alas! I did not retain it long; this precious flower, which was reserved for the lovely prince of Massa Carara, was cropt by the captain of the Moorish vessel, who was a hideous negro, and thought he did me infinite honour. Indeed, both the Princess of Palestrina and myself must have had very strong constitutions to undergo all the hardships and violences we suffered till our arrival at Morocco. But I will not detain you any longer with such common things; they are hardly worth mentioning.
Upon our arrival at Morocco we found that kingdom bathed in blood. Fifty sons of the Emperor Muley Ishmael were each at the head of a party. This produced fifty civil wars of blacks against blacks, of tawnies against tawnies, and of mulattoes against mulattoes. In short, the whole empire was one continued scene of carcases.
No sooner were we landed than a party of blacks, of a contrary faction to that of my captain, came to rob him of his booty. Next to the money and jewels we were the most valuable things he had. I was witness on this occasion to such a battle as you never beheld in your cold European climates. The northern nations have not that fermentation in their blood, nor that raging lust for women that is so common in Africa. The natives of Europe seem to have their veins filled with milk only; but fire and vitrol circulate in those of the inhabitants of Mount Atlas and the neighbouring provinces. They fought with the fury of the lions, tigers, and serpents of their country, to know who should have us. A Moor seized my mother by the right arm, while my captains lieutenant held her by the left; another Moor laid hold of her by the right leg, and one of our corsairs held her by the other. In this manner were almost every one of our women dragged between four soldiers. My captain kept me concealed behind him, and with his drawn scymetar cut down every one who opposed him; at length I saw all our Italian women and my mother mangled and torn in pieces by the monsters who contended for them. The captives, my companions, the Moors who took us, the soldiers, the sailors, the blacks, the whites, the mulattoes, and lastly my captain himself, were all slain, and I remained alone, expiring upon a heap of dead bodies. The like barbarous scenes were transacted every day over the whole country, which is an extent of three hundred leagues, and yet they never missed the five stated times of prayer enjoined by their prophet Mahomet.
I disengaged myself with great difficulty from such a heap of slaughtered bodies, and made a shift to crawl to a large orange tree that stood on the bank of a neighbouring rivulet, where I fell down exhausted with fatigue, and overwhelmed with horror, despair, and hunger. My senses being overpowered, I fell asleep, or rather seemed to be in a trance. Thus I lay in a state of weakness and insensibility, between life and death, when I felt myself pressed by something that moved up and down upon my body. This brought me to myself; I opened my eyes, and saw a pretty fair-faced man, who sighed, and muttered these words between his teeth: O che sciagura dessere senza coglioni!