Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
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Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
 
Letter XVI
Usbek to the Mollah Mehemet Ali, Guardian of The Three Tombs at Koum
 
WHY, 1 divine Mollah, do you live in the tombs? You are better fitted to dwell among the stars. Doubtless you hide yourself lest you should eclipse the sun: unlike the day-star you have no spots; but you resemble him in your cloudy concealment.  1
  Your knowledge is more abysmal that the ocean; your intellect, keener than Zufagar, 2 the twin-pointed sword of Hali. You know the secrets of the nine orders of celestial powers; you read the Koran on the breast of our holy Prophet, and when you come to an obscure passage, an angel, by his order, spreads his rapid wings, and descends from the throne to reveal to you its meaning.  2
  I may, with your help, conduct a private correspondence with the seraphim; for, in short, O thirteenth Iman, 3 are you not the centre where earth and heaven meet, the point of communication between the abyss and the empyrean?  3
  In the midst of a profane people, permit me to purify myself through you. Suffer me to turn my face toward the holy place in which you dwell; mark me off from among the wicked, as one distinguishes night from day; 4 aid me with your counsels; be my soul’s guardian; feed me with divine knowledge; and let me humbly expose to you the wounds of my spirit. Address your inspired letters to Erzeroum, where I shall stay for a month or two.

  ERZEROUM, the 11th of the second moon of Gemmadi, 1711.
  4
 
Note 1. The three tombs are those of Fatima and two votaries of her family. (See p. 31, Note.) [back]
Note 2. Zufagar, or Zoulfegar, the name of a double-bladed sword given by Mohammed to Ali. It was treasured for many years in the palace of the califs, until one of the successors of Abdoullah II. broke it by accident while hunting. A representation of this sword still appears on the flag of the Turkish navy. [back]
Note 3. The first twelve successors of Mohammed were the Imans, or holy men. To address any one as the “thirteenth Iman” is, therefore, a high compliment. [back]
Note 4. In the original, “as one distinguishes at daybreak the white thread from the black.” According to the Mussulmans, day begins when there is light enough to make this distinction. [back]
 
 
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