Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter XX
Usbek to his wife Zachi, at the Seraglio at Ispahan
YOU have offended me, Zachi; and my emotions are such as you should dread, did not my distance from you afford you time to change your conduct, and set at rest the fierce jealousy with which I am tormented.  1
  I learn that you have been found alone with Nadir, the white eunuch, who will pay with his head for his infidelity and treachery. How could you forget yourself so far as not to feel that it is forbidden you to receive a white eunuch in your chamber, as long as you have black ones at your service? You have been careful to tell me that eunuchs are not men, and that your virtue raises you above those thoughts which an imperfect likeness might arouse. That is not enough either for you or for me: not enough for you, because you have done that which the laws of the seraglio forbid; not enough for me, inasmuch as you have robbed me of honor, in exposing yourself to the gaze—what do I say?—perhaps to the attempts of a traitor who would have defiled you by his misdeeds, and still more by his repining and his impotent despair. You will doubtless tell me that you have always been faithful. Yes, but how could you fail to be? Could you possibly deceive the vigilance of the black eunuchs, who are so amazed at the life you lead? Do you think you could force the doors that keep you from the world? You boast of a virtue which is not free; and perhaps your impure desires have robbed you again and again of the merit and the worth of your vaunted fidelity.  2
  I am persuaded that you are not guilty of all that might be laid to your charge: that the traitor did not lay his sacrilegious hands upon you; that you were not so prodigal as to expose to him the delights of his master; that, covered with your garments, you allowed at least that barrier to remain between you; that he, struck with reverent awe, cast down his eyes; and that, his hardihood forsaking him, he trembled at the prospect of the punishment he had incurred. All this granted, it is none the less true that you have failed in your duty. And, since you have done a gratuitous wrong, without accomplishing your sinful desires, what would you not do to satisfy them? Still more, what would you do if you could escape from that sacred place which seems to you a melancholy prison, but which your companions find a happy asylum against the attacks of vice, a consecrated temple where their sex loses its weakness, and becomes invincible in spite of all its natural disadvantages? What would you do if, left to yourself, you had no other defense than your love for me, which is so sadly shaken, and your duty, against which you have so unworthily sinned? How immaculate are the manners of the country in which you live! They protect you from the attempts of the vilest slaves! You ought to be grateful to me even for the constraint in which you live, since it is that alone which makes you worthy of life.  3
  You cannot endure the chief of the eunuchs because he is forever watching your behavior, and giving you good advice. His ugliness, you say, is so horrible that you cannot look at him without suffering. As if one would place in posts of that kind, miracles of manly beauty! No; what annoys you is that you have not in his place the white eunuch who dishonors you.  4
  But what has your chief slave done to you? He has told you that the familiarities which you have taken with the youthful Zelida were unbecoming: that is the cause of your hatred.  5
  Duty requires me, Zachi, to be an impartial judge; I am, however, only a kind husband who seeks to find you innocent. The love which I bear Roxana, my new wife, has not deprived me of the tenderness which is rightly due to you, as being not less beautiful than she. I share my love among you all; and the only advantage possessed by Roxana is that which virtue adds to beauty.

  SMYRNA, the 12th of the moon of Zilcade, 1 1711.
Note 1. More correctly Zilkaid, the eleventh month of the Persian year. [back]

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