The Funeral Pile
Setoc, charmed with the happy issue of this affair, made his slave his
intimate friend. He had now conceived as great esteem for him as ever
the King of Babylon had done; and Zadig was glad that Setoc had no
wife. He discovered in his master a good natural disposition, much
probity of heart, and a great share of good sense; but he was sorry to
see that, according to the ancient custom of Arabia, he adored the host
aven; that is, the sun, moon, and stars. He sometimes spoke to him
on this subject with great prudence and discretion. At last he told him
that these bodies were like all other bodies in the universe, and no
more deserving of our homage than a tree or a rock.
"But," said Setoc, "they are eternal beings; and it is from them we
derive all we enjoy. They animate nature; they regulate the seasons;
and, besides, are removed at such an immense distance from us that we
cannot help revering them."
"Thou receivest more advantage," replied Zadig, "from the waters of the
Red Sea, which carry thy merchandise to the Indies. Why may not it be
as ancient as the stars? and if thou adorest what is placed at a
distance from thee, thou oughtest to adore the land of the Gangarides,
which lies at the extremity of the earth."
"No," said Setoc, "the brightness of the stars command my adoration."
At night Zadig lighted up a great number of candles in the tent where
he was to sup with Setoc; and the moment his patron appeared, he fell
on his knees before these lighted tapers, and said, "Eternal and
shining luminaries! be ye always propitious to me." Having thus said,
he sat down at table, without taking the least notice of Setoc.
"What art thou doing?" said Setoc to him in amaze.
"I act like thee," replied Zadig, "I adore these candles, and neglect
their master and mine." Setoc comprehended the profound sense of this
apologue. The wisdom of his slave sunk deep into his soul; he no longer
offered incense to the creatures, but adored the eternal Being who made
There prevailed at that time in Arabia a shocking custom, sprung
originally from Scythia, and which, being established in the Indies by
the credit of the Brahmans, threatened to overrun all the East. When a
married man died, and his beloved wife aspired to the character of a
saint, she burned herself publicly on the body of her husband. This was
a solemn feast and was called the Funeral Pile of Widowhood, and that
tribe in which most women had been burned was the most respected.
An Arabian of Setoc's tribe being dead, his widow, whose name was
Almona, and who was very devout, published the day and hour when she
intended to throw herself into the fire, amidst the sound of drums and
trumpets. Zadig remonstrated against this horrible custom; he showed
Setoc how inconsistent it was with the happiness of mankind to suffer
young widows to burn themselves every other day, widows who were
capable of giving children to the state, or at least of educating those
they already had; and he convinced him that it was his duty to do all
that lay in his power to abolish such a barbarous practice.
"The women," said Setoc, "have possessed the right of burning
themselves for more than a thousand years; and who shall dare to
abrogate a law which time hath rendered sacred? Is there anything more
respectable than ancient abuses?"
"Reason is more ancient," replied Zadig; "meanwhile, speak thou to the
chiefs of the tribes and I will go to wait on the young widow."
Accordingly he was introduced to her; and, after having insinuated
himself into her good graces by some compliments on her beauty and told
her what a pity it was to commit so many charms to the flames, he at
last praised her for her constancy and courage. "Thou must surely have
loved thy husband," said he to her, "with the most passionate
"Who, I?" replied the lady. "I loved him not at all. He was a brutal,
jealous, insupportable wretch; but I am firmly resolved to throw myself
on his funeral pile."
"It would appear then," said Zadig, "that there must be a very
delicious pleasure in being burned alive."
"Oh! it makes nature shudder," replied the lady, "but that must be
overlooked. I am a devotee, and I should lose my reputation and all the
world would despise me if I did not burn myself." Zadig having made her
acknowledge that she burned herself to gain the good opinion of others
and to gratify her own vanity, entertained her with a long discourse,
calculated to make her a little in love with life, and even went so far
as to inspire her with some degree of good will for the person who
spoke to her.
"Alas!" said the lady, "I believe I should desire thee to marry me."
Zadig's mind was too much engrossed with the idea of Astarte not to
elude this declaration; but he instantly went to the chiefs of the
tribes, told them what had passed, and advised them to make a law, by
which a widow should not be permitted to burn herself till she had
conversed privately with a young man for the space of an hour. Since
that time not a single woman hath burned herself in Arabia. They were
indebted to Zadig alone for destroying in one day a cruel custom that
had lasted for so many ages and thus he became the benefactor of