Montesquieu

Usbek to the prin­ci­ple black eunuch1 in his sera­glio in Isfahan2


You are the fai­th­ful guar­dian of the love­liest women in Persia. I have pla­ced in your hands all that is dea­rest to me : in them you hold the keys to those fate­ful gates that open for none but me. While you watch over my heart’s pre­cious trea­sure, it rests and enjoys com­plete secu­rity. You pro­tect it in the silence of the night as in the tumult of the day ; it is your inde­fa­ti­ga­ble atten­tions that sus­tain vir­tue should it waver. If the women you guard wan­ted to for­get their duty, you would make them lose all such hope ; you are the scourge of vice and the column of fide­lity.

You both com­mand them and obey them : you blindly res­pect their every wish, and like­wise you make them res­pect out the laws of the sera­glio ; you glory in ren­de­ring them the most basest ser­vi­ces ; you sub­mit with res­pect and fear to their legi­ti­mate orders ; you serve them as the slave of their sla­ves. But by a rever­sal of autho­rity3 you com­mand as mas­ter just like me when you fear sla­cke­ning of the laws of shame and modesty.

Always remem­ber that you were nothing, the least of my sla­ves, when I picked you for this posi­tion and entrus­ted my heart’s delights to you. Maintain a deep sub­mis­sion with those who share my love ; but at the same time make them aware of their extreme depen­dency. Provide for them all the plea­su­res that can be inno­cent ; dis­tract their anxie­ties ; enter­tain them with music, danse, deli­cious beve­ra­ges ; per­suade them to assem­ble fre­quently. If they wish to go to the coun­try, you may take them : but show no mercy to all men allow them­sel­ves to be seen.4 Exhort them to order­li­ness, which is the image of the purity of the soul ; speak to them some­ti­mes of me : I would like to join them again in this char­ming place which they beau­tify.

Tauris this 18th day of the moon of Saphar 1711

The black eunuchs, supposed to be more physically revolting, were intended to be frightening and impose the master’s authority (cf. letter 4 : “that black monster”). They have undergone complete genital removal, whereas the white eunuchs have lost only their testicles.

According to Chardin, the word haram is the Persian equivalent of the Turkish term seraglio ; in the original it is sérail (Chardin, A New and Accurate Description of Persia and other eastern nations, London : A. Bettesworth et al., 1724, vol. I, p. 111). “The apartment of the women in Persia is called haram, which is to say, a sacred place, the entrance whereof is interdicted and forbid” (p. 160).

Cf. letter 9 : “There is among us a sort of ebb and flow of authority and submission.”

See note to letter 45 about the procedure called courouc.