Montesquieu

The Great Eunuch to Usbek in Paris


Yesterday some Armenians brought to the sera­glio a young Circassian slave whom they wan­ted to sell.1 I had her brought into the secret apart­ments ; I dis­ro­bed her, exa­mi­ned her with the gaze of a judge ; and the more I exa­mi­ned her, the more charms I found in her. A vir­gi­nal sense of shame see­med to want to hide them from my sight ; I saw how dis­com­for­ting it was to her to obey : she blu­shed at being naked even in front of me, who, exempt of pas­sions that can alarm modesty, am ina­ni­mate under the power of that sex, and who, the minis­ter of modesty in the freest of acts, look only with chaste eyes and can ins­pire only inno­cence.

As soon as I had jud­ged her wor­thy of you, I lowe­red my eyes ; I threw a scar­let cloak over her ; I put a gold ring on her fin­ger ; I pros­tra­ted myself at her feet ; I wor­ship­ped her as the queen of your heart ; I payed the Armenians. I concea­led her from all eyes. O for­tu­nate Usbek, you pos­sess more beau­ties than are contai­ned in all the pala­ces of the Orient. What a plea­sure for you to find upon your return all that is most ravi­shing in Persia, and to see charms reborn in your sera­glio while time and pos­ses­sion work to des­troy them !

The Fatmé sera­glio this 1st day of the moon of Rebiab I, 1715

The beauty of Circassian girls was legendary. Chardin relates a sale of slaves on the shores of the Black Sea, including Mingrelian and Circassian women (II, 14-15) ; cf. letter 93, note 4.