Montesquieu

Zachi to Usbek in Paris


I have won­der­ful news for you : I have made up with Zephis.1 The sera­glio, divi­ded bet­ween us, has been reu­ni­ted ; only you are wan­ting in these halls where peace pre­vails. Come, my dear Usbek, come and give love the vic­tory here.

I gave a great feast for Zephis to which your mother,2 your wives, and your prin­ci­pal concu­bi­nes were invi­ted. Your aunts and seve­ral of your women cou­sins were also pre­sent : they had come on hor­se­back, cove­red in the dark cloud of their veils and their clo­thing.

The next day we left for the coun­try, where we hoped to be more at liberty : we clim­bed onto our camels, and four of us got into each loge.3 As the outing had been arran­ged qui­ckly, we did not have time to have cou­rouc pro­clai­med all around,4 but the prin­ci­pal eunuch, always tho­rough, took ano­ther pre­cau­tion, for he added to the fabric that pre­ven­ted us from being seen a cur­tain so heavy we could see abso­lu­tely no one.

When we rea­ched that river which must be cros­sed, each of us got into a box, as is cus­to­mary, and was car­ried onto the boat, for we were told that there were many peo­ple on the river. One curious man who came too close to the place where we were enclo­sed recei­ved a mor­tal blow that depri­ved him fore­ver of the light of day. Another who was found bathing naked on the shore had the same fate, and your fai­th­ful eunuchs sacri­fi­ced those two unfor­tu­na­tes to your honor and ours.

But hear the rest of our adven­tu­res. When we were in the midst of the river, such a vio­lent wind arose, and such an omi­nous cloud cove­red the sky, that our sai­lors began to des­pair. In our fright at this peril, nearly all of us pas­sed out. I remem­ber hea­ring the voi­ces and the argu­ments of our eunuchs, some of whom were saying that we should be aler­ted to the peril and saved from our pri­son ; but their chief still main­tai­ned that he would rather die than suf­fer his mas­ter to be thus disho­no­red, and that he would plunge a dag­ger into the breast of anyone who made such bold sug­ges­tions. One of my sla­ves, quite beside her­self, ran toward me in desha­bille to assist me, but a black eunuch sei­zed her bru­tally and sent her back to where she had come from, whe­reu­pon I pas­sed out and did not come to my sen­ses until the peril was pas­sed.

How trou­ble­some is tra­vel­ling for women ! Men are expo­sed only to perils that threa­ten their lives, and we are at every moment in peril of losing our lives or our vir­tue. Adieu, my dear Usbek, I shall ever adore thee.

The Fatmé sera­glio this 2nd day of the moon of Rhamazan 1713

Their dispute, not mentioned previously, might have had something to do with the ambiguous role played with each of them by the slave Zelide : see letters 4 and 19 ; we will see in letter 51 that Zelide has in the meantime passed into the service of Zelis.

The only – and incidental – mention of Usbek’s mother, as was the case with his father in letter 24, and as will be mentioned, without particular emphasis, his daughter (letter 60), his brother (letter 91), and another brother who is a governor (letter 94).

Chardin speaks a kind of basket or cradle in which the women are carried on camels’ backs, but it has been adapted here, insofar as Chardin specifies that each camel “carries two of these cradles, one on each side.”

“When women of quality leave their lodgings and go into town, which happens almost only at night, a number of horsemen precede them by a hundred paces, and another number comes a hundred paces behind, crying Courouc, courouc, a Turkish word that means forbidden, abstinence, and which in this situation means let everyone withdraw, and let no one approach. This voice provokes fear in Persia, and no one waits to hear it a second time : everyone flees as if a lion were unleashed.” (Chardin, VI, 238.)