Montesquieu

Usbek to Ibben in Smyrna


As soon as an impor­tant per­son dies, peo­ple assem­ble in a mos­que, and they deli­ver his fune­ral ora­tion, which is a speech in his praise, by which one would be hard pres­sed to deter­mine tru­th­fully the merit of the decea­sed.

I would like to ban fune­ral cere­mo­nies : men should be mour­ned at their birth, and not at their death. What good are the cere­mo­nies and the all the dis­mal para­pher­na­lia pla­ced before a dying man in his final moments,1 even the tears of his family, and the grief of his friends, except to exag­ge­rate to him the loss he will suf­fer ?

We are so blind that we do not know when we should grieve or rejoice : almost all our sor­rows or joys are false.

When I see the Mogul,2 who goes foo­li­shly every year and steps onto a scale to be wei­ghed like an ox3 ; when I see peo­ple rejoice that their prince has become more mate­rial, in other words less able to govern them, Ibben, I pity human extra­va­gance.

Paris this 20th day of the moon of Rhegeb 1713

For administration of extreme unction.

“Mogol, or the empire of the Great Mogol, also called Indostan, containing the most part of the continent of the Indies” (Collier 1701).

According to Tavernier, describing the anniversary festivals for Aureng-Zebe (livre II, ch. viii, vol. II, p. 267), and François Bernier, who specifies : “On the third day of the moon of the festival the king is very ceremoniously weighed, and after him several Omrahs, with a great scale and weights said to be solid gold.” (Voyages de François Bernier, contenant la description des états du Grand Mogol, Amsterdam : Paul Marret, 1711, vol. II, p. 55.)