Montesquieu

Usbek to the prin­ci­pal white eunuch1


You should trem­ble as you open this let­ter ; or rather you should have when you suf­fe­red Nadir’s trea­chery : you for whom, cold and lan­gui­shing in old age, it is a crime to lift up your eyes on the fear­some objects of my love ; you who are never per­mit­ted to set a sacri­le­gious foot on the thre­shold of that for­bid­ding place that shields them from all eyes ; you suf­fer that those whose conduct is entrus­ted to you should have done what you would not have the auda­city to do, and you do not see the thun­der­bolt about to fall on them, and on you ?

And what are you all but base ins­tru­ments which I can break whe­ne­ver I wish ; who exist only so long as you are able to obey ; who are in the world solely to live under my rule, or to die the minute I so com­mand ; who brea­the only so long as my hap­pi­ness, my love, and even my jea­lousy require your mean­ness ; and who fur­ther can have no other lot than sub­mis­sion, no other soul than my desi­res, no other hope than my feli­city ?

I know that some of my wives suf­fer impa­tiently the aus­tere laws of duty ; that the conti­nual pre­sence of a black eunuch annoys them ; that they are tired of those hor­ri­ble objects who are given to them to bring them to their hus­band : I know this. But you who lend your­self to such disor­der will be puni­shed in such a way as will cause all who abuse my confi­dence to trem­ble.

I swear by all the pro­phets in hea­ven, and by Ali the grea­test of all, that if you stray from your duty I will regard your life as that of the insects I find under my feet.

Smyrna this 12th day of the moon of Zilcade 17122

Supplementary Letter II of 1758 edition

Sole mention of the principal white eunuch, who is kept in in the wings except when he needs a reprimand. White eunuchs, according to Chardin, “never go among the women, or at least only very rarely, whereas the black ones never leave the palace” (VI, 120).

The original says 1711, an apparent error that may be owing to the fact that the Muslim year began in March (Maharram).