Persian Letters/Letter 13

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Persian Letters by Montesquieu, translated by John Davidson
Letter 13

Letter 13[edit]

Usbek to the Same

I cannot say half I wish to say about the virtue of the Troglodites. One of them once said, “Tomorrow it is my father’s turn to work in the fields; I shall rise two hours before him, and when he comes to his work he will find it all done.”

Another said to himself, “I think my sister has taken a fancy for a young cousin of mine. I must talk to my father about it, and get him to arrange a marriage.”1

Another, being told that robbers had carried off his herd, replied, “I am very sorry, because it contained a white heifer which I meant to offer to the Gods.”

One was heard telling another that he was bound for the temple to return thanks to Heaven for the recovery from sickness of this brother, who was so dear to his father, and whom he himself loved so much.

This also was once said: “In a field adjoining my father’s, the workers are all day long exposed to the heat of the sun. I shall plant some trees there that these poor folks may sometimes rest in their shade.”

Their unexpected prosperity was not regarded without envy. A neighbouring nation gathered together and on some paltry context determined to carry off their cattle. As soon as they heard this, the Troglodites dispatched ambassadors, who addressed their enemies in the following terms, “What evil have the Troglodites done you? Have they carried off your wives, stolen your cattle, or ravaged your lands? No; we are just men, and fear the Gods. What, then, do your require of us? Would you have wool to make clothes? Do you wish the milk of our cows, or the products of our fields? Lay down your arms, then; come with us and we will give you all you demand. But we swear by all we hold most sacred, that if you enter our territories in enmity, we will regard you as dishonest men, and deal with you as we would with wild beasts.”

This speech was received with contempt; and, believing that the Troglodites had no means of defence except their innocence, the barbarians invaded their territory in warlike array.

But the Troglodites were well prepared to defend themselves. They had placed their wives and children in their midst. Astonished they certainly were at the injustice of their enemies, but were not dismayed by their number. Their hearts burned within them with an ardour before unknown. One longed to lay down his life for his father, another for his wife and children, this one for his brothers, that one for his friends, and all for each other. When one fell in fight, he who immediately took his place, besides fighting for the common cause, had the death of his comrade to avenge.

And so the battle raged between right and wrong. Those wretched creatures, whose sole aim was plunder, felt no shame when they were forced to fight. They were forced to yield to the prowess of that virtue, whose worth they were unable to appreciate.

Erzeroum, the 9th of the second moon of Gemmadi, 1711