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"An Adventure in India" by Voltaire

The following is the complete text of Voltaire's "An Adventure in India." To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Voltaire (Francois-Marie Arouet)
Ancient Faith and Fable
Andre des Touches at Siam
The Black and the White
A Conversation with a Chinese
Dialogues: The Chinese Catechism
Dialogues: The Gardener's Catechism
Dialogues: The Japanese Catechism
Dialogues: Liberty
The Good Brahmin
Grecian Metamorphoses and Mysteries of the Egyptians
Jeannot and Colin
Memnon, the Philosopher

Of Bacchus
Of Idolatry
Of Miracles
Of Oracles
Of the Egyptian Rites
Of the Greek Sibyls
Of Zaleucus
Plato's Dream
The Study of Nature
The Travels of Scarmentado
The Two Comforters
The World As It Goes

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"An Adventure in India" by Voltaire



All the world knows that Pythagoras, while he resided in India, attended the school of the Gymnosophists, and learned the language of beasts and plants. One day, while he was walking in a meadow near the sea-shore, he heard these words:

"How unfortunate that I was born an herb! I scarcely attain two inches in height, when a voracious monster, an horrid animal, tramples me under his large feet; his jaws are armed with rows of sharp scythes, by which he cuts, then grinds, and then swallows me. Men call this monster a sheep. I do not suppose there is in the whole creation a more detestable creature."

Pythagoras proceeded a little way and found an oyster yawning on a small rock. He had not yet adopted that admirable law, by which we are enjoined not to eat those animals which have a resemblance to us. He had scarcely taken up the oyster to swallow it, when it spoke these affecting words:

"O, Nature, how happy is the herb, which is, as I am, thy work! though it be cut down, it is regenerated and immortal; and we, poor oysters, in vain are defended by a double cuirass: villains eat us by the dozens at their breakfast, and all is over with us forever. What an horrible fate is that of an oyster, and how barbarous are men!"

Pythagoras shuddered; he felt the enormity of the crime he had nearly committed; he begged pardon of the oyster with tears in his eyes, and replaced it very carefully on the rock.

As he was returning to the city, profoundly meditating on this adventure, he saw spiders devouring flies; swallows eating spiders, and sparrow-hawks eating swallows. "None of these," said he, "are philosophers."

On his entrance, Pythagoras was stunned, bruised, and thrown down by a lot of tatterdemalions, who were running and crying: "Well done, he fully deserved it." "Who? What?" said Pythagoras, as he was getting up. The people continued running and crying: "O how delightful it will be to see them boiled!"

Pythagoras supposed they meant lentiles, or some other vegetables: but he was in an error; they meant two poor Indians. "Oh!" said Pythagoras, "these Indians, without doubt, are two great philosophers weary of their lives, they are desirous of regenerating under other forms; it affords pleasure to a man to change his place of residence, though he may be but indifferently lodged: there is no disputing on taste."

He proceeded with the mob to the public square, where he perceived a lighted pile of wood, and a bench opposite to it, which was called a tribunal. On this bench judges were seated, each of whom had a cow's tail in his hand, and a cap on his head, with ears resembling those of the animal which bore Silenus when he came into that country with Bacchus, after having crossed the Erytrean sea without wetting a foot, and stopping the sun and moon; as it is recorded with great fidelity in the Orphicks.

Among these judges there was an honest man with whom Pythagoras was acquainted. The Indian sage explained to the sage of Samos the nature of that festival to be given to the people of India.

"These two Indians," said he, "have not the least desire to be committed to the flames. My grave brethren have adjudged them to be burnt; one for saying, that the substance of Xaca is not that of Brahma; and the other for supposing, that the approbation of the Supreme Being was to be obtained at the point of death without holding a cow by the tail; 'Because,' said he, 'we may be virtuous at all times, and we cannot always have a cow to lay hold of just when we may have occasion.' The good women of the city were greatly terrified at two such heretical opinions; they would not allow the judges a moment's peace until they had ordered the execution of those unfortunate men."

Pythagoras was convinced that from the herb up to man, there were many causes of chagrin. However, he obliged the judges and even the devotees to listen to reason, which happened only at that time.

He went afterwards and preached toleration at Crotona; but a bigot set fire to his house, and he was burnt -- the man who had delivered the two Hindoos from the flames? Let those save themselves who can!

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