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"Of Zaleucus" by Voltaire

The following is the complete text of Voltaire's Philosophic Criticism: "Of Zaleucus." To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

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An Adventure in India
Ancient Faith and Fable
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The Black and the White
A Conversation with a Chinese
Dialogues: The Chinese Catechism
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The Good Brahmin
Grecian Metamorphoses and Mysteries of the Egyptians
Jeannot and Colin

Memnon, the Philosopher
Of Bacchus
Of Idolatry
Of Miracles
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Plato's Dream
The Study of Nature
The Travels of Scarmentado
The Two Comforters
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Philosophic Criticism: "Of Zaleucus" by Voltaire



Every moralist and legislator may be challenged to produce anything more beautiful and useful than the exordium of the laws of Zaleucus, who lived before the time of Pythagoras, and was the first magistrate of the Locrians.

"Every citizen should be persuaded of the existence of the divinity. It is only necessary to observe the order and harmony of the universe, to be convinced that accident could not have formed it. We should subdue the soul, purify it, and cleanse it from all evil, from a conviction that God cannot be well served by those of a perverse disposition; and that he does not resemble those wretched mortals, who suffer themselves to be influenced by magnificent ceremonies and sumptuous offerings. Virtue alone, and a constant desire to do good, can please him. Let us then endeavor to be just in our principles and practice, and we shall thereby become dear to the divinity. Every one should dread more what leads to ignominy, than what leads to poverty. He should be looked upon as the best citizen, who gives up his fortune for justice; but those whose violent passions lead them to evil, men, women, citizens and strangers, should be cautioned to remember the gods, and to think of the severe judgments which they exercise against the wicked; let them call to remembrance the hour of death -- the fatal hour which awaits us all -- the hour when the remembrance of faults brings on remorse, and the vain regret of not having regulated all our actions by the rules of equity.

"Every one should so conduct himself during each moment of his life, as if that moment were his last; but if an evil genius prompts him to crimes, let him fly to the foot of the altar, and implore heaven to drive from him this evil genius; let him, above all, seek the society of just and virtuous men, whose counsels will bring him back to virtue, by representing to him God's goodness and his vengeance."

No; there is nothing in all antiquity that should obtain a preference to this simple but sublime moral, dictated by reason and virtue, stripped of all enthusiasm, and of that extravagant coloring, which good sense disowns.

Charondas, a disciple of Zaleucus, expressed himself in the same manner. The Platos, Ciceros, and divine Antonines, have never since held any other language. Thus did Julian, who had the misfortune to give up the Christian religion, but who did so much honor to that of nature, also express himself; that Julian, who was the scandal of our church, and the glory of the Roman Empire.

"The ignorant," says he, "should be instructed and not punished; they should be pitied, and not hated. The duty of an Emperor is to imitate God; to imitate him, is to have the fewest wants, and to do all the good that is possible."

Let those who insult antiquity, learn to be acquainted with it; let them not confound wise legislators with fabulists; let them learn how to distinguish between the laws of the wisest magistrates, and the ridiculous customs of the people; let them not say that superstitious ceremonies were invented by intelligent rulers, and that they originated false oracles and false prodigies without number, and therefore all the magistrates of Greece and Rome, who tolerated these absurdities, were blind deceivers and deceived. This would be like saying that there are bonzes in China, who have abused the populace, and that therefore the wise Confucius was a wretched impostor.

Men should, in so enlightened an age as this, blush at those declamations, which ignorance has so often promulgated against sages, who should be imitated and not calumniated. Do we not know that in every country the vulgar are imbecile, superstitious, and insensible? Are there not Methodists, Millinarians, Moravians, and fanatics of every kind, in that country which gave birth to the chancellor Bacon, to those immortal geniuses Newton and Locke, and to a multitude of great men?

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