Zadig; or, The Book of Fate is a novella and work of philosophical fiction by the Enlightenment writer Voltaire. It tells the story of Zadig, a philosopher in ancient Babylonia. The author does not attempt any historical accuracy, and some of the problems Zadig faces are thinly disguised references to social and political problems of Voltaire's own day.
Zadig, a good-hearted, handsome young man from Babylonia, is in love with Sémire and they are to marry. Sémire, however, has another suitor: Orcan, who wants her for himself. Zadig tries to defend his love from Orcan's threat, but his eye is injured in the process. Sémire abhors this injury, causing her to depart with his enemy. Shortly after, Zadig makes a full recovery and falls into the arms of another woman, Azora, whom he marries, but who promptly betrays him.
Disillusioned with women, Zadig turns to science, but his knowledge lands him in prison, the first of several injustices to befall him. Indeed, the conte derives its pace and rhythm from the protagonist's ever-changing fortunes which see him rise to great heights and fall to great lows. Upon his release from prison, Zadig rises in favour with the king and queen of Babylonia and is eventually appointed prime minister; in this role, he proves himself to be a very honest man, looked upon favourably by the king, as he passes fair judgements on his citizens unlike the other ministers who base their judgements on the people's wealth. He is forced to flee the kingdom, though, when his relationship with King Moabdar is compromised: Zadig's reciprocated love for queen Astarté is discovered and he worries that the king's desire for revenge might drive him to kill the queen.
Having reached Egypt, Zadig kills an Egyptian man while valiantly saving a woman from his attack on her. Under the law of the land, this crime means that he must become a slave. His new master, Sétoc, is soon impressed by Zadig's wisdom and they become friends. In one incident, Zadig manages to reverse an ancient custom of certain tribes in which women felt obliged to burn themselves alive with their husbands on the death of the latter. After attempting to resolve other religious disputes, Zadig enrages local clerics who attempt to have him killed. Fortunately for him, though, a woman that he saved (Almona) from being burned intervenes so that he avoids death. Almona marries Sétoc, who in turn gives Zadig his freedom and then he begins his journey back to Babylonia in order to discover what has become of Astarté. (In some versions there is a further episode in which he visits Serendib and advises the king on the choice of a treasurer and a wife.)
En route, he is taken captive by a group of Arabs, from whom he learns that king Moabdar has been killed, but he does not learn anything of what has become of Astarté. Arbogad, the leader of the group of Arabs, sets him free and he heads for Babylonia once more, equipped with the knowledge that a rebellion has taken place to oust the king. On this journey he meets an unhappy fisherman who is about to commit suicide as he has no money, but Zadig gives him some money to ease his woes, telling us that source of his own unhappiness is in his heart, whereas the fisherman's are only financial concerns. Zadig prevents him from committing suicide and he continues on his way.
Zadig then stumbles upon a meadow in which women are searching for a basilisk for their lord who is ill, ordered by his doctor to find one of these rare animals to cure his sickness. The lord has promised to marry the woman who finds the basilisk. While there, Zadig sees a woman writing "ZADIG" in the ground, and he identifies her as Astarté. His former lover recounts what happened to her since Zadig fled Babylonia: she lived inside a statue when he left, but one day, she spoke while her husband was praying before the statue. The king's country was invaded and both Astarté and his new wife, Missouf, were taken prisoners by the same group. The king's wife agrees to formulate a plan along with Astarté to help her escape so that she would not have a rival for the king. Astarté ends up with Arbogad, the very same robber that Zadig encountered, who then sold her to Lord Ogul, her current master. In order to secure Astarté's release from Ogul, Zadig pretends to be a physician. He offers Lord Ogul to bring him a basilisk if he grants Astarté her freedom; instead of providing the basilisk, the lord is tricked into taking some exercise, which is what he really needs to cure him from his illness.
François-Marie Arouet , known by his nom de plume Voltaire, was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher famous for his wit, his criticism of Christianity—especially the...More about Voltaire
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