Random Quote #85 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


Have you sometimes seen in a village Pierre Aoudri and his wife
Peronelle wishing to go before their neighbours in the procession? "Our
grandfathers," they say, "were tolling the bells before those who jostle
us to-day owned even a pig-sty."

The vanity of Pierre Aoudri, his wife and his neighbours, knows nothing
more about it. Their minds kindle. The quarrel is important; honour is
in question. Proofs are necessary. A scholar who sings in the choir,
discovers an old rusty iron pot, marked with an "A," first letter of the
name of the potter who made the pot. Pierre Aoudri persuades himself
that it was his ancestors' helmet. In this way was Caesar descended from
a hero and from the goddess Venus. Such is the history of nations; such
is, within very small margins, the knowledge of early antiquity.

The scholars of Armenia _demonstrate_ that the terrestrial paradise was
in their land. Some profound Swedes _demonstrate_ that it was near Lake
Vener which is visibly a remnant of it. Some Spaniards _demonstrate_
also that it was in Castille; while the Japanese, the Chinese, the
Indians, the Africans, the Americans are not sufficiently unfortunate to
know even that there was formerly a terrestrial paradise at the source
of the Phison, the Gehon, the Tigris and the Euphrates, or, if you
prefer it, at the source of the Guadalquivir, the Guadiana, the Douro
and the Ebro; for from Phison one easily makes Phaetis; and from Phaetis
one makes the Baetis which is the Guadalquivir. The Gehon is obviously
the Guadiana, which begins with a "G." The Ebro, which is in Catalonia,
is incontestably the Euphrates, of which the initial letter is "E."

But a Scotsman appears who _demonstrates_ in his turn that the garden of
Eden was at Edinburgh, which has retained its name; and it is to be
believed that in a few centuries this opinion will make its fortune.

The whole globe was burned once upon a time, says a man versed in
ancient and modern history; for I read in a newspaper that some
absolutely black charcoal has been found in Germany at a depth of a
hundred feet, between mountains covered with wood. And it is suspected
even that there were charcoal burners in this place.

Phaeton's adventure makes it clear that everything has boiled right to
the bottom of the sea. The sulphur of Mount Vesuvius proves invincibly
that the banks of the Rhine, Danube, Ganges, Nile and the great Yellow
River are merely sulphur, nitre and Guiac oil, which only await the
moment of the explosion to reduce the earth to ashes, as it has already
been. The sand on which we walk is evident proof that the earth has been
vitrified, and that our globe is really only a glass ball, just as are
our ideas.

But if fire has changed our globe, water has produced still finer
revolutions. For you see clearly that the sea, the tides of which mount
as high as eight feet in our climate, has produced mountains of a height
of sixteen to seventeen thousand feet. This is so true that some learned
men who have never been in Switzerland have found a big ship with all
its rigging petrified on Mount St. Gothard, or at the bottom of a
precipice, one knows not where; but it is quite certain that it was
there. Therefore men were originally fish, _quod erat demonstrandum_.

To descend to a less antique antiquity, let us speak of the times when
the greater part of the barbarous nations left their countries, to go to
seek others which were hardly any better. It is true, if there be
anything true in ancient history, that there were some Gaulish brigands
who went to pillage Rome in the time of Camillus. Other Gaulish brigands
had passed, it is said, through Illyria on the way to hire their
services as murderers to other murderers, in the direction of Thrace;
they exchanged their blood for bread, and later established themselves
in Galatia. But who were these Gauls? were they Berichons and Angevins?
They were without a doubt Gauls whom the Romans called Cisalpines, and
whom we call Transalpines, famished mountain-dwellers, neighbours of the
Alps and the Apennines. The Gauls of the Seine and the Marne did not
know at that time that Rome existed, and could not take it into their
heads to pass Mount Cenis, as Hannibal did later, to go to steal the
wardrobes of Roman senators who at that time for all furniture had a
robe of poor grey stuff, ornamented with a band the colour of ox blood;
two little pummels of ivory, or rather dog's bone, on the arms of a
wooden chair; and in their kitchens a piece of rancid bacon.

The Gauls, who were dying of hunger, not finding anything to eat in
Rome, went off therefore to seek their fortune farther away, as was the
practice of the Romans later, when they ravaged so many countries one
after the other; as did the peoples of the North when they destroyed the
Roman Empire.

And, further, what is it which instructs very feebly about these
emigrations? It is a few lines that the Romans wrote at hazard; because
for the Celts, the Velches or the Gauls, these men who it is desired to
make pass for eloquent, at that time did not know, they and their bards,
how either to read or write.

But to infer from that that the Gauls or Celts, conquered after by a few
of Caesar's legions, and by a horde of Bourguignons, and lastly by a
horde of Sicamores, under one Clodovic, had previously subjugated the
whole world, and given their names and laws to Asia, seems to me to be
very strange: the thing is not mathematically impossible, and if it be
_demonstrated_, I give way; it would be very uncivil to refuse to the
Velches what one accords to the Tartars.


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