Summary and Analysis Chapters XI-XII


The old woman revealed herself to be the daughter of Pope Urban X and the princess of Palestrina, and until the age of fourteen she had lived in a castle that far exceeded in splendor any German castle. Indeed, her dresses were worth more than all the magnificence of Westphalia. And, of course, she was a peerless beauty, admired by all.


The old woman revealed herself to be the daughter of Pope Urban X and the princess of Palestrina, and until the age of fourteen she had lived in a castle that far exceeded in splendor any German castle. Indeed, her dresses were worth more than all the magnificence of Westphalia. And, of course, she was a peerless beauty, admired by all.

She had been betrothed to the most handsome sovereign prince of Massa-Carrara, and the elaborate festivities appropriate for the nuptials were prepared. But just when the marriage was to take place, the prince was poisoned by his jealous mistress and died in frightful convulsions. Her despairing mother then decided to take the girl to an estate near Gaeta, and with their entourage the two set sail on a galley lavishly appointed. En route they were attacked by pirates, and their own soldiers proved to be cowards. All were subjected to appalling indignities. Male and female alike were stripped naked, the pirates showing amazing skill in this process. But if all this was almost unbearable, what followed was worse. The pirates' search of their captives was shockingly thorough as they looked for jewels perhaps hidden somewhere in the bodies of the helpless group. The girl, her mother, the ladies of honor — all were taken as slaves to Morocco. The girl was ravished by the pirate captain, who was convinced that he did her great honor. The old woman was content, at this point, merely to stress the heartlessness of the pirates. No need for details, she said, for these are things so common that they are not worth speaking about.

Slaughter was everywhere when the group arrived in Morocco. The fifty sons of Emperor Muley Ismael had formed fifty factions, which produced fifty civil wars. The carnage extended over the entire empire. One of the factions, hostile to pirates, seized their stolen treasure and then fought furiously for possession of the women. The terrified girl saw all the Italian women and her mother torn, cut, and massacred. The pirate captain kept the girl hidden behind him and, with his scimitar, killed all who approached him. Finally the members of both factions were killed, and the girl lay dying on a heap of bodies. Similar scenes took place throughout Morocco, but none of the living failed to say the five daily prayers ordained by Mohammed.

The poor girl managed to crawl away and, reaching an orange tree beside a stream, swooned from sheer fright, exhaustion, despair, and hunger. For some time she was unconscious, languishing between life and death. Then, becoming aware that someone was pressing her body, she awoke to see an attractive looking man, who was bewailing the fact that he had been emasculated. Astounded and happy to hear her native language spoken, if surprised at the words she heard, the girl endeavored to console the stranger by telling him that there are worse misfortunes than that which he endured. Briefly she recounted the horrors she had experienced, and then she fainted. The man took her to a nearby house, had her put to bed, waited on her, and in his turn sought to console her. He was overwhelmed by her beauty and told her that never before had he so regretted his state of emasculation. Then he told his story.

He had been born in Naples and became one of the 3,000 boys who, every year, were emasculated. Some died as a result, but others went on to become beautiful singers or even to govern states. He had survived to become a musician in the Chapel of My Lady the Princess of Palestrina — his young audience's mother! And the two then knew that in early childhood they had been reared together.

The two exchanged reports of their experiences. The honest eunuch, as Voltaire called him, told her that he had been sent to the king of Morocco to conclude a treaty involving munitions, arms, and ships "to help exterminate the trade of the other Christian countries." His mission had been concluded; he now planned to take her back to Italy. Again he groaned over the fact that he was a eunuch.

The "honest" eunuch took her instead to Algiers and sold her to the Dey (governor, ruler or pasha). There a terrible plague, described by the old woman as being worse than an earthquake, broke out. She became one of its victims. She, the daughter of a pope, a girl who, at the age of fifteen had endured poverty, slavery, and repeated rape; who had seen her mother cut into quarters — she was now dying of the plague in Algiers. But she did live, although the eunuch, the Dey, and nearly all the ladies of the seraglio perished. She was sold to a merchant who brought her to Tunis, and then sold successively at Tripoli, Alexandria, Smyrna, and Constantinople. Finally, she was bought by the Aga of the Janizaries (a high officer of the Turkish Sultan's guards), whose immediate commission was to defend the city of Azov against the Russians. The gallant Aga took his entire seraglio with him.

The slaughter on Turkish and Russian sides alike was very great, and Azov was put to fire and sword, neither age nor sex being spared. Only the fort, where the members of the seraglio were lodged, protected by two eunuchs and twenty Janizaries, remained. The Russians sought to starve them out; the determined but starving Janizaries ate the two eunuchs rather than surrender. A few days later, they were about to eat the women, but a pious, compassionate imam (Mohammedan priest) persuaded them to restrain themselves and to cut off only one buttock from each of the ladies. The horrible operation was performed just before the Russians arrived in flat-bottomed boats and slaughtered the Janizaries. Fortunately, there were French surgeons available, and one of them took care of the ladies. Not only did he cure them but he was most consoling: it was a law of war for them to be so treated.

The girl and her companions were sent to Moscow, where she was given as a slave to a boyar (Russian nobleman), who made her his gardener and saw to it that she was beaten daily. But the boyar himself was broken on the wheel with some other noblemen for some petty offense, and the girl was able to escape across the whole of Russia. She traveled far in Western Europe, working as a servant in various cities, including Rotterdam. Once most beautiful, she had indeed grown old in misery. Many times she had wanted to end her life, but she still loved it, for this clinging to life is one of the evidences of humanity's stupidity. Man caresses the serpent that devours life until it has eaten up his heart. Among the very few who loathed their lives and had the courage to commit suicide, she cited the case of the German professor Robeck, author of dissertations on the futility of life, who drowned himself in 1739 at the age of sixty-seven.

The old woman had made her point. Most things are relative. Cunégonde, a baron's daughter, had indeed suffered much. But evil pervades the world, and others have suffered, often to a far greater extent. After all, how many have been deprived of a buttock? Her concluding advice is that one should get what enjoyment one can and learn from others in life's journey. Nowhere will Cunégonde find a person who has not often cursed life and contemplated suicide.


The old woman's story is one of the several examples of digression so characteristic of the romantic tale of adventure, but it provides the author with new opportunity to attack the Leibnitzian optimistic philosophy as well as to shoot his barbs of satire at other targets. The prime evidence of pervading evil in this section of Candide is the carnage of warfare. Voltaire had already established his strong views on war in the account of the Bulgarian-Abarian conflict; now he reinforced them. The conflict depicted here was far more brutal than that of Western Europe. The girl arrived in Morocco to find it swimming in blood as brother fought brother in the worst kind of war, a civil one. The anti-war satire was carried forward in the account of the conflict between the Turks and the Russians with its attendant horrors, especially those visited upon the helpless civilians.

Voltaire did not relent in his running battle against religion and the Church. The old woman, we learn, turned out to be the illegitimate daughter of a pope. Of great interest is a note that first appeared in an 1829 edition of Candide, one that has been attributed to Voltaire himself, despite the late date of publication: "Note the author's extreme discretion! So far there has been no pope named Urban X; he is afraid to ascribe a bastard daughter to a known pope. What circumspection! What delicacy of conscience." If these are not Voltaire's words, they at least are quite Voltarian and provide a good example of his sardonic wit.

Voltaire scored a hit again, this time against warring popes who maintained armies when he described the soldiers who were expected to defend the ladies as being more cowardly than the pope's soldiers.

Yet one must not conclude that, in the realm of religious satire, Voltaire, the man reared in the Church and educated by Jesuits, attacked only Catholicism. His satire was more general when he told how the eunuch had been sent on a mission to Morocco to conclude a treaty for exterminating the trade with other Christians: people who professed to adore the Prince of Peace violently opposed each other. And it is religion in general, not merely Christianity, in which Voltaire found fatal shortcomings. This is made clear when he told how the devout Mohammedans, amid the violence of warfare, never failed to say the five prayers daily as prescribed by their faith. It is further emphasized in the account of the "pious, compassionate" holy man who persuaded the starving Janizaries to slice off one buttock from each of the ladies of the Aga's seraglio rather than to kill them: "Heaven will be pleased with you for so charitable an action."

As before, Voltaire, the man whose pronounced views did so much to prepare the way for the overthrow of the ancien régime, directed his satire also against the illogical appeal to custom and the law to justify man's inhumanity to man. With what irony did he have the fifteen-year-old girl learn that the pirates, in carrying out the indecent search of the ladies, were only following "a custom established from time immemorial among civilized nations that roam the seas" — a custom followed by the Knights of Malta. And it is the French surgeon, a man of apparent good will, who assured his patients that the sort of atrocity they had endured was common enough: it was the law of war. It will be observed that, in the reference to the Knights of Malta, Voltaire works in anti-religious satire as well.

Finally, in the last of these two chapters, the author introduced the theme of despair, one often discussed among the deists and children of the Enlightenment. Injustice, intolerance, and the avariciousness of humanity caused so much of the evil that spread throughout the world. Evil derived also from nature itself, which, to borrow the words of the Victorian Alfred Lord Tennyson, could be red in tooth and claw. Death, it would logically seem, would be embraced as a welcome relief by any intelligent person. Thus ran the argument. The old woman stated that, in the course of her trying life, she had seen a prodigious number of people who loathed their existence, but only twelve who had the courage to end it. Since the Church holds despair to be an unforgivable sin — the rejection of the religious virtue hope — one can see the extent to which Voltaire went in his rejection of orthodoxy. Nor did Christian stoicism provide an answer for him.