What, all women would take their lovers for gods if they hoped that they were? If that error were necessary to love, nature would have disposed our hearts to be inspired by it.
Dans une bulle
Our heart is the source of all the errors we need; it refuses us nothing with regard to them. The day after you had shown me the hidden beauties of the Queen, she summoned me, told me that she noticed that you lead me into her bedroom at night, and gave me a pretty speech about how offended her modesty was, whose conclusion was that either I had to die or kill you and marry her at the same time; because, she claimed that it was a matter of her honor that I either possessed the body I had seen or that I could never brag that I had seen it.
I understood very well what all of this meant. The outrage wasn't as great as the Queen pretended, and her honor could have let you live, if that was what she wanted; but frankly, she didn't like you anymore, and she was delighted to have a glorious pretext to get rid of her husband. You can understand very well that the other alternative she mentioned was not for me to accept.
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How wrong I was not to foresee the effect her beauty would have on you, and to take you for an honest man! People cannot hide their joy in extreme happiness. One can be indiscrete about a mistress; but about a wife! And what would people think about marriage if they judged it by what you did? They would think that nothing was more charming. The most honest men want to be recognized as honest; and people who are happy also want to be recognized as being perfectly happy. What do I know, if they don't often decide to do things that make them less happy, so that others will think that they are more so?
It is certain that people never make displays of their happiness without a sort of insult to the people witnessing it, an insult that they find very satisfying. All that would be necessary is to close one's eyes to deprive people of their satisfaction, or if you like, of the feelings of jealousy that they see, which constitutes a part of their happiness. I heard a story being told by a King of Persia the other day, about when he had been taken captive and brought in chains to the capital city of a great empire. The victorious Emperor, surrounded by his whole court, was seated on a very high and magnificent throne; all of the people crowded into a great space that had been decorated with much care.
No spectacle has ever had such pomp. When this King of Persia appeared after a long march of prisoners and spoils, he stopped in front of the Emperor and cried gaily, 'Foolishness, foolishness, all these things are foolishness. Judge by that how much the love of a lovely woman is flattering, and the degree to which discretion is a difficult virtue to have. Nature has done so much to make sure that love-making will occur that there aren't many things left for personal merit to influence.
There is no heart that hasn't been destined to yearn for another; and nature doesn't always take care to match people who are worthy of each other; it ends up being very mixed, and experience shows only too clearly that being chosen by a lovely woman proves nothing, or nearly nothing, in favor of the person chosen. It seems to me that this reasoning should make lovers discrete. Tenderness would profit from what would be taken away from vanity. At first it is women's honor that is contrary to the interests of their lovers; and then when that honor is destroyed, their lovers form an idea of their own honor which is very contrary to the interests of women.
This is what comes of finding honor in a place it should never be. Is it true that you developed a liking for him, but since he didn't respond to you, you excited your husband Marc Antony to make war with him? Marc Antony was crazy about the actress Citheride, and I really wanted to revenge myself on him by making love to Augustus; but Augustus was picky with mistresses. He didn't find me young or beautiful enough; and although I gave him to understand that if he didn't make love to me, I would make him fight a civil war, it was impossible for him to like me at all. I will even tell you, if you want, the verses he made on the subject which don't do me much honor.
Here they are. Antony is unfaithful. And so? Serve Fulvia? Is it enough for her to want it? Love me, she tells me, or we will fight. But what? She is horribly ugly!
Sound the trumpets! My husband avenged himself for the affront that Paris gave him by loving me, which is very natural; and your husband avenged you for the affront that Augustus gave him by not loving you, which is unusual among husbands. That is something that cannot be pardoned, because instead of Menelaus followed by all of Greece having seiged Troy for ten years in order to tear you away from Paris' arms, isn't it true that if Paris had wanted to unconditionally give you back, Menelaus should have let Sparta be besieged for ten years rather than receive you?
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The first were crazy to ask for you back; and the others were still more crazy to keep you. How come so many noble people sacrificed themselves for the pleasure of a young man who didn't know what he was doing? I cannot help but laugh when reading the passage in Homer where, after nine years of war, and such fighting that nearly everyone had died, a counsel is held in front of the palace of Priam.
There, Antenor thinks that they should give you back, and it seems to me that there's nothing to criticize in that, except that he's putting the idea forward a little too late. However, Paris shows that the proposition displeases him; and Priam, who according to what Homer says is equal to the gods in wisdom, embarrassed to see his counsel so divided in such an important affair, and not knowing which side to choose, commands everyone to have dinner. When people saw so many Roman soldiers in file, they would never have thought that what animated them so cruelly against each other was that Augustus refused to oblige you.
One sees great movements, but the motives are usually a little ridiculous. It is important for the honor of the most considerable events that their causes be hidden. I was extraordinarily serious ever since. I laughed all too much during my life; it might have even been longer if I laughed less. A jest in bad taste has brought me where we are.
Fontenelle - The French Moralists
The king Antigonus was one-eyed. I cruelly offended him; however, he promised to have no resentment, provided that I present myself before him. I was conducted there nearly by force, and my friends, to encourage me, were saying, ''Go, don't be afraid, your life is safe as long as you appear in front of the king. You aren't thinking. I thought I would die from the seriousness that you want so badly. Nothing diverted me anymore; I made efforts to laugh, and I wasn't able to at all. I no longer enjoyed any of the ridiculousness in the world; it had all become sad to me.
Finally, in desperation at my wisdom, I went to Delphi, and I instantly asked the god to teach me a way to laugh. He sent me back an ambiguous message about Maternal power. I thought that by Maternal power, he meant my country. I returned there, but it didn't cure my seriousness. I began to accept my fate, like someone who was incurably ill, when by chance I made a trip to Delos. There I contemplated with surprise the magnificence of the temples of Apollo, and the beauty of his statues. They were all in marble or in gold, and by the hands of the best sculptors in Greece, but when I came to one of the Latona of the forest, which was very badly made and had exactly the same air as an old hag, I burst into laughter because of the contrast between the statues of the son and of his mother.
I cannot express well enough, how surprised, happy, and charmed I was at having laughed. And so I understood the true meaning of the Oracle. I presented no offerings to all the Apollos made of gold or of marble. The Latona of the forest had all my gifts and all my vows.
I made I-don't-know how many sacrifices to her. I burned all sorts of incense; I would have erected a temple 'To Latona who makes people laugh', if I had been in a state to spend that much money. You had already seen only too many objects that had the exact same air as this Latona.
Moreover, Apollo apparently wanted to make me see that my seriousness was a sickness that couldn't be cured by any human remedy, and that I was reduced to a state that needed the help of the gods themselves. A whole people were once seized by it, and suffered very badly. A people once found themselves too disposed to gaiety and joy? Since they weren't able to take anything seriously, everything was in disorder among them. If they assembled somewhere, all they could talk about were follies, instead of public affairs; if they received ambassadors, they made fun of them; if they held a town council, the opinions of the gravest senators were only buffooneries; and on every occasion, a reasonable word or action would have been a prodigy among the Tirinthians.
Finally, they felt inconvenienced by this spirit of pleasantness, at least as much as you were by your sadness, and they went to consult the oracle at Delphi just like you, but for a different reason, that is, to ask her how to recover a little seriousness. The Oracle said that if they were able to sacrifice a bull to Neptune without laughing, they would henceforth be a little wiser.
A sacrifice is not very amusing in itself; even so, they made many preparations to ensure it would be done seriously.
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