Mahomet: Act I

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Mahomet (Le Fanatisme, ou Mahomet)
By: Voltaire
Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V


Zopir, Phanor


Thinkest thou thy friend will ever bend the knee

To this proud hypocrite; shall I fall down

And worship, I who banished him from Mecca?

No: punish me, just heaven, as I deserve,

If e'er this hand, the friend of innocence

And freedom, stoop to cherish foul rebellion,

Or aid imposture to deceive mankind!


Thy zeal is noble, and becomes the chief

Of Ishmael's sacred senate, but may prove

Destructive to the cause it means to serve:

Thy ardor cannot check the rapid power

Of Mahomet, and but provokes his vengeance:

There was a time when you might safely draw

The sword of justice, to defend the rights

Of Mecca, and prevent the flames of war

From spreading o'er the land; then Mahomet

Was but a bold and factious citizen,

But now he is a conqueror, and a king;

Mecca's impostor at Medina shines

A holy prophet; nations bend before him,

And learn to worship crimes which we abhor.

Even here, a band of wild enthusiasts, drunk

With furious zeal, support his fond delusions,

His idle tales, and fancied miracles:

These spread sedition through the gaping throng, invite his forces, and believe a God

Inspires and renders him invincible.

The lovers of their country think with you,

But wisest counsels are not always followed;

False zeal, and fear, and love of novelty

Alarm the crow; already half our city

Is left unpeopled; Mecca cries aloud

To thee her father, and demands a peace.


Peace with a traitor! coward nation, what

Can you expect but slavery from a tyrant!

Go, bend your supple knees, and prostrate fall

Before the idol whose oppressive hand

Shall crush you all: for me, I hate the traitor;

This heart's too deeply wounded to forgive:

The savage murderer robbed me of a wife

And two dear children: nor is his resentment

Less fierce than mine; I forced his camp, pursued

The coward to his tent, and slew his son:

The torch of hatred is lit up between us,

And time can never extinguish it.


I hope

It never will; yet thou shouldst hide the flame,

And sacrifice thy griefs to public good:

What if he lay this noble city waste,

Will that avenge thee, will that serve thy cause?

Thou hast lost all, son, brother, daughter, wife.

Mecca alone remains to give thee comfort,

Do not lose that, do not destroy thy country.


Kingdoms are lost by cowardice alone.


As oft perhaps by obstinate resistance.


Then let us perish, if it be our fate.


When thou art almost in the harbor, thus

To brave the storm is false and fatal courage:

Kind heaven, thou seest, points out to thee the means

To soften the proud tyrant; fair Palmira,

Thy beauteous captive, brought up in the camp

Of this destructive conqueror, was sent

By gracious heaven, the messenger of peace,

Thy guardian angel, to appease the wrath

Of Mahomet; already by his herald

He has demanded her.


And wouldst thou have me

Give up so fair a prize to this barbarian?

What! whilst the tyrant spreads destruction round him,

On peoples kingdoms, and destroys mankind,

Shall beauty's charms be sacrificed to bribe

A madman's frenzy? I should envy him

That lovely fair one more than all his glory;

Not that I feel the stings of wild desire,

Or, in the evening of my day, indulger,

Old as I am, a shameless passion for her;

But, whether objects born like her to please,

Spite of ourselves, demand our tenderest pity,

Or that perhaps a childless father hopes

To find in her another daughter, why

I know not, but for that unhappy maid

Still am I anxious; be it weakness in me,

Or reason's powerful voice, I cannot bear

To see her in the hands of Mahomet;

Would I could mould her to my wishes, form

Her willing mind, and make her hate the tyrant

As I do! She has sent to speak with me

Here in the sacred porch—and lo! she comes:

On her fair cheek the blush of modesty

And candor speaks the virtues of her heart.


Zopir, Palmira.


Hail, lovely maid! the chance of cruel war

Hath made thee Zopir's captive, but thou art not

Amongst barbarians; all with me revere

Palmira's virtues, and lament her fate,

Whilst youth with innocence and beauty plead

Thy cause; whatever thou askest in Zopir's power,

Thou shalt not ask in vain: my life declines

Towards its period, and if my last hours

Can give Palmira joy, I shall esteem them

The best, the happiest I have ever known.


These two months past, my lord, your prisoner here

Scarce have I felt the yoke of slavery;

Your generous hand, still raised to soothe affliction,

Hath wiped the tears of sorrow from my eyes,

And softened all the rigor of my fate:

Forgive me, if emboldened by your goodness

I ask for more, and centre my hope

Of future happiness on you alone;

Forgive me, if to Mahomet's request

I join Palmira's, and implore that freedom

He hath already asked: O listen to him,

And let me say, that after heaven and him

I am indebted most to generous Zopir.


Has then oppression such enticing charms

That thou shouldst wish and beg to be the slave

Of Mahomet, to hear the clash of arms,

With him to live in deserts, and in caves,

And wander o'er his ever shifting country?


Where'er the mind with ease and pleasure dwells,

There is our home, and there our native country:

He formed my soul; to Mahomet I owe

The kind instruction of my earlier years;

Taught by the happy partners of his bed,

Who still adoring and adored by him

Send up their prayers to heaven for his dear safety,

I lived in peace and joy! for ne'er did woe

Pollute that seat of bliss till the sad hour

Of my misfortune, when wide –wasting war

Rushed in upon us and enslaved Palmira:

Pity, my lord, a heart oppressed with grief,

That sighs for objects far, far distant from her.


I understand you, madam; you expect

The tyrant's hand, and hope to share the throne.


I honor him, my lord; my trembling soul

Looks up to Mahomet with holy fear

As to a god; but never did this heart

E'er cherish the vain hope that he would deign

To wed Palmira: No: such splendor ill

Would suit my humble state.


Whoe'er thou art,

He was not born, I trust, to be thy husband,

No, nor thy master; much I err, or thou

Springest from a race designed by heaven to check

This haughty Arab, and give laws to him

Who thus assumes the majesty of kings.


Alas! we know not what it is to boast

Of birth or fortune; from our infant years

Without or parents, friends or country, doomed

To slavery; here resigned to our hard fate,

Strangers to all but to that God we serve,

We live content in humble poverty.


And can ye be content? and are ye strangers,

Without a father, and without a home?

I am a childless, poor, forlorn, old man;

You might have been the comfort of my age:

To form a plan of future happiness

For you, had softened my own wretchedness,

And made me some amends for all my wrongs:

But you abhor my country and my law.


I am not mistress of myself, and how

Can I be thine? I pity thy misfortunes,

And bless thee for thy goodness to Palmira;

But Mahomet has been a father to me.


A father! ye just gods! the vile impostor!


Can he deserve that name, the holy prophet,

The great ambassador of heaven, sent down

To interpret its high will?


Deluded mortals!

How blind ye are, to follow this proud madman,

This happy robber, whom my justice spared,

And raise him from the scaffold to a throne!


My lord, I shudder at your imprecations;

Though I am bound by honor and the ties

Of gratitude to love thee for thy bounties,

This blasphemy against my kind protector

Cancels the bond, and fills my soul with horror.

O superstition, how thy savage power

Deprives at once the best and tenderest hearts

Of their humanity!


Alas! Palmira,

Spite of myself, I fell for thy misfortunes,

Pity thy weakness, and lament, thy fate.


You will not grant me then—


I cannot yield thee

To him who has deceived thy easy heart,

To a base tyrant; No: thou art a treasure

Too precious to be parted with, and makest

This hypocrite but more detested.


Zopir, Palmira, Phanor.



What wouldst thou?


At the city gate that leads

To Moad's fertile plain, the valiant Omar

Is just arrived.


Indeed; the tyrant's friend,

The fierce, vindictive Omar, his new convert,

Who had so long opposed him, and still fought

For us!


Perhaps he yet may serve his country,

Already he hath offered terms of peace;

Our chiefs have parleyed with him, he demands

An hostage, and I hear they've granted him

The noble Seid.


Seid? gracious heaven!


Behold! my lord, he comes.


Ha! Omar here!

There's no retreating now, he must be heard;

Palmira, you may leave us. —O ye gods

Of my forefathers, you who have protected

The sons of Ishmael these three thousand years,

And thou, O Sun, with all those sacred lights

That glitter round us, witness to my truth,

Aid and support me in the glorious conflict

With proud iniquity!


Zopir, Omar, Phanor, Attendants.


At length it seems,

Omar returns, after three years' absence,

To visit that loved country which his hand

So long defended, and his honest heart

Has now betrayed: deserter of our gods,

Deserter of our laws, how darest thou thus

Approach these sacred walls to persecute

And to oppress; a public robbers slave;

What is thy errand? Wherefore comest thou hither?


To pardon thee: by me our holy prophet

In pity to thy age, thy well known valor

And past misfortunes, offers thee his hand

Omar is come to bring thee terms of peace.


And shall a factious rebel offer peace

Who should have sued for pardon? Gracious gods!

Will ye permit him to usurp your power,

And suffer Mahomet to rule mankind?

Dost thou not blush, vile minion as thou art,

To serve a traitor? Hast thou not beheld him

Friendliness and poor, a humble citizen

And ranking with the meanest of the throng?

How little then in fortune or in fame!


Thus low and groveling souls like thine pretend

To judge of merit, whilst in fortune's scale

Ye weigh the worth of men: proud, empty being

Dost thou not know that the poor worm which crawls

Low on the earth, and the imperial eagle That soars to heaven, in the all-seeing eye

Of their eternal Maker are the same,

And shrink to nothing? Men are equal all;

From virtue only true distinction springs,

And not from birth: there are exalted spirits

Who claim respect and honor from themselves

And not their ancestors: these, these, my lord,

Are heaven's peculiar care, and such is he

Whom I obey, and who alone deserves

To be master; all mankind like me

Shall one day fall before the conqueror's feet,

And future ages follow my example.


Omar, I know thee well; thy artful hand

In vain hath drawn the visionary portrait;

Thou mayest deceive the multitude, but know,

What Mecca worships Zopir can despise:

Be honest then, and with the impartial eye

Of reason look on Mahomet; behold him

But as a mortal, and consider well

By what base arts the vile impostor rose,

A camel-driver, a poor abject slave,

Who first deceived a fond, believing woman,

And now supported by an ideal dream

Draws in the weak and credulous multitude:

Condemned to exile, I chastised the rebel

Too lightly, and his insolence returns

With double force to punish my indulgence.

He fled with Fatima from cave to cave

And suffered chains, contempt and banishment;

Meantime the fury which he called divine

Spread like a subtle poison through the crowd;

Medina was infected; Omar then,

To reason's voice attentive, would have stopped

The impetuous torrent; he had courage then

And virtue to attack the proud usurper,

Though now he crouches to him like a slave.

If thy proud master be indeed a prophet,

How didst thou dare to punish him? Or why,

If an impostor, wilt thou dare to serve him?


I punished him because I knew him not;

But now, the veil of ignorance removed,

I see him as he is; behold him born

To change the astonished world and rule mankind:

When I beheld him rise in awful pomp,

Intrepid, eloquent, by all admired,

By all adored; beheld him speak and act,

Punish and pardon like a god, I lent

My little aid, and joined the conqueror.

Altars, thou knowest, and thrones were our reward;

Once I was blind like thee, but, thanks to heaven!

My eyes are opened now; would, Zopir, thine

Were open too! Let me entreat thee, change,

As I have done; no longer boast thy zeal

And cruel hatred, nor blaspheme our God,

But fall submissive at the hero's feet

Whom thou hast injured; kiss the hand that bears

The angry lighting, lest it falls upon thee.

Omar is now the second of mankind;

A place of honor yet remains for thee,

If prudent thou wilt yield, and own a master:

What we have been thou knowest and what we are:

The multitude are ever weak and blind,

Made for our use, born but to serve the great,

But to admire , believe us and obey:

Reign then with us, partake the feast of grandeur,

No longer deign to imitate the crowd,

But henceforth make them tremble.


Tremble thou,

And Mahomet, with all thy hateful train:

Thinkest thou that Mecca's faithful chief will fall

At an impostor's feet, and crown a rebel?

I am no stranger to his specious worth;

His courage and his conduct have my praise;

Were he but virtuous I like thee should love him;

But as he is I hate the tyrant: hence,

Nor talk to me of his deceitful mercy,

His clemency and goodness; all his aim

Is cruelty and vengeance: with this hand

I slew his darling son; I banished him:

My hatred is inflexible, and so

Is Mahomet's resentment: if he e'er

Re-enters Mecca, he must cut his way

Through Zopir's blood, for he is deeply stained

With crimes that justice never can forgive.


To show thee Mahomet is merciful,

That he can pardon though thou canst not, here

I offer thee the third of all our spoils

Which we have taken from tributary kings;

Name your conditions, and the terms of peace;


Set your own terms on fair Palmira; take

Our treasures, and be happy.


Thinkest thou Zopir

Will basely sell his honor and his country,

Will blast his name with infamy for wealth,

The foul reward of guilt, or that Palmira

Will ever own a tyrant for her master?

She is too virtuous e'er to be the slave

Of Mahomet, nor will I suffer her

To fall a sacrifice to base impostors

Who would subvert the laws, and undermine

The safety and the virtue of mankind.


Implacably severe; thou talkest to Omar

As if he were a criminal, and thou

His judge; but henceforth I would have thee act

A better part, and treat me as a friend,

As the ambassador of Mahomet,

A conqueror and a king.


A king! Who mad,

Who crowned him?


Victory: respect his glory,

And tremble at his power: amidst his conquests

The hero offers peace; our swords are still

Unsheathed, and woe to this rebellious city

If she submits not: think what blood must flow,

The blood of half our fellow-citizens;

Consider, Zopir, Mahomet is here,

And even now requests to speak with thee.


Ha! Mahomet!


Yes, he conjures thee.



Were I the sole despotic ruler here

He should be answered soon ---by chastisement.


I pity, Zopir, thy pretended virtue;

But since the senate insolently claim

Divided empire with thee, to the senate

Let us begone; Omar will meet thee there.


I'll follow thee: we then shall see who best

Can plead his cause: I will defend my gods,

My country, and her laws; thy impious voice

Shall bellow for thy vengeful deity,

Thy persecuting god, and his false prophet.

[Turning to Phanor,]

Haste, Phanor, and with me repulse the traitor;

Who spares a villain is a villain: --come,

Let us, my friend, unite to crush his pride,

Subvert his wily purposes, destroy him,

Or perish in the attempt: If Mecca listens

To Zopir's councils, I shall free my country

From a proud tyrant's power, and save mankind.

End of First Act.

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