His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the tag “Voltaire”

From Voltaire’s Remarques sur l’histoire de Charles XII

Yesterday I stumbled upon an interesting pericope in Voltaire’s Remarques sur l’histoire de Charles XII. It concerns an assassination that almost happened, but was averted when the would-be victim, the Polish Count Poniatowski, having learned of his impending murder by men pretending to be drunks, contrived a welcome for his assassins that turned them from their plan. (Before the events of the text given here, he also armed himself with two “pistolets de poche”, in case, perhaps, his hospitable treatment failed to confound his assassins!) Below is the text from the edition, Œuvres complètes de Voltaire, Paris, 1826, p. 511, available here.

voltair_hist_charles_xii_p511Here’s the French text re-typed:

Précisément vers le midi, selon qu’il avait été averti, il vit venir les prétendus ivrognes droit à sa tente. Dès qu’ils furent entrés, il les reçut poliment. Appelant ensuite ses domestiques, avec une alégresse contrefaite, pour leur ordonner d’apporter du café, du tabac, des confitures, etc., il pria instamment des Turcs de s’asseoir, et les força obligeamment de prendre du café, de fumer du tabac, etc. Ceux-ci, étonnés sans doute d’une telle réception chez un homme qu’il allaient assassiner, ne firent que se regarder les uns les autres, sans proférer une seule parole. Tout d’un coup, le premier d’entre eux, celui apparemment qui devait commencer l’exécution se leva brusquement, et dit aux autres: Heydy gidelem, ce qui veut dire: Allons-noun-en. En sortant il se tourna vers le comte Poniatowski, et lui dit: Ne kiafir sen, ce qui signifie: Tu es un païen extraordinaire.

And here’s my English translation:

Just near midday, as he had been informed, he saw the supposed drunks coming straight toward his tent. As soon as they had entered, he received them politely. Then calling his servants, with a counterfeit enthusiasm, to have them bring coffee, tobacco, jams, etc., he instantly asked the Turks to take a seat and forced them obligingly to have some coffee, to smoke some tobacco, etc. Those men, certainly amazed at such a reception by a man they had come to assassinate, did nothing but look at each other, without offering a single word. All of a sudden, the first among them, who was to have begun the execution, got up quickly and said to the others, Heydy gidelem, which means, “Let’s go.” Going out, he turned toward Count Poniatowski and said to him, Ne kiafir sen, which means, “You are an extraordinary pagan!”

My attention was drawn to the story both for the events themselves and for its charm, including the hospitable proffering of coffee and tobacco, but also for its accurate representation of the Turkish phrases recorded. The first phrase (“Come on, let’s go!”) would be هايدى گدءلم (haydi gidelim) in Ottoman orthography, and the second (“What an infidel you are!”) نه كافر سن (ne kâfir sen). (The form gidelim is 1pl. optative of گتمك gitmek to go.)

Post Navigation