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We have spoken of love. It is hard to pass from people kissing to people eating one another. It is, however, but too true that there have been cannibals. We have found them in America; they are, perhaps, still to be found; and the Cyclops were not the only individuals in antiquity who sometimes fed on human flesh.
Juvenal relates that among the Egyptians—that wise people, so renowned for their laws—those pious worshippers of crocodiles and onions—the Tentyrites ate one of their enemies who had fallen into their hands.
He does not tell this tale on hearsay; the crime was committed almost before his eyes; he was then in Egypt, and not far from Tentyra. On this occasion he quotes the Gascons and the Saguntines, who formerly fed on the flesh of their countrymen.
In four savages were brought from the Mississippi to Fontainebleau, with whom I had the honor of conversing. There was among them a lady of the country, whom I asked if she had eaten men; she answered, with great simplicity that she had.
I appeared somewhat scandalized; on which she excused Edition: We kill our neighbors in battles, or skirmishes; and, for the meanest consideration, provide meals for the crows and the worms. There is the horror; there is the crime. What matters it, when a man is dead, whether he is eaten by a soldier, or by a dog and a crow?
We have more respect for the dead than for the living. It would be better to respect both the one and the other.
The nations called polished have done right in not putting their vanquished enemies on the spit; for if we were allowed to eat our neighbors, we should soon eat our countrymen, which would be rather unfortunate for the social virtues. But polished nations have not always been so; they were all for a long time savage; and, in the infinite number of revolutions which this globe has undergone, mankind have been sometimes numerous and sometimes scarce.
It has been with human beings as it now is with elephants, lions, or tigers, the race of which has very much decreased. In times when a country was but thinly inhabited by men, they had few arts; they were hunters.
The custom of eating what they had killed easily led them to treat their enemies like their stags and their boars. It was superstition that caused human victims to be immolated; it was necessity that caused them to be eaten.
Which is the greater crime—to assemble piously Edition: Yet we have many more instances of girls and boys sacrificed than of girls and boys eaten. Almost every nation of which we know anything has sacrificed boys and girls.
The Jews immolated them. This was called the Anathema; it was a real sacrifice; and in Leviticus it is ordained that the living souls which shall be devoted shall not be spared; but it is not in any manner prescribed that they shall be eaten; this is only threatened.
Moses tells the Jews that unless they observe his ceremonies they shall not only have the itch, but the mothers shall eat their children. It is true that in the time of Ezekiel the Jews must have been accustomed to eat human flesh; for, in his thirty-ninth chapter, he foretells to them that God will cause them to eat, not only the horses of their enemies, but moreover the horsemen and the rest of the warriors.
And, indeed, why should not the Jews have been cannibals? It was the only thing wanting to make the people of God the most abominable people upon earth.
Most of the first travellers and missionaries say that the Brazilians, the Caribbees, the Iroquois, the Hurons, and some Edition: So many writers, ancient and modern, have spoken of cannibals, that it is difficult to deny their existence. A hunting people, like the Brazilians or the Canadians, not always having a certain subsistence, may sometimes become cannibals.
All this is shocking to the feelings; but the picture of humanity must often have the same effect. Must we believe that it is not so absolutely opposed to human nature as it appears to be?
It is certain that it has been rare, but it is equally certain that it has existed. It is not known that the Tartars and the Jews often ate their fellow creatures.
During the sieges of Sancerre and Paris, in our religious wars, hunger and despair compelled mothers to feed on the flesh of their children. The charitable Las Casas, bishop of Chiapa, says that this horror was committed in America, only by some nations among whom he had not travelled.Other articles where An Essay on Universal History, the Manners and Spirit of Nations from the Reign of Charlemaign to the Age of Lewis XIV is discussed: Voltaire: Life with Mme du Châtelet: and manners that became the Essai sur les moeurs, and plunged into biblical exegesis.
Mme du Châtelet herself wrote an Examen, highly critical of the two . of Paris (),6 and a very ambitious Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations () history.
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