Zadig, a charming young man with a good education and great wealth, lives in the time of King Moabdar in Babylon. Despite the fact that he is a very sensible young man, or perhaps because of it, he never boasts of his own abilities or tries to find fault in others. He expects that with the advantages he modestly enjoys he will have no difficulty in being happy, but he is mistaken in this belief.
In rescuing the beautiful Sémire from kidnappers, Zadig is injured by an arrow in his left eye. The great doctor Hermes predicts that he will lose the eye because wounds in the left eye never heal. When Zadig’s eye does heal, the doctor writes a book proving that it could not have happened. Unfortunately, Sémire, to whom Zadig has been betrothed, decides that she does not like one-eyed men. In her ignorance of Zadig’s recovery, she marries Orcan, the young nobleman who sent the kidnappers to seize her.
Zadig marries Azora, the wisest girl in the city, who takes a frivolous interest in handsome young men. When she scolds a widow for changing the course of a stream in order to escape from her vow to stay by her husband’s tomb as long as the stream flows there, Zadig arranges to have Azora told that he has died. He then has his friend Cador make friendly overtures to Azora and, having done so, complain of a pain in the spleen for which there is but one cure: rubbing the place with the nose of a man who has been dead no more than twenty-four hours. When Azora then goes to the place where Zadig is supposedly buried, he leaps up to keep her from cutting off his nose with a razor. He says that her act proves she is no better than the widow she had criticized. Finally, when living with Azora becomes too difficult, Zadig leaves her.
One day the queen’s dog and the king’s horse are lost. Zadig is able to describe the missing animals and their location, but when he then says that he has never seen them, he is imprisoned. He is released after he explains that he was able to tell from marks on the ground what the animals were like, but he has learned a lesson, and when he sees an escaping prisoner, he keeps quiet. Nevertheless, he is fined for looking out his window.
A rich and jealous neighbor named Arimaze, who is called “The Envious,” finds a tablet on which Zadig has written a poem. The tablet is broken in half, and the part of the poem on one piece of the tablet could be read as criticism of the king. Arimaze shows that part of the tablet to the king, but just as Zadig is about to be condemned for insulting the monarch, a parrot drops the other half of the tablet in the king’s lap. Both the king and the queen—especially the queen—begin to hold Zadig in high esteem. He is awarded a goblet for having been generous enough to speak well of a minister who had incurred the king’s wrath; such an act is new in the king’s experience, and he values Zadig for it.
Zadig becomes prime minister of Babylon and, through his sensible decisions, wins the hearts of the people. He cures a great lord who is too conceited for his own good by having an orchestra and a choir sing his praises all day long, until the lord in desperation calls a halt to the chorus of praise. Zadig also settles a religious dispute that had gone on for fifteen hundred years, concerning the question of whether one should enter the temple of Mithra with the right foot or the left foot; Zadig jumps in with both feet.
Zadig is popular with the ladies of Babylon, but he succumbs to a woman’s advances only once and does so without pleasure, for he is too much in love with Queen Astarté. The wife of Arimaze, enraged because Zadig has rebuffed her, allows her husband to send her garter to the king so that he might be deceived into believing...
(The entire section is 1539 words.)