Chapter 18 – What They Saw in the Country of El Dorado

1 Cacambo expressed his curiosity to the landlord, who made answer: “I am very ignorant, but not the worse on that account. However, we have in this neighbourhood an old man retired from Court who is the most learned and most communicative person in the kingdom.”
2 At once he took Cacambo to the old man. Candide acted now only a second character, and accompanied his valet. They entered a very plain house, for the door was only of silver, and the ceilings were only of gold, but wrought in so elegant a taste as to vie with the richest. The antechamber, indeed, was only encrusted with rubies and emeralds, but the order in which everything was arranged made amends for this great simplicity.
3 The old man received the strangers on his sofa, which was stuffed with humming-birds’ feathers, and ordered his servants to present them with liqueurs in diamond goblets; after which he satisfied their curiosity in the following terms:
4 “I am now one hundred and seventy-two years old, and I learnt of my late father, Master of the Horse to the King, the amazing revolutions of Peru, of which he had been an eyewitness. The kingdom we now inhabit is the ancient country of the Incas, who quitted it very imprudently to conquer another part of the world, and were at length destroyed by the Spaniards.
5 1 “More wise by far were the princes of their family, who remained in their native country; and they ordained, with the consent of the whole nation, that none of the inhabitants should ever be permitted to quit this little kingdom; and this has preserved our innocence and happiness. The Spaniards have had a confused notion of this country, and have called it El Dorado; and an Englishman, whose name was Sir Walter Raleigh, came very near it about a hundred years ago; but being surrounded by inaccessible rocks and precipices, we have hitherto been sheltered from the rapaciousness of European nations, who have an inconceivable passion for the pebbles and dirt of our land, for the sake of which they would murder us to the last man.”
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The conversation was long: it turned chiefly on their form of government, their manners, their women, their public entertainments, and the arts. At length Candide, having always had a taste for metaphysics, made Cacambo ask whether there was any religion in that country.

The old man reddened a little.

“How then,” said he, “can you doubt it? Do you take us for ungrateful wretches?”

Cacambo humbly asked, “What was the religion in El Dorado?”

The old man reddened again.

“Can there be two religions?” said he. “We have, I believe, the religion of all the world: we worship God night and morning.”

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“Do you worship but one God?” said Cacambo, who still acted as interpreter in representing Candide’s doubts.

“Surely,” said the old man, “there are not two, nor three, nor four. I must confess the people from your side of the world ask very extraordinary questions.”


Candide was not yet tired of interrogating the good old man; he wanted to know in what manner they prayed to God in El Dorado.

“We do not pray to Him,” said the worthy sage; “we have nothing to ask of Him; He has given us all we need, and we return Him thanks without ceasing.”


Candide having a curiosity to see the priests asked where they were. The good old man smiled.

“My friend,” said he, “we are all priests. The King and all the heads of families sing solemn canticles of thanksgiving every morning, accompanied by five or six thousand musicians.”

“What! have you no monks who teach, who dispute, who govern, who cabal, and who burn people that are not of their opinion?”

“We must be mad, indeed, if that were the case,” said the old man; “here we are all of one opinion, and we know not what you mean by monks.”


During this whole discourse Candide was in raptures, and he said to himself:

“This is vastly different from Westphalia and the Baron’s castle. Had our friend Pangloss seen El Dorado he would no longer have said that the castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh was the finest upon earth. It is evident that one must travel.”


After this long conversation the old man ordered a coach and six sheep to be got ready, and twelve of his domestics to conduct the travellers to Court.

“Excuse me,” said he, “if my age deprives me of the honour of accompanying you. The King will receive you in a manner that cannot displease you; and no doubt you will make an allowance for the customs of the country, if some things should not be to your liking.”

12 Candide and Cacambo got into the coach, the six sheep flew, and in less than four hours they reached the King’s palace situated at the extremity of the capital. The portal was two hundred and twenty feet high, and one hundred wide; but words are wanting to express the materials of which it was built. It is plain such materials must have prodigious superiority over those pebbles and sand which we call gold and precious stones.
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Twenty beautiful damsels of the King’s guard received Candide and Cacambo as they alighted from the coach, conducted them to the bath, and dressed them in robes woven of the down of humming-birds; after which the great crown officers, of both sexes, led them to the King’s apartment, between two files of musicians, a thousand on each side. When they drew near to the audience chamber Cacambo asked one of the great officers in what way he should pay his obeisance to his Majesty; whether they should throw themselves upon their knees or on their stomachs; whether they should put their hands upon their heads or behind their backs; whether they should lick the dust off the floor; in a word, what was the ceremony?

“The custom,” said the great officer, “is to embrace the King, and to kiss him on each cheek.”

Candide and Cacambo threw themselves round his Majesty’s neck. He received them with all the goodness imaginable, and politely invited them to supper.

14 While waiting they were shown the city, and saw the public edifices raised as high as the clouds, the market places ornamented with a thousand columns, the fountains of spring water, those of rose water, those of liqueurs drawn from sugar-cane, incessantly flowing into the great squares, which were paved with a kind of precious stone, which gave off a delicious fragrancy like that of cloves and cinnamon. Candide asked to see the court of justice, the parliament. They told him they had none, and that they were strangers to lawsuits. He asked if they had any prisons, and they answered no. But what surprised him most and gave him the greatest pleasure was the palace of sciences, where he saw a gallery two thousand feet long, and filled with instruments employed in mathematics and physics.
15 After rambling about the city the whole afternoon, and seeing but a thousandth part of it, they were reconducted to the royal palace, where Candide sat down to table with his Majesty, his valet Cacambo, and several ladies. Never was there a better entertainment, and never was more wit shown at a table than that which fell from his Majesty. Cacambo explained the King’s bon-mots to Candide, and notwithstanding they were translated they still appeared to be bon-mots. Of all the things that surprised Candide this was not the least.

They spent a month in this hospitable place. Candide frequently said to Cacambo:

“I own, my friend, once more that the castle where I was born is nothing in comparison with this; but, after all, Miss Cunegonde is not here, and you have, without doubt, some mistress in Europe. If we abide here we shall only be upon a footing with the rest, whereas, if we return to our old world, only with twelve sheep laden with the pebbles of El Dorado, we shall be richer than all the kings in Europe. We shall have no more Inquisitors to fear, and we may easily recover Miss Cunegonde.”

17 This speech was agreeable to Cacambo; mankind are so fond of roving, of making a figure in their own country, and of boasting of what they have seen in their travels, that the two happy ones resolved to be no longer so, but to ask his Majesty’s leave to quit the country.
18 “You are foolish,” said the King. “I am sensible that my kingdom is but a small place, but when a person is comfortably settled in any part he should abide there. I have not the right to detain strangers. It is a tyranny which neither our manners nor our laws permit. All men are free. Go when you wish, but the going will be very difficult. It is impossible to ascend that rapid river on which you came as by a miracle, and which runs under vaulted rocks. The mountains which surround my kingdom are ten thousand feet high, and as steep as walls; they are each over ten leagues in breadth, and there is no other way to descend them than by precipices. However, since you absolutely wish to depart, I shall give orders to my engineers to construct a machine that will convey you very safely. When we have conducted you over the mountains no one can accompany you further, for my subjects have made a vow never to quit the kingdom, and they are too wise to break it. Ask me besides anything that you please.”

“We desire nothing of your Majesty,” says Candide, “but a few sheep laden with provisions, pebbles, and the earth of this country.”

The King laughed.

“I cannot conceive,” said he, “what pleasure you Europeans find in our yellow clay, but take as much as you like, and great good may it do you.”

20 At once he gave directions that his engineers should construct a machine to hoist up these two extraordinary men out of the kingdom. Three thousand good mathematicians went to work; it was ready in fifteen days, and did not cost more than twenty million sterling in the specie of that country. They placed Candide and Cacambo on the machine. There were two great red sheep saddled and bridled to ride upon as soon as they were beyond the mountains, twenty pack-sheep laden with provisions, thirty with presents of the curiosities of the country, and fifty with gold, diamonds, and precious stones. The King embraced the two wanderers very tenderly.
21 2 Their departure, with the ingenious manner in which they and their sheep were hoisted over the mountains, was a splendid spectacle. The mathematicians took their leave after conveying them to a place of safety, and Candide had no other desire, no other aim, than to present his sheep to Miss Cunegonde.
22 “Now,” said he, “we are able to pay the Governor of Buenos Ayres if Miss Cunegonde can be ransomed. Let us journey towards Cayenne. Let us embark, and we will afterwards see what kingdom we shall be able to purchase.”

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8 Responses to “Chapter 18 – What They Saw in the Country of El Dorado”

Perhaps to establish that he was not himself a dreamer, Voltaire locates his utopia in a place widely known by that time to be imaginary. He writes in a tradition that begins with Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1517), and includes Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). All three authors present mock travelogues, books which describe wanderings into the great beyond, but announce their status as fiction at every turn.

Contrary to popular belief, More’s Utopia is a playful book– in more than one sense. We have only to analyze More’s coinage, “utopia”, to see this. The term plays upon two Greek words: eutopos, meaning “a good place”, and outopos, meaning “no place” or “nowhere.” More would have expected his audience to pick up on this jest, this oscillation, immediately, for the community of scholars in Europe used Latin among themselves (Utopia was originally published in Latin) and studied Greek as a matter of course.

All through the book, Greek-derived place-names and other words enhance the joke: the good place is no place at all. The degree to which More intended his text to be read as a series of serious proposals is the subject of much debate. Voltaire’s case is much clearer. We have every reason to think that he approved of the conditions in his “El Dorado”– as outsiders insist on calling it.

By the Voltaire’s time it had become a popular activity to describe the contours of one’s own “ideal commonwealth,” and this is precisely what Voltaire was doing when he delineated the contours of El Dorado. All of its attributes point to this (with the possible exception of the large red sheep).

Above all, Voltaire’s utopia is a place where gold has no value. In this section, he reminds the reader of some of the destruction that has been wrought by gold fever. The inhabitants of El Dorado see nothing special in it. They are extraordinarily wealthy in other respects, but they do not cling to their wealth, and are happy to share it with the newcomers. Candide and Cacambo enjoy what seems to them a banquet fit for a king, but learn that their hosts consider it very ordinary. Trying to pay for their meal, they are told it is free. We can safely assume that this applies to many if not most of life’s essentials in El Dorado.

The old man considers Candide’s questions to be strange because the truth, once revealed, is single and self-evident. The religion of El Dorado reflects Voltaire’s ideals. There is no religious hierarchy; all are priests and spend their devotions in wonderfully musical thanksgiving. Since God has given them everything they could possibly desire, there is no need for affective prayer. In fact, such prayer would be considered churlish in the face of such divine generosity. Religious conflict is unknown. In Voltaire’s eyes, this religion is a marvel of rationality.

Everyone is on friendly terms with the monarch: kissing the king on both cheeks is to bridge the gap between social classes, and would of course have been unthinkable in Voltaire’s time.

“Possibly there is a part of the world where everything is right,” says Candide as he and his companion reach El Dorado, “for there must be some such place.” Voltaire conjures up such a (no-) place, affording a glimpse of the perfect society as he understood it.For Voltaire, the ideal human community was one in which there was total agreement about life’s fundamentals. Rank and riches are as dust, while art and science stand supreme. People want for nothing. Religious life is invariably simple, universal, and beautiful. The King of “El Dorado”, as the Spaniards insist on calling it, counsels the two against leaving, and almost as soon as they do they lose the gold they had accrued as the red sheep falter and fail. But it is not wealth that has burst the utopian bubble for Candide; rather, it is human love. The loyal Candide still yearns to be reunited with Cunegonde, his heart’s desire, and it is rather difficult—for us, at least– to reproach him for that.

Candide has his own reasons for journeying through South America. However, as regards the historical explorers, it is important for us to keep in mind the heady effect that all this uncharted land in the Americas had on Europeans; indeed, parts of the Northwest Pacific remained unmapped until the late 19th Century. What a spur this was for speculation, both literal and figurative! For Spanish, English, French and Portuguese explorers and settlers, the idea that the perfect place might lie just over the horizon was irresistible, and it powered the drive West in South, Central, and North America. Some of the most intriguing artefacts from this period are what one might call speculative maps: when cartographers lacked information, they often simply guessed instead of designating the area in question terra incognita. For example, one Spanish map situates a kind of Silverado in what is now known as Oregon and Washington State. (Argentina is of course named for silver as well.) Another posited a massive inland sea covering the West.

Candide goes to El Dorado and he realizes that this place has no religion and is disorganized. None of the people attempts to force beliefs on others, no one is imprisoned and the king of El Dorado treats is visitors in the same way as the others.
Candide obtains in El Dorado more problems than advantages. He realizes that money does not bring happiness, however he acquires wealth but at the same time he suffers and lose confidence on himself.

In Voltaire’s vision of a Utopia, he tries to create the philosophy of there being only one god, and really just different aspects of the same god.
The philosophy of his Utopia also shows a bit of ignorance where the old man is not open to the possibilities of other godly beings than the one he worships.

It has been suggested that the sheep are guanacos, the red-brown llama-like animals native to the Andes.