Chapter 6 – How the Portuguese Made a Beautiful Auto-Da-Fé, to Prevent Any Further Earthquakes; and How Candide Was Publicly Whipped

1 1 After the earthquake had destroyed three-fourths of Lisbon, the sages of that country could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fé; for it had been decided by the University of Coimbra, that the burning of a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible secret to hinder the earth from quaking.
2 2 In consequence hereof, they had seized on a Biscayner, convicted of having married his godmother, and on two Portuguese, for rejecting the bacon which larded a chicken they were eating; after dinner, they came and secured Dr. Pangloss, and his disciple Candide, the one for speaking his mind, the other for having listened with an air of approbation. They were conducted to separate apartments, extremely cold, as they were never incommoded by the sun. Eight days after they were dressed in san-benitos and their heads ornamented with paper mitres. The mitre and san-benito belonging to Candide were painted with reversed flames and with devils that had neither tails nor claws; but Pangloss’s devils had claws and tails and the flames were upright. They marched in procession thus habited and heard a very pathetic sermon, followed by fine church music. Candide was whipped in cadence while they were singing; the Biscayner, and the two men who had refused to eat bacon, were burnt; and Pangloss was hanged, though that was not the custom. The same day the earth sustained a most violent concussion.
3 3 Candide, terrified, amazed, desperate, all bloody, all palpitating, said to himself: “If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others? Well, if I had been only whipped I could put up with it, for I experienced that among the Bulgarians; but oh, my dear Pangloss! thou greatest of philosophers, that I should have seen you hanged, without knowing for what! Oh, my dear Anabaptist, thou best of men, that thou should’st have been drowned in the very harbour! Oh, Miss Cunegonde, thou pearl of girls! that thou should’st have had thy belly ripped open!”
4 1 Thus he was musing, scarce able to stand, preached at, whipped, absolved, and blessed, when an old woman accosted him saying: “My son, take courage and follow me.”

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10 Responses to “Chapter 6 – How the Portuguese Made a Beautiful Auto-Da-Fé, to Prevent Any Further Earthquakes; and How Candide Was Publicly Whipped”

Connoisseurs of Monty Python’s Flying Circus understand that “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” We can safely assume that Candide and Pangloss did not anticipate running afoul of either the Spanish Inquisition or, as it happens, the Portuguese Inquisition. Also known by the innocuous term “Holy Office,” the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church was empowered to root out forces inimical to the welfare of the faith, burning Jews, heretics, and supposed witches alive when necessary.

In a compelling scholarly work called Inquisition, Edward Peters of the University of Pennsylvania invites us to make a sharp distinction between the historical institution of the Holy Office and “the myth of the Inquisition.” Peters contends that, while its Spanish and Portuguese editions were indeed brutal and disgusting in the extreme, the Inquisition per se was not in fact “a single, all-powerful, horrific tribunal, whose agents worked everywhere to thwart religious truth, intellectual freedom, and political liberty.”

In a bit of casuistry worthy of Pangloss, the administrators of the Inquisition applied the bland Portuguese phrase auto-da-fé, “Act of the Faith,” to the public burning of heretics.

Sad to say, Voltaire once again has his facts straight. On June 20, 1756, the city of Lisbon actually staged an auto-da-fé with an eye to canceling any divine plans for additional earthquakes.

Inevitably one thinks of the way that many frightened people, both learned and unlettered, responded to the Black Death pandemic of the 14th century. Certain that the scourge traced to the wrath of God, Christian mobs sought to placate Providence by persecuting non-Christians. In 1348, nine hundred Jews were burned alive in Strasbourg, France, in an effort to halt the plague at the city gates.

In the Leonard Bernstein musical-comedy adaptation of Candide, Richard Wilbur and John La Touche’s lyrics for “Auto-da-fé” quickly reach a sardonic Voltairean pitch. The song begins with the crowd in a festive mood.

What a day, what a day
For an auto-da-fé!
What a sunny summer sky!
What a day, what a day
For an auto-da-fé!
It’s a lovely day for drinking
And for watching people fry!

As the song progresses, the spectators grow more venomous.

When foreigners like this come
To criticize and spy,
We chant a
pax vobiscum
And hang the bastard high!

Finally, the mob reveals its malice in full.

At last we can be cheery,
The danger’s passed us by.
So sing a
Dies Irae
And hang the bastard high!

“For rejecting the bacon which larded a chicken they were eating.” In other words, the two Portuguese were Jews.

The “paper mitres” are facsimiles of bishops’ hats. A “san-benito” is the ornamented smock worn by a condemned Inquisition victim as he or she marched to the stake or gallows. Such garments were named after Saint Benedict, who introduced them. While the san-benito of a Jew or an alleged witch displayed a Saint Andrews cross front and back, ordinary heretics sported shifts decorated with devils and Hellfire, the flames pointing downward in the case of those who’d repented.

Evidently Candide’s error of listening “with an air of approbation” was sufficiently innocuous that the tribunal decided to award him a penitent’s habit and spare him the noose, whereas Pangloss, who committed the crime of speaking his mind, is clothed as a full-fledged heretic. It’s not entirely clear why the Holy Office loses track of Candide following his whipping. Presumably the officials are too absorbed by the burnings and the hanging to notice our hero’s escape.

“The same day the earth sustained a violent concussion.” Evidently the sages of Coimbra – the oldest university in Portugal – did not give the Inquisition such good counsel after all.

“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what then of the others?” Perhaps the most famous line from the novella, fourteen words worth a thousand pictures.

Joe Haldeman says:

If there is a best of all possible worlds, then there must also be a worst. Who decides? The same authority?

Any given world might be both best and worst, depending on who you ask . . . .

- Joe Haldeman (

Chris Morrow says:

My answer to the vexing question of perspective…

Who decides whether the Haitian earthquake was for the best, for the worst, or in the middle? The Haitians do, obviously.

Same goes for our world as a whole. It’s one thing if God operates under limits we can’t understand, just as, for example, a baby doesn’t understand why her impoverished parents can’t just now afford to give her everything she needs.

Theology, however, keeps telling us that we do understand that God’s power has no limits. If it weren’t for that one little caveat, it would be perfectly reasonable to say that we don’t know whether our world could have been any better — maybe a better world would have cost more divine money, or angered more Heavenly voters, or something. True omnipotence lacks such excuses.

Just my two cents…

- Chris Morrow (

Alice Boone and all,
I am just getting into the meat of the novel 2.0 experience/experiment here, but I am overwhelmed (in a good way) with the creativity of this community. I am inspired to pick Candide back up again.

I agree with you James. By offering human sacrifice, the earthquake victims thought they would “appease the gods.” Just as in Dante’s Inferno, punishments were crime-specific. The victims of the auto-da-fé did not calm the angry earth as was evidenced by another earthquake. This whole process was an example of helplessness and poor judgment.

Connor Beeks says:

Here Voltaire satirizes the Inquisition when he shows them flogging Candide for supporting Pangloss, whose opinions anger the Inquisition. This is Voltaire showing his ideas, as even though Pangloss’s view is ridiculous and unsupported, the Inquisition has a viewpoint that they need to quell any kind of uprising against their beliefs. This adds to the satire of the whole thing, as well as show how ridiculous it all really is.

Jose Castro says:

The comical side of Voltaire is shown once more in this chapter when Candide and Pangloss are charged for listening with an air of approval.

It is ironic how Pangloss, the optimist, is hanged and not burned and Candide is savagely flogged in cadence to the music.

This savage display of Candide being whipped to the beat of a beautiful song is used by Voltaire to underscore the intolerance and injustice of the Church through its brutal treatment of innocent victims. It’s interesting how a second earthquake struck the city only a few hours later, which makes it clear how ludicrous customs like the auto-da-fé were.

In return, Candide seriously questions the optimistic way of thinking, but then the old woman comes and aids him, which signifies the hope that we should all have within ourselves.