Candide Chapter 12
"Continuation of the Old Woman's Misfortunes"
Although a man is lying on top of her, moaning about his impotency, the old woman was overjoyed at hearing him speak Italian, her native language. She reassures him that people have met worse fates. The man is a eunuch, and, coincidentally, he was a singer for the old woman's now deceased mother.
The eunuch nurses the old woman back to health and admires her beauty. The eunuch had been sent by a Christian country to give the King of Morocco ammunition to wipe out the trading vessels of another Christian power. He promises to take her back to Italy, but he sells her to a government official in Algiers. The old woman then catches the plague.
"'Imagine the situation of a Pope's daughter aged fifteen, who in three months had undergone poverty and slavery, had been raped nearly every day, had seen her mother cut into four pieces, had undergone hunger and war, and was now dying of the plague in Algiers.'" Chapter 12, pg. 46
Everyone around her dies of the plague. An Aga, a high ranking official of the Janizaries during the Ottoman empire, buys the old woman. (The Janizaries were a division of the Turkish military during the Ottoman Empire) The Aga stationed his harem and his soldiers on an island in order to fight the Russians. The Russians capture the Aga and starve out the twenty soldiers who protect his harem. The soldiers eat the two eunuchs. Hungry again, and according to the suggestion of the Imam-a Muslim religious leader-the soldiers cut off a buttock from each of the women, including the old woman.
After the Russians kill the soldiers, a French doctor heals the mutilated women, telling them that cannibalism was international law during wartime. The old woman then becomes a servant for a string master. All the while, she tells Candide and Cunégonde, she never forgot her original station in life as daughter to a Pope.
She tells Candide and Cunégonde that life is absurdly painful. She wanted to kill herself many times. She curses her love for life. It forces her to endure her misery. She wistfully recalls the twenty people who did manage to kill themselves.
"'[I]s there anything sillier than to desire to bear continually a burden one always wishes to throw on the ground; to look upon oneself with horror and yet to cling to oneself; in short to caress the serpent which desires us until he has eaten our heart?'" Chapter 12, pg. 49
The old woman tells Candide and Cunégonde to hear the stories of their fellow passengers. If any of them do not hate life, Candide and Cunégonde can toss her overboard.