The old woman tells her story. It turns out that she is the daughter of Pope Urban X and the princess of Palestrina. She was raised in the midst of incredible wealth. At fourteen, already a stunning beauty, she was engaged to the prince of Massa Carrara. The two of them loved each another passionately. However, during the lavish wedding celebration, the prince’s mistress killed the prince with a poisoned drink, and the old woman and her mother set sail to mourn at their estate in Gaeta. On the way, pirates boarded the ship and the pope’s soldiers surrendered without a fight. The pirates examined every bodily orifice of their prisoners, searching for hidden jewels. They raped the women and sailed to Morocco to sell them as slaves.
A civil war was underway in Morocco, and the pirates were attacked. The old woman saw her mother and their maids of honor ripped apart by the men fighting over them. After the fray ended, the old woman climbed out from under a heap of dead bodies and crawled to rest under a tree. She awoke to find an Italian eunuch vainly attempting to rape her.
A hundred times I wanted to kill myself, but always I loved life more.See Important Quotations Explained
The old woman continues her story. Despite the eunuch’s attempt to rape her, she was delighted to encounter a countryman, and the eunuch carried her to a nearby cottage to care for her. They discovered that he had once served in her mother’s palace. The eunuch promised to take the old woman back to Italy, but then took her to Algiers and sold her to the prince as a concubine.
The plague swept through Algiers, killing the prince and the eunuch. The old woman was subsequently sold several times and ended up in the hands of a Muslim military commander. He took his seraglio with him when ordered to defend the city of Azov against the Russians. The Russians leveled the city, and only the commander’s fort was left standing. Desperate for food, the officers killed and ate two eunuchs. They planned to do the same with the women, but a “pious and sympathetic” religious leader persuaded them to merely cut one buttock from each woman for food. Eventually, the Russians killed all the officers.
The women were taken to Moscow. A nobleman took the old woman as his slave and beat her daily for two years. He was executed for “court intrigue,” and the old woman escaped. She worked as a servant in inns across Russia. She came close to suicide many times in her life, but never carried it out because she “loved life” too much. The old woman wonders why human nature makes people want to live even though life itself is so often a curse. She tells Candide and Cunégonde to ask each passenger on the ship to tell his story. She wagers that every single one has been upset to be alive.
At the old woman’s urging, Candide and Cunégonde ask their fellow passengers about their experiences. They find that the old woman’s prediction is correct. When the ship docks at Buenos Aires, they visit the haughty, self-important governor, Don Fernando d’Ibaraa y Figueora y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza, who orders Candide to review his company. When Candide leaves, Don Fernando begs Cunégonde to marry him. The shrewd old woman advises Cunégonde to marry the governor, as marrying him could make both her and Candide’s fortune.