One of my professors asked me a bit randomly to research the French philosopher Voltaire for our next class. Here’s a light little summary of things I found interesting from his bio:

François-Marie Arouet, known through his pseudonym Voltaire, lived a life of seemingly constant confrontation with authority. Voltaire is described as a satirical polemicist, who expressed his advocacy for ideas like freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the separation of church and state, through cleverly crafted critiques of wit and irony directed towards 18th century French institutions. His father wished for him to be a lawyer, but instead he preferred to spend his time writing poetry, plays, novels, essays and other forms of literature. In one instance, Voltaire wrote a verse in gest of Philippe II, Régent of the Kingdom, for an incestuous relationship with his own daughter. For this, Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille for eleven months. In another instance, Rohan, a French nobleman insulted the young writer. Voltaire responded that he wished to duel but instead Rohan watched from his carriage as his servants beat him. Voltaire was then issued a royal decree from King Louis XV to be imprisoned without trial in the Bastille for troublemaking. Instead, he was exiled to Great Britain where he learned the benefits of a constitution that supported a greater freedom of speech and religion. He gathered these ideas in efforts to express reform of the absolute monarchy of France.

Learning about the origin of the pseudonym, “Voltaire”, was pretty entertaining. It is an anagram of his surname, Arouet, but in Latin, which would appear as “AROVET LI.” Voltaire’s name with the syllables reversed sounds like his family’s château, which was named: “Airvault.” A biographer, Richard Holmes, thinks that he may have also intended to associate his pseudonym with words like “voltige”, “volte-face”, or “volatile”, all of which are associated with movement, speed, turbulence, change, etc.… Voltaire used about 178 different pen names throughout his life.

Some of Voltaire’s more notable works include:

  • Œdipe (1718)
  • Henriade (1723)
  • Zaïre (1732)
  • Candide (1759)
  • Dictionnaire philosphique (1764)
  • Letters on the English (c. 1788)
  • The Age of Louis XIV (1751)