Colorized engraving of Voltaire wearing a wig.


(1694 - 1778)

Writing about his Philosophical Dictionary, Voltaire (the pseudonym of François-Marie Arouet) espoused the virtue of testifying to “how ridiculous are many things alleged to be respectable.” The book, whose authorship Voltaire disavowed, was banned by the Church. The novelist, poet, and dramatist once complained, “The greatest misfortune of a writer…is to be judged by fools.”

All Writing

Laughter always arises from a gaiety of disposition, absolutely incompatible with contempt and indignation.

—Voltaire, 1736

Music today is nothing more than the art of performing difficult pieces.

—Voltaire, 1759

Men argue, nature acts.

—Voltaire, 1764

If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

—Voltaire, 1764

What a heavy burden is a name that has become too famous.

—Voltaire, 1723

Thought depends absolutely on the stomach, but in spite of that, those who have the best stomachs are not the best thinkers.

—Voltaire, 1770

Often the prudent, far from making their destinies, succumb to them; it is destiny which makes them prudent.

—Voltaire, 1764

It is impossible to translate the poets. Can you translate music?

—Voltaire, c. 1732

In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.

—Voltaire, 1764


While minister to France in 1778, Benjamin Franklin met Voltaire at the Academy of the Sciences. On hand was John Adams, who wrote that “neither of our philosophers seemed to divine what was wished or expected” of them by the crowd. Eventually, the two embraced and kissed each other on the cheek, an act that Nicolas de Condorcet said provoked such enthusiastic approval that “it was said to be Solon who embraced Sophocles.”

Such then is the human state, that to wish greatness for one’s country is to wish harm to one’s neighbors.

—Voltaire, 1764

Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills.

—Voltaire, 1769

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