Sunday, July 12, 2009

What's in a name?

There is a popular saying that one should never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent, but that never stopped Voltaire... often to a detrimental degree, but Voltaire seems to have possessed more resilience than rubber so it often didn't matter. In his early years as a poet, Voltaire's quick wit gained him entrance into French high society and quite nearly knocked him out of it again.

Voltaire somehow or other managed to annoy one Auguste de Rohan-Chabot, perhaps by the admittedly, not very difficult task of being cleverer than Auguste de Rohan-Chabot. While Voltaire was at the opera with a group of friends, de Rohan-Chabot dropped into their box to pay his compliments and to glance distainfully at Voltaire. "Ah," he is said to have remarked, "there you are M. Voltaire, or Arouet, or whatever it is you call yourself."

Feeling pretty clever for having brought up Voltaire's low origins and lack of an important family name, he attempted to join the party, but Voltaire forestalled him.

"Yes, I am the first to honor my name," said Voltaire, "but what have you done to honor yours?"
(de Rohan-Chabot's answer was to have his lackies ambush Voltaire and beat the poet up. Ouch. Voltaire challenged him to a duel later on and de Rohan-Chabot got Voltaire exiled to England, where Voltaire became a pan-European celebrity. Yeah, real cruel punishment, there, increasing his audience and book sales.)

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