Enlightenment Wordplay

Simple to present yet not so easy to solve, this elegant exchange between Voltaire and his friend and patron Frederick the Great of Prussia is one of the cleverest surviving puzzles borne of a playful and philosophical friendship between a King and a commoner.

Wikipedia asserts that

“Frederick also aspired to be a Platonic philosopher king like the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Frederick the Great
Frederick the Great of Prussia who admired above all the Enlightenment's greatest thinker, Voltaire.

… At Sanssouci Frederick entertained his most privileged guests, especially the French philosopher Voltaire, whom he asked in 1750 to come to live with him. The correspondence between Frederick and Voltaire, which spanned almost 50 years, was marked by mutual intellectual fascination. In person, however, their friendship was often contentious, as Voltaire abhorred Frederick’s militarism. Voltaire’s angry attack on Maupertuis, the President of Frederick’s academy, provoked Frederick to burn the pamphlet publicly and put Voltaire under house arrest. Voltaire was accused by some of anonymously publishing The Private Life of the King of Prussia, wittily claiming Frederick’s homosexuality and parade of male lovers, after he’d left Prussia. Frederick neither admitted nor denied the contents of the book, nor ever accused Voltaire of having written it. Some years later, Voltaire and Frederick resumed their correspondence and eventually aired their mutual recriminations, to end as friends once more.”

Adds BookRags:

“There is no proof that Voltaire ever had a homosexual experience. Most of the evidence for his occasional homosexuality in the four-volume biography by Roger Peyrefitte is fabricated. The story that Voltaire once had sexual relations with a Prussian soldier as an experiment, only to decline a second experience with the quip ‘Once a philosopher, twice a sodomite,’ is certainly apocryphal. He attended the Jesuit college of Louis-le-Grand as a boy, and while visiting England years later reportedly remarked, ‘Oh! those damned Jesuits… ar**d me to such a degree that I shall never get over it as long as I live,’ but he was probably being facetious.”


In any case, getting back to our puzzle, der Grosse Freddy and his philosophically-minded homey exchanged quips, puns, and invitation frequently—unless they were squabbling—and this is one of the cleverer among them.

In the first box, Frederick’s invitation:

In the second, Voltaire’s reply:


So have at it, my friends and commenters. It remains unclear what the winner, if there is a winner, will win. But it will be somehow appropriate.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *