Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


It seems as if the first words of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”— “In nova fert animus” — were the emblem of mankind. No one is touched with the admirable spectacle of the sun which rises or seems to rise every day; but everybody runs at the smallest meteor which appears for a moment in the map of vapors which surround the earth, and which we call heaven. We despise whatever is common, or which has been long known:

Vilia sunt nobis quæcumque prioribus annis

Vidimus, et sordet quidquid spectavimus olim.

A hawker will not burden himself with a “Virgil” or a “Horace,” but with a new book, were it ever so detestable. He draws you aside and says to you: “Sir, will you have some books from Holland?”

From the commencement of the world, women have complained of the infidelities done to them in favor of the first new object which presents itself, and which has often this novelty for its only merit. Several ladies — we must confess it, notwithstanding the infinite respect which we have for them — have treated men as they complain that the men have treated them; and the story of Jocondo is much more ancient than Ariosto.

Perhaps this universal taste for novelty is a benefit of nature. We are told: Content yourselves with what you have; desire nothing beyond your situation; subdue the restlessness of your mind. These are very good maxims; but if we had followed them, we should still live upon acorns and sleep under the stars, and we should have had neither Corneille, Racine, Molière, Poussin, Le Brun, Lemoine, nor Pigal.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01