“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.”
— Voltaire, from a letter to Étienne Noël Damilaville
In 1733, the 39-year old Voltaire began a relationship with the Madame du Châtelet, a married mother of three. The pair would spend the next 15 years studying the natural sciences and becoming the leading French proponents of the work of English mathematician Isaac Newton.
But on a visit to Paris in 1744, Voltaire embarked on a new affair. His new lover was his sister’s daughter, Marie Louise Mignot (a/k/a Madame Denis). For obvious reasons, Voltaire and Madame Denis never married, though they lived together as husband and wife and stayed together until Voltaire’s death over 40 years later.
Medieval alchemists were concerned with discovering the “philosopher’s stone,” a hypothetical substance they believed could convert base metals into gold. Though usually held to be a solid, sources sometimes describe it as a liquid also capable of curing diseases and/or staving off death — hence its alternative name, the “elixir of life”.
The first known references to alchemy exist in myths and legends about ancient China. Alchemy in the Western world seems to have originated in Egypt, though early records were destroyed around the year 300. The Roman emperor Diocletian was concerned that alchemically obtained gold and silver could be used to fund a revolt. So Diocletian issued a decree ordering the destruction of all books on the subject.