Frederick the Great's Erotic Poem

An erotic poem written by Frederick the Great has been discovered in Berlin. Is the Prussian king describing a liaison he had with the Italian philosopher Francesco Algarotti?

Kathryn Hadley | Published in 21 Sep 2011

An erotic poem written by Frederick the Great was recently discovered amongst some of the king's letters by the French literature teacher Vanessa de Senarclens at Berlin's Humboldt University. Frederick the Great wrote the poem entitled ‘La Jouissance’ (‘The Pleasure’, The Orgasm’) in French, in July 1740, shortly after he became ruler of Prussia on May 31st 1740.

The poem is addressed to his Italian friend Francesco Algarotti with whom he had arrived in Konigsberg a few days earlier. Algarotti had allegedly criticised northern Europeans for lacking the passion of their southern counterparts, and in a letter which he sent to Voltaire from Konigsberg on July 20th 1740, Frederick the Great explained that he had written the poem in reaction to Algarotti’s contention. 

The recently discovered manuscript is the original one owned by Algarotti. It was sent to Berlin in 1894, but was placed by Emperor William II in the Berlin archives where it has been ever since. The letter was printed in full in the German newspaper Die Zeit on Thursday September 15th.

Giles MacDonogh provides a rough translation of the poem:

From Königsberg to Monsieur Algarotti, Swan of Padua

This night, vigorous desire in full measure,
Algarotti wallowed in a sea of pleasure.
A body not even a Praxitiles fashions
Redoubled his senses and imbued his passions
Everything that speaks to eyes and touches hearts,
Was found in the fond object that enflamed his parts.
Transported by love and trembling with excitement
In Cloris’ arms he yields himself to contentment
The love that unites them heated their embraces
And tied bodies and arms as tightly as laces.
Divine sensual pleasure! To the world a king!
Mother of their delights, an unstaunchable spring,
Speak through my verses, lend me your voice and tenses
Tell of their fire, acts, the ecstasy of their senses!
Our fortunate lovers, transported high above
Know only themselves in the fury of love:
Kissing, enjoying, feeling, sighing and dying
Reviving, kissing, then back to pleasure flying.
And in Knidos’ grove, breathless and worn out
Was these lovers’ happy destiny, without doubt.
But all joy is finite; in the morning ends the bout.
Fortunate the man whose mind was never the prey
To luxury, or grand airs, one who knows how to say
A moment of climax for a fortunate lover
Is worth so many aeons of star-spangled honour.

MacDonogh also raises questions about Frederick the Great’s relationship with Algarotti and his motives for writing the poem: is the Prussian King describing a liaison he had with Algarotti?

In The King of Carlyle MacDonogh provides interesting insights into Thomas Carlyle's massive biography of Frederick the Great published in eight volumes between 1858 and 1865.