"Cleopatra's Nose: Had It Been Shorter, The Whole Aspect Of The World Would Have Been Altered"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Blaise Pascal was a convert to Jansenism, a reform movement within the Roman Catholic Church; this movement, like others, strongly influenced seventeenth century writings, especially in France. Pascal's Pensées, edited and published after his death, were the writer's attempts to gather a series of reflections and comments which he hoped to assemble into an apologia for Christian religion. Pascal sees people as very vain, though he believes few men recognize the fact. He suggests that to understand vanity one need only to consider the causes and effects of love. The cause may be some I-know-not-what, an inexpressible something; the effects may even become dreadful. So slight a matter as the length of a woman's nose may affect a man's love for her and indirectly alter the course of world history; Pascal almost equates vanity, the cause and effects of love, and Cleopatra:

He who will know fully the vanity of man has only to consider the causes and effects of love. The cause is a je ne sais quoi (Corneille), and the effects are dreadful. This je ne sais quoi . . . agitates a whole country, princes, armies, the entire world.
Cleopatra's nose: had it been shorter, the whole aspect of the world would have been altered.