The Great Battle of Wits and Mithridates

The Princess Bride is one of the all-time great movies. According to Wikipedia, “Over time, particularly with the introduction of the Internet, the film has become a cult classic. The film is number 50 on the Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies”, number 88 on The American Film Institute’s (AFI) “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions” list of the 100 greatest film love stories, and 46 in Channel 4’s 50 Greatest Comedy Films list. In 2016, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry, being deemed as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

One of the key scenes in the movie is ‘The Battle of Wits’ in which Vizzini and Westley have a great dual using only their brains…and some Iocane powder. “This powder has no odor, no taste and will dissolve instantly in water.” If it were real, Iocane powder would be pretty effective at all sorts of misdeeds.

6_Vizzini_Buttercup_Westley4

[SPOILER ALERT] Westley ultimately beats Vizinni in The Battle of Wits due to taking small doses of Iocane for many years in order to build up an immunity to it. Did you know, though, that this process of building an immunity to a deadly substance actually has a name? It is called mithridatism.

Mithri – what??? Yep, it is a toughy. Mithridatism is named after Mithridates, the King of Pontus (north-east Turkey, today) who ruled from 120-63 BC and was also known as Mithridates the Great and Eupator Dionysius. [Eupator is translated as “noble father” and Dionysius is the God of Wine.] Mithridates is remembered as one of Rome’s greatest and successful enemies.

Mithridates VI
Mithridates VI

After his father was assassinated by poison, a young Mithridates went into hiding in the wilderness for seven years. During this time, and out of fear of being poisoned, he began to ingest small amounts of poisonous substances to build his immunity to them. A really odd thing is that when he attempted suicide due to a defeat by Pompey, he attempted it by poison. Ironically, it didn’t work and he had to have one of his servants kill him by the sword.

So knowing that Vizzini was the loser of the Battle of Wits against Westley, and knowing Mithridates attempted suicide by poison knowing full-well he had built an immunity to it, which of these two men would win their own Battle of Wits?


The Princess Bride will be screened at the Renaissance Theatre on Sunday, February 16, 2020.