Quotations about   adversity

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For whoever reflects on the nature of things, the various turns of life, and the weakness of human nature, grieves, indeed, at that reflection; but while so grieving he is, above all other times, behaving as a wise man: for he gains these two things by it; one, that while he is considering the state of human nature he is performing the especial duties of philosophy, and is provided with a triple medicine against adversity: in the first place, because he has long reflected that such things might befall him, and this reflection by itself contributes much towards lessening and weakening all misfortunes; and, secondly, because he is persuaded that we should bear all the accidents which can happen to a man, with the feelings and spirit of a man; and lastly, because he considers that what is blameable is the only evil; but it is not your fault that something has happened to you which it was impossible for man to avoid.

[Neque enim qui rerum naturam, qui vitae varietatem, qui imbecillitatem generis humani cogitat, maeret, cum haec cogitat, sed tum vel maxime sapientiae fungitur munere. Utrumque enim consequitur, ut et considerandis rebus humanis proprio philosophiae fruatur officio et adversis casibus triplici consolatione sanetur: primum quod posse accidere diu cogitavit, quae cogitatio una maxime molestias omnes extenuat et diluit; deinde quod humana humane ferenda intelligit; postremo quod videt malum nullum esse nisi culpam, culpam autem nullam esse, cum id, quod ab homine non potuerit praestari, evenerit.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 3, ch. 16 / sec. 34 (45 BC) [tr. Yonge (1853)]
    (Source)

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

For he that considers the order of Nature, and the Vicissitudes of Life, and the Frailty of Mankind is not melancholly when he considers these things, but is then most principally imploy'd in the exercise of Wisdom, for he reaps a double advantage; both that in the consideration of man's circumstances, he enjoyeth the proper Office of Philosophy; and in case of Adversity, he is supported by a threefold Consolation. First, that he hath long consider'd that such accidents might come; which consideration alone doth most weaken and allay all Afflictions. Then he cometh to learn, that all Tryals common to men, should be born, as such, patiently. Lastly, that he perceiveth there is no Evil, but where is blame; but there is no blame, when that falls out, the Prevention of which, was not in man to warrant.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

For whoever reflects on the nature of things, the various turns of life, the weakness of human nature, grieves indeed at that reflection; but that grief becomes him as a wise man, for he gains these two points by it; when he is considering the state of human nature he is enjoying all the advantage of philosophy, and is provided with a triple medicine against adversity. The first is, that he has long reflected that such things might befall him, which reflection alone contributes much towards lessening all misfortunes: the next is, that he is persuaded, that we should submit to the condition of human nature: the last is, that he discovers what is blameable to be the only evil. But it is not your fault that something lights on you, which it was impossible for man to avoid.
[tr. Main (1824)]

For neither does he who contemplates the nature of things, the mutations of life, the fragility of man, grieve when he thinks of these matters, but then most especially exercises the office of wisdom. For, by the study of human affairs, he at once pursues the proper aim of philosophy, and provides himself with a triple consolation for adverse events: -- first, that he has long deemed them possible to arrive; which one consideration has the greatest efficacy for the extenuation and mitigation of all misfortune: and, next, he perceives that human accidents are to be borne like a man: and, finally, because he sees there is no evil but fault, and that there is no fault where that has happened which man could not have prevented.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

Indeed, he who thinks of the nature of things, of the varying fortune of life, of the weakness of the human race, does not sorrow when these things are on his mind, but he then most truly performs the office of wisdom; for from such thought there are two consequences, -- the one, that he discharges the peculiar function of philosophy; the other, that in adversity he has the curative aid of a threefold consolation: first, because, as he has long thought what may happen, this sole thought is of the greatest power in attenuating and diluting every trouble; next, because he understands that human fortunes are to be borne in a way befitting human nature; -- lastly, because he sees that there is no evil but guilt, while there is no guilt in the happening of what man could not have prevented.
[tr. Peabody (1886)]

For the person who reflects on the nature of things, on the variety of life, and the precarity of human existence is not sad in considering these things but is carrying out the duty of wisdom in the fullest way. For they pursue both in enjoying the particular harvest of philosophy by considering what happens in human life and in suffering adverse outcomes by cleansing with a three-part solace. First, by previously accepting the possibility of misfortune—which is the most way of weakening and managing any annoyance and second, by learning that human events must be endured humanely; and third, by recognizing that there is nothing evil except for blame and there is no blame when the event is something against which no human can endure.
[tr. @sentantiq (2021)]

Added on 18-Oct-21 | Last updated 18-Oct-21
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More quotes by Cicero, Marcus Tullius

For he says that evils are neither diminished by time nor lightened by being premeditated; that meditation on evil to come, or, it may be, on that which will never come, is foolish; that every evil is sufficiently annoying when it comes; that to him who has always thought that something adverse may happen to him that very thought is a perpetual evil; that if the expected evil should not happen, he would have incurred voluntary misery in vain; that thus one would be always in distress, either in suffering evil or in thinking of it.

[Nam neque vetustate minui mala nec fieri praemeditata leviora, stultamque etiam esse meditationem futuri mali aut fortasse ne futuri quidem: satis esse odiosum malum omne, cum venisset; qui autem semper cogitavisset accidere posse aliquid adversi, ei fieri illud sempiternum malum; si vero ne futurum quidem sit, frustra suscipi miseriam voluntariam; ita semper angi aut accipiendo aut cogitando malo.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 3, ch. 15 / sec. 32 (45 BC) [tr. Peabody (1886)]
    (Source)

Discussing the teachings of Epicurus (fr. U444). Source (Latin). Alternate translations:

For that neither are Evils abated by long time, nor yet alleviated by foresight of them; and that the poring on Evils not yet come, and perhaps that never will come, is foolish. For that all Evil is Vexation enough, when it is come; but he that is always thinking that some Adversity may possibly befall him, to him it becometh an everlasting Evil; but if it shall never actually come upon him, a voluntary Disquiet is taken up on false grounds; so the mind is always vex'd, either with enduring, or expecting Evil.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

Evils are not the less by reason of their continuance, nor the oighter for having been foreseen; and it is folly to ruminate on evils to come, or that, perhaps, may never come; every evil is disagreeable enough when it doth come: but he who is constantly considering that some evil may befall him, charges himself with a perpetual evil, for should such eve never light on him, he voluntarily takes to himself unnecessary misery, so that he is under constant uneasiness, whether he meets any evil or only thinks of it.
[tr. Main (1824)]

For evil ls not diminished by time, nor alleviated by premeditation: that it is folly itself to brood upon evil that is future, or indeed, perhaps, is not to be at all: that evil is hateful enough when it comes: that, to the man, who is always musing upon that which is to come, his meditation itself becomes an eternal evil; and, should it prove that his apprehensions have been groundless, he burdens himself with a voluntary misery; and thus, between the encounter and contemplation of evil, he is always in trouble.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

Evils are not the less by reason of their continuance, nor the lighter for having been foreseen; and it is folly to ruminate on evils to come, or such as, perhaps, never may come; every evil is disagreeable enough when it does come; but he who is constantly considering that some evil may befall him, is loading himself with a perpetual evil, and even should such evil never light on him, he voluntarily takes upon himself unnecessary misery, so that he is under constant uneasiness, whether he actually suffers any evil, or only thinks of it.
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

Added on 23-Aug-21 | Last updated 13-Sep-21
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For friendship adds a brighter radiance to prosperity and lessens the burden of adversity by dividing and sharing it.

[Nam et secundas res splendidiores facit amicitia et adversas partiens communicansque leviores.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
“Laelius De Amicitia [Laelius on Friendship],” ch. 6 / sec. 22 (44 BC) [tr. Falconer (1923)]
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Alternate translations:

  • "Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief." [tr. Addison (1711), Spectator, #68 (18 May 1711)]
  • "For prosperity, friendship renders more brilliant, and adversity more supportable, by dividing and communicating it." [tr. Edmonds (1871)]
  • "Such friendship at once enhances the lustre of prosperity, and by dividing and sharing adversity lessens its burden." [tr. Peabody (1887)]
  • "For friendship both makes favourable things more splendid and disasters lighter, by splitting and sharing them." [Source]
Added on 1-Mar-21 | Last updated 22-Mar-21
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Life has this in common with prizefighting: if you’ve received a belly blow, it’s likely to be followed by a right to the jaw.

Carolyn Gold Heilbrun (1926-2003) American academic, feminist author, novelist [as Amanda Cross]
The James Joyce Murder, ch. 1 (1967) [as Amanda Cross]
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But if I am to die before my time, I count that a gain. When anyone lives as I do, surrounded by evils, how can he not carry off gain by dying?

[εἰ δὲ τοῦ χρόνου
πρόσθεν θανοῦμαι, κέρδος αὔτ᾽ ἐγὼ λέγω.
ὅστις γὰρ ἐν πολλοῖσιν ὡς ἐγὼ κακοῖς
ζῇ, πῶς ὅδ᾽ Οὐχὶ κατθανὼν κέρδος φέρει]

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, l. 460 ff [Antigone] (441 BC) [tr. Jebb (1891)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:

But if I am to die before my time, I count that a gain: for when any one lives, as I do, compassed about with evils, can such an one find aught but gain in death?
[tr. Jebb (1917)]

And if my time is shortened, this to me
Is gain indeed. For whoso lives, as I live,
Beset with many sorrows, how does he
Not win by dying?
[tr. Donaldson (1848)]

If death
Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain
For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
Is full of misery.
[tr. Storr (1859)]

And now, if I fall
A little sooner, 'tis the thing I wish.
To thou, who live in misery like me,
Believe me, King, 'tis happiness to die.
[tr. Werner (1892)]

But if I die young, all the better:
People who live in misery like mine
Are better dead.
[tr. Woodruff (2001)]

I knew that my death was imminent, of course I did, and even if it came sooner, I would still think it a good thing because when one lives in such a dreadful misery why should he not think death to be a good thing?
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

And if I have to die
before my time, well, I count that a gain.
When someone has to live the way I do,
surrounded by so many evil things,
how can she fail to find a benefit
in death?
[tr. Johnston (2005), l. 521ff]

If I die
before my time, I say it is a gain.
Who lives in sorrows many as are mine
how shall he not be glad to gain his death?
[tr. Wyckoff]

But if
I shall die before my time, I declare it a profit,
for whoever lives beset, as I do, by many things evil,
how does he not gain profit by dying?
[tr. Tyrrell/Bennett]
Added on 13-Nov-20 | Last updated 9-May-21
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A sure friend is known in unsure times.

[Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur.]

Quintus Ennius (239-169 BC) Roman poet, writer
Fragment, Scaenica 210 [Vahlen]

As quoted in Cicero, On Friendship [De Amicitia], ch. 17. sec. 64.

Alt. trans.:
  • "In unsure fortune a sure friend is seen." [tr. Peabody (1884)]
  • "When things get iffy, you find out who your true friends are." [tr. Ehrlich (1995)]
  • "A sure friend is tried in doubtful matters." [Source]
  • "A friend is never known until one have need." [Source]
  • "A friend is never known 'till a man have need." [Source]
  • "A true friend is discerned during an uncertain matter." [Source]
  • "A certain friend is discerned in an uncertain time." [Source]
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If you want to know who your friends are, get yourself a jail sentence.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
Notes of a Dirty Old Man (1969)
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To cut out every negative root would simultaneously mean choking off positive elements that might arise from it further up the stem of the plant. We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 6 “Consolation for Difficulties” (2000)
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Discussing Nietzsche.
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He sendeth sun, he sendeth shower,
Alike they’re needful to the flower;
And joys and tears alike are sent
To give the soul fit nourishment.
As comes to me or cloud or sun,
Father! thy will, not mine, be done.

Sarah Fuller Adams (1805-1848) English poet (nee Flower)
“He sendeth Sun, he sendeth Shower”
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If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton (b. 1946) American politician, US President (1993-2001)
Speech to students during the 1992 US Presidential campaign
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The way to bliss lies not on beds of down,
And he that has no cross deserves no crown.

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Esther, Sec. 9, Meditation 9 (1621)
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Times of general calamity and confusion have ever been productive of the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storm.

Colton - brightest thunderbolt - wist_info quote

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, # 28 (1821 ed.)
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Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.

Patrick - pain makes man think - wist_info quote

John Patrick (1905-1995) American playwright and screenwriter
The Teahouse of the August Moon, Act 1, sc. 1 (1957)
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Pain nourishes my courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.

Moore - cant be brave - wist_info quote

Mary Tyler Moore (b. 1936) American actress
Interview, McCall’s, Vol. 108 (1980)
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You learn to know a pilot in a storm.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Moral Essays, “On Providence” (4.5) [tr. Basore (1928)]
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Philosophy easily triumphs over past ills and ills to come, but present ills triumph over philosophy.

François VI, duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680) French epigrammist, memoirist, noble
Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales [Maxims], # 22 (1665-1678) [tr. Tancock (1959)]
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We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 [CEB]

Alt. trans:
  • "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." [NRSV]
  • "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed." [KJV]
  • "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." [NIV]
  • "We are often troubled, but not crushed; sometimes in doubt, but never in despair; there are many enemies, but we are never without a friend; and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed." [GNT]
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A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
The Simplest Way to be Happy (1933)
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Complete success alienates a man from his fellows, but suffering makes kinsmen of us all.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) American writer, businessman, philosopher
An American Bible [ed. Alice Hubbard] (1918)
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With Stupidity and sound Digestion man may front much.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
Sartor Resartus, 2.7 (1835)
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If Afflictions refine some, they consume others.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #2666 (1732)
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One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) American author and poet.
“‘Tis the Set of the Sail” (1916)
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When we are strong, we are always much greater than the things that happen to us.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) French-American religious and writer [a.k.a. Fr. M. Louis]
No Man Is an Island, 7.7 (1955)
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We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1963) German poet
Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 8, 12 Aug 1904 (1929)
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We take no delight in existence except when we are struggling for something.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
“Studies in Pessimism: The Vanity of Existence,” Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer [tr. Saunders (1851)]
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Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 2, sc. 1 (1599)
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He knows not his own strength that hath not met adversity.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) English playwright and poet
Timber: Or, Discoveries, “Explorata” (1640)
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Mr. Bettenham said that virtuous men were like some herbs and spices, that give not out their sweet smell till they be broken or crushed.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Apothegms (1625)
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Prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Adversity,” Essays, No. 5 (1625)
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The virtue of Prosperity is temperance; the virtue of Adversity is fortitude.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Adversity,” Essays, No. 5 (1625)
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He that swells in Prosperity will shrink in Adversity.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #2321 (1732)
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No pain, no palm;
No thorns, no throne;
No gall, no glory;
No cross, no crown.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
“No Cross, No Crown” (1682)

Originally written while a prisoner in the Tower of London (1668-69). See Quarles (1821).
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No condition so low but may have Hopes; none so high but may have Fears.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #3555 (1732)
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Many can bear Adversity but few Contempt.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #3340 (1732)
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By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 39, epigraph (1897)
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Look at a man in the midst of doubt and danger, and you will lean in his hour of adversity what he really is. It is then that true utterances are wrung from the recesses of his breast. The mask is torn off; the reality remains.

Lucretius (c. 100-c. 55 BC) Roman poet [Titus Luretius Carus]
De Rerum Natura [On the Nature of Things], I. 55 [tr. Latham (1951)]
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Fellowship in woe doth woe assuage.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
“The Rape of Lucrece,” l. 790 (1594)
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The game of life is not so much in holding a good hand as in playing a poor hand well.

Other Authors and Sources
H. T. Leslie
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