Quotations about   battle

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Oh friends, be men! Deep treasure in your hearts
An honest shame, and, fighting bravely, fear
Each to incur the censure of the rest.
Of men so minded more survive than die,
While dastards forfeit life and glory both.

[ὦ φίλοι ἀνέρες ἔστε, καὶ αἰδῶ θέσθ᾽ ἐνὶ θυμῷ,
ἀλλήλους τ᾽ αἰδεῖσθε κατὰ κρατερὰς ὑσμίνας.
αἰδομένων δ᾽ ἀνδρῶν πλέονες σόοι ἠὲ πέφανται:
φευγόντων δ᾽ οὔτ᾽ ἂρ κλέος ὄρνυται οὔτέ τις ἀλκή.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 15, l. 561ff [Ajax] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Cowper (1791), l. 679ff]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

Good friends, bring but yourselves to feel the noble stings of shame
For what ye suffer, and be men. Respect each other’s fame;
For which who strives in shame’s fit fear, and puts on ne’er so far,
Comes oft’ner off. Then stick engag’d; these fugitives of war
Save neither life, nor get renown, nor bear more mind than sheep.
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 508ff]

O Greeks! respect your fame,
Respect yourselves, and learn an honest shame:
Let mutual reverence mutual warmth inspire,
And catch from breast to breast the noble fire.
On valour's side the odds of combat lie,
The brave live glorious, or lamented die;
The wretch that trembles in the field of fame,
Meets death, and worse than death, eternal shame.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

O my friends, be men, and set honour in your hearts, and have reverence for each other during the vehement conflicts. For more of those men who reverence each other are saved than slain; but of the fugitives, neither glory arises, nor any defence.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

Brave comrades, quit ye now like men;
Bear a stout heart; and in the stubborn fight
Let each to other mutual succour give;
By mutual succour more are sav’d than fall;
In timid flight nor fame nor safety lies.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

My friends, be men, and fear dishonour; quit yourselves in battle so as to win respect from one another. Men who respect each other's good opinion are less likely to be killed than those who do not, but in flight there is neither gain nor glory.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

My friends, be men, and take ye shame in your hearts, and have shame each of the other in the fierce conflict. Of men that have shame more are saved than are slain; but from them that flee springeth neither glory nor any avail.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

Friends, respect yourselves as men,
respect each other in the moil of battle!
Men with a sense of shame survive
more often than they perish. Those who run
have neither fighting power nor any honor.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

Be men, my friends! Discipline fill your hearts!
Dread what comrades say of you here in bloody combat!
When men dread that, more men come through alive --
when soldiers break and run, good-bye glory,
good-bye all defenses!
[tr. Fagles (1990), l. 651ff]

Now, dear friends, be men, keep hold of your valorous spirit,
feel shame, each on account of the rest in the violent combats;
more of the men who feel such shame live safely than perish,
while from the ones who flee no glory nor any defense springs.
[tr. Merrill (2007), l. 529ff]
Added on 3-Feb-21 | Last updated 3-Feb-21
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And that comrade
who meets his death and destiny, speared or stabbed,
let him die! He dies fighting for fatherland —
no dishonor there!

[ὃς δέ κεν ὑμέων
βλήμενος ἠὲ τυπεὶς θάνατον καὶ πότμον ἐπίσπῃ
τεθνάτω: οὔ οἱ ἀεικὲς ἀμυνομένῳ περὶ πάτρης
τεθνάμεν.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 15, l. 494ff [Hector] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), l. 574ff]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

If any bravely buy
His fame or fate with wounds or death, in Jove’s name let him die.
Who for his country suffers death, sustains no shameful thing,
[tr. Chapman (1611), l. 452ff]

Death is the worst; a fate which all must try;
And for our country 'tis a bliss to die.
The gallant man, though slain in fight he be,
Yet leaves his nation safe, his children free;
Entails a debt on all the grateful state;
His own brave friends shall glory in his fate.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

Therefore stand fast, and whosoever gall’d
By arrow or by spear, dies -- let him die;
It shall not shame him that he died to serve
His country.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 599ff]

Whichever of you, wounded or stricken, shall draw on his death and fate, let him die; it is not inglorious to him to die fighting for his country.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

And if there be among you, who this day
Shall meet his doom, by sword or arrow slain,
E’en let him die! a glorious death is his
Who for his country falls.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

If any of you is struck by spear or sword and loses his life, let him die; he dies with honour who dies fighting for his country.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

If so be any of you, smitten by dart or thrust, shall meet death and fate, let him lie in death. No unseemly thing is it for him to die while fighting for his country.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

And if one finds
his death, his end, in some spear-thrust or cast,
then that is that, and no ignoble death
for a man defending his own land.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]
Added on 27-Jan-21 | Last updated 27-Jan-21
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Trojans pounded down on them!
Tight formations led by Hector careering breakneck on
like a deadly rolling boulder torn from a rock face —
a river swollen with snow has wrenched it from its socket,
immense floods breaking the bank’s grip, and the reckless boulder
bounding high, flying with timber rumbling under it,
nothing can stop it now, hurtling on undaunted
down, down till it hits the level plain
and then it rolls no more for all its wild rush.

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 13, l. 136ff (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 162-70]

Cowper notes "The following simile is considered by critics as one of the finest in Homer." Alt. trans.:

Troy charged the first, and Hector first of Troy.
As from some mountain's craggy forehead torn,
A rock's round fragment flies with fury borne,
Which from the stubborn stone a torrent rends,
Precipitate the ponderous mass descends:
From steep to steep the rolling ruin bounds;
At every shock the crackling wood resounds;
Still gathering force, it smokes; and, urged amain,
Whirls, leaps, and thunders down, impetuous to the plain:
There stops -- So Hector. Their whole force he proved,
Resistless when he raged, and, when he stopped, unmoved.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

The powers of Ilium gave the first assault
Embattled close; them Hector led himself
Right on, impetuous as a rolling rock
Destructive; torn by torrent waters off
From its old lodgment on the mountain’s brow,
It bounds, it shoots away; the crashing wood
Falls under it; impediment or check
None stays its fury, till the level found,
There, settling by degrees, it rolls no more.
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 168-76]

But the combined Trojans first made the attack, and impetuous Hector first rushed against them: as a destructively-rolling stone from a rock, which a wintry torrent drives down the brow, having burst with a mighty shower the stays of the rugged rock, and bounding along, it rolls, and the forest resounds beneath it: but straightway it runs on uninterruptedly until it reach the plain, but then it rolls no longer, though impelled.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

On pour’d the Trojan masses; in the van
Hector straight forward urg’d his furious course.
As some huge boulder, from its rocky bed
Detach’d, and by the wintry torrent’s force
Hurl’d down the cliff’s steep face, when constant rains
The massive rock’s firm hold have undermin’d;
With giant bounds it flies; the crashing wood
Resounds beneath it; still it hurries on,
Until, arriving at the level plain,
Its headlong impulse check’d, it rolls no more.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Then the Trojans drave forward in close array, and Hector led them, pressing straight onwards, like a rolling rock from a cliff, that the winter-swollen water thrusteth from the crest of a hill, having broken the foundations of the stubborn rock with its wondrous flood; leaping aloft it flies, and the wood echoes under it, and unstayed it runs its course, till it reaches the level plain, and then it rolls no more for all its eagerness.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

The Trojans advanced in a dense body, with Hector at their head pressing right on as a rock that comes thundering down the side of some mountain from whose brow the winter torrents have torn it; the foundations of the dull thing have been loosened by floods of rain, and as it bounds headlong on its way it sets the whole forest in an uproar; it swerves neither to right nor left till it reaches level ground, but then for all its fury it can go no further.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Then the Trojans drave forward in close throng and Hector led them, pressing ever forward, like a boulder from a cliff that a river swollen by winter rains thrusteth from the brow of a hill, when it has burst with its wondrous flood the foundations of the ruthless stone; high aloft it leapeth, as it flies, and the woods resound beneath it, and it speedeth on its course and is not stayed until it reacheth the level plain, but then it rolleth no more for all its eagerness.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

The Trojans came down on them in a pack, and Hektor led them raging straightforward, like a great rolling stone from a rock face that a river swollen with winter rain has wrenched from its socket and with immense washing broken the hold of the unwilling rock face; the springing boulder flies on, and the forest thunders beneath it; and the stone runs unwavering on a strong course, till it reaches the flat land, then rolls no longer for all its onrush.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

Trojans massed and running charged them now, with Hector in the lead in furious impetus, like a boulder a river high with storm has torn away from a jutting bank by washing out what held it; then the brute stone upon the flood goes tossed and tumbling, and the brush gives way, crashing before it. It must roll unchecked as far as level ground, then roll no more.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

Then in a throng charged forward the Trojans, and Hektor was leading, avidly pressing ahead, as a rock rolls down from a cliff, thrust off of the crest of a hill when a river with winter rains swollen breaks with a marvelous deluge the pitiless cliff's foundation; bounding aloft it is flying along, and beneath it the woods are crashing, and it speeds ever unswerving until at the level plain it arrives, then rolls no longer for all of its onrush.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]
Added on 16-Dec-20 | Last updated 16-Dec-20
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Locking spear by spear, shield against shield at the base, so buckler leaned on buckler, helmet on helmet, man against man.

[Φράξαντες δόρυ δουρί, σάκος σάκεϊ προθελύμνῳ·
ἀσπὶς ἄρ’ ἀσπίδ’ ἔρειδε, κόρυς κόρυν, ἀνέρα δ’ ἀνήρ.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 13, ll. 130-31 (c. 750 BC) [tr. Lattimore (1951)]
    (Source)

The Greek phalanxes awaiting Hector and the Trojans. Alt. trans.:

An iron scene gleams dreadful o'er the fields,
Armour in armour locked, and shields in shields,
Spears lean on spears, on targets targets throng,
Helms stuck to helms, and man drove man along.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

Spear crowded spear,
Shield, helmet, man, press’d helmet, man and shield
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 162-63]

Spear close by spear, and shield by shield o’erlaid,
Buckler to buckler press’d, and helm to helm,
And man to man.
[tr. Derby (1864)]

And spear on spear made close-set fence, and shield on serried shield, buckler pressed on buckler, and helm on helm, and man on man.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

They made a living fence, spear to spear, shield to shield, buckler to buckler, helmet to helmet, and man to man.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Fencing spear with spear, and shield with serried shield; buckler pressed on buckler, helm on helm, and man on man.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

Spear by spear and shield by shield in line with shield-rims overlapping, serried helms, and men in ranks packed hard.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]

A wall of them bulked together,
spear-by-spear, shield-by-shield, the rims overlapping,
buckler-to-buckler, helm-to-helm, man-to-man massed tight.
[tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 1154-56]

Spear by spear was protected, and shield by shield overlapping; buckler on buckler and helmet on helmet and man against man pressed.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]
Added on 9-Dec-20 | Last updated 9-Dec-20
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Ah my friend, if you and I could escape this fray
and live forever, never a trace of age, immortal,
I would never fight on the front lines again
or command you to the field where men win fame.
But now, as it is, the fates of death await us,
thousands poised to strike, and not a man alive
can flee them or escape — so in we go for attack!
Give our enemy glory or win it for ourselves!

[Ὦ πέπον εἰ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμον περὶ τόνδε φυγόντε
αἰεὶ δὴ μέλλοιμεν ἀγήρω τ’ ἀθανάτω τε
ἔσσεσθ’, οὔτέ κεν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ πρώτοισι μαχοίμην
οὔτέ κε σὲ στέλλοιμι μάχην ἐς κυδιάνειραν·
νῦν δ’ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ’ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 12, ll. 322-28 [Sarpedon to Glaukos] (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 374-81]

Original Greek. Alt. trans.:

O friend, if keeping back
Would keep back age from us, and death, and that we might not wrack
In this life’s human sea at all, but that deferring now
We shunn’d death ever, nor would I half this vain valour show,
Nor glorify a folly so, to wish thee to advance;
But since we must go, though not here, and that, besides the chance
Propos’d now, there are infinite fates of other sort in death,
Which, neither to be fled nor ’scap’d, a man must sink beneath,
Come, try we, if this sort be ours, and either render thus
Glory to others, or make them resign the like to us.
[tr. Chapman (1611), ll. 323-33]

Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful than the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war;
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death's inexorable doom;
The life which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honoured if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

Oh Glaucus, if escaping safe the death
That threats us here, we also could escape
Old age, and to ourselves secure a life
Immortal, I would neither in the van
Myself expose, nor would encourage thee
To tempt the perils of the glorious field.
But since a thousand messengers of fate
Pursue us close, and man is born to die --
E’en let us on; the prize of glory yield,
If yield we must, or wrest it from the foe.
[tr. Cowper (1791), ll. 389-98]

O dear friend, if indeed, by escaping from this war, we were destined to be ever free from old age, and immortal, neither would I combat myself in the van, nor send thee into the glorious battle. But now -- for of a truth ten thousand Fates of death press upon us, which it is not possible for a mortal to escape or avoid -- let us on: either we shall give glory to some one, or some one to us.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

O friend! if we, survivors of this war,
Could live, from age and death for ever free,
Thou shouldst not see me foremost in the fight,
Nor would I urge thee to the glorious field:
But since on man ten thousand forms of death
Attend, which none may ’scape, then on, that we
May glory on others gain, or they on us!
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Ah, friend, if once escaped from this battle we were for ever to be ageless and immortal, neither would I fight myself in the foremost ranks, nor would I send thee into the war that giveth men renown, but now -- for assuredly ten thousand fates of death do every way beset us, and these no mortal may escape nor avoid -- now let us go forward, whether we shall give glory to other men, or others to us.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

My good friend, if, when we were once out of this fight, we could escape old age and death thenceforward and for ever, I should neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten thousand shapes hangs ever over our heads, and no man can elude him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for ourselves, or yield it to another.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Ah friend, if once escaped from this battle we were for ever to be ageless and immortal, neither should I fight myself amid the foremost, nor should I send thee into battle where men win glory; but now -- for in any case fates of death beset us, fates past counting, which no mortal may escape or avoid -- now let us go forward, whether we shall give glory to another, or another to us.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

Man, supposing you and I, escaping this battle,
would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal,
so neither would I myself go on fighting in the foremost,
nor would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory.
But now, seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us
in their thousands, no man can turn aside or escape them,
let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]
Added on 2-Dec-20 | Last updated 2-Dec-20
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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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Added on 19-Nov-20 | Last updated 19-Nov-20
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For I have promised to do the battle to the uttermost, by faith of my body, while me lasteth the life, and therefore I had liefer to die with honour than to live with shame; and if it were possible for me to die an hundred times, I had liefer to die oft than yield me to thee; for though I lack weapon, I shall lack no worship, and if thou slay me weaponless that shall be thy shame.”

Thomas Malory (c. 1415-1471) English writer
Le Morte d’Arthur, Book 4, ch. 10 (1485)
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Added on 10-Nov-20 | Last updated 10-Feb-21
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Was none who would be foremost
To lead such dire attack;
But those behind cried “Forward!”
And those before cried “Back!”

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Horatius,” st. 50, Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)
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Added on 12-Mar-20 | Last updated 12-Mar-20
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In case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.

Horatio Nelson (1758-1805) British admiral
Memorandum before the Battle of Trafalgar (9 Oct 1805)
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Added on 2-Feb-19 | Last updated 2-Feb-19
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This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d, —
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accurs’d, they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 4, sc. 3 [Henry] (1599)
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Added on 14-May-18 | Last updated 14-May-18
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O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man’s company,
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 4, sc. 3 [Henry] (1599)
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Added on 7-May-18 | Last updated 7-May-18
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I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 2 [Boy] (1599)
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Added on 2-Apr-18 | Last updated 2-Apr-18
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I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot;
Follow your spirit: and upon this charge,
Cry — God for Harry! England and Saint George!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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Added on 26-Feb-18 | Last updated 26-Feb-18
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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Dissent is the native activity of the scientist, and it has got him into a good deal of trouble in the last years. But if that is cut off, what is left will not be a scientist. And I doubt whether it will be a man.

Jacob Bronowski (1908-1974) Polish-English humanist and mathematician
Lecture, MIT (19 Mar 1953)
    (Source)

Reprinted as Science and Human Values, Part 3, sec. 5 "The Sense of Human Dignity" (1961).
Added on 6-Feb-17 | Last updated 6-Feb-17
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KING ARTHUR: Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms left!
BLACK KNIGHT: Yes I have.
KING ARTHUR: Look!
BLACK KNIGHT: It’s just a flesh wound.

Monty Python (contemp.) British comedy troupe
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Added on 11-Jun-16 | Last updated 11-Jun-16
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My life has been largely spent in affairs that required organization. But organization itself, necessary as it is, is never sufficient to win a battle.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Young Republican National Leadership Training School (20 Jan 1960)
Added on 19-Jan-16 | Last updated 19-Jan-16
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They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) American writer
“Notes on the Next War,” Esquire (Sep 1935)
Added on 5-Mar-14 | Last updated 5-Mar-14
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Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.

Heraclitus (c.540-c.480 BC) Greek philosopher [also Heracleitus]
(Attributed)
Added on 28-Feb-14 | Last updated 28-Feb-14
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Courage (in a soldier) is maintained by a certain anger; anger is a little blind and likes to strike out. And from this follows a thousand abuses, a thousand evils and misfortunes that are impossible to predict in an army during war.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
Added on 22-Jul-13 | Last updated 13-May-16
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So, as you go into battle, remember your ancestors and remember your descendants.

[Et majores vestros et posteros cogitate]

Tacitus (c.56-c.120) Roman historian, orator, politician [Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus]
Agricola, ch. 32 [tr. Acheson, ch. 4, para. 22 (1938)]
    (Source)

Alt. trans: "Think of your ancestors and your posterity" or "Think of your forefathers and posterity."
Added on 23-Apr-10 | Last updated 4-May-15
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The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. In this sense one should understand Napoleon’s saying: “I have never had a plan of operations.” Therefore no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.

Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) Prussian soldier
“On Strategy” (1871)

Translated in Daniel J. Hughes, Harry Bell, Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings (1993).

Paraphrases / variants:
  • "No plan survives contact with the enemy."
  • "No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy."
Added on 15-Jan-10 | Last updated 20-Dec-19
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Over the centuries, mankind has tried many ways of combating the forces of evil … prayer, fasting, good works and so on. Up until Doom, no one seemed to have thought about the double-barrel shotgun. Eat leaden death, demon …

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Post, alt.fan.pratchett (30 May 1998)
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Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Mere Christianity, Book 3 “Christian Behavior,” ch. 7 “Forgiveness” (1952)
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