Quotations about   battle

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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-Nov-20
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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)
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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)]
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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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Added on 17-Apr-08 | Last updated 20-Mar-20
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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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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Dec-16
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