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Let us learn from the lips of death the lessons of life. Let us live truly while we live, live for what is true and good and lasting. And let the memory of our dead help us to do this. For they are not wholly separated from us, if we remain loyal to them. In spirit they are with us. And we may think of them as silent, invisible, but real presences in our households.

Felix Adler
Felix Adler (1851-1933) German-American educator
Life and Destiny, Lecture 8 “Suffering and Consolation” (1903)
Added on 20-Mar-23 | Last updated 20-Mar-23
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Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Orthodoxy, ch. 4 “The Ethics of Elfland” (1908)
Added on 21-Dec-21 | Last updated 21-Dec-21
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Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.

E B Sledge
E. B. Sledge (1923-2001) American soldier, biologist, academic, memoirist [Eugene Bondurant Sledge]
With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa (1981)

On the reaction of his fellow Marines to the announcement of the Japanese surrender in WWII.

Paul Fussell quotes this passage in his essay "Thank God for the Atom Bomb," The New Republic (26 Aug 1981), and it is sometimes misattributed to him.
Added on 19-Aug-21 | Last updated 19-Aug-21
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The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.

Edward Thomas
Edward Thomas (1878-1917) British poet, essayist, novelist
“Early One Morning,” Poems (1917)

Sometimes misattributed to Cyril Connolly.
Added on 9-Jul-21 | Last updated 9-Jul-21
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Vacerra likes no bards but those of old —
Only the poets dead are poets true!
Really, Vacerra — may I make so bold? —
It’s not worth dying to be liked by you.

[Miraris veteres, Vacerra, solos
nec laudas nisi mortuos poetas.
Ignoscas petimus, Vacerra: tanti
non est, ut placeam tibi, perire.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 8, epigram 69 (8.69) (AD 94) [tr. Duff (1929)]

Original Latin. Alternate translations:

Vacerra, thou approv'st of none
For Poets, but are dead and gone.
Pardon; for so much do not I
Esteeme thy praises as to dy.
[tr. May (1629)]

I ask’t thee oft, what Poets thou hast read,
And lik'st the best? Still thou reply'st, The dead.
I shall, ere long, with green turfs cover'd be;
Then sure thou't like, or thou wilt envie me.
[tr. Herrick (1648)]

The ancients all your veneration have:
You like no poet on this side of the grave.
Yet, pray, excuse me; if to pleases you, I
Can hardly think it worth my while to die.
[tr. Hay (1755)]

Vacerra! you admire only the ancients; your praise is restricted to the deceased poets. Pardon me, Vacerra, if I do not think your praise of so much value as to die for it.
[tr. Amos (1858)]

You admire, Vacerra, only the poets of old, and praise only those who are dead. Pardon me, I beseech you, Vacerra, it I think death too high a price to pay for your praise.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

The ancients only you admire, Vacerra;
No poet wins your favor till he dies.
I ask your pardon, but I don't think your praise
is worth so much that I will die for it.
[ed. Harbottle (1897)]

You admire, Vacerra, the ancients alone, and praise none but dead poets. Your pardon, pray, Vacerra: it is not worth my while, merely to please you, to die.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

You puff the poets of other days,
The living you deplore.
Spare me the accolade: your praise
Is not worth dying for.
[tr. Fitts (1967)]

Rigidly classical, you save
Your praise for poets in the grave.
Forgive me, it's not worth my while
Dying to earn your critical smile.
[tr. Michie (1972)]

You admire only the ancients, Vacerra, and praise no poets except dead ones. I crave your pardon, Vacerra; your good opinion is not worth dying for.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

There are poets you praise,
But I notice they’re all dead.
I’d rather find another way
to please you, friend, instead.
[tr. Matthews (1995)]

Vacerra, you admire the ancients only
and praise no poets but those here no more.
I beg that you will pardon me, Vacerra,
but pleasing you is not worth dying for.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

Deceased authors thou admir'st alone,
And only praisest poets dead and gone:
Vacerra, pardon me, I will not buy
Thy praise so dear, as for the same to die.
[tr. Fuller]

You praise long-dead authors rapturously;
the living ones you savage or ignore,
but since your praise can’t grant immortality
I really don’t think it’s worth dying for.
[tr. Clark]

You pine for bards of old
and poets safely cold.
Excuse me for ignoring your advice,
but good reviews from you aren’t worth the price.
[tr. Juster]

Unless they’re dead, no poets seem
To fully satisfy;
Forgive me if, for some esteem,
I’m not prepared to die.
[tr. Mitchell]

Added on 24-Jun-21 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here, beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept, plighted faith may be broken, and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke: but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Decoration Day (30 May 1868)

A speech by Garfield, then a Congressman and a former Union Major General in the Civil War, for the first Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) ceremonies.
Added on 7-Aug-20 | Last updated 7-Aug-20
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How surely are the dead beyond death. Death is what the living carry with them. A state of dread, like some uncanny foretaste of a bitter memory. But the dead do not remember and nothingness is not a curse. Far from it.

Cormac McCarthy (1933-2023) American novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Suttree (1979)
Added on 10-Feb-20 | Last updated 10-Feb-20
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Why fight off fame now beating at your door?
What other writers dare to promise more?
You must make immortality start now,
Not make it wait to give your corpse a bow.

[Ante fores stantem dubitas admittere Famam
Teque piget curae praemia ferre tuae?
Post te victurae per te quoque vivere chartae
Incipiant: cineri gloria sera venit.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, epigram 25 (1.25.5-8) (AD 85-86) [tr. Wills (2007)]

"To Faustinus." (Source (Latin)). Some early writers number this as ep. 26, as noted. Alternate translations:

Wilt not admit fame standing at thy doore?
And take the fruit of all thy paines before?
Fame to the Urne comes late; let those Books live
With thee, which after life to thee must give.
[tr. May (1629), 1.26]

Dost doubt t'admit Fame standing at thy gate?
Thy labour's just reward to bear, dost hate?
That which will after, in thy time let live:
Too late men praise unto our ashes give.
[tr. Killigrew (1695)]

Fame at your portal waits; the door why barr'd?
Why loth to take your labour's just reward?
Let works live with you, which will long survive;
For honours after death too late arrive.
[tr. Hay (1755), 1.26]

Admit fair fame, who dances at thy door;
And dain to reap thyself thy toil's reward.
The strains that shall survive thee, give to soar;
Nor to thine ashes leave the late record.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), 2.34]

Do you hesitate to let in Fame when standing for admittance before your threshold, and does it grieve you to reap the rewards of your own diligence? May your poems, which will survive you, begin to live by your means. The glory which is shed upon ashes arrives full late.
[tr. Amos (1858), 1.26 "Posthumous Works"]

Do you hesitate to admit Fame, who is standing before your door; and does it displease you to receive the reward of your labour? Let the writings, destined to live after you, begin to live through your means. Glory comes too late, when paid only to our ashes.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

If after thee thy verses are to live,
Let them begin whilst thou'rt alive. Too late
The glory that illumines but they tomb.
[ed. Harbottle (1897)]

Do you hesitate to admit Fame that stands before your doors, and shrink from winning the reward of your care? Let writings that will live after you by your adi also begin to live now; to the ashes of the dead glory comes too late.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

Nay, doth it irk you that reward is nigh?
Why bar out fame who standeth at the gate?
Give birth to what must live, before you die,
For honour paid to ashes comes too late.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

Fame stands before your threshold, let her in;
Are you ashamed your meed of praise to win?
Your books will long outlive you in their fame;
Come then, begin, for ashes have no name.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), #14]

Tell me why you hesitate;
Fame is standing at your door.
Take the prize she long has offered,
Long has held for you in store!
Let works that will survive you after
You have trod the path so dread
Live now, while you still are living.
Fame comes too late to the dead.
[tr. Marcellino (1968)]

Fame is at the door,
and you keep her waiting.
You can't bring yourself to accept
the reward of your worry?
Let those pages begin to live -- show your face.
They will live on after you're gone in any case.
[tr. Bovie (1970)]

Do you hesitate to let Fame in when she stands at your door? Are you reluctant to take the reward for your pains? Your pages will live after you; let them also begin to live through you. Glory comes late to the grave.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Amos (above) provides a number of examples where the last line has inspired other writers. Byron wrote, in the same vein, in "Martial, Lib. I, Epig. I" (c. 1821):

He unto whom thou art so partial,
O reader! is the well-known Martial,
The Epigrammatist: while living
Give him the fame thou wouldst be giving;
So shall he hear, and feel, and know it --
Post-obits rarely reach a poet.

Added on 23-Aug-17 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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The dead don’t need justice. That’s for those of us who are left looking down at the remains.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Skin Game (2014)
Added on 23-Nov-15 | Last updated 23-Nov-15
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Endow the Living — with the Tears —
You squander on the Dead.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet
“Endow the Living — with the Tears –” (1862)
Added on 12-Oct-15 | Last updated 12-Oct-15
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For I know not why we should delay our tokens of respect to those who deserve them, until the heart that our sympathy could have gladdened has ceased to beat. As men cannot read the epitaphs inscribed upon the marble that covers them, so the tombs that we erect to virtue often only prove our repentance that we neglected it when with us.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) English novelist and politician
Letter to F. T. Mappin (25 Sep 1855)

Quoted in The Illustrated London News, Vol. 27 (6 Oct 1855)
Added on 6-Oct-14 | Last updated 6-Oct-14
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While an author is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst performance, and when he is dead we rate them by his best.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Plays of William Shakespeare, Preface (1765)
Added on 13-Jun-14 | Last updated 13-Jun-14
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The dead do not suffer. And if they live again, their lives will surely be as good as ours. We have no fear. We are all children of the same mother, and the same fate awaits us all. We, too, have our religion, and it is this: Help for the living, hope for the dead.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“At a Child’s Grave” (8 Jan 1882)
Added on 21-Feb-08 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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Restrain yourself, old dame, and gloat in silence. I’ll have no jubilation here. It is an impious thing to exult over the slain.

[ἐν θυμῷ, γρηῦ, χαῖρε καὶ ἴσχεο μηδ᾽ ὀλόλυζε:
οὐχ ὁσίη κταμένοισιν ἐπ᾽ ἀνδράσιν εὐχετάασθαι.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 22, l. 411ff (22.411) [Odysseus to Eurycleia] (c. 700 BC) [tr. Rieu (1946)]

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

Forbear, nor shriek thus, but vent joys as loud.
It is no piety to bemoan the proud.
[tr. Chapman (1616)]

Hold, said he, within
Your joy, and let it not appear in vain;
To glory over dead men is a sin.
[tr. Hobbes (1675), l. 361ff]

Woman, experienced as thou art, control
Indecent joy, and feast thy secret soul.
To insult the dead is cruel and unjust;
Fate and their crime have sunk them to the dust.
[tr. Pope (1725)]

Silent exult, O ancient matron dear!
Shout not, be still. Unholy is the voice
Of loud thanksgiving over slaughter’d men.
[tr. Cowper (1792), ll. 479-480]

Nurse, with a mute heart this my vengeance hail!
Not holy is it o'er the slain to boast.
[tr. Worsley (1861), st. 50]

In heart, dame, joy! but hush! no wild hurrah!
It is not right to vaunt o'er slaughtered men.
[tr. Bigge-Wither (1869)]

In thy breast
Confine these transports, aged one! Be calm!
Hence with all exclamations! All the joy
Unhallow'd is that over a slain foe
Would thus exult.
[tr. Musgrave (1869), l. 655ff]

Within thine own heart rejoice, old nurse, and be still, and cry not aloud; for it is an unholy thing to boast over slain men.
[tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]

Rejoice in thy soul, O goodwife, and thy shout of joy refrain,
For nowise is it righteous to boast above the slain.
[tr. Morris (1887)]

Woman, be glad within; but hush, and make no cry. It is not right to glory in the slain.
[tr. Palmer (1891)]

Old woman, rejoice in silence; restrain yourself, and do not make any noise about it; it is an unholy thing to vaunt over dead men.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

In thine own heart rejoice, old dame, but refrain thyself and cry not out aloud: an unholy thing is it to boast over slain men.
[tr. Murray (1919)]

Rejoice within thyself, beldam, and quietly. Keep back that throbbing cry. To make very glad over men's deaths is not proper.
[tr. Lawrence (1932)]

inwardly. No crowing aloud, old woman.
To glory over slain men is no piety.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]

Keep your joy in your heart, old dame; stop, do not raise up
the cry. It is not piety to glory so over slain men.
[tr. Lattimore (1965)]

Rejoice in your heart,
old woman -- peace! No cries of triumph now.
It's unholy to glory over the bodies of the dead.
[tr. Fagles (1996)]

Rejoice in your heart, but do not cry aloud.
It is unholy to gloat over the slain.
[tr. Lombardo (2000), ll. 435-36]

Restrain yourself old woman, and gloat in silence. I'll have no cries of triumph here. It is an impious thing to exult over the slain.
[tr. DCH Rieu (2002)]

It is not a pious action to exult over slain men.
[tr. Verity (2016)]

Old woman, no! Be glad inside your heart, but do not shout. It is not pious, gloating over men who have been killed.
[tr. Wilson (2017)]

Keep your joy to yourself, old woman -- don't exult aloud! It's not decent to vaunt over men that have been killed.
[tr. Green (2018)]

Old woman, you can rejoice
in your own heart -- but don’t cry out aloud.
Restrain yourself. For it’s a sacrilege
to boast above the bodies of the slain.
[tr. Johnston (2019), l. 509ff]

Added on 28-Jan-08 | Last updated 1-Dec-21
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