Quotations about   destruction

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The recklessness of their ways destroyed them all.

[Αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 1, l. 7ff (c. 700 BC) [tr. Fagles (1996)]
    (Source)

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

  • "O men unwise, / They perish’d by their own impieties!" [tr. Chapman (1616)]
  • "They lost themselves by their own insolence." [tr. Hobbes (1675), l. 9]
  • "They perish’d self-destroy’d / By their own fault." [tr. Cowper (1792)]
  • "For they in their own wilful folly perished." [tr. Bigge-Wither (1869)]
  • "For through the blindness of their own hearts they perished." [tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]
  • "They died of their own souls' folly." [tr. Morris (1887)]
  • "For through their own perversity they perished." [tr. Palmer (1891)]
  • "For they perished through their own sheer folly." [tr. Butler (1898)]
  • "For they perished through their own deeds of sheer recklessness." [tr. Butler (1898), rev. Kim/McCray/Nagy/Power (2018)]
  • "For through their own blind folly they perished." [tr. Murray (1919)]
  • "For their own recklessness destroyed them all." [tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]
Added on 7-Apr-21 | Last updated 7-Apr-21
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The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.

David Hume (1711-1776) Scottish philosopher, economist, historian, empiricist
The Natural History of Religion, ch. 10 “With Regard to Courage or Abasement” (1757)
    (Source)

Hume actually calls this "the vulgar observation," an English translation of the well-known Latin phrase corruptio optimi pessima.
Added on 29-Jan-21 | Last updated 29-Jan-21
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No,
it’s no disgrace for a man, even a wise man,
to learn many things and not to be too rigid.
You’ve seen trees by a raging winter torrent,
how many sway with the flood and salvage every twig,
but not the stubborn — they’re ripped out, roots and all.

[ἀλλ᾽ ἄνδρα, κεἴ τις ᾖ σοφός, τὸ μανθάνειν
πόλλ᾽, αἰσχρὸν οὐδὲν καὶ τὸ μὴ τείνειν ἄγαν.
ὁρᾷς παρὰ ῥείθροισι χειμάρροις ὅσα
δένδρων ὑπείκει, κλῶνας ὡς ἐκσῴζεται,
τὰ δ᾽ ἀντιτείνοντ᾽ αὐτόπρεμν᾽ ἀπόλλυται.]

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, ll. 710-714 [Haemon] (441 BC) [tr. Fagles (1982), l. 794ff]
    (Source)

Ancient Greek. Alternate translations:

But that a man, how wise soe'er, should learn
In many things and slack his stubborn will,
This is no derogation. When the streams
Are swollen by mountain-torrents, thou hast seen
That all the trees wich bend them to the flood
Preserve their branches from the angry current,
While those which stem it perish root and branch.
[tr. Donaldson (1848)]

The wisest man will let himself be swayed
By others' wisdom and relax in time.
See how the trees beside a stream in flood
Save, if they yield to force, each spray unharmed,
But by resisting perish root and branch.
[tr. Campbell (1873)]

'Tis no disgrace even to the wise to learn
And lend an ear to reason. You may see
The plant that yields where torrent waters flow
Saves every little twig, when the stout tree
Is torn away and dies.
[tr. Storr (1859)]

No, even when a man is wise, it brings him no shame to learn many things, and not to be too rigid. You see how the trees that stand beside the torrential streams created by a winter storm yield to it and save their branches, while the stiff and rigid perish root and all?
[tr. Jebb (1891)]

True wisdom will be ever glad to learn,
And not too fond of power. Observe the trees,
That bend to wintry torrents, how their boughs
Unhurt remain; while those that brave the storm,
Uprooted torn, shall wither and decay.
[tr. Werner (1892)]

No, though a man be wise, 'tis no shame for him to learn many things, and to bend in season. Seest thou, beside the wintry torrent's course, how the trees that yield to it save every twig, while the stiff-necked perish root and branch?
[tr. Jebb (1917)]

It is not reason never to yield to reason!
In flood time you can see how some trees bend,
And because they bend, even their twigs are safe,
While stubborn trees are torn up, roots and all
[tr. Fitts/Fitzgerald (1939), l. 570ff]

It is no weakness for the wisest man
To learn when he is wrong, know when to yield.
So, on the margin of a flooded river
Trees bending to the torrent live unbroken,
While those that strain against it are snapped off.
[tr. Watling (1947), l. 608ff]

A man, though wise, should never be ashamed
of learning more, and must unbend his mind.
Have you not seen the trees beside the torrent,
the ones that bend them saving every leaf,
while the resistant perish root and branch?
[tr. Wyckoff (1954)]

There's no disgrace, even if one is wise,
In learning more, and knowing when to yield.
See how the trees that grow beside a torrent
Preserve their branches, if they bend; the others,
Those that resist, are torn out, root and branch.
[tr. Kitto (1962)]

But a wise man can learn a lot and never be ashamed;
He knows he does not have to be rigid and close-hauled.
You've seen trees tossed by a torrent in a flash flood:
If they bend, they're saved, and every twig survives,
But if they stiffen up, they're washed out from the roots.
[tr. Woodruff (2001)]

But for a man, even if he is wise, to go on learning
many things and not to be drawn too taut is no shame.
You see how along streams swollen from winter floods
some trees yield and save their twigs,
but others resist and perish, root and branch.
[tr. Tyrell/Bennett (2002)]

On the contrary, it is no shame for even a wise man to continue learning. Nor should a man be obstinate. One can see the trees on the heavy river-banks. Those that bend with the rushing current, survive, whereas those bent against it are torn, roots and all.
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

For any man,
even if he’s wise, there’s nothing shameful
in learning many things, staying flexible.
You notice how in winter floods the trees
which bend before the storm preserve their twigs.
The ones who stand against it are destroyed,
root and branch.
[tr. Johnston (2005), l. 804ff]

No, it's no disgrace for a man, even a wise man, to learn many things and not to be too rigid. You see how, in the winter storms, the trees yield that save even their twigs, but those who oppose it are destroyed root and branch.
[tr. Thomas (2005)]
Added on 21-Jan-21 | Last updated 21-Jan-21
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I’ll have no dealings
With law-breakers, critics of the government:
Whoever is chosen to govern should be obeyed ––
Must be obeyed, in all things, great and small,
Just and unjust! O Haimon,
The man who knows how to obey, and that man only,
Knows how to give commands when the time comes.
You can depend on him, no matter how fast
The spears come: he’s a good soldier, he’ll stick it out.
Anarchy, anarchy! Show me a greater evil!
This is why cities tumble and the great houses rain down,
This is what scatters armies!
No, no: good lives are made so by discipline.
We keep the laws then, and the lawmakers.

Sophocles (496-406 BC) Greek tragic playwright
Antigone, l. 665ff [Creon] (441 BC) [tr. Fitts/Fitzgerald (1939), l. 525ff]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:

But whoso wantonly
Or strains the laws or sets about dictating
To those who rule, it is not possible
That such a one should ever earn my praise.
No! when a city constitutes a chief,
It well befitteth all men to obey
His great or small, just or unjust behests.
And I should confidently trust that he,
Whose law is such, would from fixed habitude
Both wisely rule and loyally obey.
he too, when posted in the battled line,
Amid the storm of fight, would keep his ground,
Brave and unswerving by his comrade's side.
There is no greater ill than disobedience.
'Tis this which ruins cities: this it is
Which works the downfall of a noble house.
And when, in battle, spear is locked with spear,
'Tis this again which breaks and routes the phalanx.
But when men keep the line, their discipline
For the most part ensures their safety. Thus,
It is our duty still to aid the laws.
[tr. Donaldson (1848)]

But he who overbears the laws, or thinks
To overrule his rulers, such as one
I never will allow. Whome'er the State
Appoints must be obeyed in everything,
But small and great, just and unjust alike.
I warrant such a one in either case
Would shine, as King or subject; such a man
Would in the storm of battle stand his ground,
A comrade leal and true; but Anarchy --
What evils are not wrought by Anarchy!
She ruins States, and overthrows the home,
She dissipates and routs the embattled host;
While discipline preserves the ordered ranks.
Therefore we must maintain authority.
[tr. Campbell (1873)]

But he that wantonly defies the law,
Or thinks to dictate to authority,
Shall have no praise from me. What power soe'er
The city hath ordained, must be obeyed
In little things and great things, right or wrong.
The man who so obeys, I have good hope
Will govern and be governed as he ought,
And in the storm of battle at my side
Will stand a faithful and a trusty comrade.
But what more fatal than the lapse of rule?
This ruins cities, this lays houses waste,
This joins with the assault of war to break
Full numbered armies into hopeless rout;
And in the unbroken host 'tis nought but rule
That keeps those many bodies from defeat,
I must be zealous to defend the law.
[tr. Storr (1859)]

But if anyone oversteps and does violence to the laws, or thinks to dictate to those in power, such a one will never win praise from me. No, whomever the city may appoint, that man must be obeyed in matters small and great and in matters just and unjust. And I would feel confident that such a man would be a fine ruler no less than a good and willing subject, and that beneath a hail of spears he would stand his ground where posted, a loyal and brave comrade in the battle line. But there is no evil worse than disobedience. This destroys cities; this overturns homes; this breaks the ranks of allied spears into headlong rout. But the lives of men who prosper upright, of these obedience has saved the greatest part. Therefore we must defend those who respect order.
[tr. Jebb (1891)]

But if any one transgresses, and does violence to the laws, or thinks to dictate to his rulers, such an on can win no praise from me. No, whomsoever the city may appoint, that man must be obeyed, in little things and great, in just things and unjust; and I should feel sure that one who thus obey would be a good ruler no less than a good subject, and in the storm of spears would stand his ground where he was set, loyal and dauntless at his comrade's side. But disobedience is the worst of evils. This it is that ruins cities; this makes homes desolate; by this, the ranks of allies are broken into headlong rout; but, of the lives whose course is fair, the greater part owes safety to obedience. Therefore we must support the cause of order.
[tr. Jebb (1917), l. 661ff]

To transgress
Or twist the law to one’s own pleasure, presume
To order where one should obey, is sinful,
And I will have none of it.
He whom the State appoints must be obeyed
To the smallest matter, be it right -- or wrong.
And he that rules his household, without a doubt,
Will make the wisest king, or, for that matter,
The staunchest subject. He will be the man
You can depend on in the storm of war,
The faithfullest comrade in the day of battle.
There is no more deadly peril than disobedience;
States are devoured by it, homes laid in ruins,
Armies defeated, victory turned to rout.
While simple obedience saves the lives of hundreds
Of honest folk. Therefore, I hold to the law,
And will never betray it.
[tr. Watling (1947), l. 559ff]

But whoever steps out of line, violates the laws
or presumes to hand out orders to his superiors,
he'll win no praise from me. But that man
the city places in authority, his orders
must be obeyed, large and small,
right and wrong. Anarchy --
show me a greater crime in all the earth!
She, she destroys cities, rips up houses,
breaks the ranks of spearmen into headlong rout.
But the ones who last it out, the great mass of them
owe their lives to discipline. Therefore
we must defend the men who live by law.
[tr. Fagles (1982), l. 741ff]

So, if someone goes too far and breaks the law,
Or tries to tell his masters what to do,
He will have nothing but contempt from me.
But when a city takes a leader, you must obey,
Whether his commands are trivial, or right, or wrong.
But reject one man ruling another, and that's the worst.
Anarchy tears up a city, divides a home,
Defeats an alliance of spears.
But when people stay in line and obey,
Their lives and everything else are safe.
For this reason, order must be maintained.
[tr. Woodruff (2001), l. 662ff]

He who violates the laws of the gods and his city, or wants to command its leaders, will never gain my respect. We must obey those whom the city has ordained to be its leaders. We should obey them, unquestioningly, in all things, minor or great, those we agree with and those we oppose. I believe such a man would govern well and he’d also be an obedient servant; and he’d stay at his post even in the hurricane of war, honourably, bravely defending his country. There’s no worse evil than anarchy. Anarchy destroys nations, my son. Anarchy destroys homes. Anarchy turns the spears of allies into fleeing cowards. Those men left standing, the survivors, have been saved by discipline. That’s why each man must protect, with all his might, law and order.
[tr. Theodoridis (2004)]

But anyone who’s proud
and violates our laws or thinks he’ll tell
our leaders what to do, a man like that
wins no praise from me. No. We must obey
whatever man the city puts in charge,
no matter what the issue -- great or small,
just or unjust. For there’s no greater evil
than a lack of leadership. That destroys
whole cities, turns households into ruins,
and in war makes soldiers break and run away.
When men succeed, what keeps their lives secure
in almost every case is their obedience.
That’s why they must support those in control.
[tr. Johnston (2005), l. 757ff ]
Added on 7-Jan-21 | Last updated 7-Jan-21
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He used to say that states fail when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men.

[τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.]

Antisthenes (c. 445 - c. 365 BC) Greek Cynic philosopher
Fragment 103, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Book 6, sec. 11 [tr. @sentantiq]
    (Source)

Alt. trans.:
  • "He used to say too, 'That cities were ruined when they were unable to distinguish worthless citizens from virtuous ones.'" [tr. Yonge (1853)]
  • "He said that cities are doomed when they cannot distinguish good men from bad." [tr. Mensch (2018), Book 6, sec. 5]
Added on 22-Jun-20 | Last updated 22-Jun-20
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Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
(Misattributed)

Frequently cited as a fragment, but not actually in his known writings. Similar phrases, attributed to old sayings, predate Euripides. For more see here.

See also Oates and Beard.
Added on 14-Nov-17 | Last updated 14-Nov-17
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It was said that God, in order to test mankind which had become swelled with pride as in the time of Noah, had commanded the wise men of that age, among them the Blessed Leibowitz, to devise great engines of war such as had never before been upon the Earth, weapons of such might that they contained the very fires of Hell, and that God had suffered these magi to place the weapons in the hands of princes, and to say to each prince: “Only because the enemies have such a thing have we devised this for thee, in order that they may know that thou hast it also, and fear to strike. See to it, m’Lord, that thou fearest them as much as they shall now fear thee, that none may unleash this dread thing which we have wrought.” But the princes, putting the words of their wise men to naught, thought each to himself: If I but strike quickly enough, and in secret, I shall destroy these others in their sleep, and there will be none to fight back; the earth shall be mine.

Such was the folly of princes, and there followed the Flame Deluge.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
A Canticle for Leibowitz, “Fiat Homo,” ch. 6 (1959)
Added on 30-Jan-17 | Last updated 30-Jan-17
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The power to tax involves the power to destroy.

John Marshall (1755-1835) American lawyer, politician, Supreme Court Chief Justice (1801-1835)
McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819)
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Added on 17-Oct-16 | Last updated 17-Oct-16
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General, your tank
is a powerful vehicle
it smashes down forests
and crushes a hundred men.
but it has one defect:
it needs a driver.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle,” in “From a German War Primer,” The Svendborg Poems (1939) [tr. Baxandall]
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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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Are we like the God of the Old Testament that we can decide, in Washington, D.C., what cities, what towns, what hamlets in Vietnam are going to be destroyed? … Do we have to accept that? … I do not think we have to. I think we can do something about it.

Robert Francis Kennedy (1925-1968) American politician
Speech, US Senate (Mar 1968)

Frequently cited as his last Senate speech about the Vietnam War.
Added on 20-Oct-14 | Last updated 20-Oct-14
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He that scattereth Thorns must not go Barefoot.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #2289 (1732)
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Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Strength To Love (1963)

See also this.
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Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make famous.

Joyce Carol Oates (b. 1938) American author
“Down the Road,” New Yorker (27 Mar 1985)

See Euripides.
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Goethe says that, if you plant an oak in a flower-vase, either the oak must wither or the vase crack; some men go for saving the vase. Too many nowadays have that anxiety; the Puritans would have let it crack. So say I. If there is anything that cannot bear free thought, let it crack.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator
Speech, Pilgrim Society, Plymouth (21 Dec 1855)
    (Source)
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Whom Fortune wishes to destroy she first makes mad.

[Stultum facit fortuna, quem vult perdere.]

 

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 911

From an ancient Greek proverb (5th century BC or earlier)

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When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
“The War Prayer” (1904–1905)
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In a theatre it happened that a fire started off stage. The clown came out to tell the audience. They thought it was a joke and applauded. He told them again, and they became still more hilarious. This is the way, I suppose, that the world will be destroyed — amid the universal hilarity of wits and wags who think it is all a joke.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Either/Or, “Diapsalmata” (1843)

Alt. trans.: "It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning. They shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid the general applause from all the wits who believe that it is a joke." Alt. trans.: "A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that's just how the world will come to an end: to the general applause of wits who believe it's a joke"
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MERLIN: When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.

John Boorman (b. 1933) English film director, writer
Excalibur (1981) [with Rospo Pallenburg]
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