Quotations about   excellence

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Intellect needs to be understood not as some kind of a claim against the other human excellences for which a fatally high price has to be paid, but rather as a complement to them without which they cannot be fully consummated.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) American historian and intellectual
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Part 1, ch. 2 “On the Unpopularity of Intellect” (1962)
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Added on 18-Nov-20 | Last updated 18-Nov-20
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He sent me off to Troy …
And I hear his urgings ringing in my ears:
“Always be the best, my boy, the bravest,
and hold your head up high above the others.
Never disgrace the generation of your fathers.
They were the bravest champions born in Corinth,
In Lycia far and wide.

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 6, ll. 245-51 (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990)]

This is the first appearance of the Greek "Αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν καὶ ὑπείροχον ἔμμεναι ἄλλων" ["Always strive for excellence and prevail over others"] in the Illiad, Glaucus telling of his father's command to him. Peleus urges Achilles with the same words in Book 11. The two passages are sometimes confused.

Alt. trans.:

By his decree I sought the Trojan town,
By his instructions learn to win renown;
To stand the first in worth as in command,
To add new honours to my native land;
Before my eyes my mighty sires to place,
And emulate the glories of our race."
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]


He sent me forth
To fight for Troy, charging me much and oft
That I should outstrip always all mankind
In worth and valor, nor the house disgrace
Of my forefathers, heroes without peer
In Ephyra, and in Lycia’s wide domain.
[tr. Cowper (1791), l. 254ff]

Me he sent to Troy, and gave me very many commands, always to fight bravely, and to be superior to others; and not to disgrace the race of my fathers, who were by far the bravest in Ephyra, and ample Lycia.
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

To Troy he sent me, and enjoin'd me oft
To aim at highest honours, and surpass
My comrades all; nor on my father's name
Discredit bring, who held the foremost place
In Ephyre, and Lycia's wide domain.
[tr. Derby (1864), ll. 245-249]


He sent me to Troy and bade me very instantly to be ever the best and to excel all other men, nor put to shame the lineage of my fathers that were of noblest blood in Ephyre and in wide Lykia.
[tr. Leaf/Lang/Myers (1891)]

When he sent me to Troy he urged me again and again to fight ever among the foremost and outvie my peers, so as not to shame the blood of my fathers who were the noblest in Ephyra and in all Lycia.
[tr. Butler (1898)]


He sent me to Troy and straitly charged me ever to be bravest and pre-eminent above all, and not bring shame upon the race of my fathers, that were far the noblest in Ephyre and in wide Lycia.
[tr. Murray (1924)]


He sent me here to Troy, commanding me to act always with valour, always to be the most noble, never to shame the line of my progenitors, great men first in Ephyra, then in Lycia.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1974)]


Added on 23-Sep-20 | Last updated 24-Nov-20
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Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.

Lombardi - we can catch excellence - wist_info quote

Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) American football coach
(Attributed)
Added on 2-Sep-16 | Last updated 2-Sep-16
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Life is too short to do mediocre work and it is definitely too short to build shitty things.

Stewart Butterfield (b. 1973) Canadian tech entrepreneur and businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 15-Apr-16 | Last updated 15-Apr-16
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It’s a sad fact of modern life that sooner or later you will end up on YouTube doing something stupid. The trick, according to my dad, is to make a fool of yourself to the best of your ability.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Broken Homes (2013)
Added on 27-Jan-16 | Last updated 27-Jan-16
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You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

Munroe - become great - wist_info quote

Randall Munroe (b. 1984) American webcomic writer, roboticist, programmer
XKCD, # 896 “Marie Curie” (9 May 2011)
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We are very near to greatness: one step and we are safe: can we not take the leap?
Emerson - greatness - wist_info

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (28 Oct 1841)
Added on 21-Oct-15 | Last updated 21-Oct-15
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Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better.

Walt Disney (1901-1966) American entrepreneur, animator, film producer, showman
In “The Amazing Secret of Walt Disney,” Interview by Don Eddy, The American Magazine (Aug 1955)
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Added on 10-Aug-15 | Last updated 10-Aug-15
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It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
“The Treasure,” The Mixture as Before (1940)
Added on 24-Mar-15 | Last updated 24-Mar-15
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We are challenged on every hand to work untiringly to achieve excellence in our lifework. Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs; even fewer rise to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields and streets. But no work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. If a man is called to be a street sweeper he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Sermon, New Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago (9 Apr 1967)
Added on 10-Mar-15 | Last updated 10-Mar-15
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Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (10 Mar 1746)
Added on 26-Jan-15 | Last updated 26-Jan-15
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You’re the top!
You’re the Colosseum.
You’re the top!
You’re the Louvre Museum.
You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss,
You’re a Bendel bonnet, a Shakespeare sonnet,
You’re Mickey Mouse.

You’re the Nile,
You’re the Tow’r of Pisa,
You’re the smile
On the Mona Lisa.
I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, baby, I’m the bottom
You’re the top!

Cole Porter (1891-1964) American composer and songwriter
“You’re the Top” (1934)
Added on 1-Dec-14 | Last updated 30-Apr-20
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For the renown which riches or beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence is a splendid and lasting possession.

[Nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur.]

Sallust (c. 86-35 BC) Roman historian and politician [Gaius Sallustius Crispus]
Bellum Catilinae [The War of Catiline; The Conspiracy of Catiline], ch. 1, sent. 4 [tr. Rolfe (1931)]
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Original Latin. Alt. trans.:
  • "For what are all the advantages of wealth, and all the graces of form and feature? mere precarious gifts, that soon fade and moulder away. It is virtue, and virtue only, that ennobles the human character, and lives in the memory of the after-times." [tr. Murphy (1807)]
  • "For the splendour derived from riches and beauty is short-lived and frail, virtue alone confers immortality." [tr. Rose (1831)
  • "For the glory of riches and beauty is fickle and frail; virtue is accounted bright and everlasting." [Source (1841)]
  • "For the glory of wealth and beauty is fleeting and perishable; that of intellectual power is illustrious and immortal." [tr. Watson (1867)]
  • "The glory of wealth and beauty is fleeting and frail, but personal merit is held in eternal honour." [tr. Pollard (1882)]
  • "The glory of riches and appearance is fleeting and fragile, but to have prowess is something distinguished and everlasting. [tr. Woodman (2007)]
  • "For the fame of riches and beauty is fickle and frail, while virtue is eternally excellent."
Added on 3-Apr-14 | Last updated 23-Oct-20
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The theater needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
“Love Love Love,” Partisan Review (Spring 1959)
Added on 20-Nov-12 | Last updated 28-Jan-20
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We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Nicomachean Ethics (c. 350 BC) (paraphrase)

Variants: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." "We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit."

Not actually Aristotle, but a summary by  Will Durant,  The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers (1926), ch. II "Aristotle and Greek Science," Part VII "Ethics and the Nature of Happiness" (1926):
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have these because we have acted rightly; 'these virtues are formed in man by his doing the actions'; we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit: 'the good of man is a working of the soul in the way of excellence in a complete life... for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.'"
The quoted phrases are from the Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, ch. 4; Book 1, ch. 7.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 2-Jun-17
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