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O clear and noble conscience, how sharply a little fault stings you!

[O dignitosa coscïenza, e netta,
come t’è picciol fallo amaro morso!]

Dante Alighieri the poet
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Italian poet
The Divine Comedy [Divina Commedia], Book 2 “Purgatorio,” Canto 3, l. 8ff (3.8-9) (1314) [tr. Kline (2002)]

Observing his guide, Virgil, upset over one of his own lapses.

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

O matchless dignity of stainless thought!
Thus bitter seems to you the taste of Sin!
[tr. Boyd (1802), st. 2]

O clear conscience and upright
How doth a little sting wound thee sore!
[tr. Cary (1814)]

Oh, dignity of conscience, when complete,
How small will bitter make that once was sweet!
[tr. Bannerman (1850)]

O noble conscience, and without a stain,
How sharp a sting is trivial fault to thee!
[tr. Longfellow (1867)]

O conscience, dignified and pure, how bitter a sting is a small fault to thee!
[tr. Butler (1885)]

O conscience honourably pure, to thee
How is a little fault most bitterly shrived!
[tr. Minchin (1885)]

O conscience, upright and stainless, how bitter a sting to thee is little fault!
[tr. Norton (1892)]

O noble conscience and clear, how sharp a sting gives a little fault to thee!
[tr. Wicksteed (1899)]

O pure and noble conscience, how bitter a sting to thee is a little fault!
[tr. Sinclair (1939)]

O honourable conscience, clear and chaste,
How small a fault stings thee to bitter smart!
[tr. Binyon (1943)]

O noble conscience, clear and undefaced,
How keen thy self-reproach for one small slip!
[tr. Sayers (1955)]

O noble conscience without stain! how sharp
the sting of a small fault is to your sense!
[tr. Ciardi (1961)]

O pure and noble conscience, how bitter
a sting is a little fault to you!
[tr. Singleton (1973)]

O dignity of conscience, noble, chaste,
how one slight fault can sting you into shame!
[tr. Musa (1981)]

O conscience so precious and so clear,
How small a fault is a sharp tooth to you!
[tr. Sisson (1981)]

O pure and noble conscience, you in whom
each petty fault becomes a harsh rebuke!
[tr. Mandelbaum (1982)]

O worthy clear conscience, how bitter a bite to you is even a little fault!
[tr. Durling (2003)]

Such dignity of conscience, clear and clean,
bitten so keenly by so slight a fault!
[tr. Kirkpatrick (2007)]

O pure and noble conscience,
how bitter is the sting of your least fault!
[tr. Hollander/Hollander (2007)]

But O, how purest consciences are stung
By tiny faults, bitter on noble tongues!
[tr. Raffel (2010)]

Added on 29-Sep-23 | Last updated 29-Sep-23
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If a man be discreet enough to take to hard drinking in his youth, before his general emptiness is ascertained, his friends invariably credit him with a host of shining qualities which, we are given to understand, lie balked and frustrated by his one unfortunate weakness.

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950) American writer
“A Plea for Humor,” Points of View (1891)

Offered as a hypothetical sardonic observation by the author William Dean Howells.
Added on 19-May-23 | Last updated 19-May-23
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There is, perhaps, no surer mark of folly, than an attempt to correct the natural infirmities of those we love. The finest composition of human nature, as well as the finest china, may have a flaw in it; and this, I am afraid, in either case, is equally incurable; though, nevertheless, the pattern may remain of the highest value.

Henry Fielding (1707-1754) English novelist, dramatist, satirist
The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Book 2, ch. 7 (1749)
Added on 24-Feb-23 | Last updated 24-Feb-23
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The greatest men are connected with their own century always through some weakness.

[Die größten Menschen hängen immer mit ihrem Jahrhundert durch eine Schwachheit zuammen.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
Elective Affinities [Die Wahlverwandtschaften], Part 2, ch. 5, “From Ottilie’s Journal [Aus Ottiliens Tagebuche]” (1809) [Niles ed. (1872)]

(Source (German)). Alternate translation:

The greatest human beings are always linked to their century by some weakness.
[tr. Hollingdale (1971)]

Added on 9-Jan-23 | Last updated 9-Jan-23
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The noble-minded worry about their lack of ability, not about people’s failure to recognize their ability.


Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [論語, 论语, Lúnyǔ], Book 15, verse 19 (15.19) (6th C. BC – AD 3rd C.) [tr. Hinton (1998)]

(Source (Chinese)). See also 1.16, 4.14, 14.30. Legge and other early translators numbered this, as shown below, 15.18. Alternate translations:

The superior man is distressed by his want of ability. He is not distressed by men's not knowing him.
[tr. Legge (1861), 15.18]

The trouble of the superior man will be his own want of ability: it will be no trouble to him that others do not know him.
[tr. Jennings (1895), 15.18]

A wise and good man should be distressed that he has no ability ; he should never be distressed that men do not take notice of him.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898), 15.18]

The noble man is pained over his own incompetency, he is not pained that others ignore him.
[tr. Soothill (1910), 15.18]

The proper man is irritated by his incapacities, not irritated by other people not recognizing him.
[tr. Pound (1933), 15.18]

A gentleman is distressed by his own lack of capacity; he is never distressed at the failure of others to recognize his merits.
[tr. Waley (1938), 15.18]

The perfect gentleman complains about his own inabilities; not about people’s ignorance of himself.
[tr. Ware (1950)]

The gentleman is troubled by his own lack of ability, not by the failure of others to appreciate him.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

The gentleman is pained at the lack of ability within himself; he is not pained at the fact that others do not appreciate him.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

A gentleman resents his incompetence; he does not resent his obscurity.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

The gentleman worries about his incapability; he does not worry about men not knowing him.
[tr. Huang (1997)]

A gentleman worries about that he does not have the ability, does not worry about that others do not understand him.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), #403]

Exemplary persons (junzi) are distressed by their own lack of ability, not by the failure of others to acknowledge them.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

The gentleman takes it as a fault if he is incapable of something; he does not take it as a fault if others do not know him.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

The gentleman is distressed by his own inability, rather than the failure of others to recognize him.
[tr. Slingerland (2003)]

The gentleman is troubled by his own lack of ability. He is not troubled by the fact that others do not understand him.
[tr. Watson (2007)]

The gentleman is worried about his own lack of ability and not about the fact that others do not appreciate him.
[tr. Chin (2014)]

A Jun Zi is disappointed about his own incompetency. He is not distressed that he is not known by others.
[tr. Li (2020)]

Added on 31-Oct-22 | Last updated 8-May-23
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Know your major defect. Every talent is balanced by a fault, and if you give in to it, it will govern you like a tyrant.

[Conocer su defecto rey. Ninguno vive sin él, contrapeso de la prenda relevante; y si le favorece la inclinación, apodérase a lo tirano.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 225 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]

(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translations:

To know ones prevailing fault. Every one hath one, that makes a counterpoise to his predominant perfection. And if it be backt by inclination, it rules like a Tyrant.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

Know your chief fault. There lives none that has not in himself a counterbalance to his most conspicuous merit: if this be nourished by desire, it may grow to be a tyrant.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

Know your chief weakness. No one lives without some counterweight to even his greatest gift, which when petted, assumes tyranny.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

Added on 17-Oct-22 | Last updated 9-Jan-23
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Vices can be elevated, but are always base. Some people see a certain hero with a certain fault, but they don’t realize it wasn’t the fault that made him a hero. An example of people in high places is so persuasive that it makes people imitate even their ugliness. Adulation mimics even an ugly face, without realizing that what is hidden by greatness is abominated when greatness is lacking.

[Bien pueden estar los vicios realzados, pero no son realces. Ven algunos que aquel héroe tuvo aquel accidente, pero no ven que no fue héroe por aquello. Es tan retórico el ejemplo superior, que aun las fealdades persuade; hasta las del rostro afectó tal vez la lisonja, no advirtiendo que, si en la grandeza se disimulan, en la bajeza se abominan.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 186 (1647) [tr. Maurer (1992)]

(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translation:

Vices may very well be exalted, but not exalt. Some observe, that such a Heroe hath had such a Vice, but they consider not, that it was not that Vice which made him a Heroe. The example of great men is so good an Oratour, that it persuades one to infamous matters. Sometimes flattery hath affected even bodily defects, without observing, that though they be born with in great men, they are insupportable in the mean.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

Vices may stand in high place, but are low for all that. Men can see that many a great man has great faults, yet they do not see that he is not great because of them. The example of the great is so specious that it even glosses over viciousness, till it may so affect those who flatter it that they do not notice that what they gloss over in the great they abominate in the lower classes.
[tr. Jacobs (1892)]

The vices may stand high, but they are not high: some see a great man afflicted with this vice or that; but they do not see, that is great not because of it but in spite of it. The portrait of the man high up is so convincing, that even his deformities persuade, wherefore flattery at times mimics them, not seeing, that if in the great such things are overlooked, in the small, they are looked down upon.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

Added on 15-Jun-22 | Last updated 19-Dec-22
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Think of all the smart people who are made stupid by flaws of character. The finest watch isn’t fine long when used as a hammer.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
“Vectors: 56 Aphorisms and Ten-second Essays,” Michigan Quarterly Review, #19 (Spring 1999)
Added on 30-Nov-21 | Last updated 30-Nov-21
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The nature of liberal democracy prevents propagandistic statements from being banned, since among the liberties it permits is the freedom of speech. But since humans have characteristic rational weaknesses and are susceptible to flattery and manipulation, allowing propaganda has a high likelihood of leading to tyranny, and hence to the end of liberal democracy.

Jason Stanley (b. 1969) American philosopher, epistemologist, academic
How Propaganda Works, ch. 1 (2015)
Added on 14-Oct-21 | Last updated 14-Oct-21
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An old belief is like an old shoe. We so value its comfort that we fail to notice the hole in it.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
Added on 10-Nov-20 | Last updated 10-Nov-20
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A bad cause seldom fails to betray itself.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
The Federalist Papers, #41 (19 Jan 1788)
Added on 5-Nov-20 | Last updated 5-Nov-20
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Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

The Bible (The New Testament) (AD 1st - 2nd C) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 7:3-5 [NRSV]

Alt. trans.:
  • [KJV] "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
  • [GNT] "Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to your brother, 'Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,' when you have a log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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Most of us stand poised at the edge of brilliance, haunted by the knowledge of our proximity, yet still demonstrably on the wrong side of the line, our dealings with reality undermined by a range of minor yet critical psychological flaws (a little too much optimism, an unprocessed rebelliousness, a fatal impatience or sentimentality). We are like an exquisite high-speed aircraft which for lack of a tiny part is left stranded beside the runway, rendered slower than a tractor or bicycle.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, ch. 4 (2009)
Added on 4-Oct-18 | Last updated 4-Oct-18
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You daub your face and think I shall not see
Your wrinkles. You deceive yourself, not me.
A small defect is nothing when revealed;
But greater seems the blemish ill concealed.

[Lomento rugas uteri quod condere temptas,
Polla, tibi ventrem, non mihi labra linis.
Simpliciter pateat vitium fortasse pusillum:
Quod tegitur, magnum creditur esse malum.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 3, epigram 42 (3.42) (AD 87-88) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

"To Polla." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Thou seek'st with lard to smooth thy wrinkled skin,
Bedaub'st thyself, and dost no lover win.
Simple decays men easily pass by,
But, hid, suspect some great deformity.
[tr. Killigrew (1695)]

Leave off thy Paint, Perfumes, and youthful Dress,
And Nature's failing honesty confess;
Double we see those Faults which Art wou'd mend,
Plain downright Ugliness would less offend.
[tr. Sedley (1702), "To Cloe"]

With lotion some wrinkles you labor to hide.
No policy, Polla, you show; but some pride.
A small fault perhaps might more safely appear:
Whatever is hid, draws construction severe.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 6, Part 3, ep. 20]

When you try to conceal your wrinkles, Polla, with paste made from beans, you deceive yourself, not me. Let a defect, which is possibly but small, appear undisguised. A fault concealed is presumed to be great.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

Seek not to hide a blemish that's but small.
The fault that's hidden ofttimes greater seems.
[ed. Harbottle (1897)]

You try to conceal your wrinkles by the use of bean-meal, but you plaster your skin, Polla, not my lips. Let a blemish, which perhaps is small, simply show. The flaw which is hidden is deemed greater than it is.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

Applying paste to smooth out the folds in your fat belly only means you are rouging your belly for yourself instead of your lips for me. It wouild be more natural to let that minor flaw stand. The hidden evil is considered worse.
[tr. Bovie (1970)]

You try to hide your belly's wrinkles with bean meal, Polla, but you smear your stomach, not my lips. Better that the blemish, perhaps a trifling one, be frankly shown. Trouble concealed is believed to be greater than it is.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

You use a cream your wrinkles to disguise,
But you're just pulling wool over our eyes.
The wrinkles, left alone, would draw no mention,
But, covered up, they draw closest attention.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

Conceal a flaw, and the world will imagine the worst.

Added on 1-Nov-17 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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You know, here in America we’re loyal to our flaws. It’s like, if we change even our flaws there’s something wrong.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
“Bill Maher, Incorrect American Patriot,” Interview with Sharon Waxman, Washington Post (8 Nov 2002)
Added on 20-Jul-16 | Last updated 20-Jul-16
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The folly which we might have ourselves committed is the one which we are least ready to pardon in another.

Joseph Roux
Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, Part 4, #85 (1886)
Added on 28-Mar-16 | Last updated 28-Mar-16
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Tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you lack.

(Other Authors and Sources)
Spanish proverb
Added on 2-Mar-16 | Last updated 2-Mar-16
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The problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.

Robin Williams (1951-2014) American comedian and actor
Added on 22-Oct-15 | Last updated 22-Oct-15
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Trust no friend without faults,
And love a maiden, but no angel.

[Trau keinem Freunde sonder Mängel,
Und leib’ ein Mädchen, kienem Engel.]

Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781) German playwright, philosopher, dramaturg, writer
Note in a Family Register (1778)

Alt. trans.: "Trust in no friend, rather forebear; / Love a sweet maid, no angel rare."
Added on 2-Apr-15 | Last updated 2-Apr-15
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A cookbook is only as good as its poorest recipe.

Child - A cookbook is only as good as its poorest recipe - wist.info quote

Julia Child
Julia Child (1912-2004) American chef and writer
Quoted in Frank Prial, “Light’s Still on Julia Child,” New York Times (1997-10-08)

Apparently a phrase she used frequently, as she drew on numerous cookbooks as source material and reference for her own. Another use can be found in an interview with Mike Sager, "What I've Learned: Julia Child," Esquire (1 Jun 2000).

Often given (perhaps from other occurrences) as "A cookbook is only as good as its worst recipe." For example, her obituary by Regina Schrambling, "Julia Child, the French Chef for a Jell-O Nation, Dies at 91," New York Times (13 Aug 2004).
Added on 10-May-13 | Last updated 27-Mar-23
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There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
“Of Beauty,” Essays, No. 43 (1625)
Added on 16-Jul-10 | Last updated 25-Mar-22
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PEMBROKE: And oftentimes excusing of a fault
Doth make the fault the worse by th’ excuse,
As patches set upon a little breach
Discredit more in hiding of the fault
Than did the fault before it was so patched.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
King John, Act 4, sc. 2, l. 30ff (4.2.30-34) (1596)
Added on 12-May-04 | Last updated 29-Jan-24
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The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
On the Heavens [De Caelo, Περὶ οὐρανοῦ], Book 1, ch. 5 (1.5) / 271b.9-10 (350 BC) [tr. Stock (1922)]

Alternate translation:

A small deviation from the truth at the beginning multiplies itself ten thousand-fold.
[tr. Hankinson (2004)]

Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 28-Jun-22
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There is a foolish corner in the brain of the wisest man.

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher

Not found anywhere except modern books of inspiring aphorisms and sites of citationless quotations. It also doesn't sound very Aristotelian.
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 15-Jun-22
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