Quotations about   obligation

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That I nor gold nor silver to you send,
I this forbear, for your sake, learned friend.
Who gives great gifts, expects great gifts again;
My cheap ones to return will cause no pain.

[Quod non argentum, quod non tibi mittimus aurum,
Hoc facimus causa, Stella diserte, tua.
Quisquis magna dedit, voluit sibi magna remitti;
Fictilibus nostris exoneratus eris.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 5, epigram 59 [tr. Anon. (1695)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

That of silver or gold we afford no oblation,
'Tis for they sake, sweet Stella, th' economy's such.
Ample off'rings expect ample remuneration;
A plain service of earth will not gravitate much.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), Book 2, ep. 11]

In forbearing to send you either silver or gold, eloquent Stella, I have acted for your interest. Whoever makes great presents, wishes great presents to be made in return. By my present of earthenware vases you will be released from such an obligation.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

In sending you no silver plate, no gold plate, I act in your interest, eloquent Stella. He who has given great presents has desired great presents in return: your burden will be lightened by my earthenware.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

Dear poet friend, desirous to befriend you
It is not gold or silver that I send you,
For costly gifts demand a costly guerdon;
My pretty gift shall free you from a burden.
[tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

Thank me you get no wealthy gifts from me.
It keeps you of reciprocation free.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

Added on 8-Oct-21 | Last updated 8-Oct-21
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It’s wrong, my friend, to send any stranger packing —
even one who arrives in worse shape than you.
Every stranger and beggar comes from Zeus
and whatever scrap they get from the likes of us,
they’ll find it welcome.

[Ξεῖν’, οὔ μοι θέμις ἔστ’, οὐδ’ εἰ κακίων σέθεν ἔλθοι,
ξεῖνον ἀτιμῆσαι· πρὸς γὰρ Διός εἰσιν ἅπαντες
ξεῖνοί τε πτωχοί τε. δόσις δ’ ὀλίγη τε φίλη τε
γίνεται ἡμετέρη.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 14, l. 56ff [Eumæus/Eumaios] (c. 700 BC) [tr. Fagles (1996)]
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(Source (Greek)). The language is an echo of Nausicaa in Book 6. Alternate translations:

Guest! If one much worse
Arriv’d here than thyself, it were a curse
To my poor means, to let a stranger taste
Contempt for fit food. Poor men, and unplac’d
In free seats of their own, are all from Jove
Commended to our entertaining love.
But poor is th’ entertainment I can give,
Yet free and loving.
[tr. Chapman (1616)]

Stranger, then said Eumæus, it was never
My custom any stranger to neglect;
The poor and stranger are in God’s hand ever.
Few are my gifts, and but of small effect.
[tr. Hobbes (1675)]

It never was our guise
To slight the poor, or aught humane despise:
For Jove unfold our hospitable door,
'Tis Jove that sends the stranger and the poor.
[tr. Pope (1725)]

My guest! I should offend, treating with scorn
The stranger, though a poorer should arrive
Than ev’n thyself; for all the poor that are,
And all the strangers are the care of Jove.
Little, and with good will, is all that lies
Within my scope.
[tr. Cowper (1792), l. 68ff]

O friend, I dare not, though a worse man sought
These doors, a stranger use discourteously.
All strangers and all poor by Zeus are brought;
Sweet is our gift, yet small.
[tr. Worsley (1862), st. 7]

Sir guest, 'tis not my wont, not e'en should come
A worser man than thou, to slight a guest.
From Zeus are strangers all, and begger-men:
My gift is small, tho' proof of kindliness.
[tr. Bigge-Wither (1869)]

Guest of mine, it were an impious thing for me to slight a stranger, even if there came a meaner man than thou; for from Zeus are all strangers and beggars; and a little gift from such as we, is dear.
[tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]

O guest, it were not rightful, though e'en worser than thou he were sped,
To put shame upon a stranger; since guest and bedesman all,
From Zeus they are; and our giving, although it be but small,
Is dear.
[tr. Morris (1887)]

Stranger, it is not right for me to slight a stranger, not even one in poorer plight than you; for in the charge of Zeus all strangers and beggars stand, and our small gift is welcome.
[tr. Palmer (1891)]

Stranger, though a still poorer man should come here, it would not be right for me to insult him, for all strangers and beggars are from Jove. You must take what you can get and be thankful.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Nay, stranger, it were not right for me, even though one meaner than thou were to come, to slight a stranger: for from Zeus are all strangers and beggars, and a gift, though small, is welcome from such as we.
[tr. Murray (1919)]

My guest, I should sin if I failed in attention to any stranger, even one poorer than yourself. The needy and the strangers are all from Zeus; and with the likes of us a quite slender gift can convey goodwill.
[tr. Lawrence (1932)]

"Sir," said the swineherd Eumaeus, "my conscience would not let me turn away a stranger in a worse state even than yourself, for strangers and beggars all come in Zeus’ name, and a gift from folk like us is none the less welcome for being small."
[tr. Rieu (1946)]

Tush, friend,
rudeness to a stranger is not decency,
poor though he may be, poorer than you.
All wanderers
and beggars come from Zeus. What we can give
is slight but well-meant.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]

Dear guest. I'd never slight the least of strangers. Not even one more wretched than you are; for it is Zeus who sends to us all beggars and strangers; and a gift, however small, means much when given by a man like me.
[tr. Lattimore (1965)]

Stranger, it is not right for me to treat a guest dishonorably, not even one in a worse state than you; all strangers and beggars are under the protection of Zeus. What I can offer is small, but you are welcome to it.
[tr. Verity (2016)]

One must honor guests and foreigners and strangers, even those much poorer than oneself. Zeus watches over beggars and guests and strangers. What I have to give is small, but I will give it gladly.
[tr. Wilson (2017)]

Added on 7-Jul-21 | Last updated 4-Aug-21
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If, as I suggested before, the ability to tell right from wrong should turn out to have anything to do with the ability to think, then we must be able to “demand” its exercise from every sane person, no matter how erudite or ignorant, intelligent or stupid, he may happen to be.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Life of the Mind, Vol. 1 “Thinking,” Introduction (1977)
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What is betrayal? They talk of a man betraying his country, his friends, his sweetheart. There must be a moral bond first. All a man can betray is his conscience.

Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) Polish-English novelist [b. Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski]
Under Western Eyes (1911)
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Now the abuse of authority can be of two kinds. First, when what is commanded by the ruler is contrary to the purpose for which the ruler was appointed: for example, if some sinful act is commanded contrary to the virtue which the ruler is ordained to foster and preserve. In this case, not only is one not bound to obey the ruler, but one is bound not to obey him, as in the case of the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the ungodly commands of tyrants.

Second, when what is demanded goes beyond what the order of authority can require: if, for example, a master were to exact a payment which a servant is not bound to give, or something of the kind. In this case the subject is not bound to obey; nor, however, is he bound not to obey.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Italian friar, philosopher, theologian
Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard [Scriptum super libros Sententiarium], Book 2, dist. 44, quest. 2, art. 2 (1252-56) [tr. Dyson (2002)]
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Alt. trans. [Dawson]:
With regard to the abuse of authority, this also may come about in two ways. First, when what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted (if, for example, some sinful action is commanded or one which is contrary to virtue, when it is precisely for the protection and fostering of virtue that authority is instituted). In such a case, not only is there no obligation to obey the authority, but one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants.

Secondly, when those who bear such authority command things which exceed the competence of such authority; as, for example, when a master demands payment from a servant which the latter is not bound to make, and other similar cases. In this instance the subject is free to obey or disobey.
Added on 9-Jun-20 | Last updated 9-Jun-20
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CRASSUS: One of the disadvantages of being a patrician is that occasionally you’re obliged to act like one.

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Spartacus (1960) [novel by Howard Fast]
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The conception of men as united to each other, and of all mankind as united to God, by mutual obligations arising from their relation to a common end, which vaguely conceived and imperfectly realized, had been the keystone holding together the social fabric, ceased to be impressed upon men’s minds, when Church and State withdrew from the centre of social life to its circumference. What remained … was private rights and private interests, the materials of a society rather than a society itself.

R. H. Tawney (1880-1962) English writer, economist, historian, social critic [Richard Henry Tawney]
The Acquisitive Century, ch. 2 “Rights and Functions” (1920)
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It is not yours to finish the task, but neither are you free to set it aside.

tarfon-finish-the-task-wist_info-quote

No picture available
Tarfon (fl. 1st-2nd C AD) Jewish rabbi, sage
Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 2:15-16

Alt. trans.:
  • It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.
  • It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it.
  • We need not finish the task but neither can we desist from it.
  • Although I am not free to avoid doing the work, it is not always necessary that I finish the task.
  • You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
Added on 21-Nov-16 | Last updated 21-Nov-16
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It is a strange desire, to seek power and to lose liberty.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, scientist, author, statesman
Essays, “Of Great Place” (1625)
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A man’s first duty is to make a competence and be independent. But his whole duty does not end there. It his his duty to do something for his needy neighbors who are less favored than himself. It is his duty to contribute to the general good of the community in which he lives. He has been protected by its laws. Because he has been protected in his various enterprises he has been able to make money sufficient for his needs and those of his family. All beyond this belongs in justice to the protecting power that has fostered him and enabled him to win pecuniary success. To try and make the world in some way better than you have found is to have a noble motive in life.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) American industrialist and philanthropist
The Empire of Business, “Thrift as a Duty” (1902)
Added on 15-Jan-16 | Last updated 15-Jan-16
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An act is not good because we feel obliged to do it; it is rather that we feel obliged to do it because it is good.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Polish-American rabbi, theologian, philosopher
Man Is Not Alone, ch. 13 (1951)
Added on 10-Nov-15 | Last updated 10-Nov-15
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Most People return small Favors, acknowledge middling ones, and repay great ones with Ingratitude.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Poor Richard’s Almanack (Apr 1751)
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Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

Tacitus (c.56-c.120) Roman historian, orator, politician [Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus]
(Attributed)

In Machiavelli, The Discourses, 1.29 (1517) [tr. Detmold (1940)]
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SIMON: Captain, why did you come back for us?

MAL: You’re on my crew.

SIMON: Yeah, but you don’t even like me. Why’d you come back?

MAL: You’re on my crew. Why’re we still talking about this?

Drew Z. Greenberg (contemp.) TV producer and writer
Firefly, 1×05 “Safe” (8 Nov 2002)
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One ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting. … And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligation, which men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose, but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) Italian politician, philosopher, political scientist
The Prince, ch. 17 (1513) [tr. Ricci (1903)]
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Alt. trans.: "Is it better to be loved than feared, or the reverse? The answer is that it is desirable to be both, but because it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer for a prince to be feared than loved, if he is to fail in one of the two. ... Men have less hesitation in injuring one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared, for love is held by a chain of duty which, since men are bad, they break at every chance for their own profit; but fear is held by a dread of punishment that never fails you." [tr. Gilbert (1958)]
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The secret of my incredible energy and efficiency in getting work done is a simple one. I have based it very deliberately on a well-known psychological principle and have refined it so that it is now almost too refined. I shall have to begin coarsening it up again pretty soon. The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.

Robert Benchley (1889-1945) American humorist
“How to Get Things Done,” Chicago Tribune (2 Feb 1930)
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He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, ch. 2 (1876)
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The holy passion of friendship is so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring in nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 8, epigraph (1894)
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