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The “good old times” — all times when old are good —
Are gone.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
“The Age of Bronze,” st. 1 (1823)
Added on 26-Mar-24 | Last updated 26-Mar-24
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The awareness of the ambiguity of one’s highest achievements (as well as one’s deepest failures) is a definite symptom of maturity.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965) American theologian and philosopher
Quoted in Time (1963-05-17)

Speech given at the 40th Anniversary Dinner for Time, reported in the following week's magazine.
Added on 10-Nov-23 | Last updated 10-Nov-23
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All who strive to live for something beyond mere selfish aims find their capacities for doing good very inadequate to their aspirations. They do so much less than they want to do, and so much less than they, at the outset, expected to do, that their lives, viewed retrospectively, inevitably look like failure.

Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) American abolitionist, activist, journalist, suffragist
Letter to John Fraser (1868)
Added on 6-Jun-23 | Last updated 6-Jun-23
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Looking back, you can usually find the moment of the birth of new era, whereas, when it happened, it was one day hooked on the tail of another.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) American writer
Sweet Thursday, ch. 3, sec. 1 (1954)
Added on 25-Jan-23 | Last updated 25-Jan-23
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Life brings no greater grief
Than happiness remembered in a time
Of sorrow.

[Nessun maggior dolore
Che ricordarsi del tempo felice
Ne la miseria.]

Dante Alighieri the poet
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) Italian poet
The Divine Comedy [Divina Commedia], Book 1 “Inferno,” Canto 5, l. 121ff (5.121-123) [Francesca] (1309) [tr. James (2013), l. 141ff]

Francesca de Rimini is responding to Dante's request to speak of her love affair while in the middle of being punished for it. It is a true (if slanted) tale that occurred when Dante was a young man. Francesca da Polenta wed the crippled Giovanni Malatesta de Rimini, but fell in adulterous love with his brother, Paolo. Upon discovery of their affair, Giovanni killed them both. This was a local scandal, and would have been lost to time if Dante had not recorded it here. He relegates the lovers to the "least" eternal punishment in Hell, in the circle of carnal sins -- while Giovanni (who was still alive when this was written) is doomed to a lower circle for the murder (treachery to kindred). (More info.)

Inspiration for this particular phrase has been credited to many sources: Wisdom 11:11-12, Boethius (Consolation of Philosophy, 2.4.3-6), and Pindar (Pythian 4.510-512) are the most common. Augustine (Confessions 10.14) and Thomas Aquinas have also been cited.

(Source (Italian)). Alternate translations:

No greater grief assails us [...]
Than in unhappy hours to recollect
A better time.
[tr. Rogers (1782)]

Oh! how grievous to relate
Past joys, and tread again the paths of fate.
[tr. Boyd (1802), st. 23]

No greater grief than to remember days
Of joy, when mis'ry is at hand!
[tr. Cary (1814)]

No keener pang hath hell.
Than to recall, amid some deep distress,
Our happier time.
[tr. Dayman (1843)]

There is no greater pain than to recall a happy time in wretchedness.
[tr. Carlyle (1849)]

There is no greater grief
Than to remember happiness in woe.
[tr. Bannerman (1850)]

No greater grief than this,
Mem'ry to hold of the past happy time
In misery.
[tr. Johnston (1867)]

There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery.
[tr. Longfellow (1867)]

No greater woe is there than to call to mind the happy time in your misery.
[tr. Butler (1885)]

There is no greater grief
Than to remember us of happy time
In misery.
[tr. Minchin (1885)]

There is no greater woe than in misery to remember the happy time.
[tr. Norton (1892)]

No deeper sorrow is, than to recall a time of happiness, in misery's hour.
[tr. Sullivan (1893)]

There is no greater sorrow
Than to recall to memory times of gladness
In misery.
[tr. Griffith (1908)]

There is no greater pain than to recall the happy time in misery.
[tr. Sinclair (1939)]

No grief surpasses this [...]
In the midst of misery to remember bliss.
[tr. Binyon (1943)]

The bitterest woe of woes
Is to remember in our wretchedness
Old happy times.
[tr. Sayers (1949)]

The double grief of a lost bliss
is to recall its happy hour in pain.
[tr. Ciardi (1954), ll. 118-19]

There is no greater sorrow than to recall, in wretchedness, the happy time.
[tr. Singleton (1970)]

There is no greater pain
than to remember, in our present grief,
past happiness!
[tr. Musa (1971)]

There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1980)]

There is no greater sorrow
Than to think backwards to a happy time,
When one is miserable.
[tr. Sisson (1981)]

No sadness
Is greater than in misery to rehearse
Memories of joy.
[tr. Pinsky (1994), l. 107ff]

There is no greater pain than to remember the happy time in wretchedness.
[tr. Durling (1996)]

There is no greater pain, than to remember happy times in misery.
[tr. Kline (2002)]

There is no greater pain, I fear,
than to recall past joy in present hell.
[tr. Carson (2002)]

There is no sorrow greater
than, in times of misery, to hold at heart
the memory of happiness.
[tr. Kirkpatrick (2006)]

There is no greater sorrow
than to recall our time of joy
in wretchedness.
[tr. Hollander/Hollander (2007)]

No sadness afflicts the heart
More than recalling, in times of utter disaster,
Sweetened days in which we knew no darkness.
[tr. Raffel (2010)]

What's sadder than remembering
The happy past when you're feeling wretched?
[tr. Bang (2012)]

Added on 23-Dec-22 | Last updated 1-Oct-23
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I have begun in old age to understand just how oddly we are all put together. We are so proud of our autonomy that we seldom if ever realize how generous we are to ourselves, and just how stingy with others. One of the booby traps of freedom — which is bordered on all sides by isolation — is that we think so well of ourselves. I now see that I have helped myself to the best cuts at life’s banquet.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
“Ralph Ellison in Tivoli” (1998)

Originally printed in News from the Republic of Letters, No. 3 (1998). Reprinted in the Los Angeles Times (10 May 1998).
Added on 5-Oct-22 | Last updated 5-Oct-22
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Sweet is the remembrance of troubles when you are in safety.

Euripides (485?-406? BC) Greek tragic dramatist
Andromeda [Ἀνδρομέδα], Frag. 131 (TGF) (412 BC)

(Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

'Tis sweet to recollect past toils in safety.
[tr. Wodhull (1809)]

Sweet is the memory of toils that are past.
[tr. Reid (1883), in Cicero, De Finibus, 2.105]

Sweet is the memory of sorrows past.
[tr. Rackham (1914), in Cicero, De Finibus, 2.105]

Added on 9-Aug-22 | Last updated 9-Aug-22
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The young know how old age should be; the old how youth should have been.

Paul Eldridge (1888-1982) American educator, novelist, poet
Maxims for a Modern Man, #139 (1965)
Added on 28-Jan-22 | Last updated 28-Jan-22
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The past, which as always did not know the future, acted in ways that ask to be imagined before they are condemned. Or even simplified.

Paul Fussell (1924-2012) American cultural and literary historian, author, academic
“Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” The New Republic (26 Aug 1981)

Reprinted in Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays (1988).
Added on 9-Sep-21 | Last updated 9-Sep-21
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Looking back on things, the view always improves.

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) American animator and cartoonist [Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr.]
Impollutable Pogo (1970)
Added on 14-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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I believe that no endeavor that is worthwhile is simple in prospect; if it is right, it will be simple in retrospect.

Edward Teller (1908-2003) Hungarian-American theoretical physicist
Quoted by Judith Shoolery, personal communication (2004)

Quoted in István Hargittai, The Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century (2006).
Added on 13-Apr-21 | Last updated 19-Apr-21
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Nobody knows what is going to happen because so much depends on an enormous number of variables, on simple hazard. On the other hand if you look at history retrospectively, then, even though it was contingent, you can tell a story that makes sense. … Jewish history, for example, in fact had its ups and downs, its, enmities and its friendships, as every history of all people has. The notion that there is one unilinear history is of course false. But if you look at it after the experience of Auschwitz it looks as though all of history — or at least history since the Middle Ages — had no other aim than Auschwitz. … This, is the real problem of every philosophy of history how: is it possible that in retrospect it always looks as though it couldn’t have happened otherwise?

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
Interview with Roger Errera (Oct 1973), The New York Review of Books (26 Oct 1978)
Added on 28-Jan-21 | Last updated 28-Jan-21
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Everything is funnier in retrospect, funnier and prettier and cooler. You can laugh at anything from far enough away.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories, “Consolation Prizes” (2004)
Added on 23-Jun-20 | Last updated 23-Jun-20
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“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me — what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer, literary scholar, lay theologian [Clive Staples Lewis]
Prince Caspian (1951)
Added on 6-Sep-16 | Last updated 6-Sep-16
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If you can’t read and write you can’t think. Your thoughts are dispersed if you don’t know how to read and write. You’ve got to be able to look at your thoughts on paper and discover what a fool you were.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
“Ray Bradbury is on fire!”, interview with James Hibberd, Salon.com (29 Aug 2001)
Added on 24-Mar-14 | Last updated 24-Mar-14
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It is a mortifying reflection for any man to consider what he has done with what he might have done.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic

Quoted by Rev. Dr. Maxwell (1770), in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791).
Added on 31-Dec-13 | Last updated 1-Jan-14
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I used to say that, as Solicitor General, I made three arguments in every case. First came the one I had planned — as I thought, logical, coherent, complete. Second was the one actually presented — interrupted, incoherent, disjointed, disappointing. The third was the utterly devastating argument that I thought of after going to bed that night.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice (1941-54), lawyer, jurist, politician
“Advocacy Before the Supreme Court,” Morrison Lecture, California State Bar (23 Aug 1951)

Reprinted in the Cornell Law Quarterly (Fall 1951). Legal citation "Advocacy Before the Supreme Court," 37 A.B.A.J. 801, 803 (1951).
Added on 5-May-08 | Last updated 13-Mar-23
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Later, he wondered if he could have changed things, if that gesture would have done any good, if it could have averted any of the harm that was to come. He told himself it wouldn’t. He knew it wouldn’t. But still, afterward, he wished that, just for a moment on that slow flight home, he had touched Wednesday’s hand.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British author, screenwriter, fabulist
American Gods, Part 2, ch. 10 (2001)
Added on 8-Sep-07 | Last updated 29-Dec-22
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Live as you will wish to have lived when you are dying.

[Lebe, wie Du, wenn du stirbst, / Wunschen wirst, gelebt zu haben.]

Christian Gellert (1715-1769) German poet, moralist
Geistliche Oden und Lieder, “Vom Tode” (1757)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Jan-22
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