Quotations about   sacrifice

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When great causes are on the move in the world, stirring all men’s souls, drawing them from their firesides, casting aside comfort, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness in response to impulses at once awe-striking and irresistible, we learn that we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
BBC Radio broadcast (16 Jun 1941)
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First published in the Imperial Review (28 Jun 1941).
Added on 8-Oct-20 | Last updated 8-Oct-20
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Let none of us delude himself by supposing that honesty is always the best policy. It is not.

William Ralph Inge (1860-1954) English prelate [Dean Inge]
Speculum Animae, Part 2, “Sunday Morning,” address, Cambridge (15 Jan 1911)
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Inge's argument is not that honesty is not the most virtuous course, but that it is not always the most secularly advantageous course, and that such disadvantage is one of the costs of maintaining Christian virtue.
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Who on earth could blame them? Ah, no wonder
the men of Troy and Argives under arms have suffered
years of agony all for her, for such a woman.
Beauty, terrible beauty!
A deathless goddess — so she strikes our eyes!

[Οὐ νέμεσις Τρῶας καὶ ἐϋκνήμιδας Ἀχαιοὺς
τοιῇδ’ ἀμφὶ γυναικὶ πολὺν χρόνον ἄλγεα πάσχειν·
αἰνῶς ἀθανάτῃσι θεῇς εἰς ὦπα ἔοικεν.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Iliad, Book 3, ll. 156-58 (c. 750 BC) [tr. Fagles (1990), ll. 187-190]

Alt. trans.:
Surely there is no blame on Trojans and strong-greaved Achaians
if for long time they suffer hardship for a woman like this one.
Terrible is the likeness of her face to immortal goddesses.
[tr. Lattimore (1951)]

No wonder, such celestial charms
For nine long years have set the world in arms!
What winning graces! what majestic mien!
She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen.
[tr. Pope (1715-20)]

It is not a subject for indignation, that Trojans and well-greaved Greeks endure hardships for a long time on account of such a woman. In countenance she is wondrous like unto the immortal goddesses ....
[tr. Buckley (1860)]

And, "'tis no marvel," one to other said,
"The valiant Trojans and the well-greav'd Greeks
For beauty such as this should long endure
The toils of war; for goddess-like she seems."
[tr. Derby (1864)]

Small wonder that Trojans and Achaeans should endure so much and so long, for the sake of a woman so marvellously and divinely lovely.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

Small blame that Trojans and well-greaved Achaeans should for such a woman long time suffer woes; wondrously like is she to the immortal goddesses to look upon.
[tr. Murray (1924)]

There is indeed no blame on the Trojans and well-greaved Achaians,
over a woman like this so long a time suffering sorrows;
dreadfully like the immortal goddesses is she to look on.
[tr. Merrill (2007)]
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On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammeled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.

[At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus, qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti, quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint, obcaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa, qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio, cumque nihil impedit, quo minus id, quod maxime placeat, facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet, ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum [On the Ends of Good and Evil], Book 1, sec. 33 (ch. 10) (44 BC) [tr. Rackham (1914)]
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Alt. trans.:
  • "Then again we criticize and consider wholly deserving of our odium those who are so seduced and corrupted by the blandishments of immediate pleasure that they fail to foresee in their blind passion the pain and harm to come. Equally blameworthy are those who abandon their duties through mental weakness -- that is, through the avoidance of effort and pain. It is quite simple and straightforward to distinguish such cases. In our free time, when our choice is unconstrained and there is nothing to prevent us doing what most pleases us, every pleasure is to be tasted, every pain shunned. But in certain circumstances it will often happen that either the call of duty or some sort of crisis dictates that pleasures are to be repudiated and inconveniences accepted. And so the wise person will uphold the following method of selecting pleasures and pains: pleasures are rejected when this results in other greater pleasures; pains are selected when this avoids worse pains." [On Moral Ends, tr. Woolf (2001)]
  • "But in truth we do blame and deem most deserving of righteous hatred the men who, enervated and depraved by the fascination of momentary pleasures, do not foresee the pains and troubles which are sure to befall them, because they are blinded by desire, and in the same error are involved those who prove traitors to their duties through effeminacy of spirit, I mean because they shun exertions and trouble. Now it is easy and and simple to mark the difference between these cases. For at our seasons of ease, when we have untrammelled freedom of choice, and when nothing debars us from the power of following the course that pleases us best, then pleasure is wholly a matter for our selection and pain for our rejection. On certain occasions however either through the inevitable call of duty or through stress of circumstances, it will often come to pass that we must put pleasures from us and must make no protest against annoyance. So in such cases the principle of selection adopted by the wise man is that he should either by refusing cerftain pleasures attain to other and greater pleasures or by enduring pains should ward off pains still more severe." [tr. Reid (1883)]
  • "But we do accuse those men, and think them entirely worthy of the greatest hatred, who, being made effeminate and corrupted by the allurements of present pleasure, are so blinded by passion that they do not foresee what pains and annoyances they will hereafter be subject to; and who are equally guilty with those who, through weakness of mind, that is to say, from eagerness to avoid labour and pain, desert their duty. And the distinction between these things is quick and easy. For at a time when we are free, when the option of choice is in our own power, and when there is nothing to prevent our being able to do whatsoever we choose, then every pleasure may be enjoyed, and every pain repelled. But on particular occasions it will often happen, owing whether to the obligations of duty or the necessities of business, that pleasures must be declined and annoyances must not be shirked. Therefore the wise man holds to this principle of choice in those matters, that he rejects some pleasures, so as, by the rejection to obtain others which are greater, and encounters some pains, so as by that means to escape others which are more formidable." [On the Chief Good and Evil, tr. Yongue (1853)]
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It is the artists who make the true value of the world, though at times they may have to starve to do it. They are like earthworms, turning up the soil so things can grow, eating dirt so that the rest of us may eat green shoots.

Erica Jong (b. 1942) American writer, poet
Serenissima, ch. 4 (1987)
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I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here, beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept, plighted faith may be broken, and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke: but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881) US President (1881), lawyer, lay preacher, educator
Speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Decoration Day (30 May 1868)
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A speech by Garfield, then a Congressman and a former Union Major General in the Civil War, for the first Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) ceremonies.
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I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policemen with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.

Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) American writer, journalist, activist, politician
Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police (17 May 1923)
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Reprinted in his Autobiography (1962).
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The difficulty is not so much to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for.

Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) Scottish jurist, agriculturalist, philosopher, writer
Introduction to the Art of Thinking, ch. 1, “Friendship” (1761)
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Often misattributed to Homer. See John 15:13.
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TANNER: The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Man and Superman, Act 1 (1903)
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Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) English writer and politician
“Horatius,” st. 27, Lays of Ancient Rome (1842)
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You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time. You can find them in churches and schools and newspapers and congresses. That’s their business. They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead.

Hmmmm.

But what do the dead say?

Did anybody ever come back from the dead any single one of the millions who got killed did any one of them ever come back and say by god I’m glad I’m dead because death is always better than dishonor? Did they say I’m glad i died to make the world safe for democracy? Did they say i like death better than losing liberty? Did any of them ever say it’s good to think i got my guts blown out for the honor of my country? Did any of them ever say look at me i’m dead but i died for decency and that’s better than being alive? Did any of them ever say here i am, i’ve been rotting for two years in a foreign grave but it’s wonderful to die for your native land? Did any of them say hurray I died for womanhood and I’m happy, see how I sing even though my mouth is choked with worms?

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Johnny Got His Gun (1938)
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There lies at the back of every creed something terrible and hard for which the worshipper may one day be required to suffer.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
“What I Believe,” The Nation (16 Jul 1938)
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Every human being has paid the earth to grow up. Most people don’t grow up. It’s too damn difficult. What happens is most people get older. That’s the truth of it. They honor their credit cards, they find parking spaces, they marry, they have the nerve to have children, but they don’t grow up. Not really. They grow older. But to grow up costs the earth, the earth. It means you take responsibility for the time you take up, for the space you occupy. It’s serious business. And you find out what it costs us to love and to lose, to dare and to fail. And maybe even more, to succeed. What it costs, in truth.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“Maya Angelou, The Art of Fiction No. 119,” Interview with George Plimpton, The Paris Review (Fall 1990)
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Angelou used the core section (credit cards, parking spaces) a number of times in different interviews.
Added on 26-Oct-18 | Last updated 26-Oct-18
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The essence of the Epistles of Paul is that Christians should rejoice at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believe. The projection of a social gospel, in my opinion, is the true witness of a Christian life. This is the meaning of the true ekklesia — the inner, spiritual church. The church once changed society. It was then a thermostat of society. But today I feel that too much of the church is merely a thermometer, which measures rather than molds popular opinion.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Playboy interview (Jan 1965)
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SPARTACUS: When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.

Dalton Trumbo (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist [James Dalton Trumbo]
Spartacus (1960) [novel by Howard Fast]
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Marriage is not a simple love affair, it’s an ordeal, and the ordeal is the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) American mythological scholar
The Power of Myth, ch. 1 “Myth and the Modern World” (1988)
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If you want that good feeling that comes from doing things for other folks then you have to pay for it in abuse and misunderstanding.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Moses, Man of the Mountain [Moses] (1939)
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Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Social Aims,” Letters and Social Aims (1875)
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When one hears the argument that marriage should be indissoluble for the sake of children, one cannot help wondering whether the protagonist is really such a firm friend of childhood.

Suzanne La Follette (1893-1983) American journalist, author, feminist
(Attributed)
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What you get by reaching your goals is not nearly so important as what you become by reaching them.

ziglar-what-you-become-by-reaching-them-wist_info-quote

Hilary Hinton "Zig" Ziglar (1926-2012) American author, salesperson, motivational speaker
Biscuits, Fleas, and Pump Handles (1974)

Ziglar used multiple variations of this phrase. Also attributed to Goethe and Thoreau. For more discussion see here.
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The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

nelson-ultimate-test-of-mans-conscience-wist_info-quote

Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005) American politician and environmentalist
“Ah, Wilderness! Save It,” New York Times (4 Sep 1984)
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A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.

London - bone shared with the dog - wist_info quote

Jack London (1876-1916) American novelist
“My Life in the Underworld,” Cosmopolitan Magazine (May 1907)
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The way to bliss lies not on beds of down,
And he that has no cross deserves no crown.

Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet
Esther, Sec. 9, Meditation 9 (1621)
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How many sacrifice honor, a necessity, to glory, a luxury?

Joseph Roux (1834-1886) French Catholic priest
Meditations of a Parish Priest: Thoughts, ch. 4, #38 (1886)
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Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Guildhall, London (12 Jun 1945)
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Value yourself according to the burdens you carry, and you will find everything a burden.

Richardson - burdens - wist_info quote

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 52 (2001)
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People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Middlemarch, Book 8, ch. 72 (1871-72)
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He that fasteth and doth no Good saveth his Bread but loseth his Soul.

Fuller - fasting - wist_info

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia, #2382 (1732)
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Men might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Speech on West India Emancipation (4 Aug 1857)
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The golden apple of selfhood, thrown among the false gods, became an apple of discord because they scrambled for it. They did not know the first rule of the holy game, which is that every player must by all means touch the ball and then immediately pass it on. To be found with it in your hands is a fault: to cling to it, death. But when it flies to and fro among the players too swift for eye to follow, and the great master Himself leads the revelry, giving Himself eternally to His creatures in the generation, and back to Himself in the sacrifice, of the Word, then indeed the eternal dance ‘makes heaven drowsy with the harmony’. All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparable with the sufferings of this present time. As we draw nearer to its uncreated rhythm, pain and pleasure sink almost out of sight. There is joy in the dance, but it does not exist for the sake of joy. It does not even exist for the sake of good, or of love. It is Love Himself, and Good Himself, and therefore happy. It does not exist for us, but we for it.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Problem of Pain (1940)
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Those who demand consideration for their sacrifices were making investments, not sacrifices.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 2 (2001)
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He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Matthew 23:11-12
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Men are more ready to sacrifice their lives than their livelihood: and to sacrifice their own importance often comes hardest of all.

B. H. Liddell Hart (1895-1970) English soldier, military historian (Basil Henry Liddell Hart)
Thoughts on War, ch. 10 (1944)
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Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
John 15:13 (KJV)
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Sacrifice is a form of bargaining.

Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948) English journalist, editor, author
Platitudes in the Making, ch. 3 “The Inner Temple,” #12 (1911)
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No sacrifice is worth the name unless it is a joy. Sacrifice and a long face go ill together.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
In Young India (25 Jun 1925)
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Sorrow be damned & all your plans. Fuck the faithful, fuck the committed, the dedicated, the true believers; fuck all the sure & certain people prepared to maim & kill whoever got in their way; fuck every cause that ended in murder & a child crying.

Iain Banks (1954-2013) Scottish author
Against a Dark Background (1993)

Often paraphrased as "Fuck every cause that ends in murder and children crying."
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Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom promised our nation a new political and economic framework. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal promised security and succor to those in need. But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises — it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook — it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
“The New Frontier,” Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles (15 Jul 1960)
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Is it not better to die valiantly, than ignominiously to lose our wretched and dishonoured lives after being the sport of others’ insolence?

[Nonne emori per virtutem praestat quam vitam miseram atque inhonestam, ubi alienae superbiae ludibrio fueris, per dedecus amittere?]

Catiline (108-62 BC) Roman politician [Lucius Sergius Catilina]
Quoted in Sallust, Catiline’s War, Book 20, pt. 9 [tr. Rolfe]

Alt. trans.: "Is it not better to die in a glorious attempt, than, after having been the sport of other men's insolence, to resign a wretched and degraded existence with ignominy?"
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Yes, we love peace, but we are not willing to take wounds for it, as we are for war.

John Andrew Holmes (1874-1937) American physician and writer
Wisdom in Small Doses (1927)
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No pain, no palm;
No thorns, no throne;
No gall, no glory;
No cross, no crown.

William Penn (1644-1718) English real estate entrepreneur, philosopher, statesman
“No Cross, No Crown” (1682)

Originally written while a prisoner in the Tower of London (1668-69). See Quarles (1821).
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I do not say, and I do not believe, that Christians are as bad as their creeds. In spite of church and dogma, there have been millions and millions of men and women true to the loftiest and most generous promptings of the human heart. They have been true to their convictions, and, with a self-denial and fortitude excelled by none, have labored and suffered for the salvation of men. Imbued with the spirit of self-sacrifice, believing that by personal effort they could rescue at least a few souls from the infinite shadow of hell, they have cheerfully endured every hardship and scorned every danger. And yet, notwithstanding all this, they believed that honest error was a crime. They knew that the Bible so declared, and they believed that all unbelievers would be eternally lost. They believed that religion was of God, and all heresy of the devil. They killed heretics in defence of their own souls and the souls of their children. They killed them because, according to their idea, they were the enemies of God, and because the Bible teaches that the blood of the unbeliever is a most acceptable sacrifice to heaven.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Heretics and Heresies” (1874)
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All the martyrs in the history of the world are not sufficient to establish the correctness of an opinion. Martyrdom, as a rule, establishes the sincerity of the martyr, — never the correctness of his thought. Things are true or false in themselves. Truth cannot be affected by opinions; it cannot be changed, established, or affected by martyrdom. An error cannot be believed sincerely enough to make it a truth.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Great Infidels” (1881)
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Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
“The American Crisis” #1 (19 Dec 1776)
Added on 22-Feb-08 | Last updated 14-Jan-20
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Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809) American political philosopher and writer
“The American Crisis” #4 (12 Sep 1777)
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True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) American athlete
(Attributed)

Quoted in Readers Digest, "Points to Ponder" (Sep 1994)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 11-Sep-15
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If a man hasn’t discovered something that he would die for, he isn’t fit to live.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, Detroit (23 Jun 1963)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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Freedom is not free.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
Speech, Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change, Bethel Baptist Church (3 Dec 1959)
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Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) Irish poet and dramatist
“Easter 1916” (4), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 16-Mar-15
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If we stop caring about our heroes, we stop caring about what they died for.

Other Authors and Sources
Ralph Harris
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 22-Mar-14
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