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Ye Venuses and Cupids mourn,
Ye whom the graces most adorn,
Come, and your tears of sorrow shed:
My Lesbia’s little bird is dead.

[Lugete, o Veneres Cupidinesque
et quantum est hominum venustiorum!
passer mortuus est meae puellae,
passer, deliciae meae puellae.]

gaius valerius catullus
Catullus (c. 84 BC – c. 54 BC) Latin poet [Gaius Valerius Catullus]
Carmina # 3 “Death of the Sparrow,” ll. 1-4 [tr. Bliss (1872)]

(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Mourn all ye Loves! ye Graces mourn!
My Lesbia's fav'rite sparrow's gone!
Ye men for wit, for taste, preferr'd,
Lament my girl's departed bird!
[tr. Nott (1795)]

Mourn, all ye loves and graces; mourn,
Ye wits, ye gallant, and ye gay;
Death from my fair her bird has torn,
Her much-loved Sparrow's snatch'd away.
[tr. Lamb (1821)]

Loves and Graces, mourn with me,
Mourn, fair youths, where'er ye be!
Dead my Lesbia's sparrow is,
Sparrow, that was all her bliss.
[tr. T. Martin (1861)]

Ye Graces! mourn, oh mourn!
Mourn, Cupids Venus-born!
And loveliest sons of earth, where'er ye are !
Dead is now my darling's sparrow --
Sparrow of my "winsome marrow,"
Than her very eyes, oh! dearer to her far.
[tr. Cranstoun (1867)]

Weep each heavenly Venus, all the Cupids,
Weep all men that have any grace about ye.
Dead the sparrow, in whom my love delighted,
The dear sparrow, in whom my love delighted.
[tr. Ellis (1871)]

Weep every Venus, and all Cupids wail,
And men whose gentler spirits still prevail.
Dead is the Sparrow of my girl, the joy,
Sparrow, my sweeting's most delicious toy.
[tr. Burton (1893)]

O mourn, you Loves and Cupids, and all men of gracious mind. Dead is the sparrow of my girl, sparrow, darling of my girl.
[tr. Smithers (1894)]

Mourn, all ye Loves, ye Loves and Cupids, mourn,
Make moan for heaviness, ye gallants bright,
For Lesbia's bird, my Lesbia weeps forlorn;
He's dead -- poor, pretty bird -- my love's delight!
[tr. Harman (1897)]

Mourn, ye Graces and Loves, and all you whom the Graces love. My lady's sparrow is dead, the sparrow my lady's pet.
[tr. Warre Cornish (1904)]

Mourn, all ye Graces, mourn, ye Sons of Love, and all whose hearts engender pity. The sparrow of my beloved is no more; that sparrow, the delight of my beloved.
[tr. Stuttaford (1912)]

Weep, weep, ye Loves and Cupids all,
And ilka Man o’ decent feelin’:
My lassie’s lost her wee, wee bird,
And that’s a loss, ye’ll ken, past healin’.
[tr. Davies (1912)]

Let Venus bow her head in grief,
And tears drown Cupid's eyes in sorrow,
And men of feeling everywhere
Forget to smile -- until tomorrow.
My lady's little bird lies dead,
The bird that was my lady's prize.
[tr. Stewart (1915)]

Weep, ye gods of love and pleasure,
Weep, all all ye of finer clay,
Weep, my darling's lost her treasure,
Mourn her sparrow passed away!
[tr. Symons-Jeune (1923)]

Mourn Loves and Graces all, and you
Of men the lovelier chosen few.
The sparrow of my love is dead,
The playmate of my love is sped.
[tr. MacNaghten (1925)]

Dress now in sorrow, O all
you shades of Venus,
and your little cupids weep.
My girl has lost her darling sparrow.
[tr. Gregory (1931)]

Lament, o graces of Venus, and Cupids,
and cry out loud, men beloved by Her graces.
Pass here, it's dead, meant so much to my girl, the
sparrow, the jewel that delighted my girl.
[tr. Zukofsky (1959)]

Mourn, oh Cupids and Venuses,
and whatever there is of rather pleasing men:
the sparrow of my girlfriend has died,
the sparrow, delight of my girl.
[tr. Sullvan (1997)]

Mourn, O you Loves and Cupids
and such of you as love beauty:
my girl’s sparrow is dead,
sparrow, the girl’s delight.
[tr. Kline (2001)]

Mourn, Cupids all, every Venus,
and whatever company still exists of caring people:
Sparrow lies dead, my own true sweegheart's sparrow.
[tr. Green (2005)]

Mourn, Oh Venuses and Cupids
And all men of finer feeling
The sparrow of my girl has died,
the sparrow, my lady's pet.
[tr. Wikibooks (2017)]

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids
and however many there are of more charming people:
my girl's sparrow is dead --
the sparrow, delight of my girl.
[tr. Wikisource (2018)]

Added on 13-Mar-24 | Last updated 13-Mar-24
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More quotes by Catullus

In order to not find life unbearable, you must accept two things: the ravages of time, and the injustices of man.
[Il y a deux choses auxquelles il faut se faire, sous peine de trouver la vie insupportable. Ce sont les injures du tems et les injustices des hommes.]

Nicolas Chamfort
Nicolas Chamfort (1741-1794) French writer, epigrammist (b. Nicolas-Sébastien Roch)
Products of Perfected Civilization [Produits de la Civilisation Perfectionée], Part 1 “Maxims and Thoughts [Maximes et Pensées],” ch. 2, ¶ 115 (1795) [tr. Parmée (2003), ¶ 95]

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

There are two things to which we must become inured on pain of finding life intolerable: the outrages of time and man's injustice.
[tr. Mathers (1926)]

There are two things that one must get used to or one will find life unendurable: the damages of time and the injustices of men.
[tr. Merwin (1969)]

There are two things that a man must reconcile himself to, or he will find life unbearable: they are the injuries of time and the injuries of men.
[tr. Siniscalchi (1994)]

Added on 29-Jan-24 | Last updated 29-Jan-24
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Life, struck sharp on death,
Makes awful lightning.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) English poet
Aurora Leigh, Book 1, ll. 210–211 (1856)
Added on 18-Oct-23 | Last updated 18-Oct-23
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What is the reason that we laugh so freely in a theatre but are ashamed to weep? Is it less natural to be melted by what excites pity than to burst into laughter at what is comical? […] It is not thought odd to hear a whole theatre ring with laughter at some passage of a comedy, but, on the contrary, it implies that it was funny, and very naturally performed; therefore the extreme restraint every one puts on himself not to shed tears and the affected laughter with which one tries to disguise them, clearly prove that the natural result of lofty tragedy should be to make us all weep without concealment and publicly, and without any other hindrance than wiping our eyes.

[D’où vient que l’on rit si librement au théâtre, et que l’on a honte d’y pleurer? Est-il moins dans la nature de s’attendrir sur le pitoyable que d’éclater sur le ridicule? […] Comme donc ce n’est point une chose bizarre d’entendre s’élever de tout un amphithéâtre un ris universel sur quelque endroit d’une comédie, et que cela suppose au contraire qu’il est plaisant et très naïvement exécuté, aussi l’extrême violence que chacun se fait à contraindre ses larmes, et le mauvais ris dont on veut les couvrir prouvent clairement que l’effet naturel du grand tragique serait de pleurer tous franchement et de concert à la vue l’un de l’autre, et sans autre embarras que d’essuyer ses larmes, outre qu’après être convenu de s’y abandonner.]

Jean de La Bruyere
Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
The Characters [Les Caractères], ch. 1 “Of Works of the Mind [Des Ouvrages de l’Esprit],” § 50 (1.50) (1688) [tr. Van Laun (1885)]

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

What's the reason that we laugh so freely, and are asham'd to weep at the Theatre? Is Nature less subjects to be soften'd by pity, than to burst forth at what is Comical? [...] We must suppose 'tis the natural effect of a good Tragedy, to make us Weep freely in sight of the whole Audience, without any other trouble than drying our Eyes, and wiping our Faces. It being no more ridiculous to be seen Weeping, than to be heard to Laugh by the whole Theatre: On the contrary, we then conclude there was something acted very pleasantly, and to the life; and the restraint a man puts on him∣self to hide his tears, by an affected Grimace, plainly demonstrates that he ought not to resist the main design of a Tragedy, but give way to his Passions, and discover em as openly, and with as much confidence, as at a Comedy.
[Bullord ed. (1696)]

What is the reason we laugh so freely, but are asham'd to weep at the Theatre? Is Nature less subject to be soften'd by Pity, than to burst out into Laughter at what is Comical? [...] As therefore 'tis thought no odd thing to hear the whole Amphitheatre ring with an Universal Laughter, at some passage of a Comedy; butr on the contrary, implies something was pleasantly said, and naturally perform';d; so the extreme violence which every one offers to himself in constraining his Tears, and disguising ;em with affected Grimaces, clealry prove that the Natural Effect of good Tragedy is to make us weep with all freedom, and in concert, in another's sight, and wihtout any other disturbance than wiping our Eyes.
[Curll ed. (1713)]

Why is it that we laugh so freely at the theatre and yet are ashamed to weep there? Is it less natural to be moved by what is pitiful than to be amused by what is ridiculous? [...] Since then it is no unusual thing to hear a whole theatre break into unanimous laughter at some passage in a comedy, since this implies, on the contrary, that it is amusing and extremely life-like, so the extreme violence we do to our feelings by restraining our tears, and the false laughter with which we try to conceal them, clearly proves that the natural effect of great tragedy should be to make us all weep quite openly, with one accord, in one another’s presence, with no further concern than to wipe our eyes.
[tr. Stewart (1970), "Of Books"]

Added on 3-Oct-23 | Last updated 3-Oct-23
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More quotes by La Bruyere, Jean de

The terrible events of life are great eye-openers. They force us to learn that which it is wholesome for us to know, but which habitually we try to ignore — namely, that really we have no claim on a long life; that we are each of us liable to be called off at any moment, and that the main point is not how long we live, but with what meaning we fill the short allotted span — for short it is at best.

Felix Adler
Felix Adler (1851-1933) German-American educator
Life and Destiny, Lecture 8 “Suffering and Consolation” (1903)
Added on 3-Apr-23 | Last updated 3-Apr-23
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I hasten to laugh at everything, lest I should have to weep at everything.

[Je me presse de rire de tout, de peur d’être obligé d’en pleurer.]

Pierre Beaumarchais
Pierre Beaumarchais (1732-1799) French playwright, polymath [Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais]
The Barber of Seville [Le Barbier de Séville], Act 1, sc. 2 [Figaro] (1773) [tr. 1896]

(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

I make haste to laugh at everything for fear of being obliged to weep.
[Motto for the London Figaro (1871)]

I am eager to laugh at all for fear of being obliged to weep.
[Source (1887)]

I hasten to laugh at everything for fear that otherwise I might be forced to weep over it.
[tr. Taylor (1922)]

I force myself to laugh at everything for fear of being forced to weep at it.
[tr. Bermel (1960)]

I forced myself to laugh at everything for fear of having to weep.
[tr. Wood (1964)]

I always hasten to laugh at everything for fear that I may be obliged to weep.
[tr. Luciani (1964)]]

I make a point of laughing at everything, for fear of having to cry.
[tr. Anderson (1993)]

I make a point of laughing at life, because otherwise I'm afraid it would make me weep.
[tr. Coward (2003)]

I quickly laugh at everything, for fear of having to cry.

And endless other variations ("I force myself to laugh at everything, for fear of having to cry") in one-off passages.

Sometimes given, in French, as "Je me hâte de me moquer de tout, de peur d'être obligé d'en pleurer."

Compare to Byron (1820).
Added on 23-Feb-23 | Last updated 23-Feb-23
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He is as great a fool that laughs at all as he that weeps at all

[Tan necio es el que se ríe de todo como el que se pudre de todo.]

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (1601-1658) Spanish Jesuit priest, writer, philosopher
The Art of Worldly Wisdom [Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia], § 209 (1647) [tr. Jacobs (1892)]

(Source (Spanish)). Alternate translations:

He is as great a Fool that laughs at all things, as he that vexes at every thing.
[Flesher ed. (1685)]

As great a fool he who laughs at everything, as he who weeps over everything.
[tr. Fischer (1937)]

The person who laughs at everything is just as foolish as the one made wretched by everything.
[tr. Maurer (1992)]

Added on 8-Aug-22 | Last updated 19-Dec-22
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“What do you think is going on, anyway?”

Some horrible Wagnerian thing, I told him, full of blood, thunder, and death for us all.

“Oh, the usual,” Luke said.

Exactly, I replied.

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) American writer
“Coming to a Cord,” Pirate Writings, #7 [Frakir] (1995)
Added on 27-Apr-22 | Last updated 1-Jun-22
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Heartbreaking things I saw with my own eyes
And was myself a part of.

[Quaeque ipse miserrima vidi
et quorum pars magna fui.]

Virgil the Poet
Virgil (70-19 BC) Roman poet [b. Publius Vergilius Maro; also Vergil]
The Aeneid [Ænē̆is], Book 2, l. 5ff (2.5-6) [Aeneas] (29-19 BC) [tr. Fitzgerald (1981)]

Recounting the fall of Troy. (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Whose sad destruction I my self have seen,
And in her losse have no small sharer been.
[tr. Ogilby (1649)]
All that I saw, and part of which I was.
[tr. Dryden (1697)]

The woes I saw with these sad eyne,
The deeds whereof large part was mine
[tr. Conington (1866)]

The afflicting scenes that I myself
Beheld, and a great part of which I was.
[tr. Cranch (1872)]

I myself saw these things in all their horror, and I bore great part in them.
[tr. Mackail (1885)]

Which thing myself unhappy did behold,
Yea, and was no small part thereof
[tr. Morris (1900)]

The woes I saw, thrice piteous to behold,
And largely shared.
[tr. Taylor (1907), st. 1, ll. 6-7]

Which woeful scene I saw,
and bore great part in each event I tell.
[tr. Williams (1910)]

The sights most piteous that I myself saw and whereof I was no small part.
[tr. Fairclough (1916)]

Sorrowful things I saw myself, wherein
I had my share and more.
[tr. Humphries (1951)]

Most piteous events I saw with my own eyes
And played no minor part in.
[tr. Day Lewis (1952)]

I saw these terrible things,
and took great part in them.
[tr. Mantinband (1964)]

For I myself
saw these sad things; I took large part in them.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1971)]

And all the horrors I have seen, and in which I played a large part.
[tr. West (1990)]

Miseries I saw myself,
and in which I played a great part.
[tr. Kline (2002)]

I saw these horrors myself
And played no small part in them.
[tr. Lombardo (2005)]

What horrors I saw,
a tragedy where I played a leading role myself.
[tr. Fagles (2006)]

I saw the piteous events myself -- I played no minor part.
[tr. Bartsch (2021)]

All of which misery I saw,
and a great part of which I was.

Added on 23-Feb-22 | Last updated 21-Jun-23
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More quotes by Virgil

Who sneers at epigrams and feigns to scout them,
Believe me, does not know a thing about them.
The real bores are the dreary epic spinners
Who rant of Tereus’ or Thyestes’ dinners,
Who rave of cunning Daedalus applying
The wings to Icarus to teach him flying,
Or else to show what dullards they esteem us
Bleat endless pastorals on Polyphemus.
My unpretentious Muse is not bombastic,
But deems these robes of Tragedy fantastic.
“Such things,” you say, “earn all men’s commendation,
As works of genius and inspiration.”
Ah, very true — those pompous classic leaders
Do get the praise — but then I get the readers!

[Nescit, crede mihi, quid sint epigrammata, Flacce,
Qui tantum lusus ista iocosque vocat.
Ille magis ludit, qui scribit prandia saevi
Tereos, aut cenam, crude Thyesta, tuam,
Aut puero liquidas aptantem Daedalon alas,
Pascentem Siculas aut Polyphemon ovis.
A nostris procul est omnis vesica libellis,
Musa nec insano syrmate nostra tumet.
“Illa tamen laudant omnes, mirantur, adorant.”
Confiteor: laudant illa, sed ista legunt.]

Marcus Valerius Martial
Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 4, epigram 49 (4.49) (AD 89) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

"To Valerius Flaccus." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Flaccus thou knowest not Epigrams,
no more then babes or boyes:
Which deemst them to be nothyng els,
but sports and triflyng toyes:
He rather toyes, and sports it out,
whiche doeth in Verse recite
Fell Tereus dinner, or whiche doeth,
Thyestes supper write:
Or he whiche telles how Dedalus,
did teache his sonne to flie:
Which telleth eke of Plyphem,
the Shepheard with one eye.
From bookes of myne, are quight exempt,
all rancour, rage and gall:
No plaier in his euishe weeds,
heare prankyng see you shall:
Yet these men doe adore (thou sayest)
laude, like and love: in deed,
I graunt you sir those they do laude,
perdie but these thei reed.
[tr. Kendall (1577)]

Thou know'st not, trust me, what are Epigrams,
Flaccus, who think'st them jest and wanton games.
He wantons more, who writes what horrid meat
The plagu'd Tyestes and vex't Tereus eat,
Or Daedalus fitting is boy to fly,
Or Polyphemus' flocks in Sicily.
My booke no windy words nor turgid needes,
Nor swells my Muse with mad Cothurnall weedes.
Yet those things all men praise, admire, adore.
True; they praise those, but read these poems more.
[tr. May (1629)]

Though little know'st what epigram contains,
Who think'st it all a joke in jocund strains.
He direly jokes, who bids a Tereus dine;
Or dresses suppers like, Thyestes, thine;
Feins him who fits the boy with melting wings,
Or the sweet shepherd Polyphemus sings.
Or muse disdains by fustian to excel;
by rant to rattle, or in buskin swell.
Those strains the learn'd applaud, admire, adore.
Those they applaud, I own; but these explore.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), ep. 48]

You little know what Epigram contains,
Who deem it but a jest in jocund strains.
He rather jokes, who writes what horrid meat
The plagued Thyestes and vex't Tereus eat;
Or tells who robed the boy with melting wings;
Or of the shepherd Polyphemus sings.
Our muse disdains by fustian to excel,
By rant to rattle, or in buskins swell.
Though turgid themes all men admire, adore,
Be well assured they read my poems more.
[Westminster Review (Apr 1853)]

He knows not, Flaccus, believe me, what Epigrams really are,
who calls them mere trifles and frivolities.
He is much more frivolous, who writes of the feast of the cruel
Tereus; or the banquet of the unnatural Thyestes;
or of Daedalus fitting melting wings to his son's body;
or of Polyphemus feeding his Sicilian flocks.
From my effusions all tumid ranting is excluded;
nor does my Muse swell with the mad garment of Tragedy.
"But everything written in such a style is praised, admired, and adored by all."
I admit it. Things in that style are praised; but mine are read.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

He does not know, believe me, what epigrams are, Flaccus,
who styles them only frivolities and quips.
He is more frivolous who writes of the meal of savage
Tereus, or of thy banquet, dyspeptic Thyestes,
or of Daedalus fitting to his son melting wings,
or of Polyphemus pasturing Sicilian sheep.
Far from poems of mine is all turgescence,
nor does my Muse swell with frenzied tragic train.
"Yet all men praise those tragedies, admire, worship them."
I grant it: those they praise, but they read the others.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

What makes an epigram he knows not best
Who deems it, Flaccus, but an idle jest.
They rather jest, who Tereus' crime indict
Or the foul banquet of Thyestes write,
Or Icarus equipped with waxen wing
Or Polyphemus and his shepherding.
No fustian ornaments my page abuse
Nor struts in senseless pomp my tragic Muse.
"Men praise," you say, "and call such verse divine."
Yes, they may praise it, but they study mine.
[tr. Francis & Tatum (1924), #188, "A Defence of Epigram"]

He does not know what epigrams
Are really meant to be
Who calls them only jests and jokes
Or comic poetry --
A dimwit dilettante's delight,
Mere vers de societé
He really is the one who jests
Who writes about the stew
Served Tereus, or that loathsome meal
Of children served to you,
Thyestes, indigestion-prone,
Of sons your brother slew.
Or Daedalus fitting Icarus
With two liquescent wings,
Or who of Polyphemus tending
Sheep in Sicily sings,
And those huge, monstrous boulders which
He at Ulysses flings.
Far from my verse is any trace
Of rank turgidity.
My Muse has never donned the robes
Of pompous tragedy.
"But that's what's praised!" But what is read?
My earthy poetry!
[tr. Marcellino (1968)]

To say that epigrams are only jokes and gags
is not to know what they are, my good friend Flaccus.
The poet is more entertaining who asks you to dine
at the cannibal board of Tereus, or describes,
oh indigestible Thyestes, your dinner party;
or the diverting poet turns your attention away
to the mythical sight of Daedalus, fittingly typed
as the one who tailored those tender wings for his son;
or wanders off with Polyphemus, the pastoral giant
pasturing preposterous sheep. Far be it from me
to enlarge on the standard rhetorical situation
and wax eloquent in the interests of inflation.
Our Muse makes no use of the billowing robes
that stalk the figures of Tragedy. "But those poems
are what everyone praises and adores."
I admit it, they praise them, but they read ours.
[tr. Bovie (1970)]

Who deem epigrams mere trifles,
Flaccus, know not epigram.
He trifles who describes the meal
wild Tereus, rude Thyestes ate,
The Cretan Glider moulting wax,
the one-eyed shepherd herding sheep.
Foreign to my verse the tragic sock,
it's turgid, ranting rhetoric.
"Men praise -- esteem -- revere these works."
True: them they praise ... while reading me.
[tr. Whigham (1987)]

Anybody who calls them just frivolities and jests, Flaccus, doesn't know what epigrams are, believe me. More frivolous is the poet who writes about the meal of savage Tereus or your dinner, dyspeptic Thyestes, or Daedalus fitting his boy with liquid wings, or Polyphemus feeding Sicilian sheep. All bombast is far from my little books, neither does my Muse swell with tragedy's fantastic robe. "And yet all the world praises such things and admires and marvels." I admit it: that they praise, but this they read.
[tr. Shackleton Bailey (1993)]

Quite clueless, Flaccus, all these sorry folks
Who brand short poems mere badinage and jokes.
Want to know who's more idle? The big boys,
Our Epic Poets, who rehearse the joys
Of serving human flesh up à la carte --
Tereus' bloody banquet or the huge tart
Chez Thyestes ("It's a little gristly!").
Or they serve us crap, like how remissly
Daedalus made -- with wax, imagine! -- wings
For his poor doomed son. Then Big Epic sings
Of arms and the -- not "man" -- one-eyed giant?
Polyphemus: his brain was far from pliant,
So Homer made him watch sheep in Sicily.
Pardon me for carping so pissily,
Flaccus, at insults to my epigrams,
So far from the bloated whimsy that crams
Our big-assed epics. All men blare in praise
of these "classics," you say, and bask in their rays.
I will not disagree, but mark my word:
Some day, far off, a wise man will be heard
To say, "Classics we all want to have read,
Never to read." My books get read instead!
[tr. Schmidgall (2001)]

You think my epigrams are silly?
Far worse is bombast uttered shrilly --
Like Tereus baking human pie.
Or Daedal son who tried to fly.
Monster Cyclopes keeping sheep.
My verse is of such nonsense free.
It poses not as tragedy.
But praise for those things does exceed?
Those things men praise -- but mine they read.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

One doesn't fathom epigrams, believe me,
Flaccus, who labels them mere jokes and play.
He's trifling who writes of savage Tereus' mean
or yours, queasy Thyestes, or the way
Daedalus fit his boy with melting wings
or Polyphemus grazed Sicilian flocks.
My little books shun bombast and my Muse
won't rave in puffed-up tragedy's long frocks.
"Yet all admire, praise, honor those," Indeed,
they praise those, I confess, but these they read.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

Trust me, Flaccus, anyone who says it's just "ditties" and "jokes"
doesn't know what epigram is.
The real joker is the poet who describes the feast of cruel
Tereus, or the dinner that gave Thyestes indigestion,
or Daedalus strapping melting wings to his son,
or Polyphemus pasturing his Sicilian sheep.
No puffery gets near my little books;
my Muse doesn't swell and strut in the trailing robe of Tragedy.
"But that stuff gets the applause, the awe, the worship."
I can't deny it: that stuff does get the applause. But my stuff gets read.
[tr. Nisbet (2015)]

Added on 29-Oct-21 | Last updated 27-Nov-23
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Only ambition is fired by the coincidences of success and easy accomplishment but nothing is quite as splendidly uplifting to the heart as the defeat of a human being who battles against the invincible superiority of fate. This is always the most grandiose of all tragedies, one sometimes created by a dramatist but created thousands of times by life.

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, biographer
Stellar Moments in Human History [Sternstunden der Menschheit] (1953) [tr. Sonnenfeld]
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Pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.

[ἔλεος μὲν περὶ τὸν ἀνάξιον, φόβος δὲ περὶ τὸν ὅμοιον]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Poetics [Περὶ ποιητικῆς, De Poetica], ch. 13 / 1453a (c. 335 BC) [tr. Butcher (1895)]

On the essential elements of tragedy. Original Greek. Alternate translations:

  • "Pity is occasioned by undeserved misfortune, and fear by that of one like ourselves." [tr. Bywater (1909)]
  • "Pity is concerned with unmerited ill-fortune, fear with what happens to one's like." [tr. Margoliouth (1911)]
  • "Pity for the undeserved misfortune, fear for the man like ourselves." [tr. Fyfe (1932)]
  • "We pity those who suffer undeservedly, and feel fear for people who are like ourselves." [tr. Janko (1987)]
  • "The one [pity] is to do with the man brought to disaster undeservedly, the other [terror] is to do with [what happens to] men like us." [tr. Whalley (1997)]
  • "One of these sentiments, namely pity, has to do with undeserved misfortune, and the other, namely fear, has to do with someone who is like ourselves." [tr. Sachs (2006)]
Added on 28-May-21 | Last updated 28-May-21
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The same distinction marks off Tragedy from Comedy; for Comedy aims at representing men as worse, Tragedy as better than in actual life.

[ἐν αὐτῇ δὲ τῇ διαφορᾷ καὶ ἡ τραγῳδία πρὸς τὴν κωμῳδίαν διέστηκεν: ἡ μὲν γὰρ χείρους ἡ δὲ βελτίους μιμεῖσθαι βούλεται τῶν νῦν.]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Poetics [Περὶ ποιητικῆς, De Poetica], ch. 2, sec. 4 / 1448a (c. 335 BC) [tr. Butcher (1895)]

Original Greek. Alternate translations:

This difference it is that distinguishes Tragedy and Comedy also; the one would make its personages worse, and the other better, than the men of the present day.
[tr. Bywater (1909)]

Tragedy and Comedy are at the Poles: for the former means to portray a superior, the latter an inferior being to modern man.
[tr. Margoliouth (1911)]

It is just in this respect that tragedy differs from comedy. The latter sets out to represent people as worse than they are to-day, the former as better.
[tr. Fyfe (1932)]

Tragedy too is distinguished from comedy by precisely this difference; comedy prefers to represent people who are worse than those who exist, tragedy people who are better.
[tr. Janko (1987), 1.3]

And tragedy stands in the same relation of difference to comedy; for the one tends to take as subjects men worse than the general run, and the other takes men better than we are.
[tr. Whalley (1997)]

And by this very difference tragedy stands apart in relation to comedy, for the latter intends to imitate those who are worse, and the former better, than people are now.
[tr. Sachs (2006)]

The very same difference makes the distinction between tragedy and comedy: the latter aims to represent people as worse, and the former as better, than people nowadays are.
[tr. Kenny (2013)]

Added on 30-Apr-21 | Last updated 30-Apr-21
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If you are a person who looks at the funny side of things, then sometimes when you are lowest, when everything seems totally hopeless, you will come up with some of your best ideas. Happiness does not create humor. There’s nothing funny about being happy. Sadness creates humor.

Charles Schulz (1922-2000) American cartoonist
“On Staying Power,” My Life with Charlie Brown (2010) [ed. Inge]
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Sometimes you laugh because you’ve got no more room for crying. Sometimes you laugh because table manners on a beach are funny. And sometimes you laugh because you’re alive, when you really shouldn’t be.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Nation (2009)
Added on 9-Mar-21 | Last updated 9-Mar-21
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Life is a tragic mystery. We are pieced and driven by laws we only half understand. We find that the lesson we learn again and again is that of accepting heroic helplessness.

Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979) American-British playwright, author, psychologist
The Measure of My Days (1968)
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You know what the greatest tragedy is in the whole world? … It’s all the people who never find out what it is they really want to do or what it is they’re really good at. It’s all the sons who become blacksmiths because their fathers were blacksmiths. It’s all the people who could be really fantastic flute players who grow old and die without ever seeing a musical instrument, so they become bad plowmen instead. It’s all the people with talents who never even find out. Maybe they are never even born in a time when it’s even possible to find out. It’s all the people who never get to know what it is that they can really be. It’s all the wasted chances.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Moving Pictures (1990)
Added on 15-Dec-20 | Last updated 15-Dec-20
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What Mr. Howells said of the American theater is true of the whole American attitude toward life. “A tragedy with a happy ending” is exactly what the child wants before he goes to sleep: the reassurance that “all’s well with the world” as he lies in his cozy nursery. It is a good thing that the child should receive this reassurance; but as long as he needs it he remains a child, and the world he lives in is a nursery-world. Things are not always and everywhere well with the world, and each man has to find it out as he grows up. It is the finding out that makes him grow, and until he has faced the fact and digested the lesson he is not grown up — he is still in the nursery.

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) American novelist
French Ways and Their Meaning, ch. 4 “Intellectual Honesty” (1919)

Commenting on William Dean Howells' comment to her on American taste in theater and drama: "What the American public wants is a tragedy with a happy ending."
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I have changed my definition of tragedy. I now think tragedy is not foul deeds done to a person (usually noble in some manner) but rather that tragedy is irresolvable conflict. Both sides/ideas are right.

Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944) American author, playwright
Starting from Scratch, Part 3 “The Work,” “Plot” (1989)
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The tragedy of life is not that man loses, but that he almost wins.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
“Sport for Art’s Sake,” Vanity Fair (Sep 1921)

Reprinted in Pieces of Hate, and Other Enthusiasms (1922).
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She smoothed her hair back from her forehead and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like she always looked. It was probably a truth about tragedy, she thought, while the tragedy is going on people look pretty much the way they looked when it wasn’t.

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Thin Air (1995)
Added on 3-May-17 | Last updated 3-May-17
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“It’s not funny.”

“No, it isn’t, no more than everything else. Laughing is better than crying, though. When you can.”

Robert B. Parker (1932-2010) American writer
Promised Land (1976)
Added on 22-Feb-17 | Last updated 22-Feb-17
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There is a difference between tragedy and blind brutal calamity. Tragedy has meaning, and there is dignity in it. Tragedy stands with its shoulders stiff and proud. But there is no meaning, no dignity, no fulfillment, in the death of a child.

Walter M. Miller Jr. (1923-1996) American science fiction writer
“The Will” (1953)
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I am weary of reading Newspapers. The Times are so full of Events, the whole Drama of the World is such a Tragedy that I am weary of the Spectacle.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to Abigail Adams (27 Feb 1793)
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Tragedy plus time equals comedy.


Steve Allen (1922-2000) American composer, entertainer, and wit.
“Steve Allen’s Almanac,” Cosmopolitan (Feb 1957)

Similar formulations have been made by Carol Burnett, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen. For more discussion see here.
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, ch. 1. (1852) [tr. Padover]

Often paraphrased: "History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce."
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The pleasure arising from an extraordinary agitation of the mind is frequently so great as to stifle humanity; hence arises the entertainment of the common people at executions, and of the better sort at tragedies.

Jean-Antoine Dubois (1765-1848) French Catholic missionary in India [Abbe J. A. Dubois]
Added on 22-Feb-16 | Last updated 22-Feb-16
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He who laughs
Has not yet received
The terrible news.

[Der Lachende
Hat die furchtbare Nachricht
Nur noch nicht empfangen.]

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
“To Those Born Later [An die Nachgeborenen],” (1938) [tr. Horton (2008)]

Alt. trans.: "He who laughs last has not yet heard the bad news," and "The man who laughs has simply not yet had the terrible news."

The title is also sometimes translated as "To Those Who Follow In Our Wake" and "To Those Born After."

Oddly enough, the German is sometimes given in paraphrase (or back-translated from the English): "Wer jetzt noch lacht, hat die neuesten Nachrichten noch nicht gehört." This German only appears to be found on quotation sites.
Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 9-Sep-20
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If you ask any police officer what the worst part of the job is, they will always say breaking bad news to relatives, but this is not the truth. The worst part is staying in the room after you’ve broken the news, so that you’re forced to be there when someone’s life disintegrates around them. Some people say it doesn’t bother them — such people are not to be trusted.

Ben Aaronovitch (b. 1964) British author
Rivers of London [Midnight Riot] (2011)
Added on 14-Oct-15 | Last updated 14-Oct-15
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Harder to laugh at the comedy if it’s about you, harder to cry at the tragedy if it isn’t.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays (2001)
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If Afflictions refine some, they consume others.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English physician, preacher, aphorist, writer
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #2666 (1732)
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ANTONY: Through this the well-belovèd Brutus stabbed,
And, as he plucked his cursèd steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar followed it,
As rushing out of doors to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knocked or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel.
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Julius Caesar, Act 3, sc. 2, l. 188ff (3.2.188-195) (1599)
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Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the House, Members of the Senate, my fellow Americans:

All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today.

Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) American politician, educator, US President (1963-69)
Speech (1963-11-27), Joint Session of Congress

Five days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
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Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven’s field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are.

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) English writer, fabulist, philologist, academic [John Ronald Reuel Tolkien]
The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1: The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, ch. 11 “A Knife in the Dark” [Sam] (1954)

Sam says he was taught it by Bilbo, who claimed to have written it. Aragorn corrects him, saying it is part of a lay called "The Fall of Gil-galad," though Bilbo appears to have translated it from the Elvish.
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It’s not the tragedies that kill us. It’s the messes.

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) American writer
“The Art of Fiction,” #13, interview, The Paris Review (Summer 1956)
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When Carlini was convulsing Naples with laughter, a patient waited on a physician in that city, to obtain some remedy for excessive melancholy, which was rapidly consuming his life. The physician endeavored to cheer his spirits, and advised him to go to the theater and see Carlini. He replied, “I am Carlini.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Comic,” closing words, Letters and Social Aims (1875)

This joke/anecdote has numerous variations over the last century and more. For example, see here and here.
Added on 26-Feb-09 | Last updated 22-Feb-22
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Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) American writer [Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald]
“The Notebooks” (E), The Crack-Up [ed. Edmund Wilson (1945)]
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DUKE SENIOR: Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy.
This wide and universal theater
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
As You Like It, Act 2, sc. 7, l. 142ff (2.7.142-145) (1599)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 17-Jan-24
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Humor is just another defense against the universe.

Mel Brooks (b. 1926) American comedic actor, writer, producer [b. Melvyn Kaminsky]
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 12-Jul-16
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To paraphrase Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, and all those guys, I wish I had known this some time ago.

Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) American writer
Sign of the Unicorn, ch. 3 [Corwin] (1975)
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A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.

Josef Stalin (1879-1953) Georgian revolutionary and Soviet dictator

Alternate versions:
  • "Death of one man is a tragedy. Death of a million is a statistic."
  • "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic."
  • "When one dies, it is a tragedy. When a million die, it is a statistic."
  • "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."
The actual quote (such as is supported) appears to be "When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics." It is found in David McCullough, Truman (1992), said by Stalin to Churchill in Tehran when the latter was concerned over the potential casualties of opening a second front in France prematurely. McCullough cites it to Anton Antonov-Ovseyenko, The Time of Stalin: Portrait of Tyranny (1981).

On the other hand, Mary Soames (Churchill's daughter) said in a BBC interview with Andrew Marr (11 Nov 2011) that she overhead Stalin say this to her father at Potsdam, when Churchill was upset over the death of a family friend and then apologized to Stalin given the high number of Russian war casualties.

The earliest mention of the quote and Stalin is a 28 Sep 1958 book review.

Compare to Erich Maria Remarque, Der schwarze Obelisk (1956): "Sonderbar, denke ich, wir alle haben doch so viele Tote im Kriege gesehen, und wir wissen, daß über zwei Millionen von uns nutzlos gefallen sind — warum sind wir da so erregt wegen eines einzelnen, und die zwei Millionen haben wir schon fast vergessen? Aber das ist wohl so, weil ein einzelner immer der Tod ist — und zwei Millionen immer nur eine Statistik." [Strangely, I think we all have seen so many dead in the war, and we know that more than two million of us are unvalued -- why we are so excited because of an individual, and we have two million almost forgotten already? But that is probably so because a single death is always a death -- and two million only a statistic.]

Also compare to a 1925 essay on French humor, "Französischer Witz," by Kurt Tucholsky, German journalist, pacifist, and satirist. He wrote of a diplomat in the French Ministry of Foreign affairs, who said: "The war? I cannot find it to be so bad! The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!" ["Darauf sagt ein Diplomat vom Quai d'Orsay: «Der Krieg? Ich kann das nicht so schrecklich finden! Der Tod eines Menschen: das ist eine Katastrophe. Hunderttausend Tote: das ist eine Statistik!"]
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All tragedies are finish’d by a death,
All comedies are ended by a marriage;
The future states of both are left to faith.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, Canto 3, st. 9 (1821)
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This world is a comedy to those that think; a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) English novelist, letter writer
Letter to Anne, Countess of Upper Ossory (16 Aug 1776)

Walpole frequently used used this phrase or variants in letters (and in fact prefaces this quote with "I have often said ..."). Another example is an earlier letter to Horace Mann (31 Dec 1769):

I have often said, and oftener think, that this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel -- a solution of why Democritus laughed and Heraclitus wept.

It may be derived from an (unsourced) similar quote attributed Jean de La Bruyère: "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think".
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 19-Jan-23
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And if I laugh at any mortal thing,
‘Tis that I may not weep.

Lord Byron
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, Canto 4, st. 4 (1821)
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