Tag Archives: Plato

There Are No Atheists in Foxholes

Plato? Michel de Montaigne? Hannah More? C. V. Hibbard? Warren J. Clear? Ruth Straub? William Thomas Cummings? Ernie Pyle? Anonymous?

foxholeDear Quote Investigator: When exposed to extreme peril many people reflect on the spiritual or supernatural dimension of existence. The following saying has been particularly popular during times of war. Here are two versions:

  1. There are no atheists in the trenches.
  2. There are no atheists in foxholes.

Would you please examine its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The first saying circulated during World War 1, and the second saying spread during World War 2. The earliest close match located by QI appeared in “The Western Times” newspaper of Devon, England in November 1914. A speaker at a memorial service for a fallen soldier held at St. Matthias’ Church, Ilsham read from the letter of an unnamed chaplain serving at the front. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The writer further said, “Tell the Territorials and soldiers at home that they must know God before they come to the front if they would face what lies before them. We have no atheists in the trenches. Men are not ashamed to say that, though they never prayed before, they pray now with all their hearts.”

The adage does not have a clear origin, and anonymous is the most reasonable ascription. Yet, some popularizers have been named and citations given further below do list some individuals. Unsurprisingly, non-believers who have served in the military disagree with the adage.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1914 November 6, The Western Times, Col. Burn’s Late Son: Torquay’s Expression of Sincere Sympathy, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Devon, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

The Man Who Dares To Tell the Truth Is Called at Once a Lunatic and Fool

Plato? George Francis Train? Anonymous?

train07Dear Quote Investigator: Truth tellers often face an unhappy fate in cautionary fables. They are derided, misunderstood, persecuted, or ignored. The famous ancient philosopher Plato supposedly said:

The young and old are taught falsehoods. The person who dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.

I have not been able to locate a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have found no substantive evidence that Plato made this remark. The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the 1871 book “Pen Sketches of Nebraskans” by A. C. Edmunds. An eccentric American railroad financier, presidential aspirant, and world traveler named George Francis Train received credit for the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Strange times are these, in which we live, forsooth; When young and old are taught in Falsehood’s school:—And the man who dares to tell the truth, Is called at once a lunatic and fool.

The statement was an epigraph to a profile titled “George Francis Train: The Man of Destiny”. In 1872 Train campaigned to become President of the United States, and a collection of his speeches was published under the title “The People’s Candidate for President, 1872”. According to this work Train caused a sensation when he spoke the quotation: 2

You want sobriety, industry and morality in the exemplification of the character of your public men. I challenge an accusation against myself. [Applause.]

Strange times are those in which we live, forsooth,
When old and young are taught in falsehood’s school,
And the one man that dares to tell the truth
Is called at once a lunatic and fool.

The phrasing was slightly different in these two instances, e.g., the 1871 version contained “young and old”, whereas the 1872 version contained “old and young”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1871, Pen Sketches of Nebraskans with Photographs by A. C. Edmunds, George Francis Train: The Man of Destiny, Start Page 5, Quote Page 5, R. & J. Wilbur, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1872, The People’s Candidate for President, 1872, George Francis Train, (Collection of speeches by George Francis Train), Edited by John Wesley Nichols, Quote Page 44, Publisher not identified. (Google Books Full View) link

You Can Discover More About a Person in an Hour of Play than in a Year of Conversation

Plato? Richard Lingard? Anonymous?

games11Dear Quote Investigator: Plato’s philosophical thoughts were explicated using the format of a dialogue in which the participants expressed clashing ideas. The following quotation attributed to Plato seems to be a comical twist on his true attitude:

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.

Would you please explore this saying?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have found no substantive evidence that Plato wrote or spoke this remark.

The earliest significant match known to QI was contained in a short pamphlet published in 1670 titled “A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaveing the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World” by Richard Lingard. The following passage referred to “game” instead of “play”; also “game” was used in the specialized sense of “gambling game”. In addition, the period mentioned was seven years instead of one. The spelling and grammatical irregularities were in the original text. Bold face has been added to excerpts: 1

Take heed of playing often or deep at Dice and games of chance, for that is more chargeable than the seven deadly sinns; yet you may allow your self a certaine easy sum to spend at play, to gratifie friends, and pass over the winters nights, and that will make you indifferent for the event. If you would read a mans disposition see him game, you will then learn more of him in one hour, than in seven years conversation, and little wagers will try him as soon as great stakes, for then he is off his Guard.

An individual might react with anger, agitation, surprise, or indifference when he or she has lost a small sum or a great sum of money. Each one of these variable responses would help to illuminate that person’s character suggested Lingard.

In 1857 a compilation titled “A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs” was published and the following anonymous concise saying was presented in Portuguese and English: 2

Mais descobre huma hora de jogo, que hum anno de conversação.

An hour of play discovers more than a year of conversation.

The statement above strongly matched the modern version of the expression, and it may have evolved from the advice given in 1670, but this connection remains hypothetical.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1670, Title: A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaveing the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World, Author: R. L. (Richard Lingard), Quote Page 50 and 51, Printed by Benjamin Tooke, Dublin, Ireland, Sold by Mary Crook. (Early English Books Online EEBO-TCP Phase 2)
  2. 1857, A Polyglot of Foreign Proverbs, comprising French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and Danish with English Translations by Henry G. Bohn, Section: Portuguese Proverbs, Quote Page 281, Section: Index, Quote Page 422, Published by Henry G. Bohn, London. (Google Books Full View) link

They Riot in the Streets Inflamed with Wild Notions; Their Morals Are Decayed

Plato? Creed C. Black? William J. Brennan Jr.? Theodore Hesburgh? Apocryphal?

plato11Dear Quote Investigator: The following questioning and unhappy words have been attributed to the ancient Greek sage Plato:

What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?

This popular quotation illustrates the millennium-spanning ubiquity of complaints about the misbehavior and immorality of the younger members of society. Strangely, I have been unable to find a citation that solidly connects this commentary to Plato. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Plato made the statement above.

The earliest instance located by QI was spoken at the Convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors held in April 1968. A panel titled “What about the Generation Gap?” was moderated by the newspaper executive Creed C. Black of “The Chicago Daily News”. His introductory remarks employed the quotation: 1

I just came from breakfast with members of our panel, and I think we are in for a very interesting morning. To set the stage we might have a text of what we are going to talk about, and it is this:

“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents, they ignore the laws, they ride in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decayed. What is to become of them?”

These are not the words, believe it or not, of Program Chairman Paul Neville. They are the words of Plato and were written originally in Greek about 400 years before the birth of Christ. So, the generation gap is not exactly new, but it does continue.

The above passage differed from the common modern version in two ways. The word “ride” was used instead of “riot”, and the word “decayed” was used instead of “decaying”. These differences may reflect an imperfect transcription of a speech.

QI believes that Creed probably saw an earlier published instance somewhere, but where he obtained the quotation is not certain. This article presents a snapshot of what is currently known, and future research may result in further clarifications.

Another statement of this type was previously examined by QI. It began: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority.” These words have been misattributed to Socrates.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1968, Problems of Journalism: Proceedings of the 1968 Convention American Society of Newspaper Editors, Convention held at The Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D.C. on April 17 to 19, 1968, (Panel titled “What about the Generation Gap?” held Thursday April 18, 1968), (Speaker: Panel Moderator: Creed C. Black of Chicago Daily News), Quote Page 105, Published by American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), New York. (Verified on paper; special thanks to a helpful librarian at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa)

A Child Should Play Amongst Lovely Things

Plato? Aubert J. Clark? Apocryphal?

plato07Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and sage Plato:

The most effective kind of education is that a child should play among lovely things.

Although this quotation is popular with many educators I have never seen a proper citation. Would you please explore its provenance?

Quote Investigator: The earliest close match for this expression located by QI appeared in an article by Aubert J. Clark about Montessori teaching methods that was published in 1963 in “The Catholic Educational Review”. According to the author the Montessori approach specified that the teaching environment should be aesthetically pleasing and orderly. A footnote presented an opinion attributed to Plato. A precise textual location in “The Republic” was given, but the words were not enclosed in quotation marks. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

One is reminded of Plato’s dictum that the most effective kind of learning is that the child should play among lovely things. See The Republic, 558B. Montessorians might be agreeably surprised if they read a bit of Plato.

Location 558B in Plato’s “The Republic” did present a pertinent remark on the topic of education. But the statement used a negation and did not closely match the modern version of the saying. Nevertheless, QI believes that the quotation under investigation was derived from Plato’s words. Benjamin Jowett created the following translation which was published in 1892: 2

…we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study…

Another translation of the passage from “The Republic” was crafted by Paul Shorey and is available online at the Perseus Digital Library Project: 3

…except in the case of transcendent natural gifts no one could ever become a good man unless from childhood his play and all his pursuits were concerned with things fair and good…

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1963 January, The Catholic Educational Review, Evaluation of Montessori Postulates in the Light of Empirical Research by Rev. Aubert J. Clark, Start Page 7, Footnote 8, Quote Page 10, Published by The Catholic Education Press: Under the direction of the Department of Education of The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1892, The Dialogues of Plato: Republic, Timaeus, Critias, Volume 3 of 5, Translated by Benjamin Jowett, (Third Edition), Republic: Book VIII, Quote Page 265, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Henry Frowde, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. Perseus Digital Library Project, Title: The Republic, Author: Plato, Section: 558b, Translator: Paul Shorey, Host work title: Plato in twelve volumes: with an English translation; Republic; Vols 5-6, Publisher: Harvard university press; W. Heinemann, ltd., Place of publication: Cambridge, Mass; London Date publication: 1935-1937 (Reprint 1969-1970), About the website: Gregory R. Crane of Tufts University is Editor-In-Chief; flagship collection covers the history, literature and culture of the Greco-Roman world. (Accessed June 26, 2014) link

The Male Libido is Like Being Chained to a Madman

Socrates? Sophocles? Plato? Cephalus? Russell Brand? David Niven? Kingsley Amis? Apocryphal?

sophocles04Dear Quote Investigator: There is an ancient and provocative simile that helps to explicate the irrational actions of infatuated males:

The male libido is like being chained to a madman.
To have a penis is to be chained to a madman.

These words have been attributed to Socrates, Sophocles, and Plato, but I have never seen a solid citation. Perhaps this is not really a venerable observation. The comedian and actor Russell Brand mentioned the adage in his memoir “My Booky Wook” and credited Socrates. Would you please examine this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI hypothesizes that these expressions have evolved from remarks contained within one of the most famous works of Ancient Greece “The Republic” by Plato. The confusing multiple attributions stem from the indirect framing of the quotation.

In Book 1 of “The Republic” Socrates approached Cephalus and asked him about his experiences in the latter part of life. Cephalus responded by presenting some of his thoughts about aging and then relaying key remarks made by the prominent playwright Sophocles. Hence, the primary comments were made by Sophocles and were transmitted though Cephalus to Socrates and then were written by Plato.

Here is an excerpt from a translation of “The Republic” published in 1852. This passage did not mention chains; however, later translations used the word “bondage” with its connotations of enchainment, Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

…I may mention Sophocles the poet, who was once asked in my presence, ‘How do you feel about love, Sophocles? are you still capable of it?’ to which he replied, ‘Hush! if you please: to my great delight I have escaped from it, and feel as if I had escaped from a frantic and savage master.’ I thought then, as I do now, that he spoke wisely. For unquestionably old age brings us profound repose and freedom from this and other passions.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 1852, The Republic of Plato, Translated into English by John Llewelyn Davies and David James Vaughan (Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge), Book 1, Quote Page 3 and 4, Macmillan and Company, Cambridge. (Google Books Full View) link

The Mind Is Not a Vessel That Needs Filling, But Wood That Needs Igniting

William Butler Yeats? Plutarch? Socrates? Plato? Apocryphal?

yeatsplutarch03Dear Quote Investigator: There is a superb quotation about education that I have encountered many times. Here is a collection of examples with attributions that I have been accumulating. None of the examples came with citations:

  • Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel —Socrates
  • Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —William Butler Yeats
  • Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. —Plutarch
  • The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting. —Plutarch

What do you think? Who should properly be given credit, and what was the original statement? It is embarrassing to find that even educators who should be sensitized to the problems of improper or non-existent citations are sometimes careless. But my criticism is muted because determining a proper ascription can be difficult, as your website illustrates.

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Socrates or William Butler Yeats produced one of these sayings. These two attributions apparently are incorrect.

This family of statements probably originated with a passage in the essay “On Listening” in Moralia by the Greek-born philosopher Plutarch who lived between 50 and 120 AD. 1 The following excerpt was translated by Robin Waterfield for a 1992 Penguin Classics edition. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

For the correct analogy for the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting — no more — and then it motivates one towards originality and instills the desire for truth. Suppose someone were to go and ask his neighbours for fire and find a substantial blaze there, and just stay there continually warming himself: that is no different from someone who goes to someone else to get some of his rationality, and fails to realize that he ought to ignite his innate flame, his own intellect, …

Here is an alternative translation of the first sentence published in the 1927 Loeb Classical Library edition: 3

For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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  1. 2008, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy by Simon Blackburn, (2nd revised edition), Entry: Plutarch, Oxford University Press, (Accessed Online Oxford Reference on March 28, 2013)
  2. 1992, Essays by Plutarch, Translation by Robin Waterfield, On Listening, Quote Page 50, Penguin Classics, London and New York. (Google Books Preview)
  3. 1927, Moralia by Plutarch, Volume 1 of the Loeb Classical Library edition, “De auditu” by Plutarch, (“On Listening to Lectures”), Webpage maintained by Bill Thayer. (QI has not verified this text on paper) (Accessed penelope.uchicago.edu on March 28, 2013) link

Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle

Plato? Philo of Alexandria? Ian MacLaren? John Watson?

This blog post is based on a question that was posed at the wonderful blog used by the quotation expert Fred Shapiro who is the editor of one of the best reference works in this area: The Yale Book of Quotations. Fred Shapiro’s posts appear on the Freakonomics blog.

Question: This question is from Glossolalia Black.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

It is attributed to Plato on this little thing I have up in my office, but I was told by a friend that it wasn’t him.

Fred Shapiro replied “this sounds anachronistic for Plato by almost 2500 years” and then invited readers to attempt to trace the quotation.

Quote Investigator: The websites ThinkExist, Quotations Page, and Brainy Quote do have this quotation listed under the august name of Plato.

Philo of Alexandria is another popular choice when assigning attribution, e.g., QuotationsBook credits Philo. Sometimes Anonymous gets the nod. QI was able to trace the saying back more than one-hundred years to its likely origin. The original aphorism did not use the word “kind”. Instead, another surprising word was used.

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Misbehaving Children in Ancient Times

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a great quote by Plato or Socrates about the misbehavior of children in antiquity that I read in the New York Times. The quote shows that the problems between generations are not just a recent occurrence. Instead, the conflicts between parents and offspring are timeless [NY8]:

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.

I wanted to use this quote, so I needed to know who said it; however, the NYT website contained a surprise. The newspaper had retracted the quote and now there was a note that said “Its origin is unclear, although many researchers agree that Plato is not the source.” I am sure I have seen this quote before. Can you tell me where it came from and who said it?

Quote Investigator: The quote is so entertaining and it fills its niche so well that it is cited repeatedly around the globe. Over the decades the quotation or a close variant has appeared in newspapers such as: Oakland Tribune of California in 1922; The Bee of Danville, Virginia in 1946; Winnipeg Free Press of Manitoba, Canada in 1976; The Sunday Herald of Chicago, Illinois in 1982; the Sun-Herald of Sydney, Australia in 2005; and the Taipei Times of Taiwan in 2008 [SOC1-SOC6]. The words are usually attributed to Socrates and the confusion with Plato is understandable because Plato’s dialogues are the primary source of knowledge concerning Socrates.

QI has determined that the author of the quote is not someone famous or ancient.

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