Albert Einstein? M. C. Escher? Robin Morgan? Miguel de Unamuno? Miguel de Cervantes? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: To fully succeed in life one must ultimately follow an audacious path that may seem nonsensical or reckless to ones colleagues. My favorite saying supports this idea. Here are three versions:
1) Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.
2) Only she who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible
3) Only he who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.
This adage has been attributed to the famous scientist Albert Einstein, the brilliant graphic artist M.C. Escher, and the prominent feminist Robin Morgan. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: There is no substantive support for the linkage to Einstein or Escher. Robin Morgan did employ an instance of the saying with the word “she” in 1984; however, Morgan disclaimed credit and remarked that the origin of the phrase was uncertain.
The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1905 book by Miguel de Unamuno who was a notable Spanish writer and philosopher. Unamuno’s work discussed the well-known characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza who were constructed by the distinguished novelist Miguel de Cervantes. One theme of Cervantes’ opus was the intertwining of actions which were both absurd and noble. The explication and commentary by Unamuno embodied a personal and philosophical response to Cervantes. The following excerpt in Spanish is followed by a translation into English. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
¿Que es ello absurdo? decís. ¿Y quién sabe qué es lo absurdo? ¡Y aunque lo fuera! Sólo el que ensaya lo absurdo es capaz de conquistar lo imposible.
But it was absurd, you say? And who knows what is absurd and what is not? And even if it were! Only one who attempts the absurd is capable of achieving the impossible.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.