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Greatness knows itself. ~ William Shakespeare

Greatness or preeminence are terms used to emphasize the perceived superiority of a person or thing, with concepts of such heavily dependent on personal and social perspectives and biases. In Europe the most lauded rulers were given the attribute the Great (e.g. Alfred the Great, Peter the Great), and during the Roman Era and Middle Ages, the Latin title for the Great (Magnus) was used (e.g. Albertus Magnus).


No great deed is done
By falterers who ask for certainty. ~ George Eliot
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. ~ William Shakespeare
We have not the love of greatness, but the love of the love of greatness. ~ Thomas Carlyle
  • Burn to be great,
    Pay not thy praise to lofty things alone.

    The plains are everlasting as the hills,
    The bard cannot have two pursuits; aught else
    Comes on the mind with the like shock as though
    Two worlds had gone to war, and met in air.
  • Les grands ne sont grands que parce que nous sommes à genoux: Levons-nous.
    Ní uasal aon uasal ach sinne bheith íseal: Éirímis.
    The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise.
    • Inscription in French, Irish, and English on a monument to James (Big Jim) Larkin on O'Connell Street in Dublin, Ireland. Although Larkin used it in a famous speech, the slogan is usually attributed to the French revolutionary Camille Desmoulins, as reported in Antoine Eugene de Genoude (abbe.), Histoire de France (‎1848), p. 140.
  • For greatness after all, in spite of its name, appears to be not so much a certain size as a certain quality in human lives. It may be present in lives whose range is very small.
  • Magna est veritas et praevalebit.
    • Great is Truth and it will prevail.
    • Thomas Brooks is said to have been the first to use the expression (1662); Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), reports it to be found in Walter Scott, Talisman, Chapter XIX; Bishop John Jewel, Samuel Purchas, Microcosmus, and William Thackeray, Roundabout Papers. It may be derived from "O magna vis verities" found in Cicero, Oratio Pro Cœlio Rufo, XXVI.
    • Variant translations:
    • Truth is mighty and shall prevail.
    • Truth is mighty and will prevail.
    • Truth is mighty and it will prevail
  • Greatness by nature includes a power, but not a will to power. ... The great man, whether we comprehend him in the most intense activity of his work or in the restful equipoise of his forces, is powerful, involuntarily and composedly powerful, but he is not avid for power. What he is avid for is the realization of what he has in mind, the incarnation of the spirit.
  • No great deed is done
    By falterers who ask for certainty.
    • George Eliot, The Spanish Gypsy (1868), Book I. 56th line from end.
  • Pour accomplir de grandes choses il ne suffit pas d'agir il faut rêver; il ne suffit pas de calculer, il faut croire.
  • To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.
    • Variant: To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.
    • Anatole France, Discours de réception, Séance De L'académie Française (introductory speech at a session of the French Academy), 24th December 1896, on Ferdinand de Lesseps' work on the Suez Canal.
  • Are not great
    Men the models of nations?
    • Owen Meredith (Lord Lytton), Lucile (1860), Part II, Canto VI, Stanza 29.
  • As if Misfortune made the throne her seat,
    And none could be unhappy but the great.
  • I have touched the highest point of all my greatness:
    And, from that full meridian of my glory,
    I haste now to my setting.
  • Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!
    This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
    The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,
    And bears his blushing honours thick upon him:
    The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
    And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
    His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
    And then he falls, as I do.
  • Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
    Like a Colossus, and we petty men
    Walk under his huge legs and peep about
    To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
  • They that stand high have many blasts to shake them;
    And if they fall, they dash themselves to pieces.
  • Be not afraid of greatness: some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.
  • There are two alternatives, and only two, before us. First, which is unlikely, is that we unscramble our modern interdependent culture, returning to separate and isolationist lives … Such a world would not demand greatness. The other alternative is to so expand our spiritual powers that we vastly increase the range of our understanding and sympathy. There is no middle way. It is greatness — universalism — or perish.
    • Clarence Skinner, in The Universalist Leader, Vol. 125, Issue 24 (1943), p. 748.
  • High stations, tumult, but not bliss, create;
    None think the great unhappy, but the great.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations[edit]

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 340-42.
  • Nothing can cover his high fame but heaven;
    No pyramids set off his memories,
    But the eternal substance of his greatness,—
    To which I leave him.
  • Man's Unhappiness, as I construe, comes of his Greatness; it is because there is an Infinite in him, which with all his cunning he cannot quite bury under the Finite.
    • Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, The Everlasting Yea, Book II, Chapter IX.
  • We have not the love of greatness, but the love of the love of greatness.
  • Nemo vir magnus aliquo afflatu divino unquam fuit.
    • No man was ever great without divine inspiration.
    • Cicero, De Natura Deorum, II. 66.
  • The great man who thinks greatly of himself, is not diminishing that greatness in heaping fuel on his fire.
    • Isaac D'Israeli, The Literary Character, Illustrated by the History of Men of Genius (1795-1822), Chapter XV.
  • So let his name through Europe ring!
    A man of mean estate,
    Who died as firm as Sparta's king,
    Because his soul was great.
  • He is great who is what he is from Nature, and who never reminds us of others.
  • Nature never sends a great man into the planet, without confiding the secret to another soul.
  • He who comes up to his own idea of greatness, must always have had a very low standard of it in his mind.
    • William Hazlitt, Table Talk, Whether Genius is Conscious of its own Power.
  • No really great man ever thought himself so.
    • William Hazlitt, Table Talk, Whether Genius is Conscious of its own Power.
  • Ajax the great * * *
    Himself a host.
    • Homer, The Iliad, Book III, line 293. Pope's translation.
  • For he that once is good, is ever great.
  • Urit enim fulgore suo qui prægravat artes
    Intra se positas; extinctus amabitur idem.
    • That man scorches with his brightness, who overpowers inferior capacities, yet he shall be revered when dead.
    • Horace, Epistles, II. 1. 13.
  • Greatnesse on goodnesse loves to slide, not stand,
    And leaves, for fortune's ice, vertue's firme land.
    • Richard Knolles, Turkish History. Under a portrait of Mustapha I, line 13.
  • Great is advertisement! 'tis almost fate;
    But, little mushroom-men, of puff-ball fame.
    Ah, do you dream to be mistaken great
    And to be really great are just the same?
  • Il n'appartient qu'aux grands hommes d'avoir de grands défauts.
  • The great man is the man who can get himself made and who will get himself made out of anything he finds at hand.
  • A great man is made up of qualities that meet or make great occasions.
  • The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart.
    • Mencius, Works, Book IV, Part II, Chapter XII.
  • That man is great, and he alone,
    Who serves a greatness not his own,
    For neither praise nor pelf:
    Content to know and be unknown:
    Whole in himself.
  • Les grands ne sont grands que parceque nous, les portons sur nos épaules; nous n'avons qu' à les secouer pour en joncher la terre.
  • Les grands ne sont grands que parceque nous sommes à genoux: relevons nous.
    • The great are only great because we are on our knees. Let us rise up.
    • Louis-Marie Prudhomme, Révolutions de Paris, Motto.
  • Es ist der Fluch der Hohen, dass die Niedern
    Sich ihres offnen Ohrs bemächtigen.
    • The curse of greatness:
      Ears ever open to the babbler's tale.
    • Friedrich Schiller, Die Braut von Messina, I.
  • Si vir es, suspice, etiam si decidunt, magna conantes.
    • If thou art a man, admire those who attempt great things, even though they fail.
    • Seneca, De Brevitate, XX.
  • Not that the heavens the little can make great,
    But many a man has lived an age too late.
  • Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.
  • The world knows nothing of its greatest men.
  • He fought a thousand glorious wars,
    And more than half the world was his,
    And somewhere, now, in yonder stars,
    Can tell, mayhap, what greatness is.
  • O, happy they that never saw the court,
    Nor ever knew great men but by report!
    • John Webster, The White Devil; or, Vittoria Corombona, Act V, scene VI.
  • Great let me call him, for he conquered me.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)[edit]

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • The greatest man is he who chooses the right with the most invincible resolution; who resists the sorest temptation from within and without; who bears the heavest burdens cheerfully; who is calmest in storms, and most fearless under menaces and frowns; whose reliance on truth, on virtue, and on God is most unfaltering.
  • Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the using of strength.
  • True greatness does not consist so much in doing extraordinary things, as in conducting ordinary affairs with a noble demeanor and from a right motive. It is necessary and most profitable to remember the advice to Titus, "Showing all good fidelity in all things."
  • A solemn and religious regard to spiritual and eternal things is an indispensable element of all true greatness.
  • He who does the most good is the greatest man. Power, authority, dignity; honors, wealth, and station,— these are so far valuable as they put it into the hands of men to be more exemplary and more useful than they could be in an obscure and private life. But then these are means conducting to an end, and that end is goodness.
    • Bishop Jortin, p. 293.
  • A great man, I take it, is a man so inspired and permeated with the ideas of God and the Christly spirit as to be too magnanimous for vengeance, and too unselfish to seek his own ends.
  • He is truly great that is great in charity. He is truly great that is little in himself, and maketh no account of any height of honor. And he is truly learned that doeth the will of God, and forsaketh his own will.
  • It is, in a great measure, by raising up and endowing great minds that God secures the advance of human affairs, and the accomplishment of His own plans on earth.
  • There is but one method, and that is hard labor.

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