All right, this particular canard has had all that feathers pulled off countless times. I claim no originality. Civilization explain it over and over top top blogs. Every twenty seconds, somebody asks around it, and the explainers walk to work.

You are watching: Wept for there were no more

The “quote” goes prefer this:


“Alexander” is, the course, Alexander the Great, king of Macedon in the fourth century BC. A legend in his own time, et cetera, he passed away in his early thirties, et cetera, having actually won countless battles. The quote is poetic. It touches a design template dear come everyone’s heart: the Tears of the Monster. However! native time come time, part bright human is compelled by the legislations of physics to ask: “In what old text does the passage appear?” Answer: it appears nowhere.

Remember dice Hard? ns don’t. I saw it right roughly the time it came out, and also all ns remember is Bruce Willis, barefoot, to run through damaged glass. That, for me, was a metaphor for watching the movie. Fans of the film, however, will certainly recall that is dapper German villain, Hans Gruber, smacking his silly lips and also gloating in ~ some private victory. That puts his on the handle together and also says in facetiously tragic tones (clearly quoting something indigenous High culture and referring with cozy irony come himself): “And Alexander wept, seeing together he had no more worlds to conquer.” climate he smiles v evil-genius self-satisfaction and says: “Benefits the a classic education.”

Yeah. Except that quote would never ever come up in the context of a classical education, uneven the instructor occurred to be acquisition a jolly detour, nose in the air, to attack a item of legend crap that no student of his must ever traffic in. And even I, ideal now, have actually been forced to affix weights come my very own nose to avoid its springing upward. (I can’t prevent its sniffing though. Over there it walk again: sniff.)

A couple of facts. The primates who wrote Die difficult did not invent that quote. (And allow me tell ya something: the human being who create the script for activity movies room literally forbidden to create anything. Your mandate is to regift whatever is well-known to have worked in the past. More on this one more day.) The quote, i was saying, is really old. It comes up in specific classic English poems indigenous the seventeenth century. Because that example, here’s Edmund Waller addressing Oliver Cromwell in 1655:


When for much more worlds the Macedonian cried,He wist no Thetis in her lap walk hideAnother yet, a civilization reserved for youTo do more good than that he walk subdue …


There it is. And a fast Google find turned up an even earlier item, printed in medieval Canada (1628, ns mean).

But—and here’s wherein it gets good—but, nobody appears to have located any citation of the quote earlier than 1628. Mine homely contribution to this fuss is my hypothesis as to why instances that the quote room unlikely to rotate up before 1579.

The quote is a hash of three passages in Plutarch, an initial century CE. Two of the passages were made easily accessible to English speakers (most notably Shakespeare) in 1579, in the translate into by cutting board North. The other passage has a more complicated history. Let’s actually start with the tricky one.


It is reported the King Alexander the Great, listening Anaxarchus the theorist discoursing and maintaining this position: the there were human beings innumerable: dropped a-weeping: and also when his friends and also familiars around him inquiry what the ailed. Have actually I no (quoth he) great cause come weep, that being as there are an infinite number of worlds, i am not yet the mr of one?


That’s no from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. It’s indigenous Plutarch’s essays, usually dubbed the Moralia. The essay in details is called “On Tranquillity the Mind.” The translation over is that of Philemon Holland, 1603. This was not the first translation of that essay into English, however it might too have been. The others all sank prefer stones; nobody ever heard of ’em. Look at this fairly nicer variation by everybody’s favourite courtier, Sir thomas Wyatt:


Alexander, whan the herde Anaxarchus argue that there to be infynite worldes, the is stated that the wept. And also whan his frendes inquiry hym what thing had actually happened him to be wept for: “Is the nat to it is in wept for,” quod he, “syns they say over there be infynite worldes, and we room nat however lorde that one?”


The above was done in 1527 at the inquiry (sort of; she in reality asked because that a different book) of Catherine the Aragon. If you understand who the is.

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At any type of rate, the i is decision clear in both cases: Alexander is no weeping in sorrow that there are no much more throats to cut. This is not a snapshot of a man at the finish of a job of people conquest; he is at the beginning. “Look at every these throats—and i haven’t even reduced one!”


For as soon as they carried him <= Alexander, still a boy> newes that his father had actually taken some famed city, or had won some good battell, he to be nothing happy to hear it, however would say come his playfellowes: Sirs, my dad will have all, i shall have nothing left me to conquer with you, that shall be ought worth. For he delighting no in pleasure nor riches, however only in valliantnes and honor, thought, that the greater conquests and realmes his father should leave him, the lesse he should need to do for himselfe. And therfore, seing that his fathers dominions and also Empire increased dayly much more and more, perceiving all chance taken from him to execute any great attempt: he desired no wide range nor pleasure but warres and battells, and also aspired come a signory, whereby he could win honor.


Now it is from Plutarch’s Life the Alexander. No tears, yet definitely the male Gruber had actually in mind, the Godzilla that heard around in German job camp. This is a prince who desires to conquer for the sake of conquering; the doesn’t treatment whether Macedon comes the end on peak or not, other than insofar together it’s compatible v his an individual glory. (You can at the very least imagine this male crying, if there were no more worlds to conquer.)

Our last passage is native Plutarch’s Life of Julius Cæsar.


An other time likewise when he was in Spayne, analysis the history of Alexanders actes, as soon as he had red it, he was sorrowfull a good while after, and then burst out in weeping. His frends seeing that, marveled what need to be the cause of his sorow. He aunswered them, Doe ye no thinke sayd he, that i have great cause to be heavie, when king Alexander gift no older than my selfe is now, had actually in old time wonne so plenty of nations and also contries: and also that i hitherunto have actually done nothing worthy of my selfe?


Tears! Indeed, the pretty much the same thing together Exhibit 1.

Exhibits 2 and 3 room translations by thomas North, 1579. Here’s my copy the the 1895 reprint:

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Like every Elizabethan translations, it appears pretty clotted and inelegant to me, yet y’know, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and what was great enough because that him, et cetera. Indeed, he does quote phibìc verbatim in places, similar to he did v Florio’s Montaigne.

But you watch what’s happening here. I’m setup out top top the table every the ingredients for Gruber’s quote. In no instance does Alexander weep due to the fact that he’s accidentally placed himself out of company by making self king of the world. And also it renders sense that he would not weep about such, due to the fact that in point of truth he did not take end the world. He hits a wall in India, see. His guys are tired, the river is deep, he can’t swim. Throughout the river: some vast Indian army, refreshed and ready. Alexander’s males beg him to speak to it a day. “Call that a day, call it a campaign, speak to it one empire. Anyhow let’s walk home.” and for once, Mr. Won’t-Listen-to-Anybody states okay. It’s all in the Life of Alexander. Review it sometime. Seventy pages of modern English, it’s no gonna death ya.

But back to Gruber. What’s surely happened is part specially eloquent seventeenth-century brother smarty-pants read the North and also Holland translations, misremembered ’em, and also created the mot that’s been repeated ever since.

How do I recognize the human didn’t misremember the original Greek? i don’t. But think about it. No one might read Greek, not even North (he was translating native Amyot’s French). Besides! is the not amazing that the more quickly instances of the Gruber version happen to chop up a couple of years after those vital translations right into English?

Here’s what would settle the matter against me: situations of the Gruber version from languages various other than English, emerging before 1579. If anyone reading this can display me such, i promise come write an additional piece ~ above this exact same topic, giving you complete credit.

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Nam Alexandri pectus insatiabile laudis, qui Anaxarcho comiti suo ex auctoritate Democriti praeceptoris innumerabiles mundos esse referenti “heu me” inquit “miserum, quod ne uno quidem adhuc amount potitus!” angusta homini possessio fuit, quae deorum omnium domicilio sufficit.


Alexander’s heart had actually an insatiable longing because that glory. When his girlfriend Anaxarchus called him, complying with the government of his teacher Democritus, that there to be innumerable worlds, Alexander said, “Alas, bad me, due to the fact that so much I have not even gained possession the one!” To own the world was as well inglorious for this man, though the civilization is good enough to serve as the home of every the gods.


—from Book 8, thing 14 “The Desire for Glory,” foreign Stories: section 2.


That passage was created fifteen years before Plutarch was born; indeed, it could have been wherein he gained it (?). And also since that in Latin—and worse, in a frickin’ handbook the memorable sayings—anybody could have check out it and also misremembered it at any allude in european history.

Okay, however then why do all this Gruber versions all of sudden pop increase in beforehand seventeenth-century English, hmmm? ns tellin’ ya: part Englishman began this. Part English Gruber. We’ll speak to him “John Miner.” choose Gruber, our Miner to be pretending to have actually a timeless education. Choose Gruber, Miner had actually eloquence. But unlike Gruber, Miner actually created something worthy that a publication of memorable sayings. That coined among the very couple of classical tag that world still recognize on sight.

Unless also Miner didn’t design it, yet some Frenchman. Anyhow, I give up. My men are done. The flow is deep. Call it one empire. Let’s walk home.

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Anthony Madrid lives in Victoria, Texas. His 2nd book is Try Never. That is a correspondent because that the Daily.


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