All right, this specific canard has had all the feathers traction off many times. I case no originality. World explain that over and also over on blogs. Every twenty seconds, someone asks around it, and also the explainers go to work.

You are watching: Alexander wept for there were no more worlds to conquer

The “quote” goes choose this:

“Alexander” is, that course, Alexander the Great, king that Macedon in the 4th century BC. A legend in his very own time, et cetera, he died in his early thirties, et cetera, having won many battles. The quote is poetic. It touch a design template dear to everyone’s heart: the Tears the the Monster. However! native time come time, some bright human being is forced by the legislations of physics to ask: “In what ancient text does that passage appear?” Answer: it shows up nowhere.

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

Yeah. Other than that quote would never come increase in the paper definition of a classic education, uneven the instructor happened to be acquisition a jolly detour, nose in the air, to assault a item of legendary crap that no student of his must ever before traffic in. And even I, ideal now, have been forced to affix weights come my very own nose to avoid its springing upward. (I can’t prevent its sniffing though. There it walk again: sniff.)

A few facts. The monkeys who wrote Die difficult did not invent that quote. (And allow me call ya something: the world who compose the scripts for action movies space literally forbidden to design anything. Your mandate is to regift everything is known to have operated in the past. Much 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. For example, here’s Edmund Waller addressing Oliver Cromwell in 1655:

When for more worlds the Macedonian cried,He wist no Thetis in she lap did hideAnother yet, a civilization reserved because that youTo make more an excellent than that he go subdue …

There the is. And also a fast Google search turned increase an even earlier item, published in middle ages Canada (1628, ns mean).

But—and here’s where it gets good—but, nobody appears to have actually located any type of citation the the quote earlier than 1628. My homely contribution to this fuss is mine hypothesis regarding why instances of the quote room unlikely to rotate up prior to 1579.

The quote is a hash of 3 passages in Plutarch, first century CE. 2 of the passages to be made easily accessible to English speakers (most especially Shakespeare) in 1579, in the translate into by cutting board North. The other passage has actually a more complicated history. Let’s actually begin with the tricky one.

It is reported the King Alexander the Great, hearing Anaxarchus the theorist discoursing and also maintaining this position: that there were people innumerable: dropped a-weeping: and when his friends and familiars around him asked what he ailed. Have I no (quoth he) good cause to weep, the being as there room an infinite variety of worlds, i am not yet the lord of one?

That’s no from Plutarch’s Life that Alexander. It’s from Plutarch’s essays, usually dubbed the Moralia. The essay in specific is referred to as “On Tranquillity the Mind.” The translation above is that of Philemon Holland, 1603. This was no the first translation of that essay right into English, however it might as well have been. The others every sank choose stones; nobody ever heard of ’em. Look in ~ this fairly nicer variation by everybody’s favourite courtier, Sir thomas Wyatt:

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

The over was excellent in 1527 at the inquiry (sort of; she actually asked because that a various book) of Catherine the Aragon. If you know who that is.


At any kind of rate, the i is decision clear in both cases: Alexander is no weeping in sorrow that there are no much more throats come cut. This is no a photo of a male at the finish of a career of people conquest; he is at the beginning. “Look at all these throats—and ns haven’t even reduced one!”

For as soon as they brought him <= Alexander, quiet a boy> newes the his father had taken some renowned city, or had won some good battell, he to be nothing glad to hear it, but would say to his playfellowes: Sirs, my father will have all, i shall have nothing left me to dominate with you, that shall be ought worth. Because that he delighting neither in pleasure nor riches, however only in valliantnes and honor, thought, that the greater conquests and realmes his father should leave him, the lesse the should need to do because that himselfe. And also therfore, seing that his fathers dominions and also Empire increased dayly an ext and more, perceiving all occasion taken from the to do any an excellent attempt: he wanted no riches nor pleasure but warres and also battells, and also aspired come a signory, wherein he might win honor.

Now that’s from Plutarch’s Life the Alexander. No tears, yet definitely the male Gruber had actually in mind, the Godzilla he’d heard about in German day camp. Here’s a prince who desires to conquer for the benefits of conquering; that doesn’t care whether Macedon comes the end on top or not, except insofar together it’s compatible through his personal glory. (You could at least imagine this male crying, if there were no much more worlds come conquer.)

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

An various other time additionally when he was in Spayne, analysis the background of Alexanders actes, as soon as he had actually red it, he was sorrowfull a great while after, and also then burst the end in weeping. His frends see that, marveled what should be the cause of his sorow. That aunswered them, Doe ye not thinke sayd he, that ns have great cause to it is in heavie, as soon as king Alexander gift no older 보다 my selfe is now, had actually in old time wonne so countless nations and also contries: and that ns hitherunto have actually done naught worthy of mine selfe?

Tears! Indeed, the pretty lot the exact same thing as Exhibit 1.

Exhibits 2 and 3 are translations by cutting board North, 1579. Here’s my copy that the 1895 reprint:


Like all Elizabethan translations, it seems pretty clotted and inelegant come me, yet y’know, Shakespeare is Shakespeare, and what was great enough for him, et cetera. Indeed, that does quote north verbatim in places, similar to he did through Florio’s Montaigne.

But you check out what’s continue here. I’m setting out on the table every the ingredients for Gruber’s quote. In no case does Alexander weep due to the fact that he’s accidentally placed himself out of company by making himself king of the world. And also it provides sense that he would certainly not weep about such, because in allude of reality he did not take over the world. He access time a wall in India, see. His guys are tired, the flow is deep, he can not swim. Across the river: some vast Indian army, refreshed and also ready. Alexander’s guys beg the to contact it a day. “Call it a day, call it a campaign, contact it an empire. Anyhow let’s walk home.” and for once, Mr. Won’t-Listen-to-Anybody claims okay. It’s all in the Life the Alexander. Read it sometime. Seventy pages of modern English, it’s not gonna death ya.

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

How execute I understand the human being didn’t misremember the initial Greek? i don’t. However think around it. No one could read Greek, not also North (he to be translating native Amyot’s French). Besides! is that not amazing that the faster instances of the Gruber version take place to crop up a few years after ~ those crucial translations into English?

Here’s what would resolve the matter against me: situations of the Gruber version from languages other than English, developing before 1579. If anyone reading this can show me such, i promise to write an additional piece top top this same topic, giving you full credit.


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. As soon as his friend Anaxarchus told him, following the government of his teacher Democritus, the there were innumerable worlds, Alexander said, “Alas, poor me, because so much I have not also gained possession the one!” To possess the people was too inglorious for this man, despite the people is an excellent enough to offer as the house of all the gods.

—from Book 8, chapter 14 “The Desire because that Glory,” international Stories: section 2.

That i was written fifteen years before Plutarch to be born; indeed, it can have been where he gained it (?). And also since the in Latin—and worse, in a frickin’ handbook that memorable sayings—anybody can have review it and also misremembered it in ~ any point in europe history.

Okay, however then why execute all this Gruber versions unexpectedly pop up in at an early stage seventeenth-century English, hmmm? i’m tellin’ ya: part Englishman started this. Part English Gruber. We’ll call him “John Miner.” favor Gruber, ours Miner to be pretending to have actually a timeless education. Choose Gruber, Miner had eloquence. But unlike Gruber, Miner actually created something worthy the a publication of memorable sayings. He coined one of the very couple of classical tags that civilization still recognize on sight.

Unless also Miner didn’t design it, but some Frenchman. Anyhow, I give up. My males are done. The river is deep. Speak to it one empire. Let’s walk home.

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Anthony Madrid stays in Victoria, Texas. His second book is Try Never. He is a correspondent for the Daily.