if not a great man, then a good one
December 2, 2009 2:01 PM   Subscribe

What is the origin of the phrase "if not a great man, then at least a good one" (or similar). I can't find references from google but I believe I initially saw it presented as a quotation. Thanks.
posted by serazin to Grab Bag (6 answers total)
if you google "great man" "good one" you get some results.

this question immediately made me think of firefly - specifically the episode Shindig.

Mal: Sure. It would be humiliating. Having to lie there while the better man refuses to spill your blood. Mercy is the mark of a great man.
[lightly stabs Atherton with the sword]
Mal: Guess I'm just a good man.
[stabs him again]
Mal: Well, I'm all right.
posted by nadawi at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, I tried googling a lot of combinations and nothing felt like what I was looking for. Maybe its just some sort of literary meme - I saw it referenced by Robert Graves.
posted by serazin at 2:20 PM on December 2, 2009

That sounds very familiar. I've heard a variation: "Not every great man is a good man." But the only reference I can find for it is in an Upton Sinclair book on Google, and it's not really in the context I was thinking of.
posted by amyms at 2:24 PM on December 2, 2009

Great and good are seldom the same man. - Thomas Fuller

He is not great who is not greatly good. - Shakespeare (or Finch?)

Neither is correct, but both are close.
posted by rokusan at 2:30 PM on December 2, 2009

My nerd is showing, but a similar phrase is presented as a historical quote in Star Trek: First Contact.

"Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man."

Of course, the quote was from a completely fictional character, but it may be what's jumping into your head.
posted by Willie0248 at 2:33 PM on December 2, 2009

I immediately thought of what Willie0248 said. South Park also repurposed this line; see here, in the third paragraph of the "Cultural references" section. Just throwing it out there on the chance that's where you remembered it from.
posted by SpringAquifer at 3:00 PM on December 2, 2009

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