Quotes on a Pyrrhic Victories.
May 15, 2007 6:00 AM   Subscribe

Me-fites! I want you to inspire me.. and then destroy me! Your best quotations regarding bittersweet (Pyrrhic?) accomplishment, please

So I am writing my doctoral thesis, and i want to put a little quotation at the front. I am a lover of the classics.. but also have a soft spot for popular culture.

The feeling I want to convey in the quote is something about accomplishment.. a sense of completion - but with a darkish, wistful and bittersweet tinge to it

Kinda like how Virgil wrote the Aeneid.. and then ordered it burned.

Kinda like the main character in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, whose relief at his rescue is almost outweighed by his guilt in surviving.

(Nothing really jumped out at me when I read these works.. but.. the feeling at the end is something i want to encapsulate. Ff you find something in there that you think fits.. let me know!)

Don't get me wrong. My soul is quite intact after completing my studies.. but I don't want to put in some schmalzy, sickly sugary quote of the 'if-you-believe-in-yourself-you-can- accomplish-anything' variety.

So Hivemind.. Do you have any quotes that best sum up this feeling of Semi-Pyrrhic accomplishment?
posted by TheOtherGuy to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

-Aeschylus (via Robert F. Kennedy)
posted by smorange at 6:09 AM on May 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

Off the top of my head: "Where men build on false grounds, the more they build, the greater the ruin" -- Hobbes. Probably not quite appropriate.
posted by gsteff at 6:11 AM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

While inappropriate for your thesis, my favourite quote along these lines is from Charles Schulz: "Cartooning will destroy you; it will break your heart."
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:27 AM on May 15, 2007

Response by poster: Smorange.... one word... 'wow'

That is exactly the sentiment I want to capture. Big tick coming your way :)

Holding off until a few more come along
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:29 AM on May 15, 2007

From Samuel Johnson: "Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome."
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:29 AM on May 15, 2007

Best answer: Charles Dickens- 'It would concern the reader little, perhaps, to know how sorrowfully the pen is laid down at the close of a two-years' imaginative task; or how an Author feels as if he were dismissing some portion of himself into the shadowy world, when a crowd of the creatures of his brain are going from him for ever.'
posted by MayNicholas at 6:37 AM on May 15, 2007

"If we go forward we die, if we go backward we die. Let us go forward and die!"
posted by oh pollo! at 6:55 AM on May 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

You're going to have to make me break out the book again I was reading just overnight at work! It had one you are looking for I think -- *scurries away* *thumbs*

"Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone." From PLUTARCH, Lives, Pyrrhus, sec. 21

Footnote says: Pyrrhus (318-272 BC), king of Epirus, refers to the dearly bought victory at Asculum, 280 BC, hence the phrase Pyrrhic victory. See also Herodotus 29:24 ("Cadmean victory").

I don't see an entry for Herodotus in the index, but found a few similar ones attributed to him, from the net:

"Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks"
"He is the best man who, when making his plans, fears and reflects on everything that can happen to him, but in the moment of action is bold."
"One should always look to the end of everything, how it will finally come out. For the god has shown blessedness to many only to overturn them utterly in the end."
"Civil strife is as much a greater evil than a concerted war effort as war itself is worse than peace."
posted by Quarter Pincher at 7:16 AM on May 15, 2007

Not quite, perhaps, but I have always been enamored by Tacitus's description of the Romans' victory over Britain: "They made a desolation, and called it peace."
posted by Mr. Justice at 7:23 AM on May 15, 2007

My bad, the Herodotus citation was meant to refer to the page/quote in this book I'm reading (Barlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th ed.) and has the Cadmean reference here:

"It was a kind of Cadmean victory."

Footnote says, "Polyneices and Eteocles, sons of Oedipus and descendants of Cadmus, fought for the possession of Thebes and killed each other. Hence, a Cadmean victory means one where the victor and vanquished suffer alike."

A few more from the Victory index:

"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival." -Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, First Statement as Prime Minister, House of Commons May 19, 1940.

"Those who know how to win are much more numerous than those who know how to make proper use of their victories." -Polybius (200-118 BC), History, bk X, 36
posted by Quarter Pincher at 7:29 AM on May 15, 2007

Accomplishment + Guilt = ?
posted by Jakey at 7:35 AM on May 15, 2007

"Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair"? Perhaps that's a bit too self-consciously ironic, though.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:59 AM on May 15, 2007


The history of my stupidity would fill many volumes.

Some would be devoted to acting against consciousness,
Like the flight of a moth which, had it known,
Would have tended nevertheless toward the candle's flame.

Others would deal with ways to silence anxiety,
The little whisper which, though a warning, is ignored.

I would deal separately with satisfaction and pride,
The time when I was among their adherents
Who strut victoriously, unsuspecting.

But all of them would have one subject, desire,
If only my own -- but no, not at all: alas,
I was driven because I wanted to be like others.
I was afraid of what was wild and indecent in me.

The history of my stupidity will not be written.
For one thing, it's late. And the truth is laborious.

-- Czeslaw Milosz
posted by thinkpiece at 8:13 AM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

For some reason, and I'm not sure it fits here....

I thought of Jules from Pulp Fiction...

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee"

I'm almost certain that it doesn't belong here. I should just cancel this comme....

oh look that dog has a poofy tail!
posted by Industrial PhD at 8:32 AM on May 15, 2007

Best answer: Pretty much all of Ecclesiastes, no?
posted by kickingtheground at 8:40 AM on May 15, 2007


Heroes. Victims.
Gods and human beings.
All throwing shapes,
Every one of them
Convinced he's in the right;
All of them glad to repeat themselves
And their every last mistake
No matter what.
posted by Dizzy at 8:43 AM on May 15, 2007

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods, They kill us for their sport." --Gloucester, King Lear

"As private parts to the gods are we, they play with us for their sport." --Melchett, Black Adder
posted by RavinDave at 9:15 AM on May 15, 2007

Jules says inequities, not iniquities, which, of course, he should have said. Not that he's really quoting Ezekiel 25:17, anyway.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:56 AM on May 15, 2007

It little profits that an idle king

You could quote any pair of lines from this; the educated mind would swiftly fill in the rest.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2007

(I haven't dipped into Lord Alfred in many, many years--- thanks for reminding me of his majesty, ikky!)
posted by Dizzy at 11:57 AM on May 15, 2007

Some yiddish.

The difference between a shlemiel, shlimazl and a klutz is described through the aphorism, "A klutz is someone who always bumps into someone carrying soup; A shlemiel is the person who always spills the soup; a shlimazl is the person the soup always lands on."

As a doctoral student graduating, you've just gone from shlimazel to shlemiel.

When you get a job as a professor, you become the klutz: the bittersweet joy is that you get kudos for being a klutz.

I'm sure you can work this into a witty one-liner.
posted by lalochezia at 2:40 PM on May 15, 2007

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing,
Let's break out the booze and have a ball ,
If that's all there is.
—Miss Peggy Lee
posted by rob511 at 4:51 PM on May 15, 2007

I'm reminded of the line, "Wisdom comes with winter." A quick googling fails to turn up much about it, but you're all so well educated I imagine someone will have the source.
posted by Richard Daly at 6:10 PM on May 15, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone.. excellent suggestions.


Great minds think alike, I did consider putting in a quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The only thing stopping me was

Atheist author + Quote from Bible + Thesis on Evolutionary Biology = kinda weird.

But big tick for the suggestion though.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:19 PM on May 15, 2007

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