And I fervently believe that there will come a time when no one will be burned and no one beheaded; when the criminal will plead for death as a mercy and deliverance and death will be denied him, for life will serve as his punishment just as death does today; when there will be no senseless uniforms and rituals, no contracts and conditions binding feeling, no duties and responsibilities, and will shall yield to love alone, not to will; when there will be no husbands and wives, only lovers … (Vissarion Belinsky, from Letters to V. P. Botkin, 1840-1841)
‘Once giants walked the earth,’ she repeated, emphatically. ‘Yes, titans absolutely, it’s a fact.’
Three mothers creaked and swung with expressions of fascinated absorption upon their smiling faces; but Raza Hyder took no notice, closed his eyes, grunted from time to time. ‘Now the pygmies have taken over, however,’ Bilquis confided. ‘Tiny personages. Ants. Once he was a giant,’ she jerked a thumb in the direction of her somnolent husband, ‘you would not believe to look, but he was. Streets where he walked shook with fear and respect, even here, in this very town. But, you see, even a giant can be pygmified, and he has shrunk now, he is smaller than a bug. Pygmies pygmies everywhere, also insects and ants – shame on the giants, isn’t it? Shame on them for shrinking. That’s my opinion.’ (Salman Rushdie, from Shame)
“Truth, Vinicius, dwells somewhere so high that the gods themselves cannot see it from the top of Olympus. To you, carissime, your Olympus seems higher still, and, standing there, you call to me, ‘Come, you will see such sights as you have not seen yet!’ I might. But I answer, ‘I do not have feet for the journey.’ And if you read this letter to the end, you will acknowledge, I think, that I am right.” (Henryk Sienkiewicz, from Quo Vadis)
Every man always has handy a dozen glib reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself. (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, from The Gulag Archipelago)
Life is like invading Russia. A blitz start, massed shakos, plumes dancing like a flustered henhouse; a period of svelte progress recorded in ebullient despatches as the enemy falls back; then the beginning of a long, morale-sapping trudge with rations getting shorter and the first snowflakes upon your face. The enemy burns Moscow and you yield to General January, whose very fingernails are icicles. Bitter retreat. Harrying Cossacks. Eventually you fall beneath a boy-gunner’s grapeshot while crossing some Polish river not even marked on your general’s map. (Julian Barnes, from Talking It Over)
To know you do not know is to know a great deal.
Wisdom consists in knowing there is no such thing. (Joseph Heller, from Picture This)