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Old 03-17-2011, 02:38 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
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Classicist Dopers: "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." Details?

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. Attrib. to Philo of Alexandria. I just heard of this quote, apparently it was in a mass market movie so it is being bandied about now on the internet.

Can someone explain more where this quote came from? The extant work? The context?

Cmon Classicist Dopers! Help a poor soul out here
Old 03-17-2011, 02:52 PM
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 41,665
I haven't got time to look it up now, but I went over this a couple of months back when Sarah Palin used the quote in a speech (and in her first book). She attributed it to Plato -- which I knew couldn't be right. Internet sites attribute it to Plato or to Maimonides.

Long story short, neither is correct. It's the work of an obscure clergyman and religious writer from a century ago. And the original doesn't have "kind", but something a little pithier -- "be pitiful", or something like that. I'll look it up when I get a chance, but I gotta meeting now.

Here's the thread. My entries start at #41:

Last edited by CalMeacham; 03-17-2011 at 02:53 PM.
Old 03-17-2011, 02:54 PM
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Massachusetts
Posts: 41,665
To quote from that thread:

Aha! The source revealed! It's John Watson -- not Sherlock Holmes' companion and biographer, but a real-life theologian who wrote this back in the early 20th century. he later quoted himself under a pseudonym, which is sneaky.

Only his version is "Be pitiful, for everyone is fighting a hard battle":

The quote "Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle" is attributed to Plato. Is it from one of his works?-- 23:50, 30 September 2005 (UTC)

On Kindness by Lawrence J. Danks attributes the quote "Be kind - everyone is fighting a hard battle" to John Watson, while The Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis by Sheila R. Lowe attributes it to Felix Klein, though both could simply have heard it elsewhere.

I found no mention of this quote in a recent review of Hoyt's New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (K. L. Roberts, 1940) and The International Thesaurus of Quotations (R. T. Tripp, 1987). I'll keep looking. ~ Jeff Q (talk) 16:16, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

I've actually seen this quote attributed to Philo, a Greek philosopher (15 BC - 50 BC), but not in any reliable source other than quote sites. I don't know if that helps, but I'll also look to see if I can find it in anything more reliable. ~ UDScott 16:23, 30 March 2006 (UTC)

Also not found in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1919), The Columbia World of Quotations (1996), Simpson's Contemporary Quotations (1988), or Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989). Nothing remotely resembling this quote can be found in these either for Plato or Philo, and Felix Klein (assuming Lowe means the German mathematician) isn't quoted in any of these references. Does Danks say which "John Watson" said this, and/or when? ~ Jeff Q (talk) 23:58, 7 April 2006 (UTC)

Here (under September 19 and September 15) is excellent evidence that the 'hard battle' adage isn't a quotation from Philo: a number of Philo scholars agree that they've never come across it in his works. So apparently it isn't by him, and I must say it doesn't sound at all like Plato to me. However one man on the blog linked above does identify the phrase 'Everyone is fighting a hard battle' as a commentary on the Biblical phrase 'brotherly kindness', made by Biblical scholar Ozora S Davis in 1920. Could that be the origin? Antiquary 20:52, 23 August 2006 (UTC)

To answer my own question, no it couldn't. Four years earlier A Savage Club Souvenir (privately printed, 1916), p. 69, quoted it thus: '"Be pitiful, for everyone is fighting a hard battle," said Ian Maclaren'. And two years before that: 'Dr. Watson's Christmas message to the world, "Be pitiful, every man is fighting a hard battle" is more generally needed than we realize, because it is so universally true' (George MacAdam The Harps of God (1914) p. 73). These are not two different authors, both of them are Ian Maclaren, pseudonym of John Watson (1850-1907). An undateable extract from the Windsor Magazine found on Google Book gives a further clue:

But just as a sailor is said to have a sweetheart in every port, so I must confess to a favourite quotation in any number of books. For working purposes, however, the following is hard to beat - 'Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle.' I wish I could say it was of my own coining, but it is from the British Weekly, where it appeared as my friend Ian Maclaren's Christmas Greeting.

Just to muddy the waters a little more, when this 'pitiful' version turns up on the Web it's often attributed to T H Thompson. Who he? Antiquary 15:12, 9 September 2006 (UTC)

Last edited by CalMeacham; 03-17-2011 at 02:55 PM.
Old 03-17-2011, 03:32 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 896
Ok, it's not from Philo, good, for a moment I thought this stoic & classical sounding quote that I had not heard of exposed a weakness in my classical edumacation. Now I see it's inclusion in the classics would have been anachronistic to say the least.
Old 03-17-2011, 03:42 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 896
Ok i found this

IAN MACLAREN, along with other celebrities, was asked to send a Christmas message to an influential religious weekly in England. He responded by sending the short but striking sentence: Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle. No message is more needed in our days of stress and storm, of selfish striving and merciless competition.

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