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Entries in Epigrams (1)


“Les tyrans ne sont grands que parce que nous sommes à genoux.”

Étienne de La Boétie, from the essay Discours de la servitude volontaire ou le Contr’un, published posthumously in 1576.

The line, modified by the replacement of “Tyrants” with “The great” and by the unnecessary and anticlimactic coda “let us rise”, would later be repeated by, and misattributed to, the French journalist Élisée Loustallot (d. 1790); his contemporary, the celebrated orator and leader of the Girondists, Pierre Vergniaud (subjected to show-trial and then guillotined in 1793); Russian proto-anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (d. 1876); and Big Jim Larkin, the Irish trade-unionist (d. 1947); followed by an endless succession of increasingly minor left-wing scribblers. Larkin is the most popular misattribution on the English internet, owing to his having spoken English (other kinds of people being widely, if privately, suspected by English-speakers of being merely imaginary) and to its appearance on Larkin’s Dublin memorial.