“Neither the sun…

..nor death, can be looked upon steadily“.

The man himself

Francois de la Rochefoucauld published his Maximes three hundred and forty five years ago.  Amongst the many gems contained therein is the above reflection on death. To which one might add:

We can never be certain of our courage until we have faced danger.


Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.

Death and courage. The first comes to us all.  We can only hope for the second.

Three examples:


Fabrizio Quattrocchi, a name forgotten in the UK, but not in Italy, was murdered 6 years ago in Iraq. He was working there as a bodyguard, and was one of the many Europeans who were kidnapped. Surrounded by the usual shadowy morons, he spoilt his execution video by attempting to remove his hood, and shouting “I’ll show you how an Italian dies” as they shot him. Al Jazeera haven’t released the full video. As this excellent article points out, he had very little that he could do, but that little bit he used bravely and brilliantly.

Same conflict, but a man whom no-one describes as heroic, Saddam Hussein. It can’t be easy to face effectively a public execution. The famous mobile phone video reveals an extraordinary implacability, and in my view, bravery. The  transcript is worth reading, although it doesn’t give the full flavour of the taunting and general mayhem. His body language is poised and calm, the contrast with the masked executioners does them no favours:


Translation of Arabic subtitles accompanying the latest execution footage as broadcast on al-Jazeera TV station:

[Saddam] Oh God.

[Voices] May God’s blessings be upon Muhammad and his household.

[Voices] And may God hasten their appearance and curse their enemies.

[Voices] Moqtada [Al-Sadr]…Moqtada…Moqtada.

[Saddam] Do you consider this bravery?

[Voice] Long live Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr.

[Voice] To hell.

[Voice] Please do not. The man is being executed. Please no, I beg you to stop.

[Saddam] There is no God but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. There is no God but Allah and I testify that Muhammad…

At this point the video stops and the sound of the trapdoors opening is heard in the background”



Lastly, and completely differently, a young man, Philip Gerard Johnson.  A young US naval officer with a brain tumour considered inoperable. He quit the navy, joined a seminary, and has not in any way given up on the unpleasant treatment. Optimistic, realistic and resolute in the face of an early death, his blog is a terrific, and joyful  document of a man finding his vocation in extraordinarily trying circumstances.

As Horace wrote, about 2000 years ago:

Pale Death with impartial tread beats at the poor man’s cottage door and at the palaces of kings.”

It’s how we deal with it that counts, or as Horace also wrote:  carpe diem.


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