Ἀλέξανδρος Ἀναξάρχου περὶ κόσμων ἀπειρίας ἀκούων ἐδάκρυε, καὶ τῶν φίλωνἐρωτώντων ὅ τι πέπονθεν, ‘οὐκ ἄξιον ’ ἔφη ‘δακρύειν, εἰ κόσμων ὄντων ἀπείρων ἑνὸςοὐδέπω κύριοι γεγόναμεν;᾽’When Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock repeated Hans Gruber’s line in 2010, he credited no other source than Gruber himself. It behooves us therefore to restore the benefits of a post-classical education by acknowledging the following precedents.
Alexander wept when he heard from Anaxarchus that there was an infinite number of worlds, and his friends asking him if any accident had befallen him, he returns this answer: Do not you think it a matter worthy of lamentation, that, when there is such a vast multitude of them, we have not yet conquered one?— Plutarch, De tranquilitate animi, 4, Goodwin, Ed.
But God did not plant the naturall passion of desire in the reasonable soule, with an intention, that it should alwayes lie gaping; but that it should at length be satisfied, when it should close at last, with its last end. The like effect followes in pursuing other objects of desire. If God should have made, after his conquest of one, another World for Alexander; when he had done there, he would have beene weeping againe: while indeed, hee would not have wept for another world, but implicitely for God, who one-could have filled his boundlesse desire. The desire of man, is in a manner infinite, because it desires one thing after another, into infinite: And it can never be satisfied in this manner, because the things desired come not altogether, but ever, one after another: as the day commeth, but successively, houre after houre, not altogether. And therfore it must follow, & it will follow; and it cannot but follow, that it must be satisfied with a thing actually infinite; wch shal alwaies feed, and yet alwayes fill the soule with knowledge, riches, pleasure, every good thing: ut semper quidem Deus doceat, saith S. Irenaeus, homo auttem semper discat sue sunt a Deo: That God may alwayes teach, and man may always learn: every degree of light opening to the soule a more ample and more cleare sight of God, in himselfe, or in his creatures.Credit therefore is due to a passel of Seventeenth century English divines and poets.
And Alexander when be had conquered the world, sate down and wept, that there were no more worlds left for him to conquer.
The whole World was not half so wide
To Alexander, when he cry’d,
Because he had but one to subdue,
As was a narrow paltry Tub too
Diogenes; who is not said
(For ought that ever I cou’d read)
To whine, put Finger i’ th’ Eye, and sob,
Because h’ had ne’er another Tub.— Samuel Butler, Hudibras, 1663, Part I, Canto III, 1021-1025
I have read in a certain Author, that Alexander Wept because he had no more Worlds to Conquer; which he need not have done, if the fortuitous concourse of Atoms could create one.— Jonathan Swift, A Tritical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind, 1711, p. 250