With great power comes great responsibility

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

"With great power comes great responsibility" is an ancient adage, at least as old as the fourth century BC in the allusion of the Sword of Damocles. The formulation has been used by journalists, authors, and other writers; and in politics, monarchic rhetoric, law enforcement, public safety, and in various media.[1][2][3][4]

The phrase was further popularized following its appearance in Marvel Comics featuring the character Spider-Man, as well as its feature film adaptations.


Screenshot of Wikimedia using the phrase for its guidelines for how to edit Wikipedia.

The adage particularly bears a close resemblance to the Christian bible verse of Parable of the Faithful Servant (Luke 12:48): "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Another translation: "To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.")

Another expression about correlation between power of leadership and responsibility also found in a saying by Muhammad that, "Everyone of you is a leader and everyone of you will be held responsible about his subjects."[5]

Usage of the particular wording ("great power" and "great responsibility"), however, dates back to the time of the French Revolution at the very least, as the following sentence is found in the "Plan de travail, de surveillance et de correspondance" ('Work, surveillance and correspondence plan') proposed by the Comité de Salut Public ('Committee of Public Safety') during the 1793 French National Convention:[6]

Ils doivent envisager qu'une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d'un grand pouvoir.

They [the Representatives] must contemplate that a great responsibility is the inseparable result of a great power

However this phrase is borrowed from the works of Voltaire Volume 48 which was written before the French philosopher's passing in 1778. Complicating the matter, all the works of Voltaire, 54 volumes were not copyrighted until 1829 (first known copyright of his manuscripts). However, since Volume 48 makes the first ever direct use of this phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" and it was written during Voltaire's life (1694-1778) it follows the Comité de Salut Public manifesto was only borrowing the expression from him. Further perplexing is that Voltaire was an extremely famed writer and philosopher during his lifetime whose influence reached Catherine The Great of Russia, rumored to be one his students and disciples.

Over two decades later, in 1817, British Member of Parliament William Lamb is recorded saying, "the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility."[7]

In 1885, in his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant wrote "In positions of great responsibility every one should do his duty to the best of his ability."

In 1899, U.S. President William McKinley used the following in his State of the Union address: "Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities."[8]

In 1906, Winston Churchill, as Under-Secretary of the Colonial Office, said: "Where there is great power there is great responsibility," even indicating that it was already a cultural maxim invoked toward government at the time.[9][10][11] In 1943, now as Prime Minister, Churchill evoked the proverb once again, though less exactly: "The price of greatness is responsibility."[12]

Though not the exact phrase, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a 1908 letter that "responsibility should go with power."[13]

Meant to criticize the media barons who owned British newspapers of the time, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin evoked the proverb in a March 1937 speech: "Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”[14]

In his 1945 State of the Union address, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that "In a democratic world, as in a democratic Nation, power must be linked with responsibility, and obliged to defend and justify itself within the framework of the general good."[15]

Use in Spider-Man

The thematic and often-quoted phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" is widely attributed to the character Uncle Ben in comic books published by Marvel Comics featuring Spider-Man.[16][17]

The phrase first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962), in which it is not spoken by any character; instead, it appears in a narrative caption of the comic's last panel (emphasis not in the original):[16][17][18]

And a lean, silent figure slowly fades in the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come -- great responsibility![17]

While Uncle Ben incidentally had just two lines in that entire comic, later stories and flashbacks that took place when Ben was still alive retroactively made the phrase one of the many homilies he would lecture Peter with. The first mention of Ben saying the phrase to Peter was in 1972, when Ron Dante (of The Archies) included it in his album Spider-Man: A Rockomic. However, this attribution would not catch on in the comics for at least another decade; the earliest appearance of a direct reference to Ben telling Peter the phrase is figured to be in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 (1987) by Jim Owsley, M. D. Bright, and Al Williamson.[16][17] Even so, the first time that the phrase is explicitly spoken by Ben in a comic would not be until February 2002, when it appears in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 2) #38.[17]

The phrase gained popularity and pop cultural significance following its utterance in the 2002 live action Spider-Man film directed by Sam Raimi, in which it is spoken by both Ben (portrayed by Cliff Robertson) and Peter (portrayed by Tobey Maguire).[17][16] The full phrase appears in the film Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), spoken by Aunt May (portrayed by Marisa Tomei) to Peter (portrayed by Tom Holland). Maguire's Parker also recognizes and finishes the phrase when Holland's Parker tells his alternate versions about May saying it to him before her passing. Two different variations of the phrase were also spoken by Martin Sheen's Ben in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), and by Holland's Peter in Captain America: Civil War (2016).

You are a lot like your father. You really are, Peter, and that's a good thing. But your father lived by a philosophy, a principle, really. He believed that if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things! That's what's at stake here. Not choice. Responsibility. — Martin Sheen's Ben Parker — The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

When you can do the things that I can, but you don't… and then the bad things happen… they happen because of you. — Tom Holland's Peter Parker — Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Contemporary reinterpretations of Spider-Man, including Raimi's 2002 film as well as the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, depict Ben as saying this phrase to Peter in their last conversation together. Comic book writer Greg Pak opined that the motto was "one of the greatest single moral injunctions in all of American pop culture."[19][20]

See also


  1. ^ Appelgren, Camilla (April 9, 2019). "'With great power, comes great responsibility'". The Malta Independent. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  2. ^ Eskander, Veronica (April 26, 2019). "Is CRISPR really a gene-ius discovery?". The Daily Campus. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  3. ^ Otto, Parker. "Marvel Cinematic Universe evolves film itself". Northern Star Online. Dekalb, Illinois. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  4. ^ Gleason, Aaron (July 9, 2018). "Steve Ditko's Gift To All: 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility'". The Federalist. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  5. ^ "Sahih Bukhari and Muslim, hadith about "Everyone of you is a shepherd"". Encyclopedia of Translated Prophetic Hadiths. Retrieved December 9, 2021. original: "كلّكم راع و كلّكم مسئول عن رعيّته"
  6. ^ Comité de Salut Public (8 May 1793). "Plan de travail, de surveillance et de correspondance" (in French). In Collection générale des décrets rendus par la Convention Nationale, Vol. 9, edited by Convention Nationale. Paris: chez Baudouin. p. 72 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "Parliamentary Debates: Official Report : ... Session of the ... Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". April 2, 2019 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Rothman, Lily (January 20, 2015). "7 State of the Union Quotes That Sound Like Lines From Spider-Man". Time.
  9. ^ "South African Native Races (1906)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. February 28, 1906. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  10. ^ Seland, Darryl. "With great power comes great responsibility". Quality Magazine. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  11. ^ Morrison, Matt (March 21, 2019). "Arrow & Flash Both Just Referenced Spider-Man". Screen Rant. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  12. ^ "The Gift of a Common Tongue". International Churchill Society. September 6, 1943. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  13. ^ "TR Center - TR Quotes". www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  14. ^ "Clash of the press titans". BBC News. July 14, 2011. Retrieved March 18, 2021.
  15. ^ "Radio Address Summarizing the State of the Union Message". The American Presidency Project. University of California at Santa Barbara. January 6, 1945. Retrieved May 18, 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d Cronin, Brian (July 15, 2015). "When We First Met - When Did Uncle Ben First Say "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?"". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  17. ^ a b c d e f The Evolution of the Pithy Proverb: "With great power comes great responsibility." at Quote/Counterquote. Accessed April 11, 2013
  18. ^ Somin, Ilya (November 16, 2018). "What Constitutional Lawyers can Learn from Spiderman". Reason. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  19. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (November 12, 2018). "Thank you, Stan Lee, for She-Hulk, a superhero who is beautiful when she's angry". Washington Post. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  20. ^ George, Robert A. (November 13, 2018). "The woke world of Stan Lee: From the start, Marvel broke ground for inclusion and diversity". Daily News. Retrieved April 29, 2019.

Further reading

External links