With great power comes great responsibility
"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.
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."
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:
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.
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. In 1943, now as Prime Minister, Churchill evoked the proverb once again, though less exactly: "The price of greatness is responsibility."
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.”
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."
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.
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):
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!
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. 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.
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). 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)
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."
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original: "كلّكم راع و كلّكم مسئول عن رعيّته"
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