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I heard in a history lecture (I don't know who the lecturer was) the following quote about Napoleon:

Some say he's God (an angel?), some say he's the Devil, but everyone agrees he isn't mortal.

The above is not necessarily the exact words of the quote – it might have been simpler, e.g. "He was either God or the Devil, but definitely not mortal", or it might have used the word "man" instead of mortal. The exact words are immaterial, but the point was that it was discussing Napoleon's goodness and greatness – he was either very good or very bad but he was certainly exceptionally great. The contrast was made using the terminology of humans and divine beings.

I am wondering if anyone has heard such a quote before. I have not been able to find it written anywhere. Does anyone have a historical source for this?

(It is of course possible that the lecturer made it up).

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    Unless you can provide an exact quote, I'd say this is unanswerable. I could find both quotes depicting him as a hellspawn and demigod, but none implying Napoleon is immortal. On another hand, you might find this article interesting. It discusses the representation of Bonaparte in British Romantic literature, and some ideas there are along the lines of this phrase. – Danila Smirnov May 8 '18 at 2:51
  • @AaronBrick Now that I think about it, it might have been "angel" instead if God. – Alex May 8 '18 at 4:13
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    Did you read the quote in English? Or are you translating it? More generally, in which context did you hear the sentence? – Taladris May 8 '18 at 10:52
  • @Taladris I didn't read it anywhere. I heard it in a history lecture. I'm looking for a written source. – Alex May 8 '18 at 11:10
  • Maybe you should mention what lecture it was from then, as this seems unlikely to be a verbatim quote of any written source. – Semaphore May 8 '18 at 12:04
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Napoleon is widely described as either a demigod or a demon / devil, though, as Danila Smirnov mentioned, not immortal. Might you be misremembering this, or perhaps something like it:

Napoleon . . . [is] sometimes cast as a demigod, sometimes as a demon, practically always seen as a figure considerably larger than life. Probably no other mortal has received so much attention from historians and biographers, critics and enthusiasts.

Herold, J. Christopher. The Horizon Book of the Age of Napoleon. Harmony, 1983.

The "no other mortal" phrase that followed could well have caused a confusion in the memory.


On the note of angels; it's a different Napoleon, but Samuel Schmucker offered this formulation:

Louis Napoleon is neither on the one hand an idiot or a demon; nor is he on the other a demigod or an angel.

The Public and Private History of Napoleon the Third, 1858

  • No, the point was that everyone related to him with a sense of greatness. If you liked him he was an angel/God, if you hated him he was the Devil but all would agree that he was no regular human. – Alex May 8 '18 at 5:28
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    @Alex Obviously I understand the underlying meaning, that's why I suggested "figure larger than life" to be the answer - does it not mean precisely "he was no regular human"?. – Semaphore May 8 '18 at 5:59
  • Okay, perhaps the basic meaning is the same. I was thinking of a stronger statement, though. – Alex May 8 '18 at 6:08
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    @Alex Well then, given you're looking for hearsay with no evidence it even came from print, this is likely to be an unanswerable case of No True Scotsman. – Semaphore May 8 '18 at 7:40
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    @Alex My point is the quote might not have any real source at all, being merely the lecturer's expression in the moment. Or it might be based on something real, but your memory is apparently inaccurate, else a straightforward search would have found it. As such you should supply as much information as you can of where and how you heard it - you said a lecture, which? Otherwise it's just a wild goose chase and, yes, No True Scotsman: you have gone from "something expressing this idea" to "...but more explicit". – Semaphore May 8 '18 at 14:10

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