better to die on your feet than live on your knees

Cf. 1936 D. IBARRURI speech 3 Sept Il vaut mieux mourir debout que de vivre à genoux! The saying is also attributed to the Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata (1879–1919).

1941 Charleston Gazette 25 June 6/2 The president puts it in another way at Cambridge when he says: ‘We would rather die on our feet that live on our knees’.

1955 Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) 18 Aug. 4/1 We face the fact that it demoralizes concepts that have perennially ruled the minds of free men. ‘It is better to die on one’s feet that live on one’s knees’ is no longer bravely proclaimed. In an atomic war people neither die on their feet nor live on their knees.

1993 Washington Post 7 March (online) Better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Yeah. But what about sitting around in a Designated Smoking Area? Is that living?

2007 Times Magazine 1 Sept. 90 Few sights induce such ambivalence in me as a bird in a cage. [They] may live up to 15 years in captivity, as opposed to three or four in the wild, a classic quality versus quantity dilemma... Better to die on your feet, surely, or, er, talons, or wings, I suppose, than live on your knees... If owls have knees.


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