Sunday Snippet: Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

“Great ambition is the passion of a great character. Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles which direct them.”

Continuing with my journeys through Europe, I have now departed from the Netherlands (last week’s Sunday Snippet featured a Vincent van Gogh quote) and am currently traveling through France. My language skills have certainly been tested, as I really haven’t used French since my high school days.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Napoleon Bonaparte is an infamous figure from world history, he was and continues to be quite the polarizing figure. He named himself the first Emperor of the French in 1804, going on to participate in what became known as the Napoleonic Wars to expand the First French Empire to cover much of Western Europe in the early 19th century. They were able to maintain a presence in such countries as Germany, Italy and Spain.

The great Napoleon quote from above extends upon a sentiment previously expressed by William Shakespeare in Hamlet. We were told then that there is nothing intrinsically good or bad in this world; it is only our perception that gives anything that attribute. Thinking makes it so. And such is the same when it comes to “great ambition.” A person who is inherently ambitious can do “very good” or “very bad” things. Ambition, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad.

“Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.”

It’s no secret that the first Emperor of France had a huge personality, a massive ego and unfaltering ambition. He truly believed that impossible is nothing. If you want something, no matter how outrageous it may sound, you can achieve it if you put in the effort. You may not agree with some of the steps Napoleon took during his political and military career, but you have to respect his refusal to give in.

Then again, he also said…

“Ability is nothing without opportunity.”

If Napoleon were born in a different time at a different place to a different family, he would not have become the man that he did. We can still define our own destinies, but we are arguably still at the mercy of our circumstance.

Or, you know, you could create your own opportunities.