Famous Last Words of History’s Greatest Figures

The last words of history’s greatest leaders offer glimpses into their final moments and provide insights into their thoughts, beliefs, and legacies. From profound reflections to poignant farewells, these parting words encapsulate the essence of their leadership and capture the spirit of their times.

Whether expressing courage, wisdom, or vulnerability, the last words of these iconic figures, such as Julius Caesar, George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, or Winston Churchill, serve as powerful reminders of their enduring influence. Examining these final utterances allows us to reflect on the achievements, ideals, and aspirations of these leaders and contemplate the profound impact they left on the world.

Here are a few examples of reported last words uttered by some of history’s greatest figures:

Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790): “A dying man can do nothing easy.”

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, an American polymath and Founding Father, was a prominent figure in the 18th century. Known for his diverse interests and achievements, Franklin made significant contributions as a statesman, writer, scientist, inventor, and diplomat. His intellectual curiosity and innovative thinking continue to inspire and influence generations.

His last word were: “A dying man can do nothing easy.” This statement reflects Franklin’s understanding of the challenges and difficulties faced in the face of mortality. As one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Franklin’s wisdom and insights continue to resonate with individuals seeking to navigate life’s complexities and contemplate the inevitability of death.

Diogenes (c. 412 – 323 BC): “If I lack awareness, then why should I care what happens to me when I am dead?”

Diogenes (1873) by French painter Jules Bastien-Lepage

Diogenes of Sinope (c. 404 – c. 323 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher known for his unconventional and eccentric lifestyle. He was one of the founders of the philosophical school of Cynicism. He is said to have embraced a minimalist and ascetic lifestyle, rejecting material possessions and societal norms. He sought to live in accordance with nature and advocated for a simple and self-sufficient existence. Diogenes is famously remembered for his philosophical teachings, witty sayings, and his unapologetic and often provocative behavior, such as living in a barrel and openly criticizing the customs and values of his time.

The above explains why he uttered the following just before his death: “If I lack awareness, then why I should care what happens to me when I am dead?” The statement reflects Diogenes’ philosophical perspective on death and the afterlife. As a proponent of Cynicism, Diogenes emphasized living in the present moment and focusing on the here and now rather than being preoccupied with concerns about what happens after death.

John Adams (1735 – 1826): “Thomas Jefferson survives.”

John Adams

John Adams

John Adams, the second President of the United States, is known to have uttered the words, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” Adams spoke these words on July 4, 1826, which coincidentally was the same day that his political rival and fellow Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, passed away.

The statement has been interpreted as a reflection of Adams’ awareness of the historical significance of their deaths occurring on the same day, as well as a recognition of Jefferson’s enduring impact and legacy.

Despite their political differences, Adams and Jefferson shared a complicated and profound friendship that persisted throughout their lives, making Adams’ remark a poignant acknowledgment of their intertwined destinies.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527): “I am no longer afraid of poverty or frightened of death. I live entirely through them.”

Philosophers from the Renaissance Era

Niccolò Machiavelli’s most famous work is “The Prince”

This last statement of the Italian Renaissance political philosopher and writer reflects his outlook on life and his ability to find strength and purpose even in challenging circumstances.

Machiavelli’s works, such as “The Prince” and “Discourses on Livy,” explored political power and the pragmatic strategies required for effective governance.

His last words convey a sense of resilience and a willingness to confront adversity head-on, suggesting that he found meaning and fulfillment in his intellectual pursuits, transcending the fear of material loss or mortality.

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Archimedes (287 – 212 BC): “Do not disturb my circles!”

Ancient Greek figures

“Archimedes Thoughtful” by Domenico Fetti (1620)

The great ancient Greek mathematician and inventor is said to have uttered those words just before a Roman soldier struck him down. The incident occurred during the Siege of Syracuse.

According to historical accounts, Archimedes was deeply engrossed in studying mathematical diagrams and geometric figures when the city came under attack. As a Roman soldier approached him, Archimedes responded with annoyance, requesting not to disturb his intricate circles.

This phrase has become a symbolic representation of Archimedes’ unwavering dedication to his intellectual pursuits and his commitment to solving mathematical problems, even in the midst of chaos and conflict.

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Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519):  “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”

Famous painters

Presumed self-portrait of Leonardo (c. 1510) at the Royal Library of Turin, Italy.

While the exact context and authenticity of these last words of the Italian polymath are debated, it reflects da Vinci’s relentless pursuit of perfection and his self-critical nature. As a highly accomplished artist, inventor, and scientist, da Vinci held himself to incredibly high standards and constantly sought to improve his work. This introspective statement showcases his dedication to excellence and his relentless drive to push the boundaries of his artistic and scientific endeavors.

Socrates (c. 469 – 399 BC): “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”

According to ancient Greek philosopher Plato, renowned philosopher Socrates spoke those words just before drinking the poisonous hemlock as part of his execution by the Athenian state.

The mention of owing a rooster to Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, is believed to signify Socrates’ gratitude for the release from the suffering of his mortal body and the hope for a peaceful afterlife. This quote showcases Socrates’ philosophical mindset even in the face of death, reflecting his belief in the continuity of existence beyond the physical realm.

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662): “May God never abandon me.”

Blaise Pascal (19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662)

The last words of this French mathematician and philosopher reflects his deep religious faith and his reliance on God’s presence and guidance in his life.

Blaise Pascal’s works, including his influential book “Pensées,” explore themes of theology and the human experience of faith.

In his final moments, Pascal expressed his desire for divine support and assurance, emphasizing the significance of his religious beliefs.

George Washington (1732 – 1797): “Tis well”

George Washington

In George Washington’s final conversations with his secretary, Tobias Lear, he discussed his burial arrangements. He emphasized the importance of being buried properly and expressed concerns about being interred too soon.

The Founding Father then instructed Lear to ensure that his body would not be placed in the vault until at least three days after his death. Seeking reassurance, he asked Lear if he understood, to which Lear confirmed his understanding. With a sense of satisfaction, Washington uttered his last words, “Tis well.”

Frederick the Great (1712 – 1786): “I am tired of ruling over slaves.”

Frederick the Great was a truly brilliant military leader who turned Prussia into a mighty power and force for good in Europe

Although very much disputed by historians, these last words of Frederick the Great in the nutshell expresses the European monarch’s frustration with the limitations imposed by his absolutist rule and the lack of freedom experienced by his subjects.

Reigning from 1740 to 1786, Frederick the Great was known for his enlightened and progressive policies, including promoting education, religious tolerance, and economic reforms.

The statement can therefore be interpreted as the King of Prussia’s desire for a more enlightened and liberated society, where individuals would have greater personal freedoms and opportunities. Some scholars go further to say that the statement encapsulates Frederick’s longing for a more egalitarian and just system of governance, highlighting his dissatisfaction with the traditional monarchical power structure.

Louis XVI (1754 – 1792): “Gentlemen, I am innocent of everything of which I am accused. I hope my blood may cement the good fortune of the French.”

King Louis XVI in all his opulence and grandeur. Portrait by French painter Antoine-François Callet, 1779

Louis XVI, the last King of France before the French Revolution, is believed to have uttered those words during his trial and impending execution. They reflect his assertion of innocence in the face of the accusations leveled against him by the revolutionary forces. The latter part of the statement expresses a hope that his sacrifice, symbolized by his blood, would contribute to the well-being and prosperity of the French nation. Basically, the words capture Louis XVI’s final plea and his desire for the betterment of his country, even in the face of his own imminent demise.

Execution of Louis XVI in the Place de la Révolution.

Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1955): “I’m bored with it all.”

After a long and illustrious career, Churchill expressed a weariness with the demands and responsibilities of political life. The statement reflects Churchill’s human side, acknowledging the toll that public service can take on an individual.

Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC): “You too, Brutus”

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar, the Roman statesman, military general, and dictator, is famously believed to have uttered the words, “You too, Brutus?” or “Et tu, Brute?” These words are attributed to the moment when Caesar realized that his trusted ally and friend, Marcus Brutus, was among the conspirators involved in his assassination in 44 BC.

The phrase signifies the Roman dictator’s shock and betrayal upon recognizing that even someone close to him had turned against him. It’s no wonder this quote has since become synonymous with the theme of betrayal and has been immortalized in literature and popular culture as a poignant expression of deceit and treachery.

The first wound Caesar sustained was to the neck. It was delivered by Servilius Casca, and soon, Caesar found himself under attack by a mob of mutinous senators. The dictator was stabbed across his entire body, from his face, back, and thighs. He was stabbed a total of 23 times.

John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963): “No, you certainly can’t.”

JFK assassination

John F. Kennedy

These words form part of the response given by 35th US President John F. Kennedy given to fellow car passenger, Nellie Connally, the wife of Texas Governor John Connally (1917 – 1993).

JFK and his wife were riding with the Connallys in the Presidential limousine in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. During the ride, the First Lady of Texas told JFK, “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President”, to which JFK responded “No, you certainly can’t.”

Less than a minute later, shots were fired at the Presidential limousine, resulting in both JFK and Governor Connally sustaining very serious wounds. JFK was immediately rushed to Parkland Hospital in Dallas for emergency treatment. About 30 minutes after the shooting, around 1:00 p.m., the president was pronounced dead. He was 46 years old.

Luckily for the Connallys, Governor Connally survived and even went on to finish his term as governor of Texas. He would later serve as the Secretary of the Treasury (from 1971 to 1972) in the Nixon administration.

Scipio Africanus (236 BC – 183 BC): “Ungrateful Fatherland, you wont even have my bones.”

Scipio Africanus

In his last moments, Scipio Africanus, the Roman general and statesman, is believed to have expressed the words, “Ungrateful Fatherland, you not even have my bones.”

After achieving great military victories and expanding Roman influence, the Roman general faced accusations of corruption and embezzlement, leading to his disillusionment with his homeland.

Scipio Africanus’ last words express his frustration and disappointment with the ingratitude and mistreatment he felt he received from Rome. They reflect the complex relationship between leaders and their nations, highlighting the sometimes bitter realities of public service and the sacrifices made in service of one’s country.

Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC): “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”

Cicero, the renowned Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator, is attributed with the quote, “There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” These words were spoken by Cicero in response to a soldier sent to assassinate him during the political unrest of the late Roman Republic. The quote reflects Cicero’s defiance in the face of impending death, as well as his insistence on a proper and honorable execution. It showcases his commitment to dignity and integrity, even in his final moments, as he confronted the unjust act of his assassination.

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821): “France…The army… The head of the army… Josephine.”

Napoleon

Napoleon became a lieutenant colonel at the age of 22.

Undoubtedly one of history’s greatest military commanders, Napoleon Bonaparte rose to prominence as a military genius, winning several decisive victories that expanded French territories and transformed Europe’s political landscape. His victories at Austerlitz, Jena, and Wagram solidified his reputation as a formidable military leader.

His last words were equally as remarkable as his military accomplishments. Before he took his last breath, the general is believed to have said, “France… The army… The head of the army… Josephine.” The words highlight the French general’s priorities and affections that defined his life.

“France” reflects his deep sense of patriotism and devotion to his country, while “The army” signifies his reliance on the military as the instrument of his power and ambition. “The head of the army” emphasizes his position as the supreme commander and leader.

Lastly, “Josephine” refers to his beloved first wife, Empress Joséphine, indicating the importance of their relationship to him.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778): “Men are wicked, yes, but man is good.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

This quote captures the Swiss philosopher and writer’s belief in the inherent goodness of human nature, despite the corrupting influences of society. Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that society, with its structures and institutions, tends to corrupt individuals and lead to inequality and injustice. However, he maintained that at the core, human beings possess a natural inclination towards empathy, compassion, and cooperation.

His last words communicate optimism in the potential for individuals to overcome their flawed societal conditioning and rediscover their inherent goodness. They highlight his philosophical views on the nature of humanity and the possibilities for moral progress and social harmony.

Avicenna (980 – 1037): “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length.”

Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, was one of the greatest thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age

Avicenna, also known as Ibn Sina, was best known for his contributions to philosophy, medicine, and Islamic scholarship. For example, his most renowned work is the “Canon of Medicine” (Al-Qanun fi’l-Tibb), a comprehensive medical encyclopedia that synthesized existing medical knowledge of his time and introduced new concepts. It became a standard medical text in both the Islamic world and Europe for centuries, covering a wide range of medical topics and serving as a reference for medical education.

The Persian polymath passed away in 1037, having authored more than 440 works, of which about 235 survive to this day. His last words were “I prefer a short life with width to a narrow one with length.” The words were in line with Avicenna’s perspective. The Persian philosopher advocated living a life of value and not an unfulfilled one.

Avicenna believed in the importance of intellectual pursuits, spiritual growth, and the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, his last words encourage his followers to thrive for a life rich in experiences, wisdom, and depth, rather than merely focusing on the length of one’s existence.

Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901): “Bertie.”

Queen Victoria's Death

England’s second-longest reigning female monarch Victoria is reputed to have uttered the word, “Bertie.” This short phrase is associated with her relationship with her eldest son, Prince Albert Edward, who was known by his family as “Bertie.” It reflects the intimate and affectionate manner in which she addressed her son, who later succeeded her as King Edward VII (reign: 1901 – 1910). The use of this familiar nickname highlights the personal bond between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert Edward, offering a glimpse into the more private side of their relationship within the royal family.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900): “This wallpaper is dreadful, one of us will have to go.”

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde, the renowned Irish writer and playwright, is often attributed with the quote, “This wallpaper is dreadful, one of us will have to go” as his last words. This humorous remark reflects Wilde’s wit and penchant for clever wordplay. It highlights his satirical and often ironic observations about society and everyday life.

While the exact context of the quote is unclear, it is typically interpreted as a playful commentary on the unappealing nature of the wallpaper and the humorous suggestion that either the wallpaper or the person making the remark should be removed from the room.

Otto Von Bismarck (1815 – 1898): “House.”

Otto von Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck, the influential German statesman, is attributed with the single word, “House.” The context and significance of this word are not widely documented, making it difficult to provide a definitive interpretation.

However, it is worth noting that the Chancellor of Germany was known for his strong leadership and political maneuvering, particularly in unifying Germany under Prussian leadership. It is possible that the word “House” was a reference to his vision of a strong and united German state, symbolizing his commitment to maintaining the integrity and stability of the nation. Without further context, the exact meaning and significance of the word remain open to interpretation.

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883): “Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!”

Karl Marx was one of the most influential thinkers of the modern era.

Perhaps throughout his life, German-born philosopher and political theorist Karl Marx had a strong passion for intellectual engagement. His last words can be interpreted as him showing a heavy disdain for trivializing one’s life or ideas through final words. They reflect his belief that one’s impact should be measured by the depth and substance of their contributions rather than a few parting words.

Marx’s emphasis on the importance of active participation and ongoing dialogue aligns with his commitment to advocating for social change and his conviction in the power of ideas to shape society.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): “Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est.”

Beethoven's nine symphonies

German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Ludwig van Beethoven, the renowned composer, is often associated with the Latin phrase, “Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est,” which translates to “Applaud, my friends, the comedy is over.”

However, it is important to note that there is debate among scholars regarding the authenticity of this quote as Beethoven’s last words. While it is a powerful and poetic expression, there is limited historical evidence to confirm that Beethoven actually uttered these words.

Nonetheless, the quote has become synonymous with Beethoven’s legacy, representing the idea that his life and artistic journey have come to an end, inviting the audience to recognize and appreciate his accomplishments.

Charlemagne (c. 742 – 814): “Lord, into Thy hands, I commend my spirit.”

Charlemagne’s last words reflect the significance of religious devotion in his life and his desire to place his fate in the hands of a higher power as he transitioned from earthly life to the realm beyond. Charlemagne, by Albrecht Dürer, 1511–1513, Germanisches Nationalmuseum

Charlemagne was a medieval ruler who became the first Holy Roman Emperor. He is attributed with the phrase, “Lord, into Thy hands, I commend my spirit” for his last words. They communicate Charlemagne’s deep religious faith and his expression of surrender to the divine will at the time of his death.

Some historians have cited how the medieval ruler’s words echo the words of Jesus Christ on the cross as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Basically, Charlemagne’s utterance of this phrase suggests his trust in God and his belief in the afterlife.

Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011): “Oh wow. Oh wow, oh wow.”

Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and former CEO, passed away on 5 October 2011. The visionary businessman and tech guru lost his battle with a rare pancreatic cancer. He was 56 years old. According to Jobs’ sister, the billionaire’s last words were: “Oh wow. Oh wow, oh wow.” Jobs was known for doing everything he could, including sacrificing his personal and family life, to establish Apple as the world’s leading tech company.

Some commentators view Jobs’ last words as a reflection of awe or wonder, suggesting that Jobs may have experienced a profound realization or moment of transcendence.

On the other hand, the words can be considered as an expression of surprise, indicating that Job may have witnessed something unexpected or encountered a revelation.

Ultimately, the true meaning behind these words remains a personal and enigmatic aspect of Jobs’ final moments.

Henry VIII of England (1491 – 1547): “Monks, monks, monks”

Henry VIII

It is commonly held that “Monks, monks, monks” were the last words of Henry VIII, the Tudor monarch of England who reigned from 1509 to 1547.

The context and precise meaning of this phrase are not widely recorded, making it difficult to provide a definitive interpretation.

However, it is worth noting that Henry VIII was known for his tumultuous relationship with the Catholic Church and his efforts to break away from papal authority, leading to the English Reformation.

The repetition of the word “monks” may reflect his preoccupation or dissatisfaction with the monastic orders and their influence on religious and political affairs in England.

Marie Antoinette (1755 – 1793): “Pardon me sir. I did not mean to do it.”

Marie Antoinette

Just before Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France during the French Revolution, was executed on October 16, 1793, she is said to have uttered the phrase, “Pardon me sir. I did not mean to do it.” (French: “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès”). These words are often attributed to her as a response to accidentally stepping on the foot of her executioner as she climbed the scaffold to be guillotined.

While the exact veracity of this quote is debated among historians, it has become a popular part of Marie Antoinette’s myth and legacy. It symbolizes her purported grace, humility, and acknowledgement of her unintentional action, even in the face of her imminent execution.

Che Guevara (1928 – 1967): “Shoot, coward. You are only going to kill a man.”

Ernesto Che Guevara life and death

These words by Argentine Marxist Che Guevara were purportedly his defiant response to his captors shortly before his execution. They tell us what was going in the revolutionary leader’s mind as he stared death in the face. All throughout his life, he had an unwavering courage and commitment to revolutionary ideals, even in the face of impending death. His last words sum up his willingness to sacrifice his life for the cause he believed in, emphasizing his resolve and refusal to be intimidated.

Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913):“Give my love to the churches. Tell the women to stand firm. I go to prepare a place for you.”

African American civil rights activists

Harriet Tubman is best known for her remarkable efforts as an abolitionist, humanitarian, and conductor of the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery herself, Tubman escaped bondage and risked her own safety to help lead dozens of enslaved individuals to freedom in the North, earning her the nickname “Moses” among those she rescued.

In her final moments, Tubman uttered the words: “Give my love to the churches. Tell the women to stand firm. I go to prepare a place for you.” The words express Tubman’s deep religious faith and her dedication to the causes she fought for, particularly the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. They convey her enduring love and support for the church community and her call for women to continue the struggle for justice and equality. The phrase “I go to prepare a place for you” can be interpreted as a metaphorical reference to Tubman’s belief in a higher purpose and the hope of creating a better world for future generations.

Tubman’s legacy as a symbol of courage, resilience, and the fight for equality remains influential to this day.

Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796): “Water”

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia, is often associated with the quote, “Water,” as her reported last word. According to historical accounts, the Russian Empress seriously ill and became delirious in her final moments. It is said that she uttered the word “Water” while requesting a drink before passing away.

The exact meaning or significance of this utterance is uncertain and subject to interpretation. It could be seen as a simple request for hydration in her state of illness, or it may carry deeper symbolic or metaphorical connotations. Nevertheless, the word “Water” has become intertwined with Catherine the Great’s final moments, adding to the intrigue surrounding her life and legacy.

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William Wallace (c. 1270 – 1305): “I could not be a traitor to Edward for I was never his subject”

Wallace’s last words have come to symbolize his unwavering loyalty to Scotland and his role as a national hero in Scottish history. Image: William Wallace Statue

William Wallace, the Scottish knight and leader of the Scottish resistance against English rule, is associated with the quote, “I could not be a traitor to Edward for I was never his subject.” This statement reflects Wallace’s defiance and his rejection of the notion that he could betray King Edward I of England. It emphasizes his commitment to the cause of Scottish independence and his refusal to accept English authority over Scotland. The quote signifies Wallace’s belief in the right of self-determination and his willingness to fight for the freedom of his homeland.

Augustus Caesar (63 BC – 14 AD): “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”

Roman Emperors

First Roman emperor Augustus

Publicly, Rome’s first emperor Augustus parting words were “I found Rome a city of clay but left it a city of marble.” However, in his final moments, a time when he was surrounded by family and friends, it is said that he uttered these profound words: “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”

The quote is often interpreted as Augustus reflecting on his life and reign, seeking validation for his achievements and hoping to be remembered positively. It conveys a desire for recognition and appreciation for his leadership and contributions to Rome. The quote has become emblematic of Augustus’s theatrical approach to politics and his understanding of the importance of public perception. It reflects his legacy as a shrewd ruler who sought to leave a lasting impression on history.

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Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955): “I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share; it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”

Albert Einstein

These last words of the German-born physicist and Nobel laureate signify his sense of fulfillment in his contributions to science and society, and his readiness to gracefully embrace the inevitable. The quote has come to symbolize Einstein’s pragmatism, self-awareness, and philosophical outlook on life and death.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948): “Oh God!”

Born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on October 2, 1869, Gandhi played a significant role in India’s independence in 1947 and left a lasting impact on the world, earning him the title “Mahatma,” meaning “great soul.”

India’s national hero and independence fighter was no doubt in shock and pain in his final moments. It was such a tragic happening considering the fact that Gandhi was one who stayed true to nonviolent civil disobedience and peaceful protests. After being shot three times at close range by an ultra-Hindu nationalist, Gandhi utter the short phrase: “Oh God!”

The assassination took place during Gandhi’s evening prayer meeting in New Delhi, India. Despite immediate medical attention, Gandhi succumbed to his injuries and passed away shortly after the shooting. His death shocked the nation and the world, leading to widespread mourning and an outpouring of grief.

Gandhi’s last words serve as a poignant reminder of the violence and sacrifice that he endured in his lifelong pursuit of freedom and justice. The phrase has become emblematic of the tragic end to Gandhi’s life and his enduring legacy as a champion of peace and nonviolent resistance.

Constantine XI of the Byzantine Empire (1405 – 1453): “The city is fallen, and I am still alive.”

Constantine XI of the Byzantine Empire (reign: 1449 – 1453). He was the last Roman (Byzantine) emperor.

Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Empire on May 29, 1453, after a siege that lasted for approximately two months. The Ottoman forces, led by Sultan Mehmed II, employed various military strategies and advanced weaponry to breach the city’s defenses.

Constantine XI, the Byzantine Emperor, fought alongside his troops until the end. According to historical accounts, he was last seen near the breached walls, bravely confronting the advancing Ottoman soldiers. It is believed that he perished in the battle, although the exact circumstances of his death remain uncertain. The Emperor’s last words were: “The city is fallen, and I am still alive.”

They reflect his acknowledgment of the city’s defeat and his realization that his reign had come to an end. It signifies the heavy burden he carried as the ruler of a crumbling empire and his determination to face the situation with resilience and courage.

Nicholas II of Russia (1868 – 1917): “You know not what you do.”

About a year after abdicating the Russian throne, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed on July 17, 1918. His abdication and assassination marked the end of the Romanov dynasty’s rule in Russia and paved the way for a tumultuous period of political and social transformation.

Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia, was assassinated along with his family on July 17, 1918, during the Russian Revolution. Following the abdication of the Romanov dynasty in 1917, Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and their five children were placed under house arrest by the Bolshevik government.

The emperor’s last words reflect his realization of the dire consequences and uncertainties that lay ahead for Russia as a result of the revolution. It signifies his awareness of the gravity of the situation and the potential ramifications of his abdication.

Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 1431): “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!”

Despite facing a gruesome death, French heroine Joan of Arc remained steadfast in her devotion to God and requested that the cross be held high so she could focus on it as she endured the flames.

The date was May 30, 1431 and a teenage French girl was being led to the stake to be burnt. Her name was Joan of Arc. After a lengthy trial, she had been found guilty of the charges of heresy and witchcraft by an ecclesiastical court that was undoubtedly under the influence of the English and their Burgundian allies.

On the day of her execution, she was taken to the marketplace in Rouen, France, where a large crowd had gathered to witness the event. Joan was tied to a tall pillar and set on fire.

Accounts of her execution describe Joan of Arc maintaining her composure and calling out for Jesus as the flames engulfed her. In her final moment, she is believed to have said, “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames!”

The words convey Joan’s deep faith and unwavering conviction in her mission. Those traits she exhibited made her an enduring symbol of bravery and conviction. Her story has inspired countless people over the centuries, and she is recognized as a national heroine in France and a saint in the Catholic Church.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863 – 1914): “It is nothing, it is nothing.”

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which took place during a time of political tensions and rivalries in Europe, ultimately led to the outbreak of World War I and had a significant impact on world history.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The assassination is widely regarded as the event that sparked the outbreak of World War I. If taken literally, his last words, “It is nothing, it is nothing”, do a poor a job to convey the calamitous fate that awaited Europe and the rest of the world in the four years that followed after his death.

Despite being wounded, Franz Ferdinand initially downplayed the severity of his injuries, possibly underestimating the extent of the damage. However, his wounds proved to be fatal, and he passed away shortly afterward.

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934): “I don’t want it.”

Marie Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934)

Marie Curie, the renowned scientist, died on July 4, 1934, at the age of 66. Her death was primarily attributed to complications related to her long-term exposure to radiation.

In her final moments, her physician had wanted to ease her pain with pain killers; however, the two-time Nobel Prize winner responded in a very weak voice, “I don’t want it.” Those words are testament to the renowned scientist’s indomitable spirit, which shone through, defying the fragility of her body.

Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603): “All my possession for a moment of time.”

Queen Elizabeth I reigned over England for 44 years, a period known as the Elizabethan era, which was marked by cultural, economic, and political achievements. Despite the pressures and demands of her role, she remained steadfast and devoted to her kingdom.

In the final days of one of England’s most distinguished monarchs, Queen Elizabeth reportedly refused to rest and insisted on conducting her duties from her bed. However, as her condition worsened, she became increasingly weak and unable to eat. On the evening of March 23, 1603, she fell into a deep sleep and did not wake up again. Her last words were: “All my possession for a moment of time.”

As a ruler (for 44 years), Elizabeth faced numerous challenges and responsibilities, and she was well aware of the limitations and transience of human existence. The quote encapsulates her recognition that no wealth or material possessions can match the value of time itself.

Genghis Khan (c. 1162 – 1227): “Let not my end disarm you, and on no account weep or keen for me, lest the enemy be warned of my death.”

Regarded as one of the greatest conquerors of all time, Genghis Khan is best known for founding the Mongol Empire. As first khagan, the warlord led his army to conquer large parts of Central Asia and China.

According to historical accounts, Genghis Khan fell from his horse during a military campaign in China. Some reports suggest that he suffered from severe internal injuries as a result of the fall, while others propose that he may have been injured in battle prior to his death. It is also speculated that he may have contracted an illness or infection during this time.

The Mongol warlord’s health rapidly deteriorated after the incident, and he passed away shortly afterward. In accordance with Mongol traditions, his death was kept a secret from his troops until his funeral procession was completed.

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His last words underscore his leadership style and his general concern for the continuity of the Mongol Empire. He urged his followers not to mourn his death openly, as he believed it could potentially weaken their resolve and embolden their enemies. Instead, he wanted them to remain steadfast, resolute, and focused on the continuation of their conquests.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886): “I must go in, for the fog is rising.”

During her final days, Dickinson was mostly bedridden and under the care of her family. She received limited medical treatment, as the available medical knowledge and treatments for kidney diseases were limited during that time.

In the years leading up to her death, Emily Dickinson’s health gradually declined. She experienced various symptoms associated with her condition, including fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. As her health deteriorated, she became increasingly confined to her home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The renowned American poet, died on May 15, 1886, at the age of 55. The exact cause of her death is believed to be Bright’s disease, a kidney disorder also known as nephritis.

Her last words capture her deep connection with nature and her ability to find profound meaning in simple observations. It captures her keen awareness of the changing world around her and her instinctive understanding of the cycles of life.

As a poet known for her introspective and contemplative verses, Dickinson often explored themes of mortality and the transient nature of existence. The quote can be interpreted as a metaphorical expression of her acceptance of the approaching end of her own life, likening it to the rising fog that envelops and obscures the world.

Conclusion

It’s important to approach reported last words with caution, as the exact phrasing and authenticity can be difficult to verify. Different sources may present variations, and the context in which these words were spoken can influence their meaning.

Moreover, the legitimacy of the last words of leaders from the ancient world are still today debated by many historians. It’s a well-known fact that many important figures who are missing did not have their final words recorded.

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