With great power comes great responsibility

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"With great power there must also come great responsibility"—or simply "With great power comes great responsibility"—alternatively known as the Peter Parker principle,[1] is a proverb popularized by the Spider-Man comic books written by Stan Lee.[2][3][4]

Despite its popularization in the 20th century, the adage conceptually dates back to the fourth century BC in the allusion of the Sword of Damocles and later in 1793, during the French Revolution. The formulation has been (and continues to be) used by journalists, authors, and other writers; and in politics, monarchic rhetoric, law enforcement, public safety, and in various media.[5][6][7][8]


Screenshot of Wikimedia using the phrase for its guidelines for how to edit Wikipedia.

The origins of the phrase pre-date its use in Spider-Man comics.

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.")

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:[9]

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

Over two decades later, in 1817, British Member of Parliament William Lamb is recorded saying, "the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility."[10]

In 1885, in his memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant wrote "In positions of great responsibility every one should do his duty to the best of his ability."

In 1899, U.S. President William McKinley used the following in his State of the Union address: "Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities."[11]

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.[12][13][14] In 1943, now as Prime Minister, Churchill evoked the proverb once again, though less exactly: "The price of greatness is responsibility."[15]

Though not the exact phrase, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a 1908 letter that "responsibility should go with power."[16]

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.”[17]

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."[18]

In "Superman Comes to Earth", the first episode of the 1948 serial Superman, Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn) is told by his foster father, Eben Kent (Edward Cassidy), "Because of these great powers—your speed and strength, your x-ray vision and super-sensitive hearing—you have a great responsibility."

In Spider-Man[edit]

The thematic and often-quoted Spider-Man phrase "with great power comes great responsibility" is widely attributed to the character Uncle Ben.[2][3]

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 original):[2][3][4]

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![3]

While Uncle Ben incidentally had none but 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 his album, Spiderman: 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.[2][3] 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.[3]

In May, a few months after its first time being spoken by Ben in the comics, Sam Raimi’s live-action Spider-Man (2002) film was released, where it is used twice: first spoken by Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) himself and recalled at the end by Peter (Tobey Maguire).[3] This film is considered to be where the phrase especially gained pop-cultural significance.[3][2]

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."[19][20]

Later usage[edit]

Since becoming a household phrase from its use in Spider-Man, the phrase and general concept has regularly been evoked, rephrased, and parodied.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "With great power comes great responsibility". NEXT Conference. 2020-03-27. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  2. ^ a b c d e Cronin, Brian (15 July 2015). "When We First Met - When Did Uncle Ben First Say "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?"". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Evolution of the Pithy Proverb: "With great power comes great responsibility." at Quote/Counterquote. Accessed April 11, 2013
  4. ^ a b Somin, Ilya (16 November 2018). "What Constitutional Lawyers can Learn from Spiderman". Reason. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  5. ^ Appelgren, Camilla (9 April 2019). "'With great power, comes great responsibility'". The Malta Independent. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  6. ^ Eskander, Veronica (26 April 2019). "Is CRISPR really a gene-ius discovery?". The Daily Campus. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  7. ^ Otto, Parker. "Marvel Cinematic Universe evolves film itself". Northern Star Online. Dekalb, Illinois. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  8. ^ Gleason, Aaron (9 July 2018). "Steve Ditko's Gift To All: 'With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility'". The Federalist. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  9. ^ Comité de Salut Public (8 May 1793). "Plan de travail, de surveillance et de correspondance" (in French). In Collection générale des décrets rendus par la Convention Nationale, Vol. 9, edited by Convention Nationale. Paris: chez Baudouin. p. 72 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ "Parliamentary Debates: Official Report : ... Session of the ... Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". 2 April 2019 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ Rothman, Lily (20 January 2015). "7 State of the Union Quotes That Sound Like Lines From Spider-Man". Time.
  12. ^ "South African Native Races (1906)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). House of Commons. 28 February 1906. Retrieved 1 March 2021.
  13. ^ Seland, Darryl. "With great power comes great responsibility". Quality Magazine. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  14. ^ Morrison, Matt (21 March 2019). "Arrow & Flash Both Just Referenced Spider-Man". Screen Rant. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  15. ^ "The Gift of a Common Tongue". International Churchill Society. 1943-09-06. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  16. ^ "TR Center - TR Quotes". www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  17. ^ "Clash of the press titans". BBC News. 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  18. ^ "Radio Address Summarizing the State of the Union Message". The American Presidency Project. University of California at Santa Barbara. 1945-01-06. Retrieved 2021-05-18.
  19. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (12 November 2018). "Thank you, Stan Lee, for She-Hulk, a superhero who is beautiful when she's angry". Washington Post. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  20. ^ George, Robert A. (13 November 2018). "The woke world of Stan Lee: From the start, Marvel broke ground for inclusion and diversity". Daily News. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  21. ^ Ferreira, Rodrigo; Vardi, Moshe Y. (2021). "Deep Tech Ethics: An Approach to Teaching Social Justice in Computer Science": 1041–1047. doi:10.1145/3408877.3432449. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  22. ^ "Responsible Computer Science Challenge". Mozilla Foundation.
  23. ^ Network, Omidyar (October 11, 2018). "With Great Code Comes Great Responsibility: Announcing the Responsible Computer Science Challenge". Medium.
  24. ^ Slager, Kyle; Nunez, Ruby; Short, William; Doore, Stacy A. (2021). "Computing Ethics Starts on 'Day One'": 1282–1282. doi:10.1145/3408877.3439648. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  25. ^ Campbell, Alex; Hacker, Tech; PCWorld | (2016-11-07). "5 terminal commands every Linux newbie should know". PCWorld. Retrieved 2021-07-13.
  26. ^ "Noam Chomsky: The responsibility of privilege". Al Jazeera. 2013-01-12. Retrieved 2021-03-18.
  27. ^ "Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC" (PDF).
  28. ^ Masnick, Mike. "Supreme Court Quotes Spiderman's 'Great Power, Great Responsibility' Line In Rejecting Royalties On Expired Patent". Techdirt. Retrieved 23 December 2017.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]