I'm looking for a quote by Terry Pratchett. I'm pretty sure that the patrician was speaking about Leonard of Quirm and giving funds to Research and Development.

It was something along the lines of:

You pour loads and loads of money into [it], and get nothing in return, but then one day, one clever sod will say "by the way, if we make some huge mirrors on the coast and point them out to sea, those ships will burn like tinder."

Does anyone have an accurate rendition of the quote, and where it comes from?

1 Answer 1


You're referring to the quote below from Small Gods between the Great God Om (presently in the form of a small turtle) and his acolyte Brother Brutha (presently in the form of a slightly befuddled young man) on the relative worth of philosophers to society.

“The reason why Omnia hasn’t got much of a fleet any more,” said Om. “That’s why it’s always worth having a few philosophers around the place. One minute it’s all Is Truth Beauty and Is Beauty Truth, and Does a Falling Tree in the Forest Make a Sound if There’s No one There to Hear It, and then just when you think they’re going to start dribbling one of ’em says, Incidentally, putting a thirty-foot parabolic reflector on a high place to shoot the rays of the sun at an enemy’s ships would be a very interesting demonstration of optical principles,” he added. “Always coming up with amazing new ideas, the philosophers. The one before that was some intricate device that demonstrated the principles of leverage by incidentally hurling balls of burning sulphur two miles. Then before that, I think, there was some kind of an underwater thing that shot sharpened logs into the bottom of ships.”

Small Gods - Terry Pratchett

  • 3
    Can you add a bit more of the preceding text? "The reason why Omnia hasn’t got much of a fleet any more," feels incomplete, and it doesn't really flow in to the next line either.
    – muru
    Jan 26, 2017 at 6:37
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    I think it stands well enough on its own, without creating a spoiler. The context is given by the reference to philosophers, meaning that the entire passage is a humorous reference to Aristotle and Archimedes. Jan 26, 2017 at 8:06
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    @Muru - I included the first sentence because it identifies who's speaking.
    – Valorum
    Jan 26, 2017 at 9:15
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    @muru Could have. Didn't. Achieved the same effect!
    – Samthere
    Jan 26, 2017 at 10:12
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    @muru Valorum could have done any number of things in addition to including the quote. The answer contains the key information and the context will be inferred by the majority of those who care enough to read and interpret the whole text. I don't think we need to suggest that Valorum should put more effort into proofing the answer against what are largely non-issues. If you believe your suggested change to be valuable, then I recommend you perform the edit directly.
    – Samthere
    Jan 26, 2017 at 10:42

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