“I’m going to be a captain for merit of war. You know. Three stars with the crossed swords and crown above. That’s me.” Ettore was twenty-three. . . . He was a legitimate hero who bored every one he met. Catherine could not stand him.
Ettore, an acquaintance of Frederic’s, rises up the military ranks through repeated acts of daring that result in injuries. Frederic seems able to separate and admire Ettore’s good quality of bravery from his annoying quality of being a braggart. Catherine and apparently many other people discount the bravery because of Ettore’s obnoxiousness. She says, “We have heroes too . . . but usually, darling, they’re much quieter.” To Catherine, true heroes do not brag. Catherine’s stereotypically British attitude toward bragging appears to be unimportant to the Italian-American Ettore.
He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent. He simply doesn’t mention them.
Here, Frederic refers to the old saying “The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.” Catherine disagrees with the saying’s composer. The saying suggests that the coward feels constantly fearful of and anticipating death while the brave simply ignores threats of death: He is brave because he remains unaware of the threat. To Catherine’s mind, a brave person does recognize danger. His true bravery lies in downplaying fear to push through the threat and also not dwelling on the threat afterward. Catherine embodies this definition of bravery, the quality that, apart from her beauty, Frederic loves most about her.
It is the body that is old. Sometimes I am afraid I will break off a finger as one breaks a stick of chalk. And the spirit is no older and not much wiser. . . . No, that is the great fallacy; the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful. . . . It is a very unattractive wisdom.
Frederic chats and plays pool with an acquaintance, Count Greffi, a ninety-four-year-old former diplomat. Count Greffi asserts that he is not growing wiser with age and that, in general, old men grow more careful, not wiser. When Frederic suggests that perhaps being careful is wisdom, Greffi acknowledges that he could be correct but dislikes the idea. Greffi embodies the type of man many admired at the time of the novel: vigorous, athletic, sophisticated, worldly, and fun-loving with a taste for alcohol.