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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The gods do not send young kings to people whom want to harm

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Phrases, sentences, proverbs, maxims Apophthegmata , were in antiquity an effective instrument for moral and civic education of citizens. So they are thousands of Latin and Greek sentences to be found in collections or never complete dictionaries. Besides the ancient world offers tons of material to build and permanently create attractive judgments at all times or to paraphrase or adapt the old they self.

See: http://en.antiquitatem.com/dicta-aurea-apophthegma-aphorism-axiom

There is also the possibility, often exploited, to award determined proverb to determined   ancient  author with prestige and authority in the knowledge that such "wise" never said  such sentence. But this is a practice denoting culture and knowledge of the classical world. Another thing is when someone, with cultural pretensions, cites a nonexistent sentence assuming that it existed, that is, knowing that it is apocryphal.

Note: The word “apocryphal” comes from ἀπόκρυφος apocryphos, and this from  ἀποκρύπτω ("apokrypto" , to put in a safe place, to go hide); ἀπό  Greek ( apo = away from, deprivation) and κρυπτός (kryptos, hidden ). Therefore it means concealed, hidden, secret. It also applies to a document of not known author or wrongly attributed to one author.

Among mortals, they are put into use, sometimes abuse, classic quotation teachers, especially those of Latin, Greek, Philosophy, History, Literature; in the past they were the priests in their sermons, rather than to strengthen and illustrate the doctrine to "amaze" the believer; ad terrendos paisanos (to frighten countrymen), said Fray Gerund of Campazas, on "macaronic Latin".

Also in the past time they profusely used sentences the "lay speakers" whose relay has been taken, although enormous distance, by now called the politicians, with uncertain results.

A few days ago, a political woman, president of a government of an important region of Spain and with major national responsibilities would strengthen an invective against the opposing parties, which have recently emerged on the Spanish political scene, with a classic quote from the nonexistent.

María Dolores de Cospedal dixit with aplomb: "There is a well-known Greek sentence saying that when the gods want to punish the people, they send them young kings".

She says it is a well-known Greek saying. To my knowledge, it does not appear in any Greek text. I do not know from where she has been able to take it. Now, if she  had paraphrased or imitated any existing sentence and would have removed the sharp affirmation of his Greek accuracy, she had become as an creative and  knowledgeable of the ancient world  political personality; o she seems rather ridiculous.

At most, the phrase of Cospedal can certainly remember some other existing, that I comment.

1. When the gods wish to punish us, they listen to our prayers

The phrase is not Greek but English.  Sir Robert Chiltern says the prhase; Chiltern is the star of "An Ideal Husband", the play that the great Irish writer Oscar Wilde premiered in 1899.

It seems that the sentence is pronounced also at some point in the film "Out of Africa", based on the autobiographical book “Out of Africa” of  Danish writer Isak Dinesen. So this phrase has become very famous widespread among film lovers.

Perhaps this phrase can been connected with ancient mythology, but I have it not founded out.
So some say that legend tells that  Apollo had promised the Sibyl of Delphi the gift to fulfill his greatest desire: to never die; so he suffered the horrors of an endless old age, until converted into a sort of mummified cricket, she ended as children's toy.

It can also enlighten the danger of asking the gods crazy  or exaggerated and out of  human reach things, the known episode of Midas, although it is true that in this case the gods do not want to punish the man, but thank them for their good behavior, but the mortal desire was excessive.

Midas, king of Phrygia, driven by an irrepressible desire for wealth, asks the gods in their greed, that he can turn into gold everything he touches. The wish is granted by Dionysus and he converts in bullion everything he touches, even with his mouth when he seeks food. He  had to ask again to the gods to release him from the gift given.

Ovid, among other, tells it in his Metamorphoses XI, 85-193; Higinius in his fables, 191; Philostratus the Elder: Pictures; I, 21: Midas (Μίδας).

So the phrase is not Greek or classical, but it results from a moralizing ancient myth with which it is intended to curb, among other evils, the greed.

2. He whom the gods love dies young

Some see the origin of this proverb in the premature death of Trophonius and Agamedes, the two mythological founders of the temple of Apollo at Delphi.

In Latin there is the phrase "Quem dii diligunt, adolescens moritur (He whom the gods love, dies young); it is a verse of Plautus, from his comedy  Bacchides (The Twins). V. 816-817, which in turn is taken from the Greek author of comedies  Menander (he died in 292 BC), The Double Deceiver.

Plautus, Bacchides, 816 y ss.


He whom the Gods favour  dies in youth, while
he is in his health, has his senses and judgment sound. This
person (pointing to Nicobulus), if any God had favoured
him, ought to have been dead more than ten years — aye,
more than twenty years ago. 'Tis for long, he has walked', a
nuisance, on the earth ; so devoid is he of either judgment or
sense. He is of as much value as a rotten mushroom is.

(Traducción Henry Thomas Riley, B.A. London, 1852)

Actus Quartus
Scaena septima. Nicobulus-Chrysalus

… Quem di diligunt
adulescens moritur, dum valet sentit sapit.
hunc si ullus deus amaret, plus annis decem,
plus iam viginti mortuom esse oportuit:
terrai odium ambulat, iam nil sapit
nec sentit, tantist quantist fungus putidus.

The conclusion which Chrisalus transmits to Nicobulus is that he clearly is not a favorite of the gods, because he is not dead yet ...

The work on Latin could be a mere translation or variant of the Greek  work, derived from Menander, judging by the wording of these verses, which appear in Estobeus, in his Anthology, 120, 8.

Menander, (115 K.-Th):

He whom the gods love dies young

ὂν θεοὶ φιλοῦσιν ἀποθνῄσκει νέος
(on Theoi filusin anothnesskei neos)

There are some variant of type "They whom the gods love are lead young"  and any more coarse  like "the gods prefer them young" from  which other irrelevant are formed like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and vulgarities of this style, etc.

3.: Whom gods wish to destroy, they first send mad

This is the more similar sentence of classic taste, no one can say that it appears so in any Greek author.
In Homer in Iliad IX, 492-93 I find any reference that may have some resemblance

  No—let the stupid prince, whom Jove deprives
  Of sense and justice, run where frenzy drives;

(translation by Pope, 1909)

It is often attributed to Euripides, but erroneously, then.

In the tragedy Antigone, of Sophocles, in verses 620-623,  it is said something similar:

For cunningly of old was the celebrated saying revealed: evil sometimes seems good
to a man whose mind a god leads to destruction.

An ancient Scholiast of these verses says:

When a god plans harm against a man, he first damages the mind of the man he is plotting against.

όταν  ό δαίμων άνδρΐ πορσύνῃ κακά,
τον νουν εβλαφε πρώτον ώ βουλεύεται.

August Nauck collects this couplet as one of the fragments of his Fragmenta Tragicorum Graecorum (Leipzig.Teubner 1889), namely exactly the number 455 of Adespota or anonymous and therefore without author:

The couplet is in the scholia to Sophocles, Antigone 620 and omitting the last two Greek words in Athenagoras, Supplicatio pro Christianis, Cap. 26, para .. 129.

Lycurgus of Athens (396 a. C.-323. C) attributes in his Oratio in Leocratem, section 92, the following sentence to "some of the ancient poets." The type of verse suggests that it is a tragedy.

[92] For the first step taken by the gods in the case of wicked men is to unhinge their reason; and personally I value as the utterance of an oracle these lines, composed by ancient poets and handed down to posterity1:

“When gods in anger seek a mortal's harm,
First they deprive him of his sanity,
And fashion of his mind a baser instrument,
That he may have no knowledge when he errs.

(English translation by J. O. Burtt, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1962.)

In connection with the award of the phrase to Euripides, we can trace the source of the error.

Athenagoras of Athens, the second century Christian philosopher, says without referring at all to the poet, in his pro Supplicatio Christianis, Cap. 26, para .. 129:

The devil when he purports any evil against man, first perverts his mind.

"!Όταν ὁ δαίμων ἀνδρὶ πορσύνῃ κακά,
τὸν νοῦν ἔβλαψε πρῶτον",

That is, Athenagoras has collected the couplet from the Scholiast of Sophocles excluding the last two words.

From Athenagoras they took the English classical philologists James Duport, born in Cambridge in 1606, and Joshua Barnes, who in 1694 prepared an edition of the works of Euripides for the University of Cambridge. In the index of this edition he includes and attributes as fragment of Euripides the phrase of Athenagoras, which he created as "Deus, quos  vult perdere, dementat prius",  summarizing the think of Euripides, who was saying:

"When the gods wish to cause harm to a man, first take away the will and the ability to reason or deliberation ".

But back to the Latin of ancient times, we can see that this sentence and its variant very similar with the same meaning  in Latin

Quem deus vult perdere,  prius dementat.

seem to be based on a judgment of Publius Syrus (85 BC - 43 to C..), Sententiae, 612, which says:

Whom Fortune wishes to destroy she first makes mad.

Stultum facit Fortuna quem vult perdere

Note: By Publius (85 BC-43 BC), only four fragments, three of one verse and one with 16, and a collection of their sentences, Sententiae, are preserved in alphabetical order. Only 700 “sententiae” are considered authentic.

The proverb turned out the classical world and it appears  on  the V century author Sanskrit Bhartṛhari or Denavagari

Nor do the gods appear in warrior's armour clad
to strike them down with sword and spear.
Those whom they would destroy
they first make mad.

A Sanskrit aphorism also expresses this idea:

"When a man is to be destroyed, his intelligence becomes self-destructive."

Vinash kale viparit buddhi

In modern and contemporary era there are numerous applications and variants of similar sentences. To quote an example:

Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Book IV, Chapter XVII, although with a slight change:

"Quos vult perdere Jupiter dementat prius”

Or Benjamin Franklin, in a letter of 1768 to his printer in London of his "On Civil War". He concludes the letter with:

"And is there not one wise and good man to be found in Britain, who can propose some conciliating measure that may prevent this terrible mischief? - I fear not one. For Quos Deus vult perdere, dementat prius!

In short, the authentic classic quotations, used in the right proportion, give prestige and authority; the consciously false quotations are not recommended but they may be a diversion; the false dating by ignorance only serves to highlight the "idem", best, the  "eadem”


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