Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find below an ancient phrase in one language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.

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quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius


Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad

This phrase appears to date back only a few centuries, directly, though very similar phrases did appear in ancient writing also. From wiki:

The saying Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad, sometimes given in Latin as Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat (literally: Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first deprives of reason) or Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius (literally: Those whom Jupiter wishes to destroy, he first deprives of reason) has been used in English literature since at least the 17th century. Although sometimes falsely attributed to Euripides, the phrase does have classical Greek antecedents.

The phrase “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad” first appears in exactly this form in the Reverend William Anderson Scott‘s book Daniel, a Model for Young Men (1854) and it later appears in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem “The Masque of Pandora” (1875).

An early version of the phrase Whom the gods would destroy… appears in verses 620–623 of Sophocles’ play Antigone: “τὸ κακὸν δοκεῖν ποτ᾽ ἐσθλὸν τῷδ᾽ ἔμμεν’ ὅτῳ φρένας θεὸς ἄγει πρὸς ἄταν”; translated, “evil appears as good in the minds of those whom god leads to destruction.

Plato‘s Republic (380a) quotes a fragment attributed to Aeschylus (but otherwise unattested): “θεὸς μὲν αἰτίαν φύει βροτοῖς, / ὅταν κακῶσαι δῶμα παμπήδην θέλῃ”; translated, “A god implants the guilty cause in men / When he would utterly destroy a house.”

In the 17th century the phrase was used in the neo-Latin form “Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius” (Whom Jupiter would ruin, he first makes mad); in a Christianized Greek version, “Iuppiter” was replaced by “Lord” as in “μωραίνει Κύριος ον βούλεται απολέσαι“.

Benjamin Franklin quotes this phrase in his essay, “On Civil War,” delivered to the Printer of the London Public Advertiser, August 25, 1768.

A prior Latin version is “Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat” (Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791) but this involves God, not ‘the gods’.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau quotes this phrase in ”The Confessions”, in the form of ”Quos vult perdere Jupiter dementet” [Whom Jupiter destroys, he first make mad], authored in 1769 but published in 1782.