"the iron dice"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 12 01:22:55 UTC 2013

Not in YBQ or OED.

Historians use the phrase "the iron dice (of war)," apparently in large
part because Bismarck once spoke of rolling them (in German, of course).

However, the phrase seems to have been coined by Schiller, in "Die
Schlachte" (1782):

"Durch die grüne Ebne schwankt der Marsch.
Zum wilden eisernen Würfelspiel
Streckt sich unabsehlich das Gefilde."

And later:

"Eisern im wolkigten Pulverdampf,
Eisern fallen die Würfel."

Credit goes to Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton for the English translation:

1852 Bulwer Lytton, trans. _Poems and Ballads of Schiller_ (ed. 2)
(Edinburgh: Blackwood) 354: More fast through the vapour, that hangs like a
pall,/ Do the iron dice fall.

In the first ed. (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1844), p. 265, Lytton had instead
"The iron Death-dice fall!"


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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