[Ads-l] Adage: An army of stags led by a lion is more formidable than an army of lions led by a stag. Attributed to Plutarch

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Fri Jan 22 19:31:42 UTC 2021

A proximity search for 'army' in the vicinity of 'lion*' at EEBO returns 
68 works possibly containing the adage, all printed before 1700.

The earliest is this:

"For, without a Captaine, an army is (as said Epammondas) as a faier 
beast. and Philip, those rather an army of harts, vnder the conduct of a 
Lion, then of Lions, conducted by a hart. For, the chiefe parte of 
warlike successe, consisteth in a stout and polytike captaine."

Title: The nobles or of nobilitye. The original nature, dutyes, right, 
and Christian institucion thereof three bookes. Fyrste eloquentlye 
writte[n] in Latine by Lawrence Humfrey D. of Diuinity, and presidente 
of Magdaleine Colledge in Oxforde, late englished. Whereto for the 
readers commodititye [sic], and matters affinitye, is coupled the small 
treatyse of Philo a Iewe. By the same author out of the Greeke Latined, 
nowe also Englished. 1563.
Author: Humphrey, Laurence, 1525 or 6-1589.
Publication info: Imprinted at London : In Fletestrete nere to S. 
Dunstons church by Thomas Marshe, [1563]
Collection: Early English Books Online 2

A quick search on HathiTrust revealed the parable attributed by Humphrey 
to Epaminondas is attributed by Hales in a work printed 1673 to Iphicrates:

"It was the Parable of Iphicrates, that an Army of
Harts, with a Lion to their Captain, would be able to vanquiſh
an Army of Lions, if their Captain were but an Hart."

Title:	   Golden remains, of the ever memorable, Mr. John Hales, of Eaton
	   college, &c. With additions from the authours [sic] own
	   copy, viz. sermons & miscellanies, also letters and
	   expresses concerning the Synod of Dort (not before printed) from
	   an authentic hand.
Author:    Hales, John, 1584-1656.
Publisher: London, Printed by T. Newcomb for R. Pawlet, 1673.

And in a work by Coles printed in 1679 the parable is attributed to 
Chabrias ("a famous philosopher and Emperor of Athens"):

"an army of Harts with a Lion general was more than an army of Lions 
commanded by a Hart"

Title:	   A dictionary, English-Latin, and Latin-English; containing all
	   things necessary for the translation of either language into the
	   other. To which end many things that were erroneous are
	   rectified, many superfluities retrenched, and very many defects
	   supplied ... By Elisha Coles ...
Author:    Coles, Elisha, 1640?-1680.
Publisher: London, Printed by John Richardson, for George Sawbridg,T. 
Basset, John Wright, Richard Chiswell, 1679.

I expect a deep dive into Greek texts at Perseus
might reveal more about the ultimate origin, but it's likely the parable 
was found in multiple ancient Greek sources.

On 1/22/21 9:15 AM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
> Back in October 2020 Jonathan Lighter (off list) suggested that I
> investigate the expression "An army of donkeys led by a lion is better
> than an army of lions led by a donkey". I found similar expressions
> based on a diverse menagerie.
> "The Macmillan Book Of Proverbs" credits Plutarch with an instance.
> Also, the adage appears in a 1655 translation of commentaries from
> Julius Caesar. In addition, a 1658 citation containing the adage is
> titled "Ovid's Invective or curse against Ibis".
> What are the best books (or websites) for verifying ascriptions to
> Plutarch? Ovid? Julius Caesar?
> Here is an overview with dates.
> 1655: There is greater hope of a herd of Harts led by a Lion, then of
> so many Lions conducted by a Hart
> 1658: An army of valiant Lions led by a cowardly Hart, is not so
> prevalent as an army of Harts led by a Lion
> 1736: An Army of Sheep, headed by a Lyon, is more to be apprehended,
> than an Army of Lyons headed by a Sheep
> 1741: Better to have a Lyon at the Head of an Army of Sheep, than a
> Sheep at the Head of an Army of Lyons
> 1803: An army of stags is more to be feared under the command of a
> lion, than an army of lions led by a stag
> 1823: An army of deer commanded by a lion is better than an army of
> lions commanded by a deer
> 1835: An army of sheep commanded by a lion, is more formidable than an
> army of lions commanded by a sheep
> 1855: An army of lions led on by donkeys
> 1864: An army of asses led by a lion is vastly superior to an army of
> lions led by an ass
> Citation details are omitted for brevity.
> Garson O'Toole
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

James Eric Lawson

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

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