[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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 22 19:40:43 UTC 2021

That is very helpful. Thanks, James.
Here is the 1948 citation pointing to Plutarch. The editor of this
reference book is Burton Stevenson.

I do not remember whether the mailing list can handle Greek. The entry
includes Greek and Latin. Further below is a 1689 book that lists the
adage in Greek and Latin.

[ref] 1948, The Macmillan Book Of Proverbs, Maxims, And Famous
Phrases, Selected and Arranged by Burton Stevenson, Topic: Leader,
Quote Page 1373, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Verified with

[Begin excerpt]
An army of stags led by a lion is more formidable  than an army of
lions led by a stag.

(Φοβερώτερόν έστιν ελάφων στρατόπεδον ηγουμένου λέοντας ή λεόντων ελάφου.)

Plutarch, Chabriae Apophthegmata. (C. A. D. 95) The Latin is,
“Formidabilior cervorum exercitus, duce leone, quam leonum cervo.”

Many . . . had seen ... the fruits of bad leadership in Cabul, and had
learnt to value the truth of the proverb, . . . that “a herd of deer
led by a lion was more formidable to the enemy than a herd of lions
led by a deer.” W. F. Butler, Sir Charles Napier, p.l50.(1890)
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1689, Epigrammatum Delectus, Sententiae Breves (Short
Sentences), Number 102, Quote Page 428, Sumtibus Sam.Smith, Londini.
(Google Books Full View) link [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Formidabilior cervorum exercitus duce leone, quam leonum cervo.
Φοβερώτερον όν ελάφων σρατόπεδον ηγεμόε λενΊος , ή λεόνων ελάφε.
[End excerpt]

Garson O'Toole

On Fri, Jan 22, 2021 at 2:31 PM James Eric Lawson <jel at nventure.com> wrote:
> A proximity search for 'army' in the vicinity of 'lion*' at EEBO returns
> 68 works possibly containing the adage, all printed before 1700.
> https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?sort=datea&ALLSELECTED=1&xc=1&g=eebogroup&type=proximity&rgn=full+text&q1=army&op2=near&q2=lion*&amt2=40&op3=near&amt3=40&singlegenre=All&c=eebo&c=eebo2&view=reslist&subview=short&start=1&size=25
> 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."
> From:
> 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
> https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/A03850.0001.001/1:5?ALLSELECTED=1;amt2=40;amt3=40;c=eebo;c=eebo2;g=eebogroup;rgn=div1;singlegenre=All;sort=datea;subview=detail;type=proximity;view=fulltext;xc=1;q1=army;op2=near;q2=lion*#hl5
> 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.
> https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433038506840&view=1up&seq=131&q1=lions
> 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.
> https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433082314752&view=1up&seq=1088&q1=harts
> I expect a deep dive into Greek texts at Perseus
> http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/
> 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

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

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