Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes
Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes is a Latin phrase from Aeneid (II, 49), written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC. It has been paraphrased in English as the proverb "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts". Its literal meaning is "I fear the Danaans [Greeks], even those bearing gifts" or "even when they bear gifts". Most printed versions of the text have the orthographical variant ferentis instead of ferentes.
As related in the Aeneid, after a nine-year war on the beaches of Troy between the Danaans (Greeks from the mainland) and the Trojans, the Greek seer Calchas induces the leaders of the Greek army to offer the Trojan people a huge wooden horse, the so-called Trojan Horse, while seemingly departing. The Trojan priest Laocoön, distrusting this gesture, warns the Trojans not to accept the gift, crying, Equō nē crēdite, Teucrī! Quidquid id est, timeō Danaōs et dōna ferentīs. ("Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Danaans, even when bringing gifts.") When immediately afterward Laocoön and his two sons are viciously slain by enormous twin serpents, the Trojans assume the horse has been offered at Minerva's (Athena's) prompting and interpret Laocoön's death as a sign of her displeasure.
Minerva did send the serpents and help to nurture the idea of building the horse, but her intentions were certainly not peaceful, as the deceived Trojans imagined them to be. The Trojans agree unanimously to place the horse atop wheels and roll it through their impenetrable walls. Festivities follow under the assumption that the war is ended.
In the nineteenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister, "The Bed of Nails", the phrase is the subject of an exchange between Jim Hacker, Hacker's Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard, in which Bernard explains the origins and historical context.
- E.g, J. B. Greenough, Vergil. Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics of Vergil. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1900, II.49; The Works of Virgil: In Latin & English. The Aeneid, Volume 2, J. Dodsley, 1778, p. 138.
- "φοβούμαι". Papyros – Dictionary of Greek Language (Πάπυρος – Mέγα Λεξικό της Ελληνικής γλώσσας).
- Translatum: The Greek Translation Vortal
- Goscinny/Uderzo. "Asterix the Legionary". Orion Books, 2004, p. 17.
- The dictionary definition of gift horse at Wiktionary