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", even though its literal meaning, "I fear the Danaans, even those bearing gifts", carries a somewhat different nuance to the usual English version of the phrase.
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 popular culture
In Asterix the Legionary, Romans use this phrase to expand unnecessarily "T as in Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes?" whenever they talk to the duo about the lost legionary Tragicomix.
In the movie The Rock, John Mason (played by Sean Connery) responds to an offer of freedom by the FBI in exchange for his cooperation to help free captives on Alcatraz by saying, "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) responds with the translation, "I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts." Mason says, "Ah, an educated man", and when Goodspeed responds with a modest wave of the hand, Mason adds, "That rules out the possibility of you being a field agent."
In the satirical British series Yes Minister, it is used by civil servant Bernard Woolley in the episode "The Bed of Nails", in which government minister Hacker is offered an apparently advantageous role which would actually lose him votes, the bed of nails.
- The dictionary definition of gift horse at Wiktionary
- Οδυσσέας Γκιλής. Ο Φόβος στα κλασικά κείμενα. Θεσσαλονίκη, 2013, σ. 97.