Homo homini lupus

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Homo homini lupus, or in its unabridged form Homo homini lupus est, is a Latin proverb meaning "A man is a wolf to another man," or more tersely "Man is wolf to man." It has meaning in reference to situations where people are known to have behaved in a way comparably in nature to a wolf. The wolf as a creature is thought, in this example, to have qualities of being predatory, cruel, inhuman i.e. more like an animal than civilized.


A variation of the proverb appeared as line 495 in the play Asinaria by Plautus: "Lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit,"[1] which has been translated as "Man is no man, but a wolf, to a stranger," or more precisely "A man is a wolf rather than a man to another man, when he hasn't yet found out what he's like."

As a counterpoint, Seneca the Younger wrote, in his Epistulae morales ad Lucilium (specifically, Epistula XCV, paragraph 33), "homo, sacra res homini,"[2] which has been translated as "man, an object of reverence in the eyes of man."

Erasmus included the proverb in his Adagia, writing of the variation by Plautus, "Here we are warned not to trust ourselves to an unknown person, but to beware of him as of a wolf."[3]

The philosopher, theologian, and jurist Francisco de Vitoria (in Latin, Franciscus de Victoria) wrote in one of his Relectiones Theologicae that the poet Ovid disagreed with the proverb: "'Man,' says Ovid, 'is not a wolf to his fellow man, but a man.'"

Thomas Hobbes drew upon the proverb in his De Cive, writing in the dedication "To speak impartially, both sayings are very true; That Man to Man is a kind of God; and that Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe. The first is true, if we compare Citizens amongst themselves; and the second, if we compare Cities." Hobbes was describing the tendency of people to act fairly and generously toward other people in the same society and the tendency of societies to act deceptively and violently toward other societies, or as he put it, "In the one, there's some analogie of similitude with the Deity, to wit, Justice and Charity, the twin-sisters of peace: But in the other, Good men must defend themselves by taking to them for a Sanctuary the two daughters of War, Deceipt and Violence."

Sigmund Freud agreed with the proverb, writing in his Civilization and Its Discontents, "Men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion?"[4]



  • Used ironically in Voltaire's Candide (1759) to argue against the philosophy of optimism
  • Cited on p. 211 of the third volume of Klaas Schilder's Christus in Zijn lijden trilogy
  • Quoted in Marianne Moore's World War II poem "In Distrust of Merits".
  • In chapter 13 of Doctor Zhivago (1957) by Boris Pasternak, the narrator remarks, of the scenes and events witnessed by Zhivago as he evades partisans late in Russia's post-revolutionary civil war: "Those days justified the ancient saying that 'man is a wolf to man'."[5]
  • Quoted in Eine Frau in Berlin (1959), an anonymously published autobiography posthumously attributed to Marta Hillers
  • In Patrick O'Brian's The Wine-Dark Sea (1993), parson Nathaniel Martin uses the phrase to comment on his shipmates who have become cheerfully avaricious in anticipation of more treasure from enemy ships.
  • Man Is Wolf to Man (1999), a memoir by Janusz Bardach
  • Motto of a family of werewolves in Terry Pratchett's The Fifth Elephant (1999) Criticised by one of the werewolves in the novel: 'And our family motto is Homo Homini Lupus. "A man is a wolf to other men"! How stupid. Do you think they mean that men are shy and retiring and loyal and kill only to eat? Of course not! They mean that men act like men towards other men, and the worse they are the more they think they'd really like being wolves!' (p. 333)
  • In part 6, chapter I of Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel, Thomas Cromwell recalls the phrase whilst reflecting on the Duke of Norfolk's hounding of Cardinal Wolsey.

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  1. ^ Titus Maccius Plautus. "Asinaria". The Latin Library. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Lucius Annaeus Seneca. "Epistulae morales ad Lucilium". The Latin Library. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Erasmus, Desiderius (2001) [1500-1536]. Barker, William, ed. The Adages of Erasmus. University of Toronto Press. p. 41. ISBN 0802048749. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Freud, Sigmund. "Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, 1930 (excerpt)". The History Guide. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  5. ^ English translation by Manya Harari and Max Hayward, William Collins & Co, 1958.