Live by the sword, die by the sword

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"Live by the sword, die by the sword" is a proverb in the form of a parallel phrase, which can be traced back to the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus in 458 BCE.


The line is spoken by Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon and queen of Mycenae in ancient Greek legend.[1][2][3] Agamemnon was part of the Oresteia, a trilogy of tragic dramas by the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus and was first performed in 458 BCE. The play remains popular to this day and is regularly performed[4][5] and widely read.[6][7].

"By the sword you did your work, and by the sword you die."

— Aeschylus's Agamemnon (Translation by Robert Fagles)[8]

A similar phrase akin to "Violent and fierce people do not die a natural death" appears in the Tao Te Ching, II. 42, verse 97. Most if not all of this work was probably written by the Taoist philosopher Lao-Tzu, an older contemporary and rival of Confucius (551-479 BC). In his translation from the Chinese, DC Lau renders this part of the verse as 'The violent will not come to a natural end', which Lao-Tzu explicitly takes as a precept, or philosophical generalisation. <Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching></translated by DC Lau, Penguin Classics, 1963, 1976 edition>


The saying appears in similar form in the Latin Bible in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 26, verse 52.[9] A follower of Jesus draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest. Jesus then says to him: Converte gladium tuum in locum suum. Omnes enim, qui acceperint gladium, gladio peribunt. ("Return your sword to its place, for all who will take up the sword, will die by the sword.") The phrase in the Greek original version of the Gospel is πάντες γὰρ οἱ λαβόντες μάχαιραν ἐν μαχαίρῃ ἀπολοῦνται.[10]


A common interpretation is that "those who live by violence will die by violence"[11], which some have interpreted as a call for Christian pacifism[12] or even complete nonviolence, including in self-defense.

References in popular culture[edit]

"Live by the bomb die by the bomb" at the White House Peace Vigil, started by Thomas in 1981.
  • The Saxon song To Live By the Sword appears on the album Lionheart (2004).

"Here we live by the sword and die by the sword, Heard police was lookin' for me, I’mma hide by a broad"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fagles, Robert (1984). The Oresteia. Penguin Books. ISBN 9780140443332.
  2. ^ "The Agamamnon". 1920-01-01. Retrieved 2017-07-26.
  3. ^ Hughes, Ted (2000). The Oresteia of Aeschylus: A New Translation by Ted Hughes. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374527051.
  4. ^ "Agamemnon - The Cambridge Greek Play".
  5. ^ "Performance of Aeschylus' AGAMEMNON".
  6. ^ "Agamemnon (Oresteia, #1)".
  7. ^ " Aeschylus: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle".
  8. ^ "Aeschylus – Agamamnon (Lines 1509-1558)". 2014-08-01. Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  9. ^ "Latin Vulgate Bible with Douay-Rheims and King James Version Side-by-Side+Complete Sayings of Jesus Christ". Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  10. ^ WikiSource:Κατά_Ματθαίον
  11. ^ "Those who live by the sword die by the sword - Idiom Definition". Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  12. ^ John David Geib (2007). Gail M. Presbey, ed. Philosophical Perspectives on the 'War on Terrorism'. p. 401. War and Peace in Christian Tradition: Why I am an engaged Christian pacifist
  13. ^ LilWayneVEVO (2013-07-16), Lil Wayne - God Bless Amerika, retrieved 2017-02-13
  14. ^ "Ron Paul on Twitter".