Whom the gods would destroy

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The phrase "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad" is spoken by Prometheus, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem "The Masque of Pandora" (1875).[1]

Other versions[edit]

An early version of the phrase Whom the gods would destroy… appears in verses 620–23 of Sophocles’ play Antigone: "τὸ κακὸν δοκεῖν ποτ᾽ ἐσθλὸν τῷδ᾽ ἔμμεν' ὅτῳ φρένας θεὸς ἄγει πρὸς ἄταν" to mean that "evil appears as good in the minds of those whom gods lead to destruction".

In the 17th century the phrase was used in the neo-Latin form "Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius" (Whom Jupiter would ruin, he first makes mad)[2]; in a Christianized Greek version, "Iuppiter" was replaced by "God" as in "μωραίνει Κύριος ον βούλεται απολέσαι".

Another version ("Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad") is quoted as a "heathen proverb" in Daniel, a Model for Young Men (1854) by William Anderson Scott (1813–85).

Brigham Young quoted the phrase in a discourse delivered on March 16, 1856, attributing it as an "ancient proverb."[3]

A prior Latin version is "Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat" (Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791) but this involves God, (presumably the Christian God) not 'the gods'.

This phrase was also used by British politician (and classicist) Enoch Powell in his 1968 speech on immigration commonly known as the "Rivers of Blood" speech.[4]


  1. ^ Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1893), The Complete Poetical Works, Houghton, Mifflin & Co, p. 303.
  2. ^ Sophocles (1900), Jebb, ed., The Plays and Fragments, 3–4, Cambridge: University Press, p. 256, The use of dementat as = dementem facit proves of course a post-classical origin.
  3. ^ Joe, MRM.
  4. ^ Is "those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad" a classical quotation?, Roger Pearse, 2015-10-31.

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