Usually the phrase “homo homini lupus” is attributed to the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679), author among other works of Leviathan, essential work on the development of political philosophy in the modern age and of liberal thought.

According to Hobbes man advances, from the “state of nature“,of  “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes), to an organized society; first to a state of “natural law” that prevents man threatening life and then to a state of positive law, the result of social pact.

So, with Locke and his “Two Treatises of Government” and Rousseau and his “Social Contract”  he addresses  in modern times the origin of society. Also ancient thinkers as Plato in his Republic and Aristotle raised this issue, but that deserves a lengthy article that on occasion I will.

Isn’t Hobbes the author of the famous phrase homo homini lupus

Well, it is true that Hobbes used the expression “Homo homini lupus” in a given context, but never he claimed the paternity, which does not apply to him, but he has probably been the one who has contributed more to its size and knowledge in modern era.

But if Hobbes did not create that sentence, then who did?

Some time ago  good friends of renowned intellectual prestige raised the issue in one of the most widespread social networks. It suggested me the possibility to dig a little deeper into the origin and meaning of that phrase.

First it is convenient to know a little more detail on Hobbes‘s phrase in context, or at least in the paragraph in which it is immersed.

Hobbes used the phrase at the beginning of the work “De cive”, “On the citizen” in the dedication to the Earl of Devonshire. Actually the initial and full title was “Elementa Philosophica de Cive”, “Philosophical elements about the citizen.”

Since the book begins with a general assessment of ancient Rome and its empire, and this blog is specifically about  the Antiquity, I would reproduce a more extensive part than the mere reproduction of the phrase in question. In passing the reader will see how until  into the twentieth century all intellectual and thinker was a connoisseur of classical Antiquity; it is now when  we move towards a quasi absolute ignorance that deprive young people of knowledge of much of their own identity.

The work was written in Latin, the international language of science and thought even then, and published in 1642 in Paris and the translation into English appeared in 1651  with the title  Philosophicall rudiments Concerning government and society  So I will offer the texts in the  two versions.

To the Right Honourable, William, Earle of Devonshire,

My most honoured Lord
May it please your Lordship,
It was the speech of the Roman people (to whom the name of King had been render’d odious, as well by the tyrannie of the Tarquins, as by the Genius and Decretals of that City) ‘Twas the speech I say of the publick, however pronounced from a private mouth, (if yet Cato the Censor were no more than such) That all Kings are to be reckon’d amongst ravenous Beasts.  But what a Beast of prey was the Roman people, whilst with its conquering Eagles it erected its proud Trophees so far and wide over the world, bringing the Africans, the Asiaticks, the Macedonians, and the Achaeans, with many other despoyled Nations, into a specious bondage, with the pretence of preferring them to be Denizens of Rome? So that if Cato’s saying were a wise one, ’twas every whit as wise that of Pontius Telesinus; who flying about with open mouth through all the Companies of his Army, (in that famous encounter which he had with Sylla) cryed out, That Rome her selfe, as well as Sylla, was to be raz’d; for that there would alwayes be Wolves and Depraedatours of their Liberty, unlesse the Forrest that lodg’d them were grubb’d up by the roots. 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. 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: that is in plaine termes a meer brutall Rapacity: which although men object to one another as a reproach, by an inbred custome which they have of beholding their own actions in the persons of other men, wherein, as in a Mirroir, all things on the left side appeare to be on the right, & all things on the right side to be as plainly on the left; yet the naturall right of preservation which we all receive from the uncontroulable Dictates of Necessity, will not admit it to be a Vice, though it confesse it to be an Unhappinesse. Now that with Cato himselfe, (a person of so great a renowne for wisdome) Animosity should so prevaile instead of Judgement, and partiality instead of Reason, that the very same thing which he thought equall in his popular State, he should censure as unjust in a Monarchical, other men perhaps may have leisure to admire. But I have been long since of this opinion, That there was never yet any more than vulgar prudence that had the luck of being acceptable to the Giddy people; but either it hath not been understood, or else having been so, hath been levell’d and cryed downe.

Populi Romani,memoria Tarquiniorum, et civitatis instituto, Regibus iniqui, vox erat (Excellentiss.Domine) prolata ore Marci Catonis Censoris, Reges omnes de genere esse bestiarum rapacium. Ipse autem Populus Romanus, qui per Africanos, Asiaticos,Macedonicos, Achaicos, caeterosque a spoliatis gentibus cognominatos cives, totum fere orbem terrarum diripuerat, qualis bellua erat? Non minus ergo quam Cato, sapienter dixit Pontius Telesinus.Is praelio ad Portam Collinam contra Syllam circumvolans ordines exercitus fui; vociferatusque, eruendam delendamque ipsam Romam, adiiciebat, numquam defuturos Raptores Italicae libertatis Lupos, nisi sylva, in quam refugere solerent, esset excisa.
Profecto utrumque vere dictum est, Homo homini Deus, et Homo homini Lupus. Illud, si concives inter se; Hoc, si civitates comparemus. Illic iustitia et charitate, virtutibus pacis, ad similittudinem Dei acceditur; Hic propter malorum pravitatem, recurrendum etiam bonis est, si se tueri volunt, ad virtutes Bellicas,vim et dolum, id est, ad ferinam rapacitatem. Quam etsi hominess pro convitio invicem obiiciant, more innato, facta sua in personis alioru, tanquam in speculo,sinistra dextra; dextra sinistra existimantes; vitium tamen esse non sinit profectum a necessitate conservationis propriae ius naturale. Quod autem Catoni,viro spientiae celebratissimae, odium pro iudicio, affectus pro ratione imponere in tantum potuit, ut quod aequum in populo suo, idem reges facere iniquum censeret, mirari fortasse alii poterunt, ego sane in ea opinione iam diu sum,neque egregiam sententiam unquam fuisse quae placuit populo, neque sapientiam vulgari maiorem vulgo agnosci posse; quipped quam vel non intelligent, vel intelligentes aequant.

Note how the Latin phrase “profecto utrumque vere dictum est …” “truly it has been said ...”  implies that Hobbes is not the creator, but the phrase existed when it was said.

What is the origin of the phrase homo homini lupus?

Since antiquity it is cited as probable origin and Latin sentence, closer to quote of Hobbes, a passage from the comedy of Plautus (254-184 BC) Asinaria (The Comedy of Asses). It is a typical comedy in which it is developed a complicated tangle between a father, his authoritarian and rich wife, a  son in love and their slaves scheming for their masters.

The argument is summarized at the beginning of the work itself:


An old gentleman, whose wife is the head of the household,
desires to give his son financial support in a love affair.
He therefore had some money, brought to Saurea in payment
for some asses, counted out to a certain rascally servant of
his own, Leonida. This money goes to the young fellow’s
mistress, and he concedes his father an evening with her.
A rival of his, beside himself at being deprived of the
girl, sends word, by a parasite, to the old gentleman’s
wife, of the whole matter. In rushes the wife and drags her
husband from the house of vice.
(Translation by Paul Nixon. ambridge, Massachusetts Harvard University Press. London William Heinemannn Ltd.           First printed 1916)

Amanti argento filio auxiliarier
Sub imperio vivens volt senex uxorio.
Itaque ob asinos relatum pretium Saureae
Numerari iussit servolo Leonidae.
Ad amicam id fertur. cedit noctem filius.
Rivalis amens ob praereptam mulierem,
Is rem omnem uxori per parasitum nuntiat.
Accurrit uxor ac virum e lustris rapit.

Was Plautus the creator of the phrase?

The phrase in question appears in a passage in which the Leonid’s slave pretends to be the house manager for a merchant give him the money from the sale of some asses and he give it to the boy to turn he can give it to the girl and her matchmaker or Celestina, only hungry for money. But the merchant is not fooled.

Plautus, Asinaria Act II, scene IV, v. 484 y ss.

LEONIDA: How now, whip-knave? How say you, hang-dog? Do you suppose that we shall run away from our master? Go this instant then to our master, where you were citing us just now, and where you were wishing to go.

THE ASS-DEALER: What, now at last? Still, you shall never get a coin of money away from me, unless Demænetus shall order me to give it.

LEONIDA:Do so. Come, move on then. Are you to offer insults to another person, and are they not to be repeated to yourself? I’m a man as much as you are.

THE ASS-DEALER: No doubt such is the fact.

LEONIDA: Follow me this way, then. With your good leave10 I would now say this: not a person has ever accused me by reason of my deserving it, nor is there in Athens one other individual, this day, whom they would think they could as safely trust.

THE ASS-DEALER: Perhaps so: but still, you shall never this day persuade me to entrust to you, whom I don’t know, this money A man to a man is a wolf11, not a man, when the other doesn’t know of what character he is.

LEONIDA: Now at last you are appeasing me12: I was sure that this day you would give satisfaction to this poor head of mine; although I’m in mean garb, still, I’m well to do, nor can an estimate of my means be formed from it.

THE ASS-DEALER: Perhaps so.

LEONIDA: Still more then I tell you: Periphanes, a merchant of Rhodes, a rich man, in the absence of my master, himself alone paid over to me, in private, a talent of silver, and trusted me, nor was he deceived in it.

THE ASS-DEALER: Perhaps so.

LEONIDA: And you, too, yourself, as well, if you had enquired about me of other people, would, i’ faith, I’m quite sure, have entrusted to me what you now have with you.

THE ASS-DEALER: I don’t deny it. (Exeunt.) 
(The Comedies of Plautus. Henry Thomas Riley. London. G. Bell and Sons. 1912.  Translation by Henry Thomas Riley)

LEONIDA. Quid, verbero? ain tu, furcifer? erum nos fugitare censes?
ei nunciam ad erum, quo vocas, iam dudum quo volebas.  

MERCATOR. Nunc demum? tamen numquam hinc feres argenti nummum, nisi me
dare iusserit Demaenetus.

LEONIDA. Ita facito, age ambula ergo.
tu contumeliam alteri facias, tibi non dicatur?
tam ego homo sum quam tu.

MERCATOR. Scilicet. ita res est.

LEONIDA. Sequere hac ergo.
praefiscini hoc nunc dixerim: nemo etiam me accusavit
merito meo, neque me alter est Athenis hodie quisquam,
cui credi recte aeque putent.

MERCATOR. Fortassis. sed tamen me
numquam hodie induces, ut tibi credam hoc argentum ignoto.
lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit.

LEONIDA. Iam nunc secunda mihi facis. scibam huic te capitulo hodie
facturum satis pro iniuria; quamquam ego sum sordidatus,
frugi tamen sum, nec potest peculium enumerari.

MERCATOR. Fortasse.

LEONIDA. Etiam ~ nunc dico Periphanes Rhodo mercator dives
absente ero solus mihi talentum argenti soli
adnumeravit et mihi credidit, nequest deceptus in eo.

MERCATOR. Fortasse.

LEONIDA. Atque etiam tu quoque ipse, si esses percontatus
me ex aliis, scio pol crederes nunc quod fers.

MERCATOR. Haud negassim.—

Exactly in verse 495 it is said: “Lupus est homo homini, non homo, quom qualis sit non novit” , that  can be translated literally as

“Wolf is the man for man, and not man, when he does not know  who is the other

and with a less literal translation as

When a person is unknown for you, he is for you as a wolf, not a man.

So the phrase does not appear in Plautus with the transcendence that it is used later when acquires the category of sentence, maxim, proverb, etc .; rather, it is used in a context of personal relationships and in a comic scene of inconsequential matter. This is a very important difference with Hobbes, where it refers the previous state of nature of men, before the establishment of human society.

Having said all this, we can ask too, was Plautus the creator of the phrase?

Plautus is the most important comedy writer  in Latin. Like almost all Latin  literature and culture, the theater is also indebted to the Greeks. Plautus is not only inspired by Greek on comedies but sometimes practically he translates and adapts them to the new Roman scene. He sometimes uses several Greek comedies to compose one Latin work;  this mixture  was called “contaminatio”, and this practice generated considerable discussion on what might be called “literary criticism“.

Well, the comedy “Asinaria” is a translation from  a Greek comedy called “The carrier” Onagos, οναγός, as it is  told in the preface to the same work that usually accompanies the edition:

Preface, v.6 ss.

Enough enough! Sit down–and be sure you put that in your bill! (to audience) Now I shall say why I have come out before you here and what I wished: I have come to acquaint you with the name of this play. For as far as the plot is concerned, that is quite simple.

Now I shall say what I said I wished to say: the Greek name of this play is ONAGOS: Demophilus wrote it: Maccus translated it into a foreign tongue. He wishes to call it THE COMEDY OF ASSES, by your leave. It is a clever comedy,full of drollery and laughable situations. Do oblige me by being attentive, that now too, as in other days, Mars may be with you. (Translation by Henry Thomas Riley)

nunc quid processerim huc et quid mihi voluerim
dicam: ut sciretis nomen huius fabulae;
nam quod ad argumentum attinet, sane brevest.
nunc quod me dixi velle vobis dicere,
dicam: huic nomen graece Onagos fabulae;               10
Demophilus scripsit, Maccus vortit barbare;
Asinariam volt esse, si per vos licet.
inest lepos ludusque in hac comoedia,
ridicula res est. date benigne operam mihi,
ut vos, ut alias, pariter nunc Mars adiuvet. 

Does he took the book? Therefore does Plautus took from  the Greek work the phrase which then, with a little modification,  has become so famous? Most likely this occurred; it is very likely that the phrase was already on comedy of Demophilus, but we don’t have an undeniable knowledge of it.

Used by Demophilus or by other Greeks, the phrase sound more or less as is stated many years later in Erasmus: Ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου λύκος (ánthroposs anthropou Lykos).

Homo homini deus, man is a god to man

In any case, in the Greek world is well and often known a phrase that is precisely the opposite of the above: ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου δαιμόνιον (anthropos anthropou daemon), on Latin it has produced “homo homini deus” and on English Man to man is a kind of God”.

This is precisely the phrase that appears in Hobbes opposed to “man is a wolf to man“, although it is precisely this that has won more fortune.

ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου δαιμόνιον (anthropos anthropos daimonion) is a sentence or phrase common in Greek and testified on numerous occasions and of course also its correspondent on Latin “Homo homini deus“.

In Greek, for example, it appears on the “Corpus paroemiographorum graecorum” at least four times: in the case of Zenobios, I, 91; in Diogenianus or pseudo Diogenianus, I, 80 and I, 46; Michael Apostolios, III, 10, and Gregory of Cyprus I, 50.

In Latin, the comic poet Ceecilius (ca 280-ca.168 BC) used a verse that is preserved through the appointment of Symmachus, the fourth century author, who uses it in a letter of thanks:

Symmachus, Letters IX,114:

Playwright Ceecilius correctly  said: man is a god to man, if he knows his duty. ”
Recte Caecilius comicus inquit

   Homo homini deus est, si suum officium sciat.

Caecilius seems imbued with Stoic philosophy and pro-Hellenic  Circle of Scipions. Recall that Terence had written in his Heautontimorumenos, v. 77, the famous phrase

«homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto»,

I am a man, and nothing that concerns a man do I deem a matter of indifference to me (The Comedies of Terence. Henry Thomas Riley. Ney York. Harper and Brothers. 1874).

But it is convenient produce the whole letter, very short letter, moreover, because it helps us to understand the extent in the use of this phrase and the reason for its use

Playwright Ceecilius correctly  said: man is to man a god when he recognizes his duty I can say that this sentence agrees with you, who has selflessly applied vigilant attention to our affairs. Since then the memory lives in our hearts, the praise in our mouths and the glory of your action and your interest not only flourishes momentarily but it will live forever as my reason promises me. Now even it would be appropriate a neater speech to thank it, if I don’t feared to give the impression of having paid once all I have to owe. He does not support receiving a benefit who is quick to liberate the link and he does not seem to accept mutual aid as a friend if he blushes by a delay in showing gratitude. But the nature of my character is different: I hasten to pay pecuniary interest and I desire to owe  for a long time testing the repayment  of evidences of consideration. Good luck.

SYMMACHUS . . . . . Recte Caecilius comicus: Homo, inquit, homini deus est, si suum officium sciat. Hanc ego in te dixerim sententiam convenire, qui nostris negotiis curam vigilem praestitisti. Hinc in pectore memoria, laus in ore versatur. Nec in praesentia modo floret facti et studii tui gloria, sed, ut mens augurat, aevum vigebit. Prolixior agendis gratiis sermo etiam nunc competeret, ni vererer, ne simul totum videar expunxisse, quod debeo. Impatiens est accepti beneficii, qui nexu properat liberari: nec videtur mutuam operam quasi amicus accipere, si erubescit ad moram gratiae. Alia mei ingenii ratio est. Pecuniae fenus accelero persolvere: officiorum vices diu opto debere. Vale.

This is a letter of thanksgiving for a well-received  and in the ancient world it is widespread the idea that who does good, who does a benefit to someone, the benefactor, he is a god. This helps to understand the extent of the deification of rulers, because they are benefactors (some of them are called precisely so ,Evergetes, benefactor, such as Ptolemy III Euergetes, (Greek: Πτολεμαίος Ευεργέτης), who lived c. 282-222 BC, third pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty) and also the extension and trivialization, if it is preferred, to  anyone who favors a similar person. It is therefore a sentence that is very used to recognize a favor for someone.

Interestingly in the same comedy “Asinaria” this idea is used, although in a burlesque context, as it befits the comedy, when the slave requires a divine treatment for the favor of giving the money, in verse 712:

Argyippus. How about it now? There’s a good fellow! Seeing you two have had your fill of sport with me, going to give us the money, are you?

Libanus. Oh well, if you put me up an altar and statue, yes, and offer me up an ox here the same as a god: for I’m your goddess Salvation, I am.

Leonida. Come, sir, get rid of that chap, won’t you, and apply to me in person, yes, and let me have those statues and supplications he ordered for himself.

Argyrippus. Ah, and by what name does your godship pass?

Leonida. Fortune, yes sir, Indulgent Fortune.
(Translator Paul Nixon. The Project Gutenberg)

ARGYRIPPUS. Quid nunc, amabo? quoniam, ut est libitum, nos delusistis,
datisne argentum?
LIBANUS. Si quidem mihi statuam et aram statuis
atque ut deo mi hic immolas bovem: nam ego tibi Salus sum.
LEONIDA: Etiam, tu, ere, istunc amoves abs te atque –ipse me adgredere atque illa, sibi quae hic iusserat,mihi statuis supplicasque?
ARGYRIPPUS: Quem te autem divom nominem?
LEONIDA: Fortunam, atque Obsequentem

The Latin texts in which this idea of the divinity of benefactor man appears, are infinite. I just put two very significant examples.

Virgil in the first of his famous Ecloges  thanks Augustus that their land don’t will be confiscated to give them to a soldier. Virgil considered him a “god“:

Virigil, Ecloge I, v.6-8)

O Meliboeus, ’twas a god vouchsafed
this ease to us, for him a god will I
deem ever, and from my folds a tender lamb
oft with its life-blood shall his altar stain.
His gift it is that, as your eyes may see,
my kine may roam at large, and I myself
play on my shepherd’s pipe what songs I will.

(Vergil. Eclogues. J. B. Greenough. Boston. Ginn & Co. 1895.)

O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit.
Namque erit ille mihi semper deus: illius aram
Saepe tener nostris ab ovilibus imbuet agnus.
Ille meas errare boves, ut cernis, et ipsum
Ludere quae vellem calamo permisit agresti.

Pliny says in his Naturalis Historia, 2,7.18-19

Whereas in very deed, a god unto a man is he, that helpeth a man; ; and this is the true and direct pathway to everlasting glorie. In this way went the noble Romans in old time: and in this tract at this day goeth, with heavenlly pace, Vespasian Augustus, both he and his children: Vespasian, I say, the most mightie ruler of the whole world: whiles hee relieveth the afflicted State of the Romane Empire and Commonweale. And this is the most auncient manner of requitall to such benefactours, That they should be canonized gods. And hereof came the names as well of all other gods, as of the stars and planets (which I have mentioned before) in recognisance of mens good deserts.  (Translated into English by Philemon Holland)

deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via. hac proceres iere Romani, hac nunc caelesti passu cum liberis suis vadit maximus omnis aevi rector Vespasianus Augustus fessis rebus subveniens.

hic est vetustissimus referendi bene merentibus gratiam mos, ut tales numinibus adscribant. quippe et aliorum nomina deorum et quae supra retuli siderum ex hominum nata sunt meritis. Iovem quidem aut Mercurium aliterve alios inter se vocari et esse caelestem nomenclaturam,

The  thought of Pliny concerning the gods is also here clearly implied: it is next to atheism: God is for a mortal to help mortals.

The second, homo homini lupus, probably existed as opposed to the first, leading to the double sentence, which may exist in Demóphilus, or in other authors.

The image of the wolf as particularly cruel animal man is without doubt on the relationship of the wolf with the dog, which incidentally is the  “faithful friend” of man, the man’s best friend,  and probably the first domesticated animal perhaps 40,000 years ago. The scientific names of both subspecies are “canis lupus” for the wolf and  “canis lupus familiaris” for the dog, due to  their genetic proximity.

They are countless  passages in which the dog is the man’s best fried, (hominis canis optimus amicus); Recall for example the dog that recognized Ulysses, Argos, when he returns to Ithaca; or what about the dog as guardian of the master’s house when  throughout the Empire appears the famous phrase “Cave Canem”, “beware of the dog” on the door of the property?. If domestic canis is the best, the wild canis is the worst in the popular imagination and experience.

I’ll leave for another time any reference to the myth of “lycanthropy” or conversion of man into a wolf and the fact that he was precisely Licaón (man whom Zeus turned into a wolf) who gave laws to humans and make possible the abandonment of wildlife and the development of human society under rules of law.

Among other Latin texts next to the phrase “homo homini lupus“, we have the verse of Ovid (43 B.C.-8 AD) in Tristia V, VII elegy, vv. 45-46:

“Vix sunt homines hoc nomine digni. Quamquam lupi, saevae plus feritatis habent”

Recall how Ovid, forced into exile in Pontus, on the edge of the Empire, beside the Black Sea, spends his days in sorrow and homesickness or nostalgia. Punished for a fault that has never known exactly, he was unable to come back to Rome that gave him so much glory. He wrote these “sad poems,” “Tristia“.

Although the article is perhaps on too long with too many texts, I can not resist playing a few verses in which to frame the said and by the way they report us on how hard it is to be  exiled to a mundane poet of success in the world’s capital , Rome.

He, asked by his friends how he spends his days, writes among other things:

Tristia, V,VII ,  37 et ss:

But yet I have no anxiety to be praised, and I have no care for future glory, which had, more to my comfort, better been obscured. I occupy my mind with my pursuits, and I beguile my sorrows ; I try, too, thereby to deceive my cares. What should I do, in preference, alone on these solitary shores ? or what occupation wouldst thou rather that I should endeavour to seek ? If I look at the place, it is odious ; and there cannot, in all the world, be one more wretched than it. If I look at the men : the men are hardly worthy of that name, and they have more savage ferocity than wolves.

They regard not laws, but right yields to might, and justice, overcome, lies prostrate under the warlike sword. They poorly repel the cold, with skins and flowing trowsers ; and their faces are rough, covered with long hair. Yestiges of the Greek language are remaining, in a few words : this, too, has become barbarous, through the Getic pronunciation.

There is no one among this people who can by chance translate into Latin, words in general use. I, ivho am a poet of Rome (pardon me, ye Muses), am compelled to say many things in the Sarmatian language. I am ashamed, I confess it ; for now, from long disuse, scarcely do the Latin expressions occur to me ; and I have no doubt but that there are no few barbarisms in this little work. That is not the fault of the man, but of the place. But, that I may not lose all acquaintance with the Ausonian tongue, and my voice become dumb in its native language, I talk to myself, and I run over the unaccustomed words, and repeat the unfortunate exponents 12 of my pursuits. (Translation by Henry T.Riley, B.A. London. MDCCCLI)

nec  tamen, ut lauder, vigilo curamque futuri
nominis, utilius quod latuisset, ago.
detineo studiis animum falloque dolores,
experior curis et dare verba meis.
quid potius faciam desertis solus in oris,
quamve malis aliam quaerere coner  opem?
sive locum specto, locus est inamabilis, et quo
esse nihil toto tristius orbe potest,
sive homines, vix sunt homines hoc nomine digni,
quamque lupi, saevae plus feritatis habent.
non metuunt leges, sed cedit viribus aequum,
victaque pugnaci iura sub ense iacent.
pellibus et laxis arcent mala frigora bracis,
oraque sunt longis horrida tecta comis,
in paucis remanent Graecae vestigia linguae,
haec quoque iam Getico barbara facta sono.
unus in hoc nemo est populo,
qui forte Latine quaelibet e medio reddere verba queat.
ille ego Romanus vates—ignoscite, Musae!—
Sarmatico cogor plurima more loqui.
en pudet et fateor, iam desuetudine longa
vix subeunt ipsi verba Latina mihi.
nec dubito quin sint et in hoc non pauca libello
barbara . non hominis culpa, sed ista loci.
ne tamen Ausoniae perdam commercia linguae,
et fiat patrio vox mea muta sono,
ipse loquor mecum desuetaque verba retracto,
et studii repeto signa sinistra mei.

Seneca had expressed the wickedness of man without resorting to comparison with the wolf in his Epistle to Lucilius number 103, in which he notes the need of  to distrust men.

As it is not too long , I will  transcribe it fully for  provide the reader  the knowledge of one of the 124 letters with moral advice that Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius, although the specific phrase that refers to the matter at hand is:

but it is from his fellow-man that a man’s everyday danger comes

“Ab homine homini quotidianum periculum”.

So the idea of potential evil of man to his fellow is a well-spread idea.

Epistle to Lucilius number CIII. On the Dangers of Association with our Fellow-Men

Why are you looking about for troubles which may perhaps come your way, but which may indeed not come your way at all? I mean fires, falling buildings, and other accidents of the sort that are mere events rather than plots against us. Rather beware and shun those troubles which dog our steps and reach out their hands against us. Accidents, though they may be serious, are few – such as being shipwrecked or thrown from one’s carriage; but it is from his fellow-man that a man’s everyday danger comes. Equip yourself against that; watch that with an attentive eye. There is no evil more frequent, no evil more persistent, no evil more insinuating. Even the storm, before it gathers, gives a warning; houses crack before they crash; and smoke is the forerunner of fire. But damage from man is instantaneous, and the nearer it comes the more carefully it is concealed.

You are wrong to trust the countenances of those you meet. They have the aspect of men, but the souls of brutes; the difference is that only beasts damage you at the first encounter; those whom they have passed by they do not pursue. For nothing ever goads them to do harm except when need compels them: it is hunger or fear that forces them into a fight. But man delights to ruin man.

You must, however, reflect thus what danger you run at the hand of man, in order that you may deduce what is the duty of man. Try, in your dealings with others, to harm not, in order that you be not harmed. You should rejoice with all in their joys and sympathize with them in their troubles, remembering what you should offer and what you should withhold.  And what may you attain by living such a life? Not necessarily freedom from harm at their hands, but at least freedom from deceit. In so far, however, as you are able, take refuge with philosophy: she will cherish you in her bosom, and in her sanctuary you shall be safe, or, at any rate, safer than before. People collide only when they are travelling the same path.  But this very philosophy must never be vaunted by you; for philosophy when employed with insolence and arrogance has been perilous to many. Let her strip off your faults, rather than assist you to decry the faults of others. Let her not hold aloof from the customs of mankind, nor make it her business to condemn whatever she herself does not do. A man may be wise without parade and without arousing enmity. Farewell.
(Translated by Richard Mott Gummere, A Loeb Classical Library edition 1925)

Quid ista circumspicis, quae tibi possunt fortasse evenire, sed possunt et non evenire ? Incendium dico, ruinam, alia, quae  nobis incidunt, non insidiantur; illa potius vide, illa devita, quae  nos observant, quae captant. Rariores sunt casus, etiam si graves, naufragium facere, vehiculo everti; ab homine homini cotidianum periculum. Adversus hoc te expedi, hoc intentis oculis intuere. Nullum est malum frequentius, nullum pertinacius, nullum blandius.

Ac  tempestas minatur antequam surgat, crepant aedificia antequam corruant, praenuntiat fumus incendium; subita est ex homine pernicies et eo diligentius tegitur, quo propius accedit.
Erras, si istorum tibi qui occurrunt vultibus credis; hominum effigies habent, animos ferarum, nisi quod illarum perniciosus  est primus incursus; quos transiere, non quaerunt. Numquam enim illas ad nocendum nisi necessitas incitat; aut  fame aut timore coguntur ad pugnam; homini perdere hominem libet.

Tu tamen ita cogita, quod ex homine periculum sit, ut cogites, quod sit hominis officium. Alterum intuere, ne laedaris, alterum ne laedas. Commodis omnium laeteris, movearis incommodis et memineris, quae praestare debeas, quae cavere.

Sic vivendo quid consequaris ? Non te ne noceant, sed ne fallant. Quantum potes autem, in philosophiam recede: illa te sinu  suo proteget, in huius sacrario eris aut tutus aut tutior. Non arietant inter se nisi in eadem ambulantes via. Ipsam autem philosophiam non debebis iactare; multis fuit periculi causa insolenter tractata et contumaciter.

Tibi vitia detrahat, non aliis exprobret. Non abhorreat a publicis moribus nec hoc agat, ut quicquid non facit, damnare videatur. Licet sapere sine pompa, sine invidia. Vale.

But he also wrote “Man is a sacred thing for man“, “Homo homini res sacra“, in the letter 95.33.

he letter is long and with it Seneca  lashes  against gluttony and waste, origin of many diseases of body and soul. Here I will simply transcribe the paragraph in which the phrase appears, advising the reader the full reading of this “epistula“.

Epistle to Lucilius number  XCV, 33:

33. One needs the rapid hand, the master-craft.

Men seek pleasure from every source. No vice remains within its limits; luxury is precipitated into greed. We are overwhelmed with forgetfulness of that which is honourable. Nothing that has an attractive value, is base. Man, an object of reverence in the eyes of man, is now slaughtered for jest and sport; and those whom it used to be unholy to train for the purpose of inflicting and enduring wounds, are thrust forth exposed and defenceless; and it is a satisfying spectacle to see a man made a corpse.
(Translated by Richard Mott Gummere, A Loeb Classical Library edition 1925)

[33] …voluptas ex omni quaeritur. Nullum intra se manet vitium; in avaritiam luxuria praeceps est. Honesti oblivio invasit. Nihil turpest, cuius placet pretium. Homo, sacra res homini, iam per lusum ac iocum occiditur et quem erudiri ad inferenda accipiendaque vulnera nefas erat, is iam nudus inermisque producitur satisque spectaculi ex homine mors est.

Many years later the Spanish Dominican Francisco de Vitoria (1483-1546), who made a remarkable contribution to the  international law and whose name it bears today a Spanish private university of conservative orientation, refers to these verses of Ovid when he writes:

It is against natural law that man rejects man without cause, because man is not a wolf to man, as Ovid said, but a man (Relección primera. De los Indios,III,3ª ed. a cura de T.Urdanoz. Madrid 1960,p.709).

“Contra ius naturale est, ut homo hominem sine aliqua causa aversetur. “non enim homini homo lupus est, ut ait Ovidius, sed homo”.

At the same period of Vitoria, a famous humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) used the same phrase, contrasting the two terms and he does it precisely on one of his most famous works, in Adagia,  which was printed not less than twenty times prior to De Cive of Hobbes; The Adagia  were published  first time in 1508.

Actually Erasmus starts from the Greek proverb of Zósimus, though he does not say, an he  devotes to the subject  two adages, numbers 69 and 70 of the First Chiliade.  The first is dedicated to comment on the phrase “Homo homini deus” and the second to “Homo homini lupus”.

Note: Chiliade is a word derived from Greek kilo” (thousand)  an it means “thousand
The first, the adage 69, that he spent to  Ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου δαιμόνιον, “Homo homini deus,” is very long. It begins with a long reference to the “deification” among the ancients.

I,I,70  Homo homini deus. Man is a god to man

Not far from this is the phrase Ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου δαιμόνιον, Man is a god to man, usually said abount one who has conferred sudden and unlooked for salvation, or who has brought help by some great benefaction. To be a god, thought the ancients, was simply and solely of value to mortal men;

Non admodum hinc abludit et illud:Ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου δαιμόνιον, id est
Homo homini deus, quod dici solet de eo, qui subitam atque insperatam attulit
salutem aut qui magno quopiam beneficio juvit. Antiquitas, enim nihil aliud
existimabat esse deum quam prodesse mortalibus…

So “homo homini deus” is a saying, an adage,  that men are wont to say. The ancient believed that to be god is nothing but to be beneficial to mortals.

Erasmus is then based on the authority of Homer and Hesiod and Strabo and Horace and Juvenal and Pliny and Virgil and Ovid and Plutarch and St. Paul and Gregory of Nyssa, to give examples of benefactors who are gods or considered as such. He ends clarifying under what conditions a Christian can use the expression without offending God.

Certainly Pliny, with his phrase “Deus est mortali iuvare mortalem“, discussed above, shows his inclination towards atheism and his little reverence for the gods, as the own Erasmus takes charge of  highlight in this adage. Pliny does not admit a supreme deity to take care of men, but he believes that it is the world itself or some Nature which  directs everything:

Pliny in the Natural History, book 2, is more clearly referring to the Greek proverb, but speaks as irreverently about the gods as he does a little later about the immortality of souls and foolish about the resurrection of bodies. For after gibing at the multiplicity of gods, and utterly refusing to attribute the care of mortals to the one supreme divinity which he takes to be either the world or some kind of Nature, he says: ‘To be a god is to bring aid to a mortal, though mortal oneself. And this is the way to eternal glory. (Translated by Margaret Mann Phillips. University of Toronto Press)

Plinius Secundus libro Naturalis historiae secundo manifestius Graecam παροιμίαν
indicavit, sed tam impie sentiens de diis quam paulo post de animarum
immortalitate deque corporum resurrectione desipienter. Nam cum et multitudinem
deorum irrisisset et uni illi summo, quem aut mundum hunc aut naturam nescio
quam esse putat, prorsus ademisset curam mortalium, Deus est, inquit, mortali
iuvare mortalem. Et haec ad aeternam gloriam via.

The second adage, 70, is much shorter

I,I,70  Homo homini lupus  Man is a wolf to man

Ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου λύκος. Man is a wolf to man. Almost the opposite of the foregoing, and in a way derived from it apparently, is the phrase of Plautus in the Asinaria, ‘Man is a wolf to man.’ Here we are warned not to trust ourselves to an unknown person, but to beware of him as of a wolf. ‘A man is a wolf and not a man,’ he says, ‘to the one who knows nothing of his character.’  (Translated by Margaret Mann Phillips. University of Toronto Press)

Ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπου λύκος, id est Homo homini lupus. Superiori quasi
diversum est ac velut hinc effictum videtur, quod usurpavit Plautus in Asinaria, Homo homini lupus. Quo monemur, ne quid fidamus homini ignoto, sed perinde atque a lupo caveamus:

     Lupus est (inquit) homo homini, non homo, qui qualis sit non novit.  (Plauto, Asinaria 495)

And  Francis Bacon (1561-1616), who operates on a subject on Justice and State, as Hobbes, says in his Instauratio Magna, in De dignitate et augmentis Scientiarum, in Liber VI, C.iii . Exempla antithetorum XX,:

It is owing to justice that man to man is a god, not a wolf. (Editor: Joseph Devey)

“Iustitia debetur, quod homo homini sit Deus, non lupus”

Note: François Tricaud, in his article: “Homo homini Deus”, “Homo homini lupus” :Sources de Recherches de deux Formules Hobbes “, doesn’t know this quote; he states that Bacon is  doesn’t  use the double formula: “. … deus… lupus”.

And also the same Bacon, in a similar context in Liber VIII, caput II, in the parable XXV, which he called “Fons turbatus pede, et vena corrupta,  est iustus cadens coram impio” and in that he warns  it is necessary to  avoid unjust trial because the injustice of judge corrupts the sources of the law:

XXV.—: A just man falling before the wicked, is a troubled fountain and a corrupted spring
This is a caution to states, that they should have a capital regard to the passing an unjust or infamous sentence in any great and weighty cause, where not only the guilty is acquitted, but the innocent condemned. To countenance private injuries, indeed, disturbs and pollutes the clear streams of justice, as it were, in the brook; but unjust and great public sentences, which are afterward drawn into precedents, infect and defile the very fountain of justice. For when once the court goes on the side of injustice, the law becomes a public robber, and one man really a wolf to another.
(Editor: Joseph Devey)

25. Fons turbatus pede, et vena corrupta, est justus cadens coram impio.
EXPLICATIO. Praecipit Parabola, rebuspublicis ante omnia cavendum esse de iniquo et infami judicio, in caussa aliqua celebri et gravi; praesertim ubi non absolvitur noxius, sed condemnatur insons. Etenim injuriae inter privatos grassantes turbant quidem et polluunt latices justitiae, sed tanquam in rivulis; verum judicia iniqua qualia diximus, a quibus exempla petuntur, fontes ipsos justitiae inficiunt et inquinant. Postquam enim tribunal cesserit in partes injustitiae, status rerum vertitur tanquam in latrocinium publicum: fitque plane, ut homo homini sit lupus.

Later also in J. Owen (died 1793):

“Homo homini lupus, homo homini deus” (Epigrammata,1606,III,23),

There are works such as the Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the 16th and 17th Centuries, of MP Tilley in which numerous references are given prior to Hobbes.

Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) in his Ethica, IV, scholium of the second corollary of Proposition XXXV, says, thinking on Hobbes, that the phrase “Homo homini Deus” “was almost in all mouths” (omnibus fere in ore ), thus indicating the frequency and knowledge of the sentence in question.

Montaigne (1533-1592) in France, said in referring to marriage in Essais, III, ch.IV:

It is a convention to which it is referred timely manner  what is said,  , homo homini o Deus o lupus”

“C’est une convention à laquelle se raporte bien à point ce qu’on dict, homo homini o Deus o lupus”

Montaigne also, therefore, presents the sentence as something that often is said.

And in Spain Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658) in his Criticón, I, IV, page 32 of the edition of the Austral collection Espasa-Calpe, referring to men also used:

“Everyone is a wolf to the another”

“cada uno es un lobo para el otro”

At this point, after all these quotes, which  may seem too many to some readers, we can ask ourselves again: Did you read Hobbes the comedy of Plautus?

He could  read it, but if the words of Plautus had become a sentence and its dissemination was so extensive that it was almost on everyone’s lips, as Spinoza said and it was included in the collections of proverbs or phrases, Hobbes did not need the full knowledge of the Comedy of Plautus. Indeed it is likely that Hobbes  knew it from Erasmus, given the fame of his Adagia, or more likely from Bacon, with him Hobbes lived  even a few months; therefore he never demand   the authorship.

With this long exposure I have tried to deepen the origin of the phrase in question. We would now deepen the meaning of the phrases in each author and context, their proverbial use in Greek, on  Demophilus, ?, ¿Plautus, Caecilius, Virgil, Pliny and other Latin authors, Erasmus, Hobbes, etc.

I will not now thinking about the contents of sentences; I leave the reader the task; but instead I do want to leave a few open issues to the reader’s consideration.

The first question is the widespread belief in the ancient world according to which the gods are benefactors of the men  and hence the man who helps his fellow man is a god or similar to gods.

Man who favors his fellow man is also a god

This is also also in relation to  the “evergetism” (from  Greek εύεργετέω and  ευεργετισμός, meaning “doing good“, “to do good, to do  good works”) or benefactor function  of governors, rich and powerful, and to the deification of kings and leaders.

Is Pliny, contemptuous of the traditional gods, saying us that the only god who  exists for man is another man when he does good to his fellow men?

If the English translation of Hobbes Homo homini lupus” is translated as “Man to Man is a kind of God, are you saying that man is God, a god or something similar to God, something divine?
Or Is Hobbes saying something similar to what Pliny said, when he joins  in one sentence  “homo homini lupus” and “homo homini deus? That is, is Hobbes saying us  that man ceases to be a wolf to become God when he creates the state and social institutions that guarantee its survival and the bourgeois ideal of survival and reciprocity? That is, is Hobbes  more revolutionary  in the fund with the phrase homo homini deus than  his most successful phrase homo homini lupus might make believe?

In the author in whom  there is no doubt of the meaning of the phrase Homo homini deus est is the materialist Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872), for whom the idea of God is nothing but the alienated man projected towards a fictional being and far from humanity itself.

I think there are already many questions, there are several more, to finish an article too long. So I leave the answers to the will of the wise reader.

I shall exemplified a similar proverb with which the Spanish writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, slightly changing the form  (there is also homo homini canis) and meaning  (the man, some men are like lapdogs in the service of another man) published in the Spanish magazine “Sphere” number 106, an article entitled “Homo hominis canis“, in which he said verbatim:

Homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man, Hobbes said, but it could very well be changed the aphorism and say: Homo hominis canis, man is a dog of man. And there are more canine or doggy men than or not lupins or wolfish men”.

“Homo homini lupus, el hombre es un lobo para el hombre, dijo Hobbes, pero podría muy bien cambiarse el aforismo y decir: Homo hominis canis, el hombre es un perro del hombre.Y hay más hombres caninos o perrunos que no lupinos o lobunos”.

Homo homini lupus (Man to man is an arrant wolf) / Homo homini deus (Man to man is a kind of God)

This website uses cookies so that you have the best user experience. If you continue browsing you are giving your consent for the acceptance of the aforementioned cookies and the acceptance of our cookie policy , click the link for more information.

Aviso de cookies