Humanities › History & Culture Where Does the Phrase "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts" Come From? Share Flipboard Email Print Clipart.com History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Greece Figures & Events Ancient Languages Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated February 04, 2020 The adage "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts is heard often, and is normally used to refer to an act of charity that masks a hidden destructive or hostile agenda. But it's not widely known that the phrase originates with a story from Greek mythology--specifically the story of the Trojan War, in which the Greeks, led by Agamemnon, sought to rescue Helen, who had been taken to Troy after falling in love with Paris. This tale forms the core of Homer's famous epic poem, The Illiad. The Episode of the Trojan Horse We pick up the story at a point near the end of the ten-year long Trojan War. Since both the Greeks and the Trojans had gods on their sides, and since the greatest warriors for both sides were now dead, the sides were very evenly matched, with no sign that the war might end soon. Despair reigned on both sides. However, the Greeks had the cunning of Odysseus on their side. Odysseus, King of Ithaca, devised the idea of constructing a large horse to pose as a peace offering to the Trojans. When this Trojan Horse was left at the gates of Troy, the Trojans believed the Greeks had left it as a pious surrender gift as they sailed for home. Welcoming the gift, the Trojans opened their gates and wheeled the horse within their walls, little knowing the belly of the beast was filled with armed soldiers who would soon destroy their city. A celebratory victory festival ensued, and once the Trojans had fallen into a drunken slumber, the Greeks emerged from the horse and vanquished them. Greek cleverness won the day over Trojan warrior skill. How the Phrase Came into Use The Roman Poet Virgil eventually coined the phrase "Be wary of Greeks bearing gifts," putting it into the mouth of the character Laocoon in the Aeneid, an epic retelling of the legend of the Trojan War. The Latin phrase is "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes," which literally translated means "I fear the Danaans [Greeks], even those bearing gifts," but it is usually translated in English as "Beware (or be wary) of Greeks bearing gifts." It is from Virgil's poetic retelling of the story that we get this well-known phrase. The adage is now used regularly as a warning when a supposed gift or act of virtue is thought to hold a hidden threat.