Flattery (also called adulation or blandishment) is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject. Historically, flattery has been used as a standard form of discourse when addressing a king or queen. In the Renaissance, it was a common practice among writers to flatter the reigning monarch, as Edmund Spenser flattered Queen Elizabeth I in The Faerie Queene, William Shakespeare flattered King James I in Macbeth and Niccolò Machiavelli flattered Lorenzo II di Piero de' Medici, ruler of Florence and Duke of Urbino, in The Prince. Most associations with flattery, however, are negative. Negative descriptions of flattery range at least as far back in history as The Bible. In the Divine Comedy, Dante depicts flatterers wading in human excrement, stating that their words were the equivalent of excrement, in the 8th Circle of Hell.
- Men who offer laudatory speeches to the rich ... are insidious because, although mere abundance is by itself quite enough to puff up the souls of its possessors, and to corrupt them, and to turn them aside from the way by which salvation can be reached, these men bring fresh delusion to the minds of the rich by exciting them with the pleasures that come from their immoderate praises, and by rendering them contemptuous of absolutely everything in the world except the wealth which is the cause of their being admired. In the words of the proverb, they carry fire to fire, when they shower pride upon pride, and heap on wealth, heavy by its own nature, the heavier burden of arrogance.
- Clement of Alexandria, The Rich Man's Salvation (Loeb Classical Library, Volume 92), p. 271.
- She began to think too, that Sir Mulberry was not quite so agreeable a creature as she had at first supposed him; for, although a skilful flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to complimenting other people.
- Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby, chapter XXVIII. Miss Nickleby, Rendered Desperate by the Persecution of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and the Complicated Difficulties and Distresses Which Surround Her, Appeals, as her Last Resource, to her Uncle for Protection.
- Imitation is the sincerest of flattery.
- Charles Caleb Colton, Lacon, vol. I (1820), p. 127, # 217.
- I would give worlds, could I believe
One-half that is profess'd me;
Affection! could I think it Thee,
When Flattery has caress'd me.
- Letitia Elizabeth Landon The Venetian Bracelet (1829), Song 'I pray thee let me weep to-night'
How was Moses able to withstand Pharaoh when he had nothing but holiness to give him courage? ...
A solitary prophet once censured a king for his unlawful acts, when the king had his whole army with him. ...
These holy men achieved such things because they had resolved to live for the soul alone, turning away from the body and its wants. The fact of needing nothing made them superior to all men. They chose to forsake the body and to free themselves from life in the flesh, rather than to betray the cause of holiness and, because of their bodily needs, to flatter the wealthy. ...
But, as for us, when we lack something, instead of struggling courageously against our difficulties, we come fawning to the rich, like puppies wagging their tails in the hope of being tossed a bare bone or some crumbs. To get what we want, we call them benefactors and protectors of Christians, attributing every virtue to them, even though they may be utterly wicked.
We should not flatter, because of our needs, those who value highly the very things it is our vocation to despise.
- Neilos the Ascetic, Ascetic Discourse (425 AD), in Philokalia, as translated and edited by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (1979)
- Mine eyes
Were not in fault, for she was beautiful;
Mine ears, that heard her flattery; nor my heart,
That thought her like her seeming; it had been vicious
To have mistrusted her.
- William Shakespeare, Cymbeline (1611), Act V, scene 5, line 63.
- Why should the poor be flatter'd?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee,
Where thrift may follow fawning.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1600-02), Act III, scene 2, line 65.
- By God, I cannot flatter: I do defy
The tongues of soothers; but a braver place
In my heart's love, hath no man than yourself;
Nay, task me to my word; approve me, lord.
- William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I (c. 1597), Act IV, scene 1, line 6.
- What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet,
But poison'd flattery?
- William Shakespeare, Henry V (c. 1599), Act IV, scene 1, line 267.
- But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flattered.
- William Shakespeare, Julius Cæsar (1599), Act II, scene 1, line 208.
- They do abuse the king that flatter him:
For flattery is the bellows blows up sin.
- William Shakespeare, Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c. 1607-08), Act I, scene 2, line 38.
- O, that men's ears should be
To counsel deaf, but not to flattery!
- William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens (date uncertain, published 1623), Act I, scene 2, line 256.
- Take no repulse, whatever she doth say;
For, "get you gone," she doth not mean, "away."
Flatter and praise, commend, extol their graces;
Though ne'er so black, say they have angels' faces.
That man that hath a tongue, I say, is no man,
If with his tongue he cannot win a woman.
- William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1590s), Act III, scene 1, line 100.
- Of folly, vice, disease, men proud we see;
And, (stranger still,) of blockheads' flattery;
Whose praise defames; as if a fool should mean,
By spitting on your face, to make it clean.
- Edward Young, Love of Fame (1725-1728), Satire I, line 755.
- With your own heart confer;
And dread even there to find a flatterer.
- Edward Young, Love of Fame (1725-1728), Satire VI.
- It is one of the great evils of servitude, that let the tyranny be ever so severe, 'tis always flattered; and the more severe 'tis, the more 'tis flattered. The oppressors of mankind are flattered beyond all others; because fear and servitude naturally produce, as well as have recourse to, flattery, as the best means of self-preservation; whereas liberty, having no occasion for it, scorns it.
- Gordon, Thomas (Saturday, April 15, 1721). Cato's Letter No. 25, Considerations on the destructive Spirit of arbitrary Power. With the Blessings of Liberty, and our own Constitution.
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 276-77.
- It has been well said that "the arch-flatterer with whom all the petty flatterers have intelligence is a man's self."
- Quoted by Francis Bacon, Essays, X, Of Love. Variation in Essay XXVII, Of Friendship; LIII, Of Praise. From Plutarch, De Adul, et Amico.
- Assentatio, vitiorum adjutrix, procul amoveatur.
- Let flattery, the handmaid of the vices, be far removed (from friendship).
- Cicero, De Amicitia, XXIV.
- Of praise a mere glutton, he swallow'd what came,
And the puff of a dunce, he mistook it for fame;
Till his relish grown callous, almost to displease,
Who pepper'd the highest was surest to please.
- Oliver Goldsmith, Retaliation (1774), line 109.
- Adulandi gens prudentissima laudat
Sermonem indocti, faciem deformis amici.
- The skilful class of flatterers praise the discourse of an ignorant friend and the face of a deformed one.
- Juvenal, Satires (early 2nd century), III. 86.
- Gallantry of mind consists in saying flattering things in an agreeable manner.
- François de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 103.
- On croit quelquefois haïr la flatterie; mais on ne hait que la manière de flatter.
- We sometimes think that we hate flattery, but we only hate the manner in which it is done.
- François de La Rochefoucauld, Maximes (1665–1678), 329.
- No adulation; 'tis the death of virtue;
Who flatters, is of all mankind the lowest
Save he who courts the flattery.
- Hannah More, Daniel.
- Qu se laudari gaudent verbis subdolis,
Sera dant pœnas turpes pœnitentia.
- They who delight to be flattered, pay for their folly by a late repentance.
- Phædrus, Fables, I, 13, 1.
- By flatterers besieged
And so obliging that he ne'er obliged.
- Alexander Pope, Prologue to Satires, line 207.
- Their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.
- Psalms. V. 9.
- Es ist dem Menschen leichter und geläufiger, zu schmeicheln als zu loben.
- It is easier and handier for men to flatter than to praise.
- Jean Paul Richter, Titan, Zykel 34.
- 'Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery's the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a bit.
- Jonathan Swift, Cadenus and Vanessa, line 769.
- Where Young must torture his invention
To flatter knaves, or lose his pension.
- Jonathan Swift, Poetry, a Rhapsody, line 279.
- Vitium fuit, nunc mos est, adsentatio.
- Flattery was formerly a vice; it has now become the fashion.
- Syrus, Maxims.
- Pessimum genus inimicorum laudantes.
- Flatterers are the worst kind of enemies.
- Tacitus, Agricola, XLI.