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Illustration by Peter Newell for the poem "The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven" in Fables for the Frivolous, by [[w:Guy Wetmore Carryl]Guy Wetmore Carryl]].

Sycophancy is flattery that is very obedient, or an indication of deference to another, to an excessive or servile degree. Sycophancy is also the fawning behavior of a sycophant; servile flattery. A user of sycophancy, is referred to as a sycophant. The word sycophant has its origin in the legal system of Classical Athens.


  • An orator was most in need of rhetorical means of reinscribing himself within the realm of the pitiable when faced with charges of "sycophancy," that mysterious and vilified form of prosecution, whose name literally means "pointing out" or displaying figs. In classical Athens the term "sycophancy" did not refer to flattery but to some method of prosecuting that was not socially acceptable. The sychophant was somehow the opposite of the upright legitimate democratic prosecutor. Accusing one’s opponent of being a sychophant was one of the most powerful weapons in the rhetorical arsenal because the word sychophant specially directed the audience to consider the degree to which a prosecutor had veered from the city’s system of value.
  • Sycophancy toward those who hold power is a fact in every regime, and especially in a democracy, where, unlike, where unlike tyranny, there is an accepted principle of legitimacy that breaks the inner will to resist, and where, as I have said, there is no legitimate power other than the people to which a man can turn.
  • One of the most distressing, creeping tendencies among some officers who cannot bear the strain has been the inclination toward sycophancy.
  • Webster defines a sycophant as "a fawning parasite", a sad description for an Army Officer, but one that fits the (un)worthy few who attempt to curry personal favor with their superiors outside the line of duty.
    • Keith E. Bonn in: "Army Officer's Guide", p. 90.
  • Sycophancy has many other names –bootlicking, apple-polishing, and several more colourful but less printable synonyms. We all know what it is, and most of us abhor it. It is alien to American culture; even sixth graders detest the “teachers’pet” who always seems to be laughing hardest at the teacher’s jokes, making a show of knowing the answer, or worst of all – snitching on the kid who threw the paper airplane across the room. In a sophomoric way, almost all of us despise this sort of behavior (and often those who display it), but sycophancy in the Army is much more serious and is intolerable under any circumstances.
    • Keith E. Bonn in: "Army Officer's Guide", p. 90.
  • Sycophant, n. One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor.
    As the lean leech, its victim found, is pleased
    To fix itself upon a part diseased.
    Till, its black hide distended with bad blood,
    It drops to die of surfeit in the mud,
    So the base sycophant with joy descries
    His neighbor's weak spot and his mouth applies,
    Gorges and prospers like the leech, although,
    Unlike that reptile, he will not let go.
    Gelasma, if it paid you to devote
    Your talent to the service of a goat,
    Showing by forceful logic that its beard
    Is more than Aaron's fit to be revered;
    If to the task of honoring its smell
    Profit had prompted you, and love as well,
    The world would benefit at last by you
    And wealthy malefactors weep anew --
    Your favor for a moment's space denied
    And to the nobler object turned aside.
    Is't not enough that thrifty millionaires
    Who loot in freight and spoliate in fares,
    Or, cursed with consciences that bid them fly
    To safer villainies of darker dye,
    Forswearing robbery and fain, instead,
    To steal (they call it "cornering" our bread
    May see you groveling their boots to lick
    And begging for the favor of a kick?
    Still must you follow to the bitter end
    Your sycophantic disposition's trend,
    And in your eagerness to please the rich
    Hunt hungry sinners to their final ditch?
    In Morgan's praise you smite the sounding wire,
    And sing hosannas to great Havemeyher!
    What's Satan done that him you should eschew?
    He too is reeking rich --deducting you.
  • ..the existence of a 'system' that was ruining the country. The system of upstarts; of low-bred, low-minded sycophants usurping the stations designed by nature, by reason, by the Constitution, and by the interests of the people, to men of high birth, eminent talents, or great national services; the system by which the ancient Aristocracy and the Church have been undermined; by which the ancient gentry of the kingdom have been almost extinguished, their means of support having been transferred, by the hand of the tax gatherer, to contractors, jobbers and Jews; the system by which but too many of the higher orders have been rendered the servile dependents of the minister of the day, and by which the lower, their generous spirit first broken down, have been moulded into a mass of parish fed paupers. Unless it be the intention, the solemn resolution, to change this system, let no one talk to me of a change of ministry; for, until this system be destroyed...until the filthy tribe of jobbers, brokers and peculators shall be swept from the councils of the nation and the society of her statesmen...there is no change of men, that can, for a single hour, retard the mighty mischief that we dread...
An examination of the leaders and military assistants closest to Hitler – men such as Jodi and Keitel in the OKW and Ribbentrop, Himmler, Goering and Goebbels - reveals that almost all were sycophants. Ribbentrop and Goering, for example, carefully saw to it that Hitler received only the reports that confirmed his own beliefs and images. - Michael I. Handel
  • The orators...frequently take the fact that the prosecutor was not himself wronged as a sign that the prosecution is sychophantic...The sychophant characteristically acts after the event and rakes up old charges...If men do not contest charges immediately but later, they are regarded as sychophants and poneroi (vulgar people).
    • R. Osborne in: "The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens", p. 156
  • What if I should advance farther, and assert, that if Epicurus had been accused before the people, by any of the sycophants or informers of those days, he could easily have defended his cause, and proved his principles of philosophy to be as salutary as those of the adversaries, who endeavored, with such zeal, to expose him to the public hatred and jealousy?
In person, Grandma Moses charmed wherever she went. A tiny, lively woman with mischievous gray eyes and a quick wit, she could be sharp-tongued with a sycophant and stern with an errant grandchild.
  • Sycophancy does damage one's identity, but not all types of sycophancy cause damage to dignity. Sycophancy arises in a situation where there is complete dominance of either a person, a group of persons or the dominant section of society. Democracy does not create a sense of self-worth among the people through the language of rights and autonomy. To this extent sycophancy should be marginal to any democratic setup. Yet, we have sycophancy which demands submission to the self-awareness of the dominant. Look at this statement “Indira is India”. Sycophancy suggests the depletion of moral resources that are defined in terms of endurance of frustration and suffering.
  • In sycophancy, one is not true to oneself. Sycophancy rests on self-deception and not on self-respect. People deliberately decide to act dumb before their party bosses. If we have self-effacing personality in politics perhaps one can avoid or control the menace of sycophancy.
    • Ujjwal Kumar Singh in: "Human Rights and Peace: Ideas, Laws, Institutions and Movements", p. 84-85
  • It is easy enough to describe the sychophant as a perversion or perhaps inversion of the ideal of the volunteer prosecutor, but there has been considerable recent dispute as to what is about him that is perverse.
    • S.Todd in: "The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens", p. 156

A Writer's Nightmare: Selected Essays, 1958-1988[edit]

R. K. Narayan in: A Writer's Nightmare: Selected Essays, 1958-1988, Penguin Books India, 1988

  • Sycophancy is one of oldest professions in the world. King Cole was a merry old soul because he could afford to be so. He would have felt choked by his surroundings but for the sycophant who stood by and helped him attain peace of mind.
    • In:p.79
...Polonius: Very like a whale.
I quote this because it seems to me masterpiece of sycophancy, although Polonius has perhaps other aims, such as wanting to humor a madman, in making himself so agrreable. - R. K. Narayan.
  • Hamlet points to the sky and asks Polonius: Do you see yonder cloud almost in the shape of a camel.
    Polonius: By the mass, and it is like a camel, indeed.
    Hamlet:Methinks it is like a weasel.
    Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
    Hamlet: Or, like a whale.
    Polonius: Very like a whale.
    I quote this because it seems to me masterpiece of sycophancy, although Polonius has perhaps other aims, such as wanting to humor a madman, in making himself so agrreable.
    • In: p. 78.
  • The sycophant is one who sacrifices much and bears much, and it is no small strain to remain agreeable under all conditions. After all, when we come to consider it, what is his personal gain in all this? It is not much. All that he seeks is that he be allowed to bask forever in the sunshine of his master’s presence.
    • In: P.79.
  • I have tried to trace the origin of the word sycophant. The dictionary says ‘perh.orig’ meaning one who informed against persons exporting figs, from sukon ‘fig’, see ‘Synconium’, which injunction I could not lightly ignore. I looked up ‘Synconium’ to know that it was Greek for fig or near -fig -like fruit.
    • In: p. 80.
  • With the fig business, its export restrictions and possible controls, the men who profited by flouting the law, and these last were known as sycophants.
    • In: P. 80.
  • The American colloquial expression for it is more direct: “Yes-man”. It may not exactly mean sycophancy but something more. ‘Yes-man’ seems to be democratic word. Sycophant was quite adequate for one-man rule, when the ruler did not have to worry about public opinion, but nowadays the ruler has to get through his business with the backing of his yes-men, which alone can give it a democratic touch.
    • In: p. 79.
  • There is no sycophantess just as there is no such thing as 'yes-woman'.
    • In: P.80

The Complete Guide to Group Discussion[edit]

Prof. Shrikant Prasoon]] in:The Complete Guide to Group Discussion, V&S Publishers, 1 April 2012.

  • Sycophancy is the art of flattery. A sycophant praises a powerful and important person too much and in a way which is not sincere, especially in order to get some favour from him or her. Sycophants are not actually admirers. They have their vested interest and the praise is always loud and insincere.
    • In: 88.
  • Sycophancy which is definitely flattery is always an art and the sycophants great artists. They know their roles well. They know what to say; how much to say; when to say; and when to remain silent. Moreover the sycophants know the powers and weaknesses of their target.
    • In: P.88.
  • If a person, after praising someone fails to win the favor, then he is not an expert sycophant. He is just learning the art of flattery. He is a beginner and not a master.
    • In:P.88.
  • In fact, a sycophant, flatterer is an intellectual person; a good judge of nature and situation; possess presence of mind; has command over certain words; well-rehearsed way of presentation; a meeliflous tongue and immense patience to wait for the right moment. They rehearse their words many times silently before uttering them.
    • In:p.89.
  • Sycophants are very common and popular. They are criticized behind their backs but no one dares to criticize them in the front for the fear what damage they can easily do with sweet words. Such men have no self-respect. They are selfless; ego-less, and pride-less.
    • In: P.90.

The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven[edit]

Guy Wetmore Carryl in: The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven, HolyJoe.Org

  • The Sycophantic Fox and the Gullible Raven
    A raven sat upon a tree,
    And not a word he spoke,
    for His beak contained a piece of Brie.
    Or, maybe it was Roquefort.
    We’ll make it any kind you please --
    At all events it was a cheese.
    Beneath the tree’s umbrageous limb
    A hungry fox sat smiling;
    He saw the raven watching him,
    and spoke in words beguiling:
    "J’admire," said he, "ton beau plumage!"(The which was simply persiflage.)
    Two things there are, no doubt you know,
    To which a fox is used:
    A rooster that is bound to crow,
    A crow that’s bound to roost;
    And whichsoever he espies
    He tells the most unblushing lies.
    "Sweet fowl," he said, "I understand
    You’re more than merely natty;
    I hear you sing to beat the band
    And Adelina Patti.
    Pray render with your liquid tongue
    A bit from Götterdämmerung.
    "This subtle speech was aimed to please
    The crow, and it succeeded;
    He thought no bird in all the trees
    Could sing as well as he did
    .In flattery completely doused,
    He gave the "Jewel Song" from Faust.
    But gravitation’s law, of course,
    As Isaac Newton showed it,
    Exerted on the cheese its force,
    And elsewhere soon bestowed it.
    In fact, there is no need to tell
    What happened when to earth it fell.
    I blush to add that when the bird
    Took in the situation
    He said one brief, emphatic word,
    Unfit for publication.
    The fox was greatly startled, but
    He only sighed and answered,
    "Tut."THE MORAL is: A fox is bound
    To be a shameless sinner.
    And also: When the cheese comes round You know it’s after dinner.
    But (what is only known to few)
    The fox is after dinner, too.

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