PHYS345 Electricity and Electronics

Quote of the Day

  Divide and conquer.  
  My submission to the UD library's AskRef service:
I have looked high and low for attribution to the expression "Divide and conquer" or the original context in which it was issued (probably the military). I would like to make an accurate reference to it as quote-of-the-day for my course website as it relates to the topic of the day. Can you point me in the right direction? (Perhaps it derives from an old Latin expression?)

The response (kudos to Rebecca Knight!):

According to the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings":

Originally a Latin saying, "divide et impera" ("divide and rule"), the saying has been in common use since "M. Hurault's Discourse upon the Present state of France" (1588) ...
The Dictionary also cites its use by Machiavelli.

Also, the "Oxford English Dictionary" gives a definition:

a statement of the policy of not allowing subject peoples or factions to make common cause.
Says that "divide et impera" is sometimes translated as "divide and govern." It lists several usages beginning with 1602. It also lists a dictionary usage in 1870 from Brewer "Dictionay of Phrases and Fables":
"Divide and govern. Divide a nation into parties, or set your enemies at loggerheads, and you can have your own way. A maxim of Machiavelli."

The OED also lists a dictionary listing in 1948 from B. Stevenson "Home Book of Proverbs":

"Divide et impera" was the motto of Philip of Macedon and of Louis XI of France, in dealing with his nobles. It is the traditional motto of Austria. Polybius, Bossuet, and Monteesquieu used it, but it is generally ascribed to Machiavelli.

In contrast, James Morwood's "Dictionary of latin words and phrases" published in 1998 says:

"divide et impera" -- "divide and rule". The motto of Louis XI of France. Though this political axiom--conveying that government is more easily maintained if factions are set against each other and not permitted to unite against the ruler--is attributed to the Florentine political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), he in fact denounced it.

So, there is division, even in the phrase's origin. (Sorry I couldn't resist.) Hope this helps.

Thanks for using the AskRef service.

Rebecca C. Knight
Reference Department, Morris Library


Last updated Oct. 5, 1999.
Copyright George Watson, Univ. of Delaware, 1998.