When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war

When two adversaries are of equal strength of character, the contest of wills is certain to be long and hard-fought.

Dr Brewer tells us that the reference is to the obstinate resistance of the Greek cities to Philip and his son Alexander, the Macedonian kings, who were also Greeks by descent. The proverb as given above has become so established that we cannot change it now, yet it is a misquotation. The correct version, in a play called The Rivals Queens by Nathaniel Lee, is ‘When Greeks join’d Greeks, then was the tug of war’.

The verb ‘to join’ means here ‘to fight’ and a tug is a decisive contest. The athletic event derives its name from this.

It should be noted that when we use the proverb we are not referring to battles long ago, but to a difference of opinion between two strong-minded men.

Related Content

Cross a bridge before one comes to...

To think and worry about future events or problems before they happen. We...
Read more →

Come in a close second

To almost be chosen first for something. The politician came in a close...
Read more →

Come home to (someone)

To become apparent to someone. It suddenly came home to the young family...
Read more →