Who originally said:

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur

Wikipedia cites both Augustine and Plutarch.

Anyone know fuller/better where this saying first came from?

  • 1
    Does Wikipedia say something specific about Plutarch or Augustine? Any numbers and words like book and chapter help immensely. You could at least link to the Wikipedia page to make it easier to start tracking it down.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 15, 2023 at 12:40
  • Indeed, here you go: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Epimanes
    Aug 15, 2023 at 14:54
  • 2
    Obviously Wikipedia does not attribute it to Augustine or Plutarch, but there is a passage in De civitate Dei in which similar thoughts, but not this particular expression, are attributed to Q. Mucius Scaevola and Varro. Aug 15, 2023 at 15:01

2 Answers 2


Mundus vult decipi: estudios interdisciplinares sobre falsificación textual y literaria, ed. Javier Martínez, notes a double meaning to this proverb: it is about deception and, by all accounts, its source is a deception.

The preface (pg. 10-11) doesn't offer a concrete answer to your question, but it does specifically mention the Wikipedia page and the resulting confusion from it: . (Note: the preface was evidently written in Spanish but has a facing English translation which is quite poor: I'll still quote the English.)

Let us consider the simple Latin sententia “mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur”. A computer user in early 2008 might have encountered this tag in reading the New York Times blog of economist (and future Nobel Prize winner) Paul Krugman. A different computer user in 2008 might have encountered it in a computer game, “Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst”, where the words are reproduced as part of a puzzle. If we Google the words “mundus vult decipi”, the first result—unsurprisingly—is Wikipedia, which ascribes it to the Roman satirist Petronius. Tucked into Wikipedia’s apparatus criticus, however—the page entitled “Talk”—one editor asks “Does anyone have thesource of attribution to Petronius?” The words occur nowhere in the extant text of Petronius, of course. But it hardly matters: a Google search for “mundus vult decipi” + “Petronius” now yields over 25,000 results. Other sources are offered for the words, on Wikipedia and the Internet generally: Krugman was sufficiently scholarly to give his source for the Latin, a novel by Alan Furst entitled The Spies of Warsaw, where the phrase is referred to, with no evidence, as “Herr Hitler’s favorite saying”. Google tells us the phrase is used in texts by Martin Buber and Theodor Adorno, so some commenters on the Internet attribute it to them. But this is the upshot of our advanced information technology: when a Latin adage is somehow credited variously to Adolf Hitler and Martin Buber, to limn the cladistics of error becomes an exercise in pointlessness. In any case, the question of how Petronius gets credited so widely for the words is easily solved—Wikipedia credits him in 2006. By the time that Krugman’s readers or gamers encounter the phrase on their computers in 2008, their Google searches all led straight to Wikipedia, and the error was perpetuated. Petronius never used the words, though. So where did that attribution come from?

The current Wikipedia article now cites this preface when it says the phrase is attributed to Petronius without any evidence from his texts. (A reference was added in 2012 to Martínez--without casting into doubt the attribution to Petronius--but only in 2015 was a separate section made clarifying that the attribution has no basis.)

So where does the line come from? Neither Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy nor the appendix "On the Supposed Necessity of Deceiving the Vulgar" attributes the quote to Augustine: they merely reference Augustine, who attributes a similar sentiment to Scaevola, and then they (not Augustine) compare it to the adage. The second source, coincidentally, tells us that a "graphical illustration of the motto constitutes the frontispiece of the Charlatanerie des Savans." I couldn't find this illustration, but there are two references to the motto in Johann Burckhardt Mencke's (1674-1732) book. One of the two references, prominently included on pg. 222, includes the full phrase in the OP:

Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur

The only earlier reference to this motto I can find is also linked in the Wikipedia page, though it does not include the full phrase. It is paradox 238 of Sebastian Franck's (1499-1543) Paradoxa Ducenta Octoginta. (Note: in the linked edition, it is paradox 236, but in a much older--but difficult to read--edition, it is 238). Even there, though, it seems that this phrase is already established. Franck writes:

Summa: die Welt will betrogen und belogen sein und nur mit Wahn geäfft und regiert werden, wie jener Mönch sagte und als sein Thema hatte: mundus vult decipi, darum bin ich hie!

My quick translation:

Summary: the world wishes to be deceived and lied to, and only to be misled and ruled with delusion, as that monk said and had as his motto: "The world wishes to be deceived, and that's why I'm here."

I doubt that the adage originated with Franck, but I can't find any earlier reference to it. I see no basis for the attribution to Petronius, and no one has ever attributed to Augustine.

  • 1
    Fascinating (!)
    – Epimanes
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:29
  • 2
    mundus vult decipi has earlier appearance (1497) in Sermones quadragesimales; Sermones de sanctis by Gabriel Barletta. It reads: "Si quis vult esse amicus huius mundi: vadat cum collo torto. Iste mundus vult decipi.";;; Not sure that's related though. Then you can find it in Marthin Luther and Calvin (not sure if earlier than Sebastian Franck);
    – d_e
    Aug 16, 2023 at 2:49
  • 1
    Re Calvin: a closer phrase is found in one of his works, it reads: "quemadmodum etiam monachis fuit in ore, Mundus vult decipi, decipiatur in nomine Diaboli." (probably later than Sebastian Franck but contains also decipiatur.)
    – d_e
    Aug 16, 2023 at 3:03
  • 2
    Finally, Mundus vult decipi, decipiatur ergo can be found in 1524 I believe this is earlier than Frank. Unfortunately I can't understand the surrended text there.
    – d_e
    Aug 16, 2023 at 3:23
  • 2
    @d_e The year must be an error on Google's part, given that the book is called "A collection of rare educational treatises from the 16th and 17th century". The overview page has an entry that suggests 1879 as earliest publishing date. The surrounding text (if you scroll up the date given for this part of the collection is 1693) complains that modern academics defraud students of a proper education because these days they subscribe to the secular Zeitgeist. The German sounds modern even for 1693, so I wonder if this has been edited from the original. Aug 16, 2023 at 10:35

A standard German book of collected quotations by Georg Büchmann, Geflügelte Worte, first published in 1864, traces this back to two sources, neither of which is an exact match. I consulted the 18th edition from 1895, where this is discussed on p. 88.

Büchmann cites the satirical work by Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools), Basel 1494, for a German version. I found a scan of an edition from 1506. The relevant text (the bolding below is mine) appears on pp. 82 & 83:

Einem yeden narren man jetzt gloubt
Vil practick und wissagend kunst
Gatt yetz vast usz der trucker gunst
Die drucken alles das man bringt
was man von schanden sagt und singt
Das gat nün als on stroff do hyn
Die welt die will betrogen syn /

My attempt at a translation: " Now one believes every fool / Much practice and fortune telling / Springs forth due to the printers' art / They print all that one brings to them / What one says and sings of scandals / That passes by now without punishment / The world wants to be deceived "

I wonder whether by "practice" Brant may have been referring to witchcraft. Büchmann traces the Latin version to "Thuanus". It took me quite some time to resolve this reference:

Jacques Auguste de Thou, Historiae sui temporis, Paris: A. & H Drouart 1606, book 17, p. 480, section C.

The annotation in the left margin dates this to 1556. I have some doubts that this is entirely accurate, but the events described in the text roughly agree with that dating. In the following quoted section I have separated the sentences and added bolding to the part directly pertaining to the question.

addit Alexander Andreas harum rerum diligens scriptor & inspector, factam praeterea a Carafa spem de Bononia, Ancona, Paliano, Centumcellis, arque ipsa Romae arce, quae S. Angeli vulgo appellatur, pignoris loco regi tradendis. tandem bellum pro Pontificis defensione decretum, postquam Carafa regem iurisiurandi induciarum pactis interpositi relligione, potestate sibi a Pontifice tradita, solvit, libertatemque ei fecit, in Caesarem & eius F. etiam sine praecedenti belli denunciatione impetum facere.

delecti ad id gerendum in Italia regis nomine P. Strozzius & Blasius Monlucius Senensium rogatu, Subizae, qui ad Ilcini-montem erat, successor designatus, tantisper dum exercitus in Italiam duce Guisio Pontificis & Carafarum auxilio mitteretur.

inde Carafa Lutetiam regni metropolim tanquam Pontificis legatus solita pompa ingreditur, ubi cum signum crucis, ut sit, ederet, verborum, quae proferri mos est, loco, ferunt eum, ut erat securo de numine animo & summus religionis derisor, occursante passim populo & in genua ad ipsius conspectum procumbente, saepius secreta murmuratione haec verba ingeminasse, Quadoquidem populus iste vult decipi, decipiatur.

As best as I could determine, the protagonists here are: P. Strozzius = Piero Strozzi; Blasius Monlucius = Blaise de Monluc; duce Guisio = Duke of Guise; Carafa = Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa, who became Pope Paul IV in 1555. And it is the last of these (Carafa) to whom the notion that the people want to be deceived is ascribed. He supposedly muttered this under his breath as people meeting with him were genuflecting. I am struggling with the Latin here, but I take that this happened when Carafa travelled to Lutetia = Paris as a papal legate; however, I have not been able to find corroborating evidence of such a trip. I also note that Carafa already was the pope in 1556, so this presumably happened prior to that?

But the dating seems to be in the ball park, because the Wikipedia article on Blaise de Monluc states:

[...] during the Italian War of 1551-1559 led a vigorous defence of Siena which surrendered in May 1555 after a siege lasting over a year. Monluc moved to the nearby town of Montalcino and remained in Italy until May 1558 when he returned to Flanders and took part in the capture of Thionville; he was promoted to colonel-général of infantry and became a client of the powerful House of Guise

The Wikipedia article on Piero Strozzi states:

In 1556 he was appointed as superintendent of the Papal army and lord of Épernay. In 1558, under the command of Francis, Duke of Guise, he participated in the siege of Thionville (1558), near Metz in Lorraine.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.