A common phrase for mistrust towards a given gift is looking a gift horse in the mouth. As explained in Wiktionary (linked above), the saying goes back to the New Testament via St. Jerome's Latin translation.

Was this or something similar an established saying in classical antiquity in Latin or Greek? I don't know how to define an established saying or what it means to be similar enough, so I will leave it to your judgement. I don't believe there is an awful lot of extant sayings regarding horses, gifts and mistrust, so this shouldn't be horribly broad.

For some reason I suspect that the ancients might have a saying about looking a gift horse in the belly instead…

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    I think you may have the wrong idea here. The [English] saying is based on the idea that a horse's age can be judged by its teeth. If you are given a horse, it's very impolite to look in its mouth to see the value of your gift. A closely related saying is take what you're given, and be glad of it.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 11:51

2 Answers 2


“noli … equi dentes inspicere donati” is cited as a “vulgare proverbium” by Jerome in the preface to his commentary on the (Pauline) Epistle to the Ephesians (not his translation of that epistle, as wrongly stated in the linked Wiktionary article). This takes it back to about 387, old enough to be (nearly) classical.

It is quoted in context here: https://wordhistories.net/2017/06/04/look-gift-horse-mouth/


The nearest thing, possibly, encompassing "mistrust" & "gifts" would be the well-known: "timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" = "I fear the Greeks, even when bearing gifts."

(Virgil, "Aeneid" 2.49)

Surprised that no-one offered this, at the time; unless, in some way, it's completely wrong?

The Romans claimed to admire the Greeks; but, really, they despised them. They, the Romans, felt culturally inferior. It is possible to imagine a Roman sneering at something he distrusted as a "Greek gift". Cannot offer evidence; apart from, tenuously "I Claudius" & "Claudius the God" by Robert Graves (if yourself has not read these, you've just got to) which show the thinly-disguised realities. Exemplified in the "I Claudius" TV-series (1976): Claudius, disparagingly, to his Doctor, Xenephon, "Don't you Greeks believe in anything?"; loathesome, "Lady" Agripinilla advises her equally loathesome son, Nero: "That Greek (Pallas) runs This Empire!" This, after Nero had said: "I don't like that Greek."

Robert Graves always said that the spirit of Claudius wrote the books through himself (Graves). Yeah, right; but, what a marketing strategy. Given the intricate detail; depth of knowledge; the powerful pro-Claudius narrative (statesman; war-leader; historian; lawyer; judge; administrator; merciful; gentle-but-effective commander) to say nothing of incredible biographical revelations about "sweet, young Emperor Caius"...Who knows?

"I Claudius" was one of the best things I have ever seen on TV-- well-worth it.

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