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The advice "Don't shoot the messenger" was first expressed by Sophocles as far back as 442 B.C. and much later by Shakespeare in Henry IV, part 2 (1598) and in Antony and Cleopatra (1606-07). Excuse me, but huh??? How can that be true if there were no BULLETS in 442 BC? 07:46, 6 March 2006 (UTC)

This probably points to the quote No one love the messenger who brings bad news. from Antigone. [1]. Pavel Vozenilek 23:57, 13 March 2006 (UTC)
Maybe there were no bullets BC, but there were arrows!
Actually there were bullets back then, they were just locked up in the Earth. Remember, matter cannot be created nor destroyed. - The bullets were simply waiting in their crude state for a blacksmith to refashion and reshape them into the form of the bullets that we see today. - Professor Lerman McHuges (talk) 05:14, 11 April 2010 (UTC)


An easily-provoked combatant receiving such an overture could more easily vent anger (or otherwise retaliate) on the deliverer of the unpopular message than on its author, thus literally killing the messenger.

We don't know if this ever happened, for the most part its a hypothetical situation. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:19, August 24, 2007 (UTC)

It seems to happen all the time in the chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Although it's historical fiction, it seems to occur very frequently and without any hint of irony... though I suppose it could be seen as a way to show the quick to anger nature of the person receiving the news, I can't imagine it being completely baseless there. In the novels, envoys are either showered with gifts/etc or beheaded, depending on whether the news is favorable. (talk) 21:43, 15 October 2009 (UTC)

Whether or not this ever actually happened seems to me to be immaterial; it is enough that people thought it either had or could have happened to be the origin of this metaphor.Wschart (talk) 02:18, 20 January 2010 (UTC)

The origins of this phrase are discussed in Wisdom Well Said by Charles Francis (Levine Mesa Press: Prado, NM, 2009) pages 93-95 [2]; which includes a reference to Plutarch's Life of Lucullus, and stories (otherwise unconfirmed) about Alexander the Great, Peter the Great, and others. I also recall that Suetonius had mentioned that one of the crazier Caesars - perhaps Caligula or Nero - liked to prank a messenger by sending him on a long journey with the message (presumably written and sealed and unknown to the courier) to the addressee, "Do nothing, good or bad, to the courier" -- which at least hints at an option of doing something bad to messengers. Sussmanbern (talk) 18:01, 30 January 2010 (UTC)

Kill the messengerEdit

My understanding of this phrase is that it was attributed to one of the Persian kings, i.e. Xerxes, Darius, etc. I was told this in school many (sadly), many years ago. Perhaps I am wrong in this (or the teacher was wrong), but that was my understanding. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:56, 10 September 2008 (UTC)

Yes, and I would very much like to see an actual historical reference including a citation from a primary source. I had heard a multitude of imagined origins, including ancient Greece, ancient Persia, and ancient China, but could not find an actual quotation from a historical source. In the 1960s art book, Kitch, there is a small repro of a painting (19th or 20th century) that shows a king in his throne room, in a very bad mood, surrounded by the dead bodies of a dozen or so soldiers or couriers, obviously getting bad news from the war zone with the messengers either killing themselves or being killed because they brought news of defeats. I keep trying to find that 40 year old book so I can identify the painting. (talk) 16:58, 30 January 2010 (UTC)


I once heard Adolf Hitler literally shot a messenger. Anyone know if this is true? (talk) 06:24, 17 January 2009 (UTC)

Saddam Husein did had a reputation of shooting people including messengers who told him what he did not wish to here.
In the autobiography of Heinz Guderian, the inventor of Panzer tactics, Guderian reports yelling matches (rows) that AH performed to intimidate anyone who tried to bring AH bad news.

Tabletop (talk) 11:19, 12 April 2010 (UTC)

"Messengers" from CanaanEdit

What does the painting of Moses and the spies have to do with the topic? KingKane (talk) 16:02, 11 November 2012 (UTC+1)

You may have a point. It does seem out of place somewhat. -- Gareth Griffith-Jones/The Welsh Buzzard 21:01, 11 November 2012 (UTC)

Multiple issuesEdit

Added multiple issues template. 'Freud and defence' and 'Current application' sections in particular need attention. I can sort the grammar, punctuation and spelling, but someone else with knowledge of the subject (or willing to research) needs to sort out the POV and tone first. HNY 2015! Centrepull (talk) 12:22, 31 December 2014 (UTC)

Article confuses two issuesEdit

The article confuses two distinct issues:

  1. lashing out at an enemy emissary: I have an enemy at my hands, but I refrain from doing what I'd like otherwise to do with my enemy (capturing, killing)... essentially because my enemy and I have an understanding that we don't harm each other's emissaries (rules of war)
  2. getting upset at bad news and venting my anger on the bearer of the bad news (who may be my enemy or not)

While the two cases may co-occur (an enemy emissary bears bad news), they often occur separately. From my understanding, the phrase "(Don't) shoot/kill the messenger" refers to the second scenario, but I'm happy to stand corrected. Just let's not have an article muddying up the topic by presenting the two distinct issues as one... --Ibn Battuta (talk) 21:26, 3 February 2015 (UTC)

Freud and Defense - Jung and the ShadowEdit

Carl Jung's concept of the "Shadow" does not seem pertinent to "Shooting the Messenger". Can someone justify or clarify how the concept relates to the article? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Rehanito (talkcontribs) 01:12, 8 October 2015 (UTC)

Current ApplicationEdit

In the last part of the "Current Application" section the article briefly mentions the WikiLeaks, I feel like this could be expanded further because it seems pertinent to the "current application" to the article. If anyone could give more insight on it that would be helpful. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Rehanito (talkcontribs) 01:14, 8 October 2015 (UTC)

Return to "Shooting the messenger" page.