9

The following quote is often attributed to Diderot - co-founder of the Encyclopédie and one of the most notable figures during the Enlightenment:

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

I have not been able to find the original source. I would like to know the context of the quote and how literal he meant it, given the subsequent French Revolution.

10

Like most internet “quotes”, this is actually fake. But Diderot said something quite similar in his poem: “Les Éleuthéromanes” :


J'en atteste les temps; j'en appelle à tout âge;

Jamais au public avantage

L'homme n'a franchement sacrifié ses droits;

S'il osait de son cœur n'écouter que la voix,

Changeant tout à coup de langage,

Il nous dirait, comme l'hôte des bois:

La nature n'a fait ni serviteur ni maître;

Je ne veux ni donner ni recevoir de lois.

Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,

Au défaut d'un cordon pour étrangler les rois.


Translation by user Xocet on DU:

I display the times; I appeal to the age

The public is never advantaged

Certainly, mankind has not sacrificed its rights;

If mankind dared but to listen to the voice of its heart, changing suddenly the language,

It would say to us, as it would to the animals of the woods:

Nature created neither servant nor master;

I seek neither to rule nor to serve.

And its hands would weave the entrails of the priest,

For the lack of a cord with which to strangle kings.

  • I changed weave to warp. – Olivier Jan 26 '16 at 16:37
  • @Olivier Out of curiosity, what's the reason for that change? Google translate also suggests "weave", and this translation is in fact attributed to a link contained in this very answer; changing it is dishonest, whether or not it is an honest attempt at an improvement. – Darren Mar 27 '18 at 18:12
  • IMO lines #2 and #3 translate as "Honestly, never to the public good has Man ever sacrificed his [private/personal] rights". And #8 is more literally "I neither want to give nor to receive any laws". – ChrisW Mar 27 '18 at 20:38
  • @fdb Wrong or not, I had heard it a long time before there was an internet. – Flynn Mar 27 '18 at 20:41
  • The verb "ourdir" is defined here -- literally "place fibres on a loom before weaving it", figuratively "prepare a scenario or put things in place, for a subsequent action". – ChrisW Mar 27 '18 at 20:42
3

The saying first appeared in the "Testament" of the atheist-priest Jean Meslier, who said he heard it from a common Frenchman in his parish. For details see the final 3 paragraphs of my essay here:

Indeed, in Chapter 2 we find the first formulation of a saying that has commonly been attributed to the French atheist Denis Diderot (1713-1784): “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” This is not how Meslier worded the sentiment, nor did he take credit for the idea. Rather, Meslier attributed the sentiment to a common Frenchman “who had no culture or education.” This man, however, had the sound judgment to understand the evils inflicted upon him and other poor people by the French government and Gallican Church.

In his wish and in his way of expressing his thought it seemed that he saw rather far and penetrated rather deeply into the detestable mystery of iniquity of which I just spoke, and recognized very well the perpetrators and instigators. His wish was that all the rulers of the earth and all the nobles be hanged and strangled with the guts of priests.

This expression, Meslier remarked, “may seem hard, rude, and shocking, but you must admit that it is candid and simple.”

  • Thank you, this is a very interesting paper. Could you give the exact wording in French? – fdb Mar 27 '18 at 22:52
  • I have edited what appears to be the relevant sections in; but in the future, please consider quoting the important parts of a link in the answer so as to avoid link rot. – Semaphore Mar 29 '18 at 8:42

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