The tall poppy syndrome describes the cultural phenomenon of mocking people who think highly of themselves, "cutting down the tall poppy". Common in Australia and New Zealand, it is seen by many as self-deprecating and by others as promoting modesty and egalitarianism.
The concept originates from accounts in Herodotus' Histories (Book 5, 92f), Aristotle's Politics (1284a), and Livy's Ab Urbe Condita Libri, Book I,with reversed roles, referring to Periander's advice to Thrasybulus via a herald.
The specific reference to poppies occurs in Livy's account of the tyrannical Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus. He is said to have received a messenger from his son Sextus Tarquinius asking what he should do next in Gabii, since he had become all-powerful there. Rather than answering the messenger verbally, Tarquin went into his garden, took a stick, and symbolically swept it across his garden, thus cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies that were growing there. The messenger, tired of waiting for an answer, returned to Gabii and told Sextus what he had seen. Sextus realised that his father wished him to put to death all of the most eminent people of Gabii, which he then did.
The earliest English-language example of Tall Poppies being used as a metaphor for notables may be found in Roger L'Estrange's newspaper, The Observator , in 1710. One party to a dialogue relates the tale of Tarquin, and later observes approvingly of his Royalist allies, "If you'll have but a little Patience, you may see them make very noble Efforts towards striking off the Heads of the tall Poppies."
Use of the phrase is first documented in 1864,with the common usage appearing after the publication of Susan Mitchell's best-selling book Tall Poppies in 1984 in which Mitchell interviewed nine successful Australian women.
The term is used in the same manner in New Zealand– people are expected to be humble and self deprecating, "as though excellence or superiority in a particular field somehow represented a rebuff to ideas of equality".
In Ireland, especially the traditionally-Catholic Republic of Ireland, it is prevalent within the culture to encourage humility in yourself and others. People perceived to be tall poppies will often be described as "getting notions about themselves" and the cautionary words of '"don't go getting notions about yourself" will meet any boastful remarks.This culture is most obvious in the Irish people's notorious cutting-down of Irish celebrities.
The concepts of Janteloven or "Law of Jante", in Scandinavia, and A kent yer faither (English: I knew your father) in Scotland, are very similar. Similar phenomena are said to exist in the Netherlands (where it is called maaiveldcultuur).
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the legendary seventh and final king of Rome, reigning from 535 BC until the popular uprising in 509 BC that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. He is commonly known as Tarquin the Proud, from his cognomen Superbus.
The Roman Kingdom, also referred to as the Roman monarchy, or the regal period of ancient Rome, was the earliest period of Roman history, when the city and its territory were ruled by kings.
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Papaver rhoeas is an annual herbaceous species of flowering plant in the poppy family, Papaveraceae. This poppy is notable as an agricultural weed and after World War I as a symbol of dead soldiers.
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Papaver somniferum, commonly known as the opium poppy or breadseed poppy, is a species of flowering plant in the family Papaveraceae. It is the species of plant from which both opium and poppy seeds are derived and is also a valuable ornamental plant, grown in gardens. Its native range is probably the eastern Mediterranean, but is now obscured by ancient introductions and cultivation, being naturalized across much of Europe and Asia.
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Gabii was an ancient city of Latium, located 18 km (11 mi) due east of Rome along the Via Praenestina, which was in early times known as the Via Gabina. It was on the south-eastern perimeter of an extinct volcanic crater lake, approximately circular in shape, named the Lacus Gabinus, and then during later times called the Lago di Castiglione, "lake of the fortification", after Castiglione, a mediaeval tower erected on the site of the ancient acropolis, or arx, of Gabii. A necropolis is adjacent on that side of the lake. At present, the former lake is entirely agricultural land. The ruins of the ancient city project from the fields next to the cliffs overlooking it, on both sides of the via. A municipium in Roman times, Gabii is currently located in the frazione of Osteria dell'Osa 10 km (6.2 mi) from the comune of Montecompatri, of which it is a part, in the Province of Rome, Region of Lazio. The site is under new seasonal archaeological excavation.
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Susan Mitchell is a writer, newspaper columnist, and public speaker.