Saturday, June 3, 2017
The Origins of Common Expressions, No. 27: Resting On Your Laurels
Meaning: Satisfied with past triumphs.
History: The idea of resting on your laurels dates back to leaders and athletic stars of Ancient Greece. In Hellenic times, laurel leaves were closely tied to Apollo, the god of music, prophecy and poetry. Apollo was usually depicted with a crown of laurel leaves, and the plant eventually became a symbol of status and achievement.
Apollo (statue)Victorious athletes at the Ancient Pythian Games received wreaths made of laurel branches, and the Romans later adopted the practice and presented wreaths to generals who won important battles. Venerable Greeks and Romans, or “laureates,” were thus able to “rest on their laurels” by basking in the glory of past achievements. Only later did the phrase take on a negative connotation, and since the 1800's it has been used for those who are overly satisfied with past triumphs.