A Study Upon the Proverbial One-Eyed Man[I]n the street of the totally blind, the one-eyed man is called clear-sighted, and the infant is called a scholar. ~Midrash Rabbah, c. 4th–5th century, translated into English under the editorship of H. Freedman and Maurice Simon, 1939
Inter cæcos, regnat strabus. In regione cæcorum rex est luscus. (Among the blind the squinter reigns. In the country of the blind, one-eyed man is king.) ~Proverbs quoted by Desiderius Erasmus, c.1514, Adagiorum Chiliades, 1514. [William Barker, in The Adages of Erasmus, 2001, notes: “Among the blind, the cross-eyed man is king…. Erasmus picked up an uncorrected form of the Greek from Apostolius 7.23.” Another similar from Erasmus: “Among beggars, he who has only a little money is a Croesus.”
His Latin tongue doth hobbyl
He doth but clout and cobbel
In Tullis facultie
Yet proudly he dare pretend
How no man can him amend
But haue ye not heard this
How an one eyed man is
Wel sighted, when
He is among blynd men.
~John Skelton, 1522, “Why come ye not to Court,” in Pithy, Pleasaunt, and Profitable Workes of Maister Skelton, Poete Laureate, to King Henry the VIIIth, 1736
In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. ~English proverb, early 16th century, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Morris Palmer Tilley, 1950, and The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, 1970
Entre los ciegos el tuerto es Rey… (Among the blind a one-eyed man is king.) ~F. Pedro de Vega, 1606, Declaracion de los Siete Psalmos Penitenciales [“…santos que resplandece como Estrellas, otros como la Luna, otros como el Sol pero es esta la diferencia…” Often quoted as Spanish proverb as well: “En pais de los ciegas el tuerto es rey.”
In the kingdom of blind men, the one eyed is king. ~Proverb quoted by George Herbert, 1640, Jacula Prudentum; or, Outlandish Proverbs, Sentences, etc.
Among the blind the one-eye’d blinkard reigns,
So rules among the drownèd he that drains.
~Andrew Marvell, 1665, Character of Holland
The Egyptians seem to have verified the Proverb, That he that has but one Eye, is a Prince among those that have none. ~William Wotton, 1694, “Of the History and Mathematicks of the Ancient Egyptians,” Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning
Unoculus inter cæcos. (A one-eyed man among the blind.) ~Latin phrase, c.1780 [“A man whose very slender abilities are perceptible only when among the grossly ignorant.” ~A Dictionary of Select and Popular Quotations, Which are in Daily Use; Taken from the Latin, French, Greek, Spanish, and Italian Languages; translated into English, with Illustrations, Historical and Idiomatic, by D.E. MacDonnel, 3rd edition, 1818. This Latin phrase has been in use since at least 1780, as quoted by James Boswell in The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1791.
The blind of an eye is a king among the blind. ~Gaelic proverb, c.1785 [Mackintosh’s Collection of Gaelic Proverbs, and Familiar Phrases; Englished A-new, 1819, first published 1785. Name is published today as Donald Macintosh.
‘Parmi les aveugles un borgne est roi,’ says the French proverb… ~Walter Scott, 1814 [(Among the blind a one-eyed man is king.) Waverley; or, ’Tis Sixty Years Since. Alternate French wording: “En la terre des aveugles celui qui n’a qu’un ceil y est roi.”
‘A one eyed man is a king amongst the blind,’ says an old French proverb, so were you in your time, but kings and lights, capitals and candles are very different in our enlightened age… ~E.M., “Answer from a Gas Light to an Old Lamp,” The European Magazine and London Review, November 1824
A one-eyed man is a king among the blind. ~Oriental proverb, c.1824 [“Oriental Proverbs: Part II,” A Collection of Proverbs, and Proverbial Phrases, in the Persian and Hindoostanee Languages, compiled and translated, chiefly, by the late Thomas Roebuck, 1824
But, in the land of the blind,
where the one-eyed man is king,
when he wears the emperor’s new clothes,
he can get away with it.
~David R. Slavitt, c.1999, “Exception,” Falling from Silence: Poems, 2001
If you can do a half-assed job of anything, you’re a one-eyed man in a kingdom of the blind. ~Attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922–2007)
Thank you to Bob for the inspiration to do this research.