*John Keats (1818). “Endymion: A Poetic Romance”
“The tall poppy syndrome is 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.”
Australia and New Zealand
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).”