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Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

pawns on a chessboard. keep your friends close.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer Definition

Keep your friends close, your enemies closer.

  • Monitor your enemies closely to be aware of any I’ll intentions.
  • Be vigilant around malicious people to be aware of their actions.
  • Be calm and act natural around your foes to learn of their plans for you.

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer Examples

  • In this cutthroat business you need to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
  • Politics can be a dangerous game. It never hurts to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.


We throw stones though we live in glass houses,

We talk shit like its a cross to bare.

You’re only relevant ’til you get older.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer

Alex Gaskarth

It’s true what they say—keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Only, they forgot to add: Don’t keep your enemies so close that they can strike without warning.

Six Brothers, Lili St. Germain

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer Origin

Literary Origin

My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me — keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

Michael Corleone/Al Pacino, Godfather Part II, Mario Puzo

Believe it or not this proverb’s origins as we use it today come from the quite modern and cult classic Godfather franchise! These novels as well as the better known movies follow the rise of the Corleone mafia crime family in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Godfather novels were written by Mario Puzo and the films were directed by Francis Ford Coppola with Puzo as a writer. The films starred Al Pacino as the protagonist Michael Corleone with Marlon Brando playing his crime boss father Vito Corleone.

Spiritual Origin

you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.

Art of War, Sun Tzu, 500 BCE

21. The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us
must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and
comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted
spies and available for our service.

22. It is through the information brought by the
converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ
local and inward spies.

23. It is owing to his information, again, that we can
cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.

Art of War, Sun Tzu, 500 BCE

Our Proverb’s origin has been attributed to the historic military text The Art of War by the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu. While it is stated as a possible origin there is no single phrase that appears in the text similar enough to be considered a form of our phrase. There is however some passages like those quoted above that express a similar idea.

The Art of War was written as early as 500 BCE and consists of 13 chapters each focusing on a different “art” of warfare. For literally millennia this text has influenced Eastern and Western cultures and shaped everything from military strategy and philosophy to legal technique and modern business practices.

Niccolos and Dimes

Since the matter demands it, I must not fail to warn a prince, who by means of secret favours has acquired a new state, that he must well consider the reasons which induced those to favour him who did so; and if it be not a natural affection towards him, but only discontent with their government, then he will only keep them friendly with great trouble and difficulty, for it will be impossible to satisfy them. And weighing well the reasons for this in those examples which can be taken from ancient and modern affairs, we shall find that it is easier for the prince to make friends of those men who were contented under the former government, and are therefore his enemies, than of those who, being discontented with it, were favourable to him and encouraged him to seize it.

The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, 1532

Another common suspect for this proverb’s origin is the political text The Prince by famous Italian philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince is written as a guide to new princes and royals in how to rule successfully. While this text also does not contain one single phrase that is similar to our idiom. It does have passages that express a very similar idea. There are multiple passages in The Prince like the one above that explain that oftentimes the best way to wipe out an enemy is to make them a friend.