PHOCENSIAN DESPAIR describes a situation in which victory is snatched unexpectedly from the jaws of defeat. The phrase derives from the men of Phocis, who, during Philip II of Macedon's reign (386-336 BCE), were subject to perpetual attacks from their neighbors for daring to farm the sacred field of Delphi. So great was the Phocensians' despair that they vowed to end their lives in a mass human sacrifice. However, just before mounting the pyre on which their women and children were stacked, the Phocensians mounted a last-ditch attack on their foes and defeated them.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78)