It seems to me that "never...so much as after" is a set expression yet I failed to find any credible, detailed definition on that. Plus, what does the quote by Otto von Bismarck mean? Any help would be appreciated.
People never lie [as often (or as much)] as [they do]: after a hunt OR during a war OR before an election.
After a hunt:
The one that got away
I killed [my quarry] with a single very accurate shot from [a very great distance] away with the sun in my eyes (or under other very adverse conditions)
During a war:
- There I was, in the Pun-Tang valley, no less than 50 VC terrorists surrounding me on all sides, down to my last magazine of blanks...
Before an election:
I promise that if elected I will actually keep all the promises I am making today
I care more about a particular class/ethnic group/orientation/etc than my opponent does
- If you elect my opponent he will bankrupt our nation and lead us into the next Dark Ages etc
Here the preposition "after" is not part of the phrase. Stop searching for "so much as after". You should read the sentence as a list:
People never lie so much as:
- after a hunt
- during a war
- before an election
As for the meaning, it is just a funny way of telling that you should not trust politicians, especially what they promise during their election campaigns. And you should not trust the pro-war (or anti-war) propaganda. It is compared with something what the old Bismarck's contemporaries were familiar with - exaggeration of hunters related to the amount, size and ferocity of animals they have caught :)
Part of the difficulty in parsing this sentence is that the words "so much as" can have several different meanings.
Some of the things that the words "so much as" do not mean in the quotation are:
adv. Used as an intensive to indicate something unexpected; even: He wouldn't so much as look at me.
- but rather: I'm not staring at her tits so much as I am admiring her brooch.
But in the quotation, the word much is merely an adjective in a phrase of the form so ... as, as in this definition of the word so from The Oxford Dictionaries:
2 [AS SUBMODIFIER, WITH NEGATIVE] To the same extent (used in comparisons): he isn’t so bad as you’d think
This is the same way the word is used in one of Mercutio's last lines in Romeo and Juliet:
No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, ...
Note that the online Spark Notes translate this as, "No, it’s not as deep as a well, or as wide as a church door, ... ." That is, a modern speaker would likely say "as much as" rather than "so much as" in order to convey the meaning of the quotation, which could be parsed as follows:
People never lie as much as [they do] after a hunt, during a war, or before an election.
So why is the quotation written "so much as" rather than "as much as"? For one thing, it was good enough for Shakespeare; for another, the original quotation (as shown on the German-language Wikiquote page for Bismarck, which quotes this under the heading Fälschlich zugeschrieben, that is, "falsely attributed"):
Es wird niemals so viel gelogen wie vor der Wahl, während des Krieges und nach der Jagd.
The German words so viel wie would usually be translated to as much as, but the German so can be translated so in some contexts, so I speculate that the translator decided this was one of those contexts, especially since the words "so much as" can be parsed the same as "as much as" in this context.
A translation that preserves the word order as much as possible might be, "There will never be as much lying as before an election, during a war, and after a hunt." As you can see, the English translation one usually sees changes the sentence quite a bit more than necessary. One may occasionally see the German quotation, "Nie lügen die Menschen so viel wie nach einer Jagd, während eines Krieges oder vor Wahlen," which is much closer to the English-language quotation, but I have found this on only one German-language site, and a Google search for those words results mainly in with the "es wird niemals" version of the quote.