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What does It Mean to Have "Feet of Clay"?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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During the early years of the Clinton administration, many citizens had developed a significant amount of admiration for the president himself. Following the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment proceedings, however, a number of those citizens became disillusioned. A hidden flaw in the president's personal character had been revealed, which served to polarize much of the country. It could be said this scandal revealed that an admired public figure did indeed have "feet of clay." Although many other positive aspects of Clinton's personality had not changed, the revelation of a hidden weakness did negatively affect his public persona.

The expression "feet of clay" can be traced back to the biblical Book of Daniel. King Nebuchadnezzar experienced a terrifying dream in which he saw a massive statue constructed from various precious metals. The feet of this statue were composed of a mixture of iron and clay, making it especially vulnerable to an attack. Indeed, an massive stone did strike the statue at its clay feet, reducing the entire effigy to dust. The prophet interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream as a warning that the kingdom was in danger of disintegration at the hands of unseen enemies.

This vulnerability in the statue's literal feet of clay became a metaphor for the hidden flaws of those who have been exalted or placed on pedestals by others. The idea is that all of us have vulnerabilities, even those people whom we admire from afar. These weaknesses and flaws may remain well-hidden throughout a person's lifetime, or one moment of personal weakness could expose them to the entire world. Many times, an admired politician or entertainer or religious leader reveals his or her weaknesses only after a personal failing has been made public, but some may own up to their personal shortcomings in order to avoid disillusioning their supporters later.

Having feet of clay is considered to be a natural outcome of being human, although those in the public eye may feel the need to hold themselves to a higher standard. Many people apply the analogy after a public figure has already been brought down by a scandal or other exposure. Sometimes, the revelation can be the first step towards earning the true respect and admiration of those who may have been disillusioned the most.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon338557 — On Jun 15, 2013

The prophecy in Daniel chapter 2 detailed four kingdoms: the head of gold was the present kingdom of Babylon. The chest was of silver, or the Persian Empire. The belly and thighs of bronze was the Greek empire began by Alexander the Great and the legs of iron and clay was the Roman Empire that was characterized by subjugating and plundering other nations but leaving them governmentally intact as much as possible. The stone that toppled and destroyed the statue is Jesus and the Kingdom that He brought to earth.

By Apunkin — On May 23, 2011

I never knew what the 'feet of clay' meaning was. I thought it meant someone who was resilient and firmly planted in their position.

What person alive doesn't have their weaknesses though?

By anon116842 — On Oct 08, 2010

i think feet of clay does reflect an inherent weakness. I'm impressed that it can be extended to all humans. My only thought was some kingdoms or pieces of work have inherent weaknesses, not all do. Those with weaknesses (e.g. badly built bridges) fall and those without, last.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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