Clay feet

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Clay feet

Post by Archived Topic » Wed Jan 02, 2002 2:27 am

"Clay feet" as I understand it, is used metaphorically in reference to someone who is thought to be of high moral character, who actually possesses major character defects which others inadvertently become aware of. The metaphor alludes to a statue which was thought to be made of solid gold, but is exposed as a fraud when the gold paint covering the feet wears away, exposing the interior made of worthless clay. What is the origin of this phrase, and have I attached the correct meaning to it?
Submitted by James Harris (Clio, MI - U.S.A.)
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Clay feet

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 2:41 am

James,

It is a biblical reference, and although it is usually understood in much the way you describe, namely as a fatal flaw in somebody or something much admired (although the statue is not as you describe), that is not precisely the meaning explained in the relevant passage.

Daniel 2, 31 - 43 is the passage concerned. Here are two extracts.

It begins:
"As for this image, its head was of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of brass, its legs of iron, its feet part of iron, and part of clay. You saw until a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet that were of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces."

Daniel 2, 31 - 33, World English Bible

The meaning of the dream is then interpreted by Daniel, in particular in verse 41-43:

"Whereas you saw the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, because you saw the iron mixed with miry clay. As the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. Whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cling to one another, even as iron does not mingle with clay."

Being a heathen myself, I shall leave it to others to discuss the meaning further, merely contenting myself with the aside that trawling the web a little, I came to the conclusion that some people appear to understand it as meaning that "however grand a person is, underneath they are made of the same stuff as all of us", which is not the meaning suggested by the original.
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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Clay feet

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 2:56 am

James, also see Clubhouse discussion under ‘Clay-footed idol’ (# 4661).
___________________

Ken G – June 19, 2004

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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Clay feet

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 3:10 am

"The Message" paraphrase has the more-modern-sounding "...the feet were an iron-ceramic mixture"; this has suggested to me the often impure product obtained in primitive iron-smelting processes.
Cast iron (technically an iron-carbon alloy, containing up to 4% carbon, produced when iron ores are smelted in a blast furnace) is hard but very brittle; if pockets of slag (mainly silicon compounds, from impurities in the raw materials) are also present in the mass of metal, it will shatter all the more easily. The iron produced from earlier "bloomeries", which could only realise lower smelting temperatures and thus achieve less separation of the slag, would usually be of inferior quality. So the symbolism is of an apparently united and strong federation, structurally very flawed.
Interestingly, if the carbon content of the cast iron is decreased in a second furnace, and the lump of iron worked by repeated hammerings and foldings (and reheatings) (this process has been compared to making pastry!), the resulting 'wrought iron' ('wrought' means 'worked'), if skilfully made, has very useful properties because of the iron-ceramic-iron... layered structure. Good samples have been said to be superior to some modern steels in some respects. In fact, I believe Chobham armour, used on Battle Tanks, utilises the layer principle.
Which just goes to show, you shouldn't press an analogy too far - if you want to iron out potential problems.
Reply from Edwin Ashworth (Oldham - England)
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Clay feet

Post by Archived Reply » Wed Jan 02, 2002 3:25 am

That's rather ironic, don't you think?
Reply from Erik Kowal ( - England)
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