Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1557
Pieter Bruegel the Elder noted in his paintings the political scene of his time and his interpretation of  "Look son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small." The 1500s have past into history, and in the 21st century, we observe the same phenomena. Bruegel knew well those scenes that say more than a photograph can. Yes, there has been progress, politically and economically, however, hunger hurts as much today as it did centuries ago. We live on an Earth with senseless, instinctive and consistent predatory exploitation of the weak. 
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, active by 1551, died 1569),

"One of the most haunting of Bruegel's images, Big Fish Eat Little Fish is among the first of the artist's many treatments of proverbs in paintings or prints. The image reveals many small and large fish tumbling out of the mouth of an enormous beached fish. A small, helmeted figure with an oversized knife slices open the big fish's belly, revealing even more marine creatures. Land, air, and water seem to be overrun by an odd assortment of real and fantastic fish, while in the foreground a man, accompanied by his son, gestures toward the scene. The meaning of his gesture is conveyed in the Flemish inscription below, which translates: "Look son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small." This vernacular form of the ancient Latin proverb, which appears in majuscule lettering just above, relates to the theme of a senseless world in which the powerful instinctively and consistently prey on the weak. That the son understands the lesson is apparent from his gesture toward the other man in the boat, who has extracted a small fish from a larger one. Bruegel's brilliant visualization of the proverb was first conceived as a drawing (Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina) that is signed by the artist and dated 1556. This engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, however, is signed in the lower left corner with the name Hieronymus Bosch, who had died in 1516. The print's publisher, Hieronymus Cock, was probably responsible for replacing Bruegel's name with that of the more famous and salable Bosch, who had, not coincidentally, a major influence on Bruegel."

Big Fish Eat Little Fish, 1557

Views: 1655

Replies to This Discussion

thank you Joan

The meaning behind the drawing makes me want to cry. It is undeniably true that many of our human big fish prey relentlessly on the smaller ones, but on the other hand it's not ALL of them. I was listening to Bill Gates on an NPR program today about his and Melinda's effort to eradicate polio, which is not proving easy because of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where local warlords tell the populace that the vaccines are going to kill their children, and also because of the inaccessibility of the places. Vaccination workers have been killed. There is also a polio pocket in Nigeria -- and these are the only 3 places in the world where polio remains endemic. And I think geez, we have the chance to completely eradicate a killing, paralyzing disease, and small-time warlords are preventing it. There is so much we could do if we didn't have obstructionists, both big and not-so-big, doing their best to block our efforts!

Natalie, so nice to read your comment, and powerfully written. Megalomania comes in all sizes and from all levels of life. Another example of delusions and lies without any sense of consciousness of the harm and suffering they cause. Wanting to be an agent for healthy change also comes from all dimensions of human beings. 

The idea of flourishing of all things, including the Earth, is an important one; I enjoy seeing the beauty of the Earth and its inhabitants and there is potential to end the suffering. I just do not believe life needs to include suffering, hunger, disease, and waring. 

I salute Bill and Melinda Gates' efforts to take on polio in light of all the problems that impede their efforts. Women in burquas are just one factor. 


Unfortunately, big fish eat small fish is the law of nature and was the main support to evolution. This law, however we may dislike it, will not change. The fittest will survive and so only way to protect ourselves from this law is ti become as fit as possible.

Madhukar, your statement is exactly the thing I have been trying to get across these past 39 years. The things I said and experienced were all true. I have never lied about any experience I had or my children experienced. No one heard our cries and our suffering. Everyone said, "that is nature!" "That is the law of animals!" "It has always been this way and it will always be this way!" Just this year I was told "Get over it!"

Now, here is my point as clearly as I can state it. Homo sapiens evolved from primates and a dog-eat-dog world and for much of that time behaved as beasts, lacking compassion and not feeling responsible for the pain and suffering humans cause other humans and other living things. 

This is the point, Homo sapiens have a frontal lob of the brain that other primates do not have, nor do any other animal. We, of all evolved creatures, have the capacity to think on a higher plane, one in which we care for each other and for the Earth. Human have a particularly finely developed neocortex, prefrontal cortex and temporal lobes that make us capable of abstract thinking, language, conscious introspection, the ability to solve problems and resolve conflicts in our cultures through learning. Humans build fires, cook food and clothe ourselves. We also have unusual abilities to write, create new music, create art. Other animals also have some of these capacities, but not to the degree that we humans have. 

We claim to be superior to other primates, even as we act as lower primates. 

The evidence is clear, we fail to use our brains' human capacities. We use our beastly brain and justify beastly behaviors on delusions. We deny we have more brain capacity and we have the potential to perform at a higher social level than even the other social primates, or such critters  as ants or bees. 

The law of nature can include an evolved species that strive for thriving and flourishing of the Earth and its inhabitants, instead of exploiting and manipulating them. 


Nobody forces you to prey on smaller fry. I've heard far too many of the haves say to the have-nots "It's the law of nature." They use ´the law´ to justify their own egoistical behaviour, and to justify that they do nothing to make the world a better place.


I am not a big and powerful person and I myself have been the victim of the law occasionally. it is also not so that it does not hurt me. I hated and still dislike the big fish that hurt me but the world is not a bad place only because the big fish.  Unfortunately, nature also plays a big role in it. There is something like bad luck and this is possibly the biggest factor in why the world is not a better place than it is. The accident of birth, for example contributes in making one a big or small fish.

Hi Madhukar,

I didn't think that you were a big fish, and unfortunately I know about bad luck. I'm anchovy sized too, but it's not our size that's important, but how we choose to behave. Have a happy swim!  

Humans evolved from lower primate to Homo sapiens, through hunter-gatherers, through  agriculturalists, through mining and manufacturing, through the Age of micro-chips, into the Age of  technical and scientific endeavors. It is time we leave our survival of the fittest behind and move toward the flourishing of all life and Earth. 

Here is one version of human evolution: 

and another: (sorry it is an adv., but the evolution is what I am after: 

United States of America, to me, represents the rights of each human being to have protection of law, a police force to enfoce those laws, a court system intended to see that young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated have access to protection from manipulators and exploiters.
The fact is, these institutions fail to live up to their mandates. It is the citizen that is responsible to hold these institutions to the intent of the laws. We are not and have never been a democracy. There has never been a time when each one has access to one vote, either because of race, sex, class, or whatever else that can be drummed up to limit voter's access to their right of a vote that is counted.
We are a republic, which means we vote for representatives who conduct the affairs of our nation. This system of governance has been overtaken by corporations who are now legally persons. Their wealth and influence negate the candidates who cann't afford to run, thus violating the spirit of our principles.
Corporations will not give up privilege; the people have to take action to force our government to stop corruption.
Our country was made strong because people with ambition and vision wanted to have the freedom to think, speak and act according to what is in their self-interests.
We do not have what it takes to make an enduring republic as it exists today.
The beacon on the hill, built on falsehoods and empty promises, handicap some while advantaging others to the point of creating attitudes of entitlement or helplessness.
Each time we complain about lost aspirations of a more perfect union and remain paralyzed by hopelessness, we become part of the problem.
Talk to others, organize like minded people, compare stores, find your strengths, build coalitions, take action.
Complaining, whining, bitching, crying, pleading, does absolutely no good.
Think, imagine a preferred future, explore options, take action, and evaluate outcomes.




Update Your Membership :




Nexus on Social Media:


Latest Activity

© 2018   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service