I was asked by my friend who happened to see my question I posted before about English equivalents to Chinese (and Japanese) proverbs, 塞翁失馬 Life is like old Sai’s horse, whether there is an English equivalent to the Japanese saying, ‘高転びに転ぶ’ meaning ‘a haughty man should tumble down,’ in connection with vicissitudes of human life.

It is known the phrase, ‘高転びに転ぶ – Takakorobini korobu’ was pronounced by Ankokujii Ekei, a Zen priest who became a military strategist and diplomat later in the Age of Provincial War during the late 16th century in Japan.

Ekei predicted the fall of Oda Nobunaga who succeeded in unifying divided warring countries and became the virtual ruler of Japan around 1580, by saying '高転びに転ぶ - A haughty man should tumble down' well before the new ruler's unexpected early death.

As a matter of fact, Oda Nobunaga was assassinated by his right-hand military commander, Akechi Mituhide in Honnnoji Temple in Kyoto, where he hosted a tea party on the same day, June 2, 1582, and Oda's rule was terminated.

'高転びに転ぶ' is a phrase to admonish you, you can’t be too cautious of your behavior when you are at the height of prosperity, fulfilment and pride.

Are there English proverbs corresponding to Ankokuji Ekei’s warning issued about 430 years ago?

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    In old Africa people to big for their britches where subject to the witch doctor's smelling out. The big man would be call out, after a good sniffing, and accused of this or that. He was then perhaps killed in ways unmentionable here. This isn't a proverb, as requested, but is a practical application of same. Just a point of interest. I think we're allowed.
    – user116032
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:32
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    I've got to say, I really enjoy your questions. The background makes them very interesting.
    – faraza
    Jul 31, 2015 at 23:26
  • Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims of Jaffa.
    – Mitch
    Feb 24, 2019 at 14:58

8 Answers 8


The Biblical phrase, "Pride comes before the Fall"

Proverbs 16:18 http://biblehub.com/proverbs/16-18.htm


The biblical proverb (Proverbs 16:18)

"Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall," has been rephrased as the frequently used proverb "Pride goeth before a fall" or "Pride goes before a fall."


The most common proverb about pride is certainly the one quoted in the other answers, Pride comes before a fall.

Not quite about pride, but about the less attractive side of ruling is a saying,

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Though stated in those words by Shakespeare (Henry IV. Part II, 1597), it is a very old saying from before the time of the Greeks, and is told most famously in the story of Damocles and Dionysius.

Regarding pride and position, there is the saying

The higher you climb, the greater the fall.

That may have its roots in the Biblical account of the tower of Babel, but is also seen in the story of Icarus. There is no hint here, though, of rulers.


Here are three sayings about proud people getting their comeuppance.

Saying "the bigger they are, the harder they fall"

said to emphasize that the more important or powerful a person is, the more difficult it is for them when they lose their power or importance. - English Dictionary (Cambridge)

Saying "...is riding for a fall"

(informal) Be acting in a reckless way that is likely to end in trouble or disaster: "with your present attitude, you’re riding for a fall." oxforddictionaries

Saying "Too big for his boots"

too big for your boots UK (US too big for your britches) informal › behaving as if you are more important than you really are: He's been getting a bit too big for his boots since he got that promotion. (Cambridge)


For centuries, English translations of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus have retold his story of Solon (the famous lawgiver of the Athenians) and Crœsus (a highly cultured and fabulously wealthy king of Lydia who also happened to be very successful in war). The story ends with a moral (and a proverbial saying) that seems similar in import to the one that Yoichi Oishi cites in his question.

After having established his laws in Athens, Solon traveled through various parts of Asia Minor and eventually met King Crœsus in his capital at Sardis. Crœsus showed him his various treasures and thought to dazzle him with his wealth, but Solon seemed unimpressed. And when Crœsus asked Solon who (in Solon's opinion) was the most truly happy person he had met with in his travels, Solon identified first a citizen of Athens who had served his city well, raised well-esteemed children, lived to see his grandchildren, watched his country flourish, and died fighting in its defense; and second, two brothers who had loved each other and done a remarkable deed to honor their mother (a priestess), and who died peacefully in their sleep at the height of their acclaim.

Crœsus then asked why Solon didn't list his host as among the happiest of men, and Solon told him that it was much too early to form any such judgment about him:

"Therefore, in our opinion," continued he, "no man can be esteemed happy, but he whose happiness God continues to the end of his life[.]"

Years later, the Medes under Cyrus defeated the Lydian army and captured Crœsus, who was condemned to be burned alive—and here we pick up the story as recounted by Charles Rollin in The Ancient History of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Lydians, Persians and Medes (1832):

Accordingly, the funeral pile was prepared, and that unhappy prince being laid thereon, and just upon the point of execution, recollecting the conversation he had formerly had with Solon, was woefully convinced of the truth of that philosopher's admonition, and in remembrance thereof, cried aloud three times, "Solon! Solon! Solon!" Cyrus, who, with the chief officers of his court was present at this spectacle, was curious to know why Crœsus pronounced that celebrated philosopher's name with so much vehemence in this extremity. Being told the reason, and reflecting upon the uncertain state of all sublunary things, he was touched with commiseration at the prince's misfortune, caused him to be taken from the pile, and treated him afterwards, as long as he lived, with honour and respect. Thus had Solon the glory, with one single word, to save the life of one king, and give a wholesome lesson of instruction to another.

Solon's advice to Crœsus has been summarized in various ways. According to Martin Manser, The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs, second edition (2007), Solon's wording was "Call no man happy before he dies, he is at best fortunate," and Sophocles expressed the same idea as "Deem no man happy until he passes the end of his life without suffering grief." Manser gives the proverb as

call no man happy till he dies

  • That story of the brothers was the story of Kleobis and Biton, which, fittingly, was parodied in Joyce's Dubliners story, "The Dead." I don't see how Solon's advice has anything to do with OP's question, however.
    – Robusto
    Feb 24, 2019 at 14:53
  • @Robusto: Thanks for your link and your comment. The implication of the first part of the Crœsus and Solon story (I think) is that success encourages one to imagine oneself the master of one's fate—a view that may foster an exaggerated sense of the excellence of one's wisdom, judgment, and all-around superiority. Others may interpret that exaggerated sense of giftedness as haughtiness or arrogance; and unchecked arrogance can lead to error and downfall. That, at any rate, is the connection I saw between Yoichi Oishi's saying and the Crœsus story when I wrote this answer 3½ years ago.
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 24, 2019 at 18:15

The meaning of, "A haughty man should tumble down" is one of several found in, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

For a camel to accomplish this, the camel has to obey its owner, get down on its knees then crawl through a small opening in a dirt wall, called 'the eye of the needle', in order to enter the place where his master and the camel will be staying. In contrast, a rich man wants to be the center of everyone's attention as he passes through the main gates of the place he has decided to stay.

So, a rich man will refuse to get down on his knees and then crawl through a small, dirty hole, in order to pass into the place he desires to enter. Another way to look at this is, a haughty, rich and powerful man will never submit to God (kneel and bow his head), nor will he follow God's laws (he does what he wants). Due to these choices, he will be unable to enter Heaven and stay where God does.

Tying all of this together and answering your question. A haughty, rich and powerful man needs to fall from his place of power in order to gain a drastically different perspective that will allow him to obtain what was unobtainable before, to acquire that which is the most valuable of all.


Also, in addition to the excellent answers regarding "Pride comes before a fall", in informal conversation one may use "he needs to be taken down a peg or two". Of course, this is a figure of speech and not a proverb.


"Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered."

This idiom is used to express being satisfied with enough, that being greedy or too ambitious will be your ruin.

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