In the movie Cloud Atlas, Tom Hanks' earliest character ('Henry Goose') and Hugo Weaving's latest character ('Georgie') use the phrase

The weak are meat, and the strong do eat

Now, I don't think that's actually quoted from anywhere else, but I was wondering if it was based on / inspired by similar phrases, maxims or utterances from older, more established sources - literary, religious, legal or political.

  • That's pretty disgusting. – Ricky Jan 6 '16 at 9:04

Actually, this line of dialogue is quoted from somewhere else. It is the English translation of the following Japanese four-character idiom:


jaku niku kyō shoku

English translation:

The weak are meat; the strong do eat.


Survival of the fittest.


This is in response to OP's request for more information regarding the origin of this Japanese four-character idiom.

It is based on a similar Chinese expression, which has the same meaning:


The source is Han Yu, a precursor of Neo-Confucianism, essayist, and poet from the Tang dynasty who was born in 768.


(Goo Dictionary)

(Hatena Dictionary)

  • Can you say something about the origin of this proverb, then? Who coined it or where / in what circumstances was it coined? – einpoklum Jan 6 '16 at 9:13
  • And indeed, it doesn't work syntactically in Japanese, though I believe it does as Chinese. But then proverbs are sometimes syntactically questionable in any language. – Colin Fine Jan 6 '16 at 11:29

Greek historian Thucydides said something similar: "The strong do what they do can and the weak suffer what they must."

  • Can you give a more specific reference? – einpoklum Feb 27 '17 at 21:05
  • The quotation appears in the 1874 Richard Crawley translation of Book V of History of the Peloponnesian War, in the famous Melian dialogue: "... since you know as well as we do, that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." – Sven Yargs Nov 9 '20 at 0:12

(Interestingly enough the Greeks had a y/u as the üpsilon letter..) Thycylides did have some idea. Aristoles too and Plato (the rigid old man had his ideas.. but he was too steady-state: forms don't change or evolve, etc.) IT is a Confucian proverb. *The idea of biological "fascism" or dog-eat-dog isn't new. It was obviously a more pessimistic idea. Natural selection exists but survival of the fittest, obviously not-so-much. Pragmatic and conservative thinkers, throughout history, often saw "realism" and nature as predator-eat-prey but not in terms of diversity, adaptability.. etc. If people haven't noticed the Wachowskis tend to be a bit dark and pessimistic often showing violence and revenge/aggression as a way to stop problems, whereas their bad guys tend to be nothing but predatory thinking and hate.

  • Please support your answer with citations specific to your references, and do see the help center for how to answer. – livresque Nov 8 '20 at 22:34

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