Origin and meaning
Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible.
This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass,
His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. (Daniel 2:31-33)
And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay.
And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken.
And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. (Daniel 2:41-43)
A well known instance of this phrase is in Byron's poem, "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte":
Thanks for that lesson—it will teach
To after-warriors more
Than high Philosophy can preach,
And vainly preach’d before.
That spell upon the minds of men
Breaks never to unite again,
That led them to adore
Those Pagod things of sabre sway,
With fronts of brass, and feet of clay.
- Leonard Mann, "Feet of Clay", Green-eyed monsters and good samaritans
- Zdravko Stefanovic, "King Nebuchadnezzar's first dream", Daniel: Wisdom to the Wise: Commentary on the Book of Daniel
- Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte http://www.bartleby.com/205/31.html