I am looking for a proverb that conveys the following meaning:

Be a king of kings, not a king of slaves, let alone a slave of slaves

Is it the following understandable?

Be a big fish in a big pond rather than be a big fish in a small pond, let alone a small fish in a small pond.

  • Can you explain the meaning of the proverb? I find the second example understandable but whether or not the meaning of the proverb is retained is dependent on what the meaning is.
    – sharur
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 22:11

1 Answer 1


Being a big fish in a big pond doesn't necessarily make the fish, even in the metaphor, the king of the other fish. The analogy isn't symmetrical. Nor is it symmetrical in "a small fish in a small pond".

You need to find something that conveys a state of authority for the first phrase, "king of kings", where the same phrase can be altered both in the subject and object. "Be a leader of leaders, not a leader of followers, let alone a follower of followers" might work with a bit of alteration and imagination (or actually as is as well).

As to your question, the metaphor isn't symmetrical therefor it doesn't work.

  • Seeing as this is a proverb, is direct symmetry necessary? Leadership may not necessarily be implied in the proverb (caviat: I've never heard the proverb before); if it is merely referring to power, I would think that the fish metaphor is perfectly apt.
    – sharur
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 22:13

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