Pieter Bruegel and the Foolishness of Man: A Simple Lesson on Humility and Human Folly

We are foolish now, we have been foolish in the past and we will be foolish again in the future — and that’s okay

Arya Anthony Kamyab
4 min readApr 29, 2022


Photo by Artur Matosyan on Unsplash

A Very Bridgable Gap

What stands between us and the possibility of success and fulfillment?

Far too often the answer to this question lies in the unhelpful picture we paint in our minds of what those at the top of society really look like. Today, we call this notion, imposter syndrome — its name coming from the ubiquitous ‘imposter-like’ feeling one experiences when facing new hurdles or encountering new experiences. What’s more, the problem lies in our failure to recognise how equally flawed our successful counterparts must necessarily be.

“We feel like imposters not because we are uniquely flawed, but because we can’t imagine how equally flawed the elite must necessarily also be underneath their polished surfaces“— Alain de Botton

Cars and Capes

The French renaissance philosopher, Michel de Montaigne once famously claimed that “No man is a hero to his valet”

This single insight could be the antidote to the misery and contempt that surrounds the belief that we are separated from those at the top of society by an unbridgable gap. Montaigne sought to remind us that remarkable public figures don't appear so impressive in the eyes of those who look after them, who see them intoxicated in the early hours of the morning, offer them reprieves for their repeated mistakes and attend to the faults that they so fervently deny in public.

Dutch Proverbs

The Dutch painter and printmaker, Pieter Bruegel was one of the most celebrated Dutch painters of the renaissance. He became particularly fascinated with the concept of human foolishness and in 1559 he went on to paint ‘Netherlandish proverbs’, which later became known as ‘The Dutch Proverbs’. Today it sits in the gemäldegalerie museum in Berlin.



Arya Anthony Kamyab

Medical Student with Interests in Science and Philosophy. Trying to seek the truth everyday… On Instagram @aryak.writes