Hair by Hair
Hair by hair you will pull out the horse's tail. Plutarch says
that Sertorius, in order to teach his soldiers that perseverance and
wit are better than brute force, had two horses brought before them,
and set two men to pull out their tails. One of the men was a burly
Hercules, who tugged and tugged, but all to no purpose; the other was a
sharp, weasen-faced tailor, who plucked one hair at a time, amidst
roars of laughter, and soon left the tail quite bare.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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