7 Lesson 6 -畫蛇添足

畫蛇添足  (《戰國策》)

huà shé tiān zú (Zhàn guó cè )

楚有祠者,賜其舍人卮酒。舍人相謂曰: “數人飲之不足,一人飲之有餘。請畫地為蛇,先成者飲酒。” 一人蛇先成。引酒且飲。乃左手持卮,右手畫蛇曰: “吾能為之足!” 未成,一人之蛇成,奪取卮曰: “蛇固無足。子安能為之足?” 遂飲其酒。為蛇足者終亡其酒。

楚有祠者,赐其舍人卮酒。舍人相谓曰: “数人饮之不足,一人饮之有余。请画地为蛇, 先成者饮酒。”  一人蛇先成。引酒且饮。乃左手持卮,右手画蛇曰: “吾能为之足!” 未成,一人之蛇成,夺取卮曰: “蛇固无足。子安能为之足?” 遂饮其酒。为蛇足者终亡其酒。


Lesson 6 vocabulary

Chǔ (name of a state)
to sacrifice,to offer sacrifice
賜 (赐) to give
舍人 shè rén retainers
zhī jar
jiǔ wine, alcohol
謂 (谓) wèi to address (someone)
數 (数) shù several
飲 (饮) yǐn to drink
餘 (余) excess
請 (请) qǐng please, let’s…
畫 (画) huà to draw
the ground
為(为) wéi to make; to do
shé snake
xiān first
chéng to complete
一人…一人 yì rén…yì rén one man…another
yǐn to draw, to pull
qiě to be about to
nǎi then; but
zuǒ left
shǒu hand
chí to hold, to take
yòu right
I, we
wèi not yet
奪(夺) duó to snatch
assuredly, in fact
ān how?
suì then
終 (终) zhōng finally, to the end
wáng to lose
tiān to add

《戰國策(战国策)》  Zhànguó cè

Intrigues (or Schemes) of the Warring States was another (Han Dynasty) compilation of political anecdotes.  The subject matter emphasizes the ruthlessness a ruler must employ to maintain power.  Many of its fables (like this one and that of lesson 7 were employed by ministers to illustrate political circumstances.

Commentary on lesson 6:

1.1: Aristocrats of early China had many servants and warriors in their employ. They are usually called “retainers” in English translation.

Classical often indicates quantity and measure by preceding the noun of the substance with a measuring noun. Hence, 卮酒 is a “jar of wine.”

1.2:Classical will often put two subjects before a verb for emphasis. Such constructs are occasionally referred to as “topic-comment” sentences (if you know Japanese, this is similar to isolating a noun with the particle “wa” は). In the sentence一人蛇先成, both 人 and 蛇 are subjects; the translation is something like “as for one person, his snake was finished first.” Classical phrases it like this to put particular emphasis on the person, and to contrast it with the next person mentioned.

1.3: 吾能為之足. Occasionally the verb 為 can take an indirect object indicating the person or thing affected by the action. Literally, the sentence means, “I can make it feet” better translated as “I can give it feet.”


Grammar Note 5

There are a number of negative words in Classical Chinese. We have seen several so far in lessons 1-6.

1. 不 bù, “not”, is a negative adverb and thus negates verbs or verbal constructions. Conversely, what follows不 bù is defined by it as verbal:

不能更鳴 bù néng gēng míng

不可復得 bù kě fù dé

不見人  bù jiàn rén

不知      bù zhī

Verbal expressions include stative verbs (“adjectives” or adjectival verbs): 狗不黑 “the dog is not black”; 不黑的狗, “a non-black dog”.

2. Another negative adverb, also common but with a more restricted use, is未wèi “not yet” as in 未成 wèi chéng (lesson 6); compare Mandarin 沒 méi and 沒有 méiyǒu.

3. 無 wú is a negative verb, the negative opposite of 有yǒu “have, there is”; thus it means lack, there is no.”

田中有株  tián zhōng yǒu zhū

田中無株  tián zhōng wú zhū

食有魚     shí yǒu yú

食無魚     shí wú yú

無 wú precedes and negates a noun or nominal construction. Conversely, what follows the verb 無 wú is in most cases nominal. For example, 食無魚 shí wú yú.

4. Prohibition: 毋 wú means “don’t” and modifies a verb negatively in the sense of pleading against or forbidding an action. In pronunciation it was identical with 無 wú and therefore 無 sometimes stood for 毋 wú, as in 無撲 wúpū (lesson 5). A related words was 勿 wù. Negatives could place the object of a verb in a position preceding the verb. Not that when 無 wú stands for 毋 wú or 勿 wù, it negates a verbal, not a nominal expression. Thus lesson 5 includes 無 wú in both its nominal and verbal uses.


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Introduction to Classical Chinese Copyright © 2024 by Andrew Schonebaum; Anthony George; David Lattimore; Hu Hsiao-chen; Judith Zeitlin; Kong Mei; Liu Lening; Margaret Baptist Wan; Patrick Hanan; Paul Rouzer; Regina Llamas; Shang Wei; and Xiaofei Tian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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