9 Lesson 8- 兩頭蛇

 兩頭蛇   (《新序》)

liǎng tóu shé (xīn xù)

孫叔敖為嬰兒之時,出遊,見兩頭蛇,殺而埋之,歸而泣。其母問其故,叔敖對曰: “聞見兩頭之蛇者死。嚮者吾見之,恐去母而死也。” 其母曰: “蛇今安在?” 曰: “恐他人又見,殺而埋之矣。” 其母曰: “吾聞有陰德者,天報以福,汝不死也。” 及長為楚令尹,未治而國人信其仁也。


孙叔敖为婴儿之时,出游,见两头蛇,杀而埋之,归而泣。其母问其故,叔敖对曰:“闻见两头之蛇者死。向者吾见之,恐去母而死也。”其母曰:“蛇今安在?” 曰:“恐他人又见,杀而埋之矣。” 其母曰:“吾闻有阴德者,天报以福,汝不死也。” 及长为楚令尹,未治而国人信其仁也。

 

Lesson 8 vocabulary

孫(孙)叔敖 Sūn Shūáo [A prime minster of Chu during the warring states period.]
為 (为) wéi to be
嬰 (婴) yīng baby, infant
嬰兒 yīng ér child
遊 (游) yóu to play
兩 (两) liǎng two
頭 (头) tóu head
mái to bury
to weep
mother
聞 (闻) wén to hear
kǒng to fear
to leave [transitive]
tuō other [c.f. modern pron. tā]
yòu again, also, too
陰 (阴) yīn secret, hidden
virtue
報(报) bào to repay
good fortune
when (the time came that)
長(长) zhǎng to grow up
令尹 lìng yǐn Chief  Minister
xìn to believe, to trust in
xīn new
《新序》 Xīn Xù (a Han Dynasty collection of historical anecdotes)

Commentary to lesson 8

1.1:  為 here has the meaning of “to be,” but is always used in cases of temporary condition; thus, since 孫叔敖 was only a boy for a limited time, 為 is appropriate here.

1.2: 聞 often introduces sentences that indicate a general knowledge of rumor or folk-belief. We can translate it as “I have heard that…”

1.3: By far the most common use of 以 is as a preposition (or coverb) meaning “by means of.” Like 與 yǔ and 為 wèi (fourth tone), it almost always comes before the verb, unless it is being emphasized. 天以福報 “Heaven repays with good fortune” is the more common structure, but Sun’s mother is emphasizing what Heaven repays with. If the object of以 is clear from the context, it will often be omitted. For example, 其人以株畫蛇 “That person drew a snake with a tree stump” but observe: 其人持株, 以畫蛇 “That person took a tree stump and drew a snake with it.” In such cases, 以 can be confused with its other use as a connective meaning “for the purpose of” thus, this last sentence could also mean, “That person took a tree stump in order to draw a snake.”

 

Grammar Note 7

In Grammar Note 4 we glanced at the question of sentences that end in 也 yě. The readings through Lesson 7 contain five of these sentences, and there are three more in lesson 8. Let’s review the first five:

1. 子無敢食我也 You lack the daring to eat me. (lesson 7)
zǐ wú gǎn shí wǒ yě
2. 虎不知畏己而走也 The tiger didn’t understand that the animals ran away because they feared [him]self. (lesson 7)
hǔ bùzhī wèi jǐ ér zǒu yě
3. 以為畏狐也 He took it to be [the case that] they feared the fox (lesson 7)
 yǐ wéi wèi hú yě
4.  子亦猶是也 You too are like this (lesson 5).
  zǐ yì yóu shì yě
5.今子食我,是逆天帝命也 Now if you were to eat me, this would be to defy the command of Heaven’s emperor (not: this defies…) (lesson 7).
jīn zǐ shí wǒ, shì nì tiān dì mìng yě

A Chinese term for sentences that end in 也 yě  is 判斷句 pàn duàn jù “judgmental (or conclusion-drawing) sentence”.  We may distinguish between such judgmental sentences and the more numerous narrative sentences which cannot take a final也 yě  (although, unlike judgmental sentences, they can take a final 矣 yǐ ).  As Shadick observed, what we are calling judgmental sentences “are always concerned with judgments, opinions and attitudes regarding facts,” in contrast to narrative sentences, which concern the succession of events in time (cited in Grammar Note 4). In the judgmental sentences above, numbers 1-4 seem to judge character or motive while number 5 morally judges an act.

Another distinction can be drawn between verbal and nominal sentences. Verbal sentences – most of the sentences we’ve seen so far in Classical Chinese, and all full English sentences – have a nominal subject and verbal predicate, that is, a predicate with a verb as its irreducible core. Nominal sentences have a nominal subject and nominal predicate; any underlying verbal construction in the predicate is nominalized, either by an ” empty word,” such as 無 wú 其 qí 之 zhī 者 zhě, or implicitly.

All narrative and some judgmental sentences (such as 1-3 above) are verbal.  Many judgmental sentences state equations, either as an identity, like “Cilantro is coriander,” or a class membership, like “Cilantro is an herb.”  But while English sentences rely on the verb “to be” as a link or “copula” between the noun subject and noun complement, the equational or nominal sentences in Classical Chinese simply juxtapose two noun phrases, one subject and one predicate, often (not always) followed by也 yě (but never by 矣 yǐ).

Sentences 4 and 5 are not the most obvious examples of nominal sentences, but we’ll have to work with them since they are our only examples so far, and sentence 5 belongs to an important type. The nominal character of the predicates in sentences 4-5 is not obvious because the verbs in them are not explicitly nominalized, but we can still demonstrate the nominal character of these predicates and show how the nominalization of verbs in them could be made explicit.

Verbal and nominal sentences differ not only in the declarative but also in the interrogative particles which may terminate them, and in the verb for’ like’ which they may contain, this in verbal sentences being 如 rú or 若 ruò and in nominal sentences 猶 yóu. Sentence 4 is nominal because it contains 猶 yóu. We can make its nominal character explicit by the following expansion:

Subject Nominal Predicate
亦猶是也
 yì yóu shì yě
You [are] also one who is like this

 

Sentence 5, or rather the latter part of it, identifies itself as nominal because it belongs to a well-recognized type in which an initial element, which can be itself a verbal sentence, is resumed by a word of nominal value meaning “this” (usually 是 shì or 此 cǐ), which stands as subject taking a nominal predicate (compare  “To be or not to be, that is a question”). Sentence 5 can be expanded thus to make clear the nominalization:

Subject Nominal Predicate
逆天帝命也
 shì  nì tiān dì mìng yě
this   [would be] defiance of heaven’s emperor

A well known passage of parallel construction is:

之,  知 知,  知 也。
zhī zhī  wéi zhī  zhī, zhī  wéi  zhī,  shì   zhī yě。

[When you] know it, to recognize that [you] know it [and] [when you] don’t know to recognize that [you] don’t know, this is knowledge / wisdom.  (Analects, 2.17)

 

Definitions and other identifications naturally take the form of an equational (nominal) sentence, and will be much more in evidence when you take up philosophical texts or start reading footnotes and dictionary entries in Classical Chinese. You’ll find that the subject in these sentences often terminates in the particle 者 zhě followed by a pause less marked than the pause between sentences.

Some examples:

南 冥者天 池 也 The Southern Ocean [is] the pool of heaven (Zhuangzi)
Nán míng zhě tiān chí yě
齊協者, 志怪者也 The Jest of Qi is a record of wonders
Qí xié zhě, zhì guài zhě yě (a Borgesian fanciful learned reference) (Zhuangzi)
政者, 正也 To govern is to rectify (Analects)
zhèng zhě, zhèng yě
理娃, 長安昌女也 Li Wa was a courtesan of Chang-an
Lǐ Wá, Chángān chāng nǚ yě

 

 

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

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