An Ambiguity in the Analects

The following passage from the Analects confused me when I was reading a bit earlier this afternoon. I read the classical Chinese text first, without punctuation, and thought I’d understood it. Then I read a translation, which differed quite a bit from my original reading. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I now think my initial reading was probably wrong. But I would be interested to hear from others what they think.

Below, I’ve quoted the passage in classical Chinese with punctuation marks, but without quotation marks. I’ve appended Legge’s translations, and my own translations where my interpretation differs from his. As always, you can consult the entire text and get basic glosses at the CTP. Some background: Yang Huo was employed by Ji Shi , and responsible for governing the state of Lu.

陽 貨欲見孔子,孔子不見,
Legge: Yang Huo wished to see Confucius, but Confucius would not go to see him.

On this, he sent a present of a pig to Confucius, who, having chosen a time when Huo was not at home, went to pay his respects for the gift. He met him, however, on the way.
時其亡 is an interesting construction! 亡 can often be used instead of 無, as is the case here.

謂孔子曰: 來!予與爾言。
Legge: Huo said to Confucius, “Come, let me speak with you.”

曰:懷其寶而迷其邦, 可謂仁乎?
Legge: He [Huo] then asked, “Can he be called benevolent who keeps his jewel in his bosom, and leaves his country to confusion?”
Alternative: Confucius asked: “Can he be called benevolent who keeps his jewel in his bosom, and leaves his country to confusion?”
Notes: In Legge’s translation, the subject of the second 曰 remains Yang Huo. But 曰 almost always introduces a change of speaker. If Confucius asked this question, it may explain why he had refused to see Yang Huo: he felt he was not a good administrator and did not want to be in his company.

Legge: Confucius replied, “No.” [Huo asked:] “Can he be called wise, who is anxious to be engaged in public employment, and yet is constantly losing the opportunity of being so?”
Alternative: Huo replied: “No.” Confucius asked: “Can he be called wise, who appreciates what it takes to serve, yet is always tardy in doing so?”
Notes: There is no 曰 after the 不可, but you have to insert a 曰 for the passage to make sense no matter what.

曰: 不可。日月逝矣,歲不我與。
Legge: Confucius again said, “No.” [Huo asked:] “The days and months are passing away; the years do not wait for us.”
Legge: Huo said: “No. But I am an old man already; I do not have a lot of time left.”
Notes: Legge inserts another 曰 after the 不可 in this sentence. I do not, reading Huo’s statement as an apology for his bad record, which then makes Confucius change his mind about Huo.

孔子 曰:『諾。吾將仕矣。』
Legge: Confucius said, “Right; I will go into office.”

So, which seems more the more probable reading to you, and especially: why? Would be interested to hear your thoughts!

4 responses to “An Ambiguity in the Analects”

  1. Elliot B says:

    I’m not competent, but I like your reading better. Seems more coherent.

  2. Tim says:

    I would wonder if the “Can he be called wise…” line actually came from Huo as a kind of rejoinder to Confucius himself. Admittedly, I’m not much more than a fan of the site, but that was how I saw this.

  3. Daan says:

    Yes, that’s basically how Legge views this passage, I think? I agree that such an interpretation would be possible, but for the reasons outlined above, I think it isn’t immediately clear that Legge is right.

  4. konw says:

    seems all is about this

    “But 曰 almost always introduces a change of speaker. ”

    i think when Legge was doing the tl, he thought that after yanghuo said “來!予與爾言” then, there’s an action, some time passed, for Confucius to come to yanghuo ,so can yanghuo continue to 曰 “好從事而亟…”

    however this may get clarified if we can into the story afterwards or some time earlier, wether, whether confucius was asked to be an officer,etc

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