Mon, Jun 11, 2018 - Page 9 News List


Belshazzar’s Feast, 1635, Rembrandt.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice


(da4 nan4 lin2 tou2; da4 huo4 lin2 tou2)

catastrophe looms

愛爾蘭作家強納森‧史威夫特在他一七二○年的詩〈The Run Upon the Bankers〉(遇到銀行家)中,描述一位銀行家了解到,他的墮落是他自己的行為所造成的,詩句如下:





這最後一行「‘Tis like the Writing on the Wall」(如同寫在牆上的字一樣)是什麼意思?史威夫特此詩中,其實並無牆壁,也沒有人在上面寫字。「writing on the wall」純粹是隱喻性的,這是暗指《聖經》〈但以理書〉中關於伯沙撒王之死的經文。

歷史上的伯沙撒,是代替其父納波尼德行使職權的攝政王,他是新巴比倫帝國最後一位國王,一般認為他是在公元前五三九年波斯人打敗巴比倫時被殺。與歷史上所記載的伯沙撒不同,聖經中關於伯沙撒之死的記載是從一場盛宴說起,在這盛宴中伯沙撒將聖殿中用來敬神的器皿拿來當酒杯用,褻瀆了神;眾人酒酣耳熱之際,一隻手忽然憑空出現,在宮殿牆上寫下阿拉姆語文字「mene mene tekel upharsin」,酒醉的狂歡嘎然而止。驚惶的伯沙撒知道這幾個詞的字面意義──「為數有限、稱重量、分裂」──但對其真正的含義卻是困惑不解,因此伯沙撒召見了以解夢著稱的流亡猶太人但以理。但以理看出來這句話是個預兆,預示了伯沙撒的滅亡,而最後一個字則是在影射波斯。據聖經故事記載(新英文版聖經〈但以理書〉第五章),但以理對這句話的解釋為:





我們今天所說的「the writing is on the wall」,其意為顯示事物大限將至的種種跡象。

在中文裡,若要表達災難已近,我們可以說「大難臨頭」或「大禍臨頭」。 這成語來自戰國時期的道家經典《莊子》外篇的〈秋水〉。此處談到孔子在當時賢者不受重視的情況下,沒有機會為執政者提供建言,但孔子對此已逐漸釋懷。他說道:「白刃交於前,視死若生者,烈士之勇也;知窮之有命,知通之有時,臨大難而不懼者,聖人之勇也。」(尖刀架在面前,不把死亡當做一回事,這是烈士的勇氣;知道窮困是命運,知道通達需要時機,面臨到大災難而不會有所畏懼的,是聖人的勇氣。)



(Despite the blows that life dealt them, the couple did not go their separate ways, and decided instead to push on and overcome their difficulties together.)


(You’re heading for disaster, and yet you’re being a total hedonist: You have no idea what’s you’ve got coming to you.)


writing on the wall

In his 1720 poem The Run Upon the Bankers, the Irish writer Jonathan Swift refers to a banker who understands that his fall is the result of his own actions, with the verse:

A baited Banker thus desponds,

From his own Hand foresees his Fall;

They have his Soul who have his Bonds;

‘Tis like the Writing on the Wall.

What did Swift mean by that last line? In Swift’s poem, there was no actual wall, and nobody had written on it. The “writing on the wall” is purely metaphorical, an allusion to a Bible verse found in the Book of Daniel concerning the death of Belshazzar.

The historical Belshazzar was regent to his father, Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He is thought to have been killed when the Persians defeated Babylon in 539 BC. The Bible version of Belshazzar’s end differs with the historical account, and starts with a magnificent feast during which Belshazzar insulted God by using sacred temple vessels as wine goblets. The drunken revelry was abruptly halted when a disembodied hand appeared out of thin air and wrote the Aramaic words mene mene tekel upharsin on the palace wall. The shaken Belshazzar understood the literal meaning of the words — “numbered, weighed, divided” — but was confused as to their significance. He called Daniel, a Jewish exile with a reputation for interpreting dreams. Daniel believed the phrase to be an omen signaling Belshazzar’s fall, and the final word as an allusion to Persia. According to the Bible story (Daniel 5: New English Version), Daniel interpreted the phrase to mean:

“Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.

Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

According to Daniel 5:30, Belshazzar was slain that same night.

When we say “the writing is on the wall” today, we mean that all the indications are that the end to an endeavor is close.

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