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USING IDIOMS 活用成語

Detail of The Caledonian Coursing Meeting. By Richard Ansdell. 1844.
《蘇格蘭狩獵會》局部。理查‧安斯德作。一八四四年。

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
照片:維基共享資源

Chinese practice

兔死狗烹

When the rabbits are dead, cook the dogs

(tu4 si2 gou3 peng1)

一般認為成書於西元前四世紀的《道德經》,是道家思想的奠基之作。《道德經》第九章討論大自然抗拒滿盈和自滿,且一旦達到極端,就會開始向原點擺盪。因此,若是老想維持著滿盈,不如作罷;金玉滿堂,卻無法守成;「功遂身退,天之道也」(功成名就了,便是該退下來的時候,這是大自然之道)。

此概念便是成語「功遂身退」的由來,亦作「身退功成」或「功成身退」,意思是取得成功後,便辭去職位。「功成身退」源自《後漢書》,該書為劉宋時期的范曄所作,成書於西元四四五年。此概念也可見於《淮南子》,而以更具詩意的形式出現。《淮南子》集結了道家、儒家和法家的作品,作於漢代,約在西元前一三九年前成書。其中的〈說林〉一章中有此句:「狡兔得而獵犬烹,高鳥盡而強弩藏」(捕獲了兔子,就把獵犬烹煮來吃;射盡了高飛的鳥,強有力的弓就被收藏起來)。換句話說,即便是最有用的東西,一旦它所專精的任務完成,也是可以被丟棄、犧牲掉的。但這句話除了字面意義,還暗示某任務需要有特定技能的人才能夠勝任,然而在完成任務後,這出眾的技能卻變成別人猜忌、疑懼的對象,結果不但沒有獲得應有的獎勵回報,反而可能招致殺身之禍。

《史記》為西漢史家司馬遷所作,約成書於西元前九十四年。書中〈越王句踐世家〉,便記載了文種(卒年為西元前四七二年)的不幸遭遇。文種是越王的謀臣,助越王句踐滅敵稱霸,給越國帶來和平繁榮,功勞極大。文種的朋友范蠡也是越國的功臣,但范蠡在取得成功、助越國滅敵後,便馬上退隱了。范蠡寫了一封信給文種,勸他也退隱,信中說:「蜚鳥盡,良弓藏;狡兔死,走狗烹。越王為人長頸鳥喙,可與共患難,不可與共樂。子何不去?」(鳥被捉完了,最好的弓就被收起來;兔子被捕殺後,獵犬就被吃掉。越王的面相是長脖子、鳥嘴,你可以跟他一起吃苦,但不能一起享樂。你為何不離開呢?)。文種讀了信便開始憂心,於是假裝生病,不再上朝。然而,心懷嫉妒的朝中群臣趁文種不在時,誣陷他是在密謀造反。文種自知為越王所不容,最後自刎而死。這故事的寓意是,最好趁著時機好的時候收手、離開。或者正如《道德經》所說的,「功遂身退,天之道也」。

《史記》中的這段話是受到前述《淮南子》〈說林〉的影響,也是成語「兔死狗烹」的出處。「兔死狗烹」的字面意義為「兔子死了以後,狗就被煮來吃了」,通常用來指官員被利用完了,隨後就被拋棄。

(台北時報林俐凱譯)

他花了半生心血,好不容易為公司打造出業界的霸主地位,沒想到兔死狗烹,董事會隨後就把他辭退了。

(Despite devoting half his life to the company, working tirelessly to turn it into an industry leader, he was unexpectedly gotten rid of at a board of directors meeting.)

你雖然輔選立了大功,但他現在登上大位,你還是跟他保持點距離比較好,以免落得兔死狗烹的下場。

(Even though you’ve performed a great service helping him to get elected, now that he’s reached high office, you’ve outlived your usefulness: so you would do well to keep a distance.)

英文練習

get out while the going’s good

The Dao De Jing, generally thought to have been published in the 4th century BC, is a seminal work of Taoism. Chapter 9 tackles the idea of how Nature resists fullness and complacency, and how the pendulum will start to return to its original point of departure once it reaches an extreme. Thus, the chapter contends that it is better to leave a vessel unfilled than to attempt to carry it when it is full; that when one amasses great wealth it becomes impossible to keep it safe; and that 功遂身退,天之道也: when one’s task is complete, and one has established one’s reputation, it is time to withdraw into obscurity, for this is in line with the Way of Heaven (the Tao).

This last idea gives us the idiom 功遂身退, meaning to withdraw from your position when you have achieved success. It can also be written 身退功成 and 功成身退, the latter form originating in the hou han shu (Book of the Later Han Dynasty), compiled by Fan Ye of the Former Song Dynasty and completed in 445AD. The concept itself also appears in the huainanzi, a Han Dynasty collection of essays combining Taoist, Confucianist and Legalist concepts, completed sometime before 139BC, in somewhat more poetic form. In the shuolin chapter of the work, we read 狡兔得而獵犬烹,高鳥盡而強弩藏: “when the rabbits have been caught the hunting dogs are cooked; when the birds have been shot from the sky the bows are put into storage.” In other words, even the most useful of things are expendable when the task at which they excel has been completed. There was more to this than the literal meaning, however: it also implied that it requires individuals in possession of specific skills to complete a certain task, but, when that task has successfully been completed, the very skills that set them apart might actually open them up to suspicion; indeed, this might lead to them not only being denied their due reward, it could even lead to their demise.

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