Friday, April 09, 2004

If you're not the lead dog...

I was again browsing through Amritas' linguistic notes (of late I just ignore his political stuff, though I did like this), and read this Chinese proverb (and the professor's gloss of it):


Ning wei ji shou, bu wei niu hou

Lit. ‘rather be chicken head, not be cow rear’
He also mentions a variant with "pheonix tail" instead of "cow rear".

As a happy coincidence for a Friday, since I always like a good Hebrew quote heading into Shabbas, there's a similarly patterned saying in the Talmud. I've quoted Pirkei Avot (פרקי אבות) before — it's a central Talmudic repository of ethics and general advice. Someone once taught me "Pirkei Avot is the only place where [the great competing teachers] Hillel and Shammai are right next to each other and don't disagree." As a side note, when I went to Israel a few years ago, the corner of Hillel and Shammai streets in Jerusalem was the proud home to a definitely non-kosher McDonalds.

Anyway, from Pirkei Avot, Chapter 4; mishna 20:

רַבִּי מַתְיָא בֶּן־חָרָשׁ אוֹמֵר׃
הֱוֵי מַקְדִּים בִּשְׁלוֹם כָּל־אָדָם
וֶהֳוֵי זָנָב לָאֲרָיוֹת וְאַל תְּהִי ראשׁ לַשֻּׁעָלִים

Rabii Matya ben-Ḥarash omair:
Hevai makdim bishlom col-adam,
Vehevai zanav laarayot v'al t'hii rosh lashualim.

Rabbi Mattia ben Ḥarash taught [omair lit.: says, note the present tense]:
Be the first to extend greetings to every person [col-adam: All of Adam, a common scriptural Hebrew locution for "all of humanity"].
Be a tail to lions [arayot] rather than a head to foxes [shualim].

I agree with the professor when he says "I'd rather be the 鳳尾 phoenix’s tail".

No comments: