Hexagram 10, Judgment

履虎尾不咥人亨

履: to step on (something); to walk; to proceed. The Mawangdui text has li 禮, ‘rules of conduct’, which reminds of the Xugua 序卦 line about H10: 物畜然後有禮故受之以履: “When beings thus have 禮, 履 will be accepted and practiced.” In the Image text of hexagram 34 履 is also paired with li 禮: 君子以非禮弗履: “without li 禮 the junzi will not 履.” On bronze inscriptions the character mei 眉 is sometimes read as 履, for instance by Li Feng in his translation of the Sanshi pan 散氏盤 inscription (集成10176) , where he reads 眉/履 as ‘surveying’:

用夨撲散邑,廼即散用田。眉(履)自瀗涉,以南至於大沽…
Because Ze attacked the settlements of San, [the officials of Ze] then arrived in San to use land [as compensation]. Surveying: Cross the Xian River to the south and arrive at the Great Pond…
-Li Feng, ‘Literacy and the Social Contexts of Writing in the Western Zhou’, in Li Feng and David Prager (eds.), Writing & literacy in early China: studies from the Columbia early China seminar, p. 289

Not every scholar agrees with this reading of 眉 in this inscription:

The character mei 眉 is a place name later in the inscription; however, Ma Chengyuan argues for the reading mei 堳: “boundary” at this point and several others. Ma’s reading permits a more cogent interpretation of the inscription as a whole and is adopted here. Some read it as a verb  履, “to pace off [the boundary].” This simplifies the syntax, but accords less closely with the graph.
– Constance A. Cook and Paul R. Goldin (eds.), A Source Book of Ancient Chinese Bronze Inscriptions, p. 169

履 differs from other ‘motion-going-proceeding’ verbs like wang 往 and qu 去 in that with 履 the territory and direction are not entirely known. There is an element of uncertainty.

Even though the Mawangdui version has 禮 as the name of hexagram 10, an additional text that came with it talks about 履 (see Ding Sixin 丁四新, 《楚竹简与汉帛书〈周易〉校注》, p. 205).

In the Shijing there is a poem in which 履 is read as 禮:

率履不越…
He followed his rules of conduct without error…
(M304, tr. James Legge)

Combined with 履 you can read 禮/履 as ‘(the way you are) proceeding (in a situation)’.

Huwei 虎尾: a tiger’s tail. In the Shujing ‘stepping on a tiger’s tail’ is used as a metaphor to describe proceeding with caution:

心之憂危,若蹈虎尾,涉于春冰。
The trembling anxiety of my mind makes me feel as if I were treading on a tiger’s tail, or walking upon spring ice.
(tr. James Legge)

Xi/die 咥: pronounced as xi it means ‘to laugh’, as die (don’t pronounce this as the English ‘die/dye’ but as ‘dee-e’ – ee as e in ‘we’, e as in ‘left’) it means ‘to bite’. However, the only source that we have where 咥 is read as the verb ‘to bite’ is the Zhouyi. That is something that makes me very uncomfortable. The Mawangdui uses zhen 真, ‘true, real, genuine’ (in Pu Maozuo 濮茅左, 《楚竹書《周易》研究》, Vol. 2, p. 551 the MWD character is transcribed as zhen 貞 but I suspect a typo here because the other instances of zhen 貞 clearly look different from the character used at H10 in the MWD version. All other studies of the MWD text transcribe it as zhen 真. See also 《楚汉简帛书典》, p. 678 & 879.) In the sentence & context  不 咥/真 人 zhen 真 should be a verb. I have not found any examples in which zhen 真 is a verb. What is interesting is that the Fuyang version (or what is left of it) has shi 實 instead of die 咥. Shi 實 has meanings that are close to the meanings of zhen 真: ‘ true, real, substantial’, which makes it tempting to accept the meaning of 真/實 as the correct meaning in this line of the Judgment, which made me try to read 履虎尾不咥/真/實人 as ‘(he who) steps on a tiger’s tail (i.e. does take dangerous risks HM) is not the true man’. Which actually doesn’t sound so bad and it also does not conflict with the second line of hexagram 10:

眇能視。跛能履。履虎尾。咥/真/實人凶。武人為于大君。
Half blind (yet) able to see, lame (yet) able to proceed. Stepping on a tiger’s tail. For a true person ominous. (But) a general will act for his lord.

When you don’t have the full capacity to proceed with caution you will get in to danger. A true person would never take such a risk, knowing he does not have the means to make it a success. A general, however, cannot but act this way for his master, even if it puts himself in danger.

Read like this the ‘true man’ is juxtaposed against the warrior – a construction that looks similar to the lines in the Zhouyi where the xiaoren 小人 ‘small person’ is compared with the junzi 君子, the lord, or the daren 大人, the ‘great person’ (see H12.2, H20.1H23.6, H33.4, H34.3, H49.6).

However, reading 履虎尾不咥/真/實人 as ‘(he who) steps on a tiger’s tail is not the true man’ has at least one problem because bu 不 would not be a logical choice in this sentence: a more suitable character would be fei 非, a character that is already used in the Zhouyi to signify that a person ‘is not such-and-such an individual’:

匪寇婚媾…
It is not an invader who wants to marry (for tying bonds)…
H3.2, H22.4 H38.6

匪我求童蒙…
It is not me that asks the repeatedly ignorant…
H4, Judgment

匪躬之故…
It is not he himself who is the cause…
H39.2

These examples from the Zhouyi show that fei 匪 would be a more logical choice if the meaning of ‘not 咥/真/實人’, ‘not the real man’ was meant here. Also, there are known instances in which shi 實 is used as a loan character for a character that is close to die 咥, like in the Guodian text ‘Six Virtues’ where shi 實 is read as die 絰 ‘mourning garments’ (see 《古文字通假字典》, p. 595; Scott Cook, The Bamboo Texts of Guodian, Vol. II, p. 786). This makes it likely that shi 實, as well as zhen 真, should probably be read as die 咥. Other books that refer to this text of hexagram 10 explicitly talk about ‘biting’, often with a different character, like in the Wen Xuan 文選 where shi 噬 is used instead of die 咥:

籍含怒於鴻門,
沛跼蹐而來王。
范謀害而弗許,
陰授劍以約莊。
撛白刃以萬舞,
危冬葉之待霜。
履虎尾而不噬,
寔要伯於子房。
Xiang Ji was filled with wrath at Hongmen;
Lord Pei, bent and bowed, came to pay him homage.
Fan Zeng plotted harm, but was refused;
Secretly handing over his sword, he made a pact with Zhuang.
Thrusting his naked blade, he performed a Wan dance;
Perilous it was as winter leaves awaiting the frost.
Lord Pei trod a tiger’s tail, but was not bitten—
In truth, thanks to Zifang’s plea to Bo!

Xiang Yu, also known as Xiang Ji invited Liu Bang (Lord of Pei) to banquet with him at Hongmen (east of modern Lintong). During the banquet, Fan Zeng signalled to Xiang Yu to have Liu Bang killed, but Xiang Yu did not respond. Fan then left and persuaded Xiang Zhuang to stab Liu Bang while performing a sword dance. When Xiang Zhuang raised his sword and began to dance, Xiang Bo a friend of Zhang Liang’s, rose and danced to shield Liu Bang from Xiang Zhuang’s attack. Alarmed by the danger to his master, Zhang Liang (Zifang) left the banquet tent and reported the situation to Liu Bang’s general, Fan Kuai. Fan Kuai angrily stormed into the tent with sword drawn. Impressed with his courage, Xiang Yu gave him a beaker of wine and shoulder of pork. After lecturing Xiang Yu for his treachery and ingratitude, Fan Kuai was able to aid his master’s escape to Bashang (east of modern Xi’an).
– David Knechtges, Wen Xuan or Selections of Refined Literature, Volume II, p. 208-209

All the sources that refer to ‘stepping on a tiger’s tail’ are from a much later date than (and probably inspired by) the Zhouyi, so you shouldn’t accept them at face value. Nevertheless, even though die 咥 is a funny and rare character and the variant texts don’t make it easier to come to a final conclusion, ‘to bite’ seems to be the most obvious choice here. Having said that, the usage of 真/實 in alternative versions of the Zhouyi is thought provoking and might open up ways to possible other readings.

Heng 亨: the offering is accepted. (see this article.)

Stepping on a tiger’s tail.
He does not bite the man.
The offering is accepted.

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