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I am having trouble parsing/understanding/translating a sentence in the last section of the fable "the mice and the cat" (鼠と猫の事) from the 仮名草子 伊曾保物語 (Aesop's fables). Here is the paragraph in question; it's the "moral" of the fable:

其如一度人をこらす人はいつも悪人ぞと人是を疎ず。只人は愚にして他人にぬかれたるにしくはなし。かまひて末のよに人をぬかんと思はじ

(You can read the whole fable online here: p1, p2)

Specifically it is the second sentence I don't understand:

只、人は、愚にして、他人にぬかれたるにしくはなし。

愚か (おろか) usually means something like 馬鹿, i.e. stupid, foolish, but I think here 愚にして means the same as おろそかにする, i.e. neglect a thing or slight a person (treat them less well than one should).

ぬか|れ|たる is the 未然形 of 抜く (overtake, outdo) + れ, the 連用形 of (ら)る + the 連体形 of たり.

Here the 連体形 nominalizes the whole phrase, and たり is like った or ている in modern Japanese, i.e. it means the completion of an action or the state resulting from the completion of an action.

(ら)る is similar to (ら)れる in modern japanese. It can express passive, potential or it can be a honorific polite verb suffix. Honorific doesn't make sense here I think, and potential is ruled out by the fact that in literary style Japanese (ら)る only has potential meaning when followed by a negative (e.g. ず). So only passive makes sense, in this case 他人 would be the agent.

...にしくはなし is like ...に及ぶものはない in modern Japanese, i.e. "there is nothing that comes close to ...", "it is best to ..."

The Iwanami edition supplies the note "だまされている方がよいのだ" ("it is better to be tricked") for [the last part of?] the sentence.

So putting this together I could guess at something like:

"Now, rather than slight people [treat them with neglect] it is better [best] to be outdone [tricked] by others."

i.e. it is better to treat other people well and risk being tricked by them, that to treat them badly (and lose their trust, like the cat the fable).

But I am very unsure if this is correct or even makes sense. Effectively I am treating the sentence as a comparative construction where 愚にして is the thing being compared with.

What is the correct way to parse/translate this sentence?

FWIW, my translations of the preceding and following sentences are 其如一度人をこらす人はいつも悪人ぞと人是を疎ず。 "When somebody once causes harm to a person as in this case [like the cat in the fable], people will always think he is a villain and shun him." and かまひて末のよに人をぬかんと思はじ "One should never think that one will outdo others in the long run."

  • Not great with bungo, but I can say that 愚かにして is the same thing as modern Japanese 愚かで. To my untutored eye it looks like it’s saying ただ、人というものは馬鹿で、他人に騙される対象として完璧だ。 – Marc Adler Sep 25 '18 at 12:48
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I'm not very good at classical Japanese, but here's my two cents...

其如一度人をこらす人はいつも悪人ぞと人是を疎ず。

[現代文] このように、一度(でも)他人を痛い目に合わせる人(のこと)は、いつも「悪人だ」と人々が疎む(ものだ)。

[English] Like this, people always alienate a person who causes harm to others (even) once, thinking of him as a villain.

只人は愚にして他人にぬかれたるにしくはなし。

[現代文] 普通の人間は愚か(or 疎か)であり、他人に出し抜かれていることに及ぶ(ほどよい)ものはない。 (i.e., 常人は他人を出し抜こうとせずに他人に抜かれて生きるのが最も良い。)

[English] Ordinary people are dumb/careless, and nothing is as good as being overtaken by other people.

(i.e., Ordinary people are not smart enough to keep outsmarting other people forever. It's best for a ordinary person to allow others to outsmart/overtake you; otherwise you will end up with a worse outcome, like this cat which ended up starving.)

只人【ただびと】 means "ordinary person". I feel this 愚かにす does not mean "people make light (of someone)" because there is no object.

かまひて末のよに人をぬかんと思はじ。

[現代文] 決して(この)末世に人を出し抜こうと思わないようにしよう。

[English] Let's never think you will outsmart someone in this degenerate world.

I think this 末のよ is 末世, or "morally corrupted (current) world/age" full of bad people.

  • Just one additional point I think might be useful: 「しくはなし」 is basically "There is no equal" or "There is nothing that can beat/overcome it", etc. So in this case, I think rather than "there is nothing better", a more closer translation would be something like "nothing can be done to overcome being outdone by others" or similar. – Halfway Dillitante Sep 27 '18 at 4:50
  • @HalfwayDillitante Ah yes, "nothing is as good as being overdone" should be more literal than "nothing is better than being overdone". Edited my answer. But if we can believe Iwanami's note (騙されている方「が」良い), this sentence is about actively accepting the state of being outdone by others, right? "Nothing can be done" seems off to me. – naruto Sep 27 '18 at 19:33
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    Downvoter, any suggestions to improve answer would be appreciated. – Halfway Dillitante Oct 2 '18 at 1:34

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