A Winged Word on Marriage

Socrates and the Gnomological Tradition

In: Oriens
Author: Lijuan Lin1
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  • 1 Peking UniversityCenter for Classical and Medieval Studies, Department of HistoryChinaBeijing
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A foreign saying on marriage became widely known in China through Qian Zhongshu’s 1947 novel Fortress Besieged. As the novelist tells us, this saying has its source in both English and French literature, and in its different versions, marriage is either likened to a besieged fortress or a bird cage. This paper examines the origin and transmission of the saying in Greek, Arabic and Syriac sources, and argues that this saying originated in the so-called literature of the Christianized Socratic-Cynic philosophy, which once flourished in Syria. It became popular in the Byzantine and Arabic world after having been included into several famous Greek and Arabic gnomologies. Then it was introduced into modern languages, developed into different versions, finally came to China and became a household word among Chinese people.

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