中国凤凰与外国凤凰,不太一样

我差点又掉进前人挖的坑里面了。翻译的时候总能碰见别人挖的“陷阱”。继“土著”“少数民族”“龙”与 DragonSafety 和 Security、“食品安全”与“粮食安全”英语改变汉字读音之后,今天又发现一对儿貌似的对等词:凤凰与 Phoenix。我所知道的“凤凰”,象征着吉祥安康、幸福美满。我还知道凤凰可以涅槃、浴火重生。于是,在看到一篇短文里说唐山是获得新生的“凤凰之城”的时候,并没有感到什么异样。可是,等我查阅了一些资料之后,才发现事情远远没有这么简单。

原来,世界各地的人们几千年来都传诵着这么一只高贵而神秘的鸟:它羽毛艳丽、鸣声悦耳、姿态雅致、神态高贵、舞姿轻盈,如同太阳一般永不消逝,好似火焰一般壮烈炫目。传说一定与古人的飞禽、火和太阳崇拜有关。“凤凰”传说的来源大概有两种可能。第一种是不同文化的人们“不约而同”地创造出这种神鸟。第二种是某个地方的古人(比如埃及)最先创造出这种想象的神鸟,然后它随着先民迁徙、文化、宗教传播慢慢地流传到世界其他地方。不管是那种情况,“凤凰”这种神鸟在不同的文化与国度都被当地人赋予了各种寓意和传说,相互之间既很相似又有所不同。

我们先来看看中国凤凰。根据《现代汉语词典》(第五版),凤凰是“古代传说中的百鸟之王,羽毛美丽,雄的叫凤,雌的叫凰。常用来象征祥瑞。”而在《古代汉语词典》除了这个类似的描述之外,还增加了古书中提及的凤凰。比如,《管子·封禅》:“今凤凰麒麟不来,嘉谷不生。”《后汉书·杨终传》:“帝东巡狩,凤凰黄龙毕集。”

有人总结出世界上至少有这么几个国家和地区的凤凰:古埃及的凤凰(名字叫 Benu 或者 Bennu)、阿拉伯半岛的凤凰(涅槃、浴火重生)、日本的凤凰(名字叫 Ho-oo)、俄罗斯的凤凰(名字叫火鸟“Firebird”)、北美的凤凰(名字叫“Yel”)。

在《简编牛津词典》(第六版)中,“凤凰”的描述如下:

A mythical bird with gorgeous plumage, fabled to be the only one of its kind and to live five or six hundred years in the Arabian desert*, after which it burnt itself to ashes on a funeral pyre ignited by the sun and fanned by its own wings, rising from its ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle.
(神鸟,羽毛艳丽。根据传说,这种神鸟只有一只,在阿拉伯半岛的沙漠中生活 500-600 年后,会在火葬柴堆上自燃成灰烬,火焰由太阳引燃,神鸟自己的翅膀煽动火焰。之后,神鸟从灰烬中重生,开始另外一个轮回。)

*很多网上的资料、参考资料和参考书中(比如维基百科、大英百科),“阿拉伯沙漠”(Arabian desert)都仅指阿拉伯半岛上的那片大沙漠,但也有不少的参考资料(比如韦氏词典、兰登书屋词典、柯林斯词典、中国的《辞海》、陆谷孙的《英汉的法词典》)列出另外一个地理区域,即埃及尼罗河以东、红海以西的那片北非沙漠。

在《大英百科》中,凤凰的描述如下:

Phoenix:

In ancient Egypt and in classical antiquity, a fabulous bird associated with the worship of the sun. The Egyptian phoenix was said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry. Only one phoenix existed at any time, and it was very long-lived—no ancient authority gave it a life span of less than 500 years. As its end approached, the phoenix fashioned a nest of aromatic boughs and spices, set it on fire, and was consumed in the flames. From the pyre miraculously sprang a new phoenix, which, after embalming its father’s ashes in an egg of myrrh, flew with the ashes to Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”) in Egypt, where it deposited them on the altar in the temple of the Egyptian god of the sun, Re. A variant of the story made the dying phoenix fly to Heliopolis and immolate itself in the altar fire, from which the young phoenix then rose.

The Egyptians associated the phoenix with immortality, and that symbolism had a widespread appeal in late antiquity. The phoenix was compared to undying Rome, and it appears on the coinage of the late Roman Empire as a symbol of the Eternal City. It was also widely interpreted as an allegory of resurrection and life after death—ideas that also appealed to emergent Christianity.

In Islāmic mythology the phoenix was identified with the ʿanqāʾ (Persian: sīmorgh), a huge, mysterious bird (probably a heron) that was originally created by God with all perfections but had thereafter become a plague and was killed.

另外,根据维基百科,日本与韩国都把 Phoenix 翻译成“不死鸟”,而当地传说中的“凤凰”(应该就是中国凤凰传说稍加变化的版本)则用当地的名字(即当地字形的汉字“凤凰”)。

现在看来,象征祥瑞、幸福的是中国凤凰,而涅槃后浴火重生的是埃及或者阿拉伯半岛的外国凤凰。谨记。

14 thoughts on “中国凤凰与外国凤凰,不太一样”

  1. 嗯,两者确实不大一样。产自中国的没有涅槃一说。不过中国的凤跟火和太阳貌似也有一点点联系,不过提及这一点的信息很少,语焉不详,只有一句“凤为火精”。
    查“凤凰”可得出
    亦作“ 凤皇 ”。 1.古代传说中的百鸟之王。雄的叫凤,雌的叫凰。通称为凤或凤凰。
    查“凤” 可得出
    《孔演圖》鳳爲火精,生丹穴,非梧桐不棲,非竹實不食,非醴泉不飮,身備五色,鳴中五音,有道則見,飛則羣鳥從之。

  2. 凤凰涅槃,确实为英语过来的成语。有篇文章曾将二战后成立的联合国(UN)比做:the phoenix rising from the ashes of the second world war

  3. 帝东巡狩,凤凰黄龙毕集 looks familiar to me – but what does it mean? The emperor needs to be in the right location to make things work ideally?

    1. “When the Emperor went on a hunting tour in the East, both phoenixes and dragons gathered around him.” Without the context, it should be ok translating it this way…

          1. According to some historians, before printing became a serious business, the literati in ancient China had to manually transcribe the books from the ones they had borrowed from someone else and sometimes such transcribing was one of their ways of studying the book.

            For your information, the shi ji, sanguozhi, hanshu and houhanshu are the best of the 24 shi. Typically, these four histories were each written by few individuals. In contrast, other members of the 24 shi are characterized by authorship and editorial power shared by lots of people.

            This reminds of so-called crowd-sourcing in the translation industry. If such sourcing can produce great contents, it would be a miracle.

            24 shi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-Four_Histories

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