Modesty and valor

LFG18

子曰:「孟之反不伐,奔而殿,將入門,策其馬,曰:「『非敢後也,馬不進也。』」
Confucius said: “Meng Zhifan is not given to boasting. When he and his soldiers were in retreat he was the last to flee. It was only when they reached the city gate that he spurred his horse and said: ‘It wasn’t courage that kept me at the rear. My horse wouldn’t run.’”

No doubt Confucius is throwing a couple of not-so-subtle jabs at his contemporaries with his praise for Meng Zhifan’s modesty and valor. Far too many of them would have fled the battlefield at the first hint of danger so that they could live to tell the tale of their bravery.

Meng Zhifan was a minister of the state of Lu. In 485 BC, he led an army that was soundly defeated by a force from the state of Qi in a battle that took place near Qufu. It sounds as if, when it came to military affairs at least, he had plenty to be modest about.

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