Analects of Confucius

(ca. 479–249 BCE)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

Compiled over the course of several centuries, the Analects reached their final form around the third century BCE. Although it is considered the authoritative source of Confucius’s teachings, authorship is attributed to his many disciples, some of whom became teachers with their own disciples. The Analects presents moral lessons taught through maxims and brief conversations between master and disciple. By posing questions—many of them rhetorical—and presenting analogies, Confucius guides his students to the formation of the answers on their own. The division of the text into twenty chapters does not reflect any chronological order or serve any discernible pedagogical purpose; indeed, the same ideas are expressed throughout the text, whether told using different examples, or in some cases, repeated verbatim.

Chapters 1 and 2

Confucius begins with a series of rhetorical questions, the last one containing his main point. Assuming that his...

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Folding screen showing the twenty-four paragons of filial piety (Yale University Art Gallery)

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