The Analects also known as the Analects of Confucius, are a record of the words and acts of the central Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius and his disciples, as well as the discussions they held. The Chinese title literally means "discussion over [Confucius'] words
Written during the Spring and Autumn Period through the Warring States Period (ca. 479 BCE - 221 BCE), the Analects is the representative work of Confucianism and continues to have a tremendous influence on Chinese and East Asian thought and values today.
The Analects were written over a period of 30 to 50 years beginning some time during the Spring and Autumn Period, the work was probably finished during the Warring States Period, though the exact publication date of the first complete Analects cannot be pinpointed. Much as the Republic purports to be a collection of Socrates' discussions but actually contains original material from his disciple Plato, the Analects were almost certainly penned and compiled by disciples and second-generation disciples of Confucius, albeit being mostly about Confucius himself and his thought.
Chapters in the Analects are grouped by individual themes. However, the chapters are not arranged in any sort of way so as to carry a continuous stream of thought or idea. In fact, the sequence of the chapters could be said to be completely random, with the themes of adjacent chapters completely unrelated to each other.
Moreover, central themes recur repeatedly in different chapters, sometimes in exactly the same wording and sometimes with small variations. This has led some to believe that the book was not written by a single individual, but was the collective effort of many. However, the final editors of the Analects were likely disciples of Zengzi, who was one of the most established students of Confucius.
A version of the analects, written on bamboo strips from before 55 BCE, was discovered in a tomb at Dingzhou/Dingxian in Hebei province in 1973 and published in 1997. Although fragmentary, the version could shed considerable light on the textual tradition of the Analects if its readings were ever fully employed in a critical edition.
Towards the late Western Han Dynasty, Zhang Yu, who was a teacher of Emperor Cheng, combined the Lu and Qi versions of Analects but kept to the number of chapters in the Lu Analects. Zhang's version then came to be known as the Marquis Zhang Analects, which is largely the version we know today.
E. Bruce Brooks and Taeko Brooks in their work The Original Analects suggests an alternative interpretation of the chapters' organization, based on language usage patterns within the text. This work suggests that the text of the Analects as we have received them is heavily accreted, and represents the additions of many generations of school heads. Due to the changing political, social, and cultural environments, different heads of the Confucian school chose to praise or denigrate different of their predecessors, and even described very different social practices and ritual environments. Brooks and Brooks view a subset of Analects 4 as representing the ideas of the original Confucius, who lived during a time when the traditional bonds of a warrior-based, personality-based society were breaking down to change to a more mediated society with a broader nobility from the old military elite and with less direct access to the king: these early chapters represent the old military ethic of extreme faithfulness to superiors and paternal care for inferiors, with almost no emphasis on mannered ritual, as chronologically later chapters might suggest.
For almost two thousand years, the Analects had also been the fundamental course of study for any Chinese scholar, for a man was not considered morally upright or enlightened if he did not study Confucius' works. The imperial examination, started in the Jin Dynasty and eventually abolished in the dying years of the Qing Dynasty, emphasized Confucian studies and expected candidates to quote and apply the words of Confucius in their essays.
The Analects of Confucius has also been translated into many languages, most notably into English by Arthur Waley, Charles Muller and William Edward Soothill. Portions were translated into Latin by Western Christian missionaries in the late 16th century.
A particular point of interest lies in Chapter 10 of the book, which contains detailed descriptions of Confucius' behaviors in various daily activities. This has been pointed at by Voltaire and Ezra Pound to show how much Confucius was a mere human. Simon Leys, who recently translated the Analects into English and French, said that the book may well have been the first in human history to describe the life of an individual, historic personage. Similarly, Elias Canetti writes: "Confucius' Conversations are the oldest complete intellectual and spiritual portrait of a man. It strikes one as a modern book; everything it contains and indeed everything it lacks is important." (Conscience of Words, p. 173.)