The Art of War

by

Sun-tzu

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Animals Symbol Analysis

Animals Symbol Icon

Master Sun uses imagery that draws on animals’ innate nature or instinctive behaviors to illustrate his approach to military strategy. Animals, to Sun, are useful in that they represent the importance of leaning into natural strengths. In assigning certain characteristics to certain creatures, Sun argues the importance of a general understanding his own, his men’s, and his enemies’ nature and behaviors. For example, hares are “swift,” and therefore have the element of surprise in attack, or can flee with ease. Armies can adopt the same characteristics—for example by having more chariots than heavy infantry—to achieve the resulting benefits. The general must prepare for surprise attacks, or trap his enemy where he cannot retreat, if the opposing army is quicker. Elsewhere, Sun notes, “The Skillful Warrior / Deploys his troops / Like the shuairan snake.” Famed for its rapid retaliation against any strike, the snake is feared and respected—as should an army be. Also, a falcon’s precise timing “Breaks the back / Of its prey”—another vivid and clearly applicable image for an army seeking to defeat an enemy. Animals thus further represent a sort of harmony between one’s actions and innate nature.

Animals Quotes in The Art of War

The The Art of War quotes below all refer to the symbol of Animals. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Yin and Yang Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Art of War published in 2002.
Chapter 5 Quotes

A rushing torrent
Carries boulders
On its flood;
Such is the energy
Of its momentum.

A swooping falcon
Breaks the back
Of its prey;
Such is the precision
Of its timing.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Men
Related Symbols: Water, Animals
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

At first,
Be like a maiden;
When the enemy opens the door,
Be swift as a hare;
Your enemy will not
Withstand you.

Related Characters: Master Sun (Sun-Tzu) (speaker), The General, The Enemy
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
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