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Aesop’s fables in the Middle East: The father, the son and the donkey

Remember the wise fable?

Version I: Trying to please

A father and his son were once walking with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools! What is a donkey for if not to ride upon?”

So the father put his son on the donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy young man – he makes his father walk while he rides”.

So the father ordered his son to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along”.

So the father, not knowing what to do, eventually picked his son up and they rode together on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The father stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours – you and your hulking son?”

The father and son both got off their donkey and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, and at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, raised the pole, and carried their donkey on their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the son to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned

An old man who had been following them said: “That will teach you: if you try to please all, then you will please none”.

Version II: Truth and logic

So they walked back to their village, got a new donkey, and went back to the market. “This time”, the father told his son, “we’ll explain everything we do to everyone. We’ll tell them all exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing, and that way they’ll all understand us and support our right to do what we’re doing”.

So sure enough they set off once again for the market, sometimes both walking, sometimes taking turns at riding, sometimes both riding, sometimes carrying their donkey. And the father carried a huge bullhorn, through which he shouted out the explanations of why they were doing what they were doing.

But long before they reached the market, they were surrounded by a huge, threatening mob. “Why are you shouting through that bullhorn?”, they yelled at the father. “You’re making such a horrible noise, you’re obviously up to no good”.

So the father put down his bullhorn and instead wrote huge placards which he placed around the donkey, so that everyone could read their explanations. But within minutes they were surrounded by animal rights activists who scolded them for torturing their poor donkey, pushed the father and son away, and snatched the donkey from them to liberate it.

But there were so many animal rights activists all eager to liberate the donkey that they pulled it in all directions at once. Some grabbed its ears and pulled, others seized its tail, others pulled at its legs. Within minutes, the animal rights activists in their righteous anger pulled the poor donkey apart, and it died slowly in great agony. And then the animal rights activists attacked the father and son, accusing them of torturing this poor innocent animal to death.

So the father and the son continued to the market on foot and eventually reached their market-stall. But news of their donkey had already reached the market-place, and as they began to set up their market-stall they were surrounded by a crazed, hysterical mob, holding up signs calling to boycott, divest, and sanction them and their stall.

The BDS mob drew ever-closer to the father and the son, threatening to drive them out of the market-place for all time, to burn down their house, and to kill them and their entire family. And, for good measure, to torture to death any new donkeys they might ever buy.

The old man who had followed them previously said: “You still haven’t learned what I told you, have you? If you try to please all, then you will please none”.

Version III: Jews fight too

The father and the son escaped from the mob, walked back to their village, and got a new donkey. But this time, before they went back to the market, they mounted a machine-gun on the donkey’s back, loaded up with thousands of bullets, and trained the donkey to kick out viciously at anyone who came near.

Sure enough, as they approached the market, the familiar hostile crowd began to gather round them. The donkey began kicking, and after a dozen or so people lay around with fractured skulls and broken legs, most of the rest of the people left them alone.

Only a few of the most fanatical animal-rights activists continues to attempt to kill the father, the son, and their donkey. So the father loaded the bullet-belt into the machine-gun and fired a short burst into the crowd. Immediately those activists backed off (well, most of them did, those who were still able to walk.)

And so at last the father and son came peacefully to the market and set up their machine-gun to defend themselves, their donkey, and their market-stall. And from that day on no one jeered or mocked them and no one ever threatened them again. And even though there was still the occasional sneer and disparaging remark, they no longer cared because their stall was the most peaceful and prosperous in the entire market.

And the old man who had followed them previously said: “This will teach you: if you don’t bother trying to please anyone, then at least everyone will leave you in peace”.

Moral: That is the way Aesop’s fables turn out in the Middle East.

Header: Walter Crane’s composite illustration of all the events in the tale for the limerick retelling of the fables, Baby’s Own Aesop

Original: Daniel Pinner – Arutz Sheva


The fable – The miller, his son and the donkey

In this fable a man and his son are accompanied by their donkey and meet constant criticism from passers-by of the way it is used or treated by them. The story’s purpose is to show that everyone has their own opinion and there is no way one can satisfy all. There are four or five different elements to the story that are ordered differently according to version. When both walk beside the donkey they are criticised for not riding it. When the father rides, he is blamed for making his young son walk; when the son rides, he is blamed for leaving his elderly father on foot. When both ride, they are berated for overburdening their beast. In later versions the father then exclaims that the only option left is to carry the donkey on his back; in others he does so, or father and son tie the donkey to a pole which they carry on their shoulders. This action causes general mirth and has an unhappy outcome, resulting in the donkey’s death through one cause or another.