The tomb of the Wise Fool

Sounds like an Indiana Jones movie, right? Or maybe a half-hour cartoon?

About a week ago archaeologists in Turkey claimed to have discovered the tomb of Nasreddin, a heavily fictionalized character in medieval Middle Eastern and Central Asian literature. Nasreddin Hoca, or Mulla Nasruddin, or Nasreddin Efendi, or any of the many other ways he’s known in that part of the world, is the hero of a number of very short tales or fables. He’s portrayed sometimes as a fool, other times as incredibly wise, but always in the service of a moral at the end. Experts in western literature or the literatures of other cultures around the world will no doubt find analogues to Nasreddin in almost every literary tradition, although his is particularly widespread and long-lived, and I’m not sure how many of them have not one, but two alleged tombs out there. The traditional site of Nasreddin’s tomb is in Akşehir, a town in west-central Turkey, where he’s thought to have died in 1284, but this new contender was discovered in Eskişehir, a considerably larger city in northwest Turkey, where Nasreddin was born in 1208. If this newly-discovered tomb is the real deal then I guess he made it back home before he died.

What I can't figure out is how he stayed on that donkey wearing a hat that big.
What I can’t figure out is how he stayed on that donkey wearing a hat that big.

Speaking of cartoons, if anybody speaks Turkish there are several Turkish-language cartoons about Nasreddin Hoca available on YouTube.

Some very funny Nasreddin stories after the jump.

The Sermon:

Once Nasreddin was invited to deliver a sermon. When he got on the pulpit, he asked, Do you know what I am going to say? The audience replied “no”, so he announced, I have no desire to speak to people who don’t even know what I will be talking about! and left.

The people felt embarrassed and called him back again the next day. This time, when he asked the same question, the people replied yes. So Nasreddin said, Well, since you already know what I am going to say, I won’t waste any more of your time! and left.

Now the people were really perplexed. They decided to try one more time and once again invited the Mulla to speak the following week. Once again he asked the same question – Do you know what I am going to say? Now the people were prepared and so half of them answered “yes” while the other half replied “no”. So Nasreddin said Let the half who know what I am going to say, tell it to the half who don’t, and left.

Nasreddin and the Beggar:

One day, Nasreddin was up on the roof of his house, mending a hole in the tiles. He had nearly finished, and he was pleased with his work. Suddenly, he heard a voice below call “Hello!” When he looked down, Nasreddin saw an old man in dirty clothes standing below.

“What do you want?” asked Nasreddin.

“Come down and I’ll tell you,” called the man.

Nasreddin was annoyed, but he was a polite man, so he put down his tools. Carefully, he climbed all the way down to the ground.

“What do you want?” he asked, when he reached the ground.

“Could you spare a little money for an old beggar?” asked the old man. Nasreddin thought for a minute.

Then he said, “Come with me.” He began climbing the ladder again. The old man followed him all the way to the top. When they were both sitting on the roof, Nasreddin turned to the beggar.

“No,” he said.

On Enlightenment:

Mullah Nasreddin was walking in the Bazaar (marketplace) with a large group of followers. Whatever Nasreddin did, his followers immediately copied. Every few steps Nasreddin would stop and shake his hands in the air, touch his feet and jump up yelling “Hu Hu Hu!.” So his followers would also stop and do exactly the same thing.

One of the merchants, who knew Nasreddin for some time, quietly asked him, “What are you doing my old friend? Why are these people imitating you?”

“I have become a Sufi Shaykh,” replied Nasreddin. “These are my mureeds (disciples); I am helping them reach enlightenment!”

“Okay… So how do you know when they reach enlightenment?”

“Ah, that’s the easy part! Every morning I count them, the ones who moved on – have reached enlightenment!”

Sweet and Salty:

One day Nasreddin and his friend stopped at a little restaurant. They were both very thirsty and decided to share a glass of milk. When the milk came, the friend suggested that Nasreddin drink half first.

“I have got a little sugar with me,” said the friend, “but it is just enough for me. So after you have drunk your half I will add the sugar to my half.”

“Why don’t you add it now?” Nasreddin said. “I will only drink my half.”

“No, no. This little bit of sugar cannot sweeten a full glass of milk,” said the man.

So Nasreddin went and got some salt from the kitchen.

“Well then,” he said. “You can sweeten your half later. But I will have my half after adding this salt to it.”

There is some overlap between the Nasreddin stories and Aesop’s Fables, as in, for example, the story of “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey”:

A Man [Nasreddin in that version of the tale] and his son were once going 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 but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy 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.”

Well, the Man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?”

The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to 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 Boy 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.

“That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:

“Please all, and you will please none.”

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