The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey

Folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 1215
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2009


  1. The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey (Aesop).

  2. The Lady's Nineteenth Story (Turkey).

  3. It Is Difficult to Please Everyone (Turkey).

  4. Of the Olde Man and His Sonne That Brought His Asse to the Towne to Sylle (England).

  5. An Unusual Ride (Switzerland/Germany).

  6. Link to Jean de La Fontaine, "The Miller, His Son, and the Ass," The Fables of La Fontaine (London: J. C. Nimmo and Bain, 1884), book 3, fable 1, pp. 59-60.

  7. Link to Jean de La Fontaine, "Le meunier, son fils et l'âne," Fables de La Fontaine (Tours: Alfred Mame et Fils, 1888), book 3, fable 1, pp. 92-95.

  8. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey


A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by his 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 passersby 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 -- you and your hulking son?"

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, until 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 until they came to a 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 forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.

Try to please everyone, and you will please no one.

The Lady's Nineteenth Story


In the by-gone time an old gardener had mounted his son upon an ass and was proceeding to the garden, himself on foot.

They met some men who said, "See this old pederast, how he has mounted the boy upon the ass; and is himself running alongside."

Whenever the old man heard this he made the boy alight and mounted himself.

Again they met some other folk, these likewise said, "Look at this heartless old man, he rides the ass himself and makes the poor child go on foot."

Whenever the old man heard this he took his son up in front of him.

Then some people saw them and said, "See this old pederast, how he has taken the boy up in front of him."

The old man heard this, and he put his son up behind him.

Again certain folks saw them and said, "See this old catamite, how he has taken the boy up behind him."

The old man knew not what to do, so he put his son down and alighted himself and drove the ass before them. The garden was near, and both of them were on foot, and they reached the garden before meeting with any others.

It Is Difficult to Please Everyone


One day Nasreddin Hodja went to market, taking his son with him. There he bought a donkey, and on the way home he let his son ride while he himself walked alongside on foot.

After they had gone some distance they came upon some people who began talking about the pair. "The world is getting crazier and crazier," they said. "That lout of a son is sitting there at ease on the donkey, making his old father walk alongside dripping with sweat."

Nasreddin Hodja heard this comment and had his son climb down, and he himself took a seat on the donkey's back. "Now the people will be satisfied," he murmured.

Soon they came upon another group who likewise were expressing their thoughts about Nasreddin and his donkey, and indeed, loudly enough that the Hodja could hear them. "Have you ever seen anything like that? That must be an unnatural father who makes his poor boy run on foot while he himself rides proudly along on the donkey!"

The Hodja momentarily halted the donkey. "Climb up here with me!" he said to his son.

A short distance later they came upon another party, who likewise expressed their opinion clearly. "Such animal abuse! Isn't that shameless, for a cleric to torment such a poor donkey! Couldn't the two of you use your own legs and give the donkey a little rest?"

The Hodja stopped once again. "Let's climb off!" he said to his son.

They both dismounted and walked along on foot beside the donkey. But they had not gone far when they came upon another group of people who also had something to say about them. They heaped ridicule upon them:

"Such a cheapskate! It's just like him to buy a donkey and is then too stingy to use the animal."

"He must be afraid that he will rub the fur off its body."

"Which of the three is the greatest donkey?"

"They just might as well carry the donkey home."

No sooner said than done! Nasreddin Hodja followed this advice.

As soon as the people had gone on their way he said to his son, "If you ever should come into the possession of a donkey, never trim its tail in the presence of other people. Some will say that you have cut off too much, and others that you have cut off too little. If you want to please everyone, in the end your donkey will have no tail at all."

Of the Olde Man and His Sonne That Brought His Asse to the Towne to Sylle


An olde man on a tyme, and a lyttell boye his sonne droue a litel asse before them, whiche he purposed to sylle at the markette towne that they went to. And bicause he so dyd, the folkes that wrought by the way syde, blamed hym. wherfore he set vp his sonne, and went hym selfe on fote. Other that sawe that, called hym foole, by cause he lette the yonge boye ryde, and he beynge so aged to goo a foote. Than he toke downe the boye, and lepte vp, and rode hym selfe. whanne he hadde rydden a lyttell waye, he harde other that blamed hym, bycause he made the lyttell yonge boye ronne after as a seruaunte, and he his father to ryde. Than he sette vppe the boye behynde hym, and so rode forthe.

Anone he mette with other, that asked hym if the asse were his owne: By whiche wordes he coniected, that he did nat wel so to ouercharge the lyttell sely asse, that vnethe was able to b'eare one. Thus he troubled with their dyuers and manyfolde opinions: whiche neither with his asse vacant, nor he alone, nor his sonne alone, nor bothe to gether rydyng at ones on the asse, coulde passe forth with out detraction and blame: wherfore at last he bounde the asse feet to gether, and put through a staffe, and so he and his sonne began to beare the asse betwene them on their shulders to the towne. The nouelte of whiche syght caused euery body to laughe and blame the folysshenes of them both. The sely olde man was so sore agreued, that as he sat and rested hym on a ryuers syde, he threwe his asse in to the water. And so whan he had drowned his asse, he tourned home agayne. Thus the good man desyrynge to please euerye bodye, contentynge none at all, loste his asse.

By this tale appereth playnelye, that they whiqhe commyt them selfe to the opinion of the common people, ben oppressed with great myserye and seruage: For how is it possible to please all, whan euery man hath a dyuers opinion, and dyuerslye iudgeth? And that was well knowen to the poet, whan he sayde,

Scinditur incertum studia in contraria vulgus.

And as Cicero, Persius, and Flaccus say: As many men so many myndes: as many heedes so many wyttes. That, that pleaseth one, displeaseth an other: Fewe alowe that that they loue nat: and that that a man aloweth, he thynketh good. Therfore the beste is, that euery man lyue well, as a good Christen man shulde, and care nat for the vayne wordes, and ianglynge of the people. For bablynge (as Plutarchus sayth) is a greuous disease, and hard to be remedied. For that that shulde heale it (which is wordes of wisdome) cureth them that harkneth there vnto: but pratlers wille here none but them selfe.

An Unusual Ride


A man was riding home on his donkey, while his boy walked beside them. A traveler came along and said, "Father, it is not right for you to ride while you make your boy walk. You have stronger limbs."

So the father climbed off the donkey and let his son ride. Another traveler came along and said, "Boy, it is not right for you to ride while you make your father go on foot. You have younger legs."

So they both mounted the donkey and road on a little way. A third traveler came along and said, "How stupid! Two fellows on one weak animal. Someone should take a stick and knock you off its back!"

So they both climbed off, and all three went along on foot, the father and son left and right, and the donkey in the middle. A fourth traveler came along and said, "You are three strange companions. Isn't it enough if two of you were to go on foot? Wouldn't it be easier if one of you would ride?"

So the father tied the donkey's front legs together, and the son tied its back legs together. Then they put a strong pole that was lying beside the road through its legs and carried the donkey home on their shoulders.

That's how far it can go if one tries to please everyone.

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Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised January 28, 2009.