Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Even a brief look at Armenian folklore will reveal the following fact: a donkey was by far the most popular animal with our ancestors, featured in more folk tales, sayings, proverbs, idioms and jokes than any other character (okay, maybe dogs are mentioned quite as frequently). This is easily accounted for, if you remember that Armenia is a mountainous country where, before the heavy machinery even existed to dig roads and tunnels, most traveling and cargo transportation was done via narrow mountain paths. A donkey was indispensable for this sort of thing, better even than a horse, especially because not everyone could afford a horse. So there you have it – please welcome the hero of Armenian national folklore!

Though it is a thankless task to translate idioms and proverbs, I will site some donkey-related ones, still widely used:

You will often hear a stupid and obstinate person being called a donkey, donkey head or, if the stupidity is particularly irritating – a donkey foal. (These expressions are particularly popular with drivers and politicians these days.) Similarly, to speak like a donkey means to say something stupid. And if someone is especially obstinate and insists on getting his own way no matter what, he will certainly be described as spurring his donkey on.

Someone who is sluggish or tuned out will be dubbed slumbering in a donkey ear. For instance, if you are the last one to hear that your boss is marrying his secretary after 7 years of relationship, you were definitely taking a nap in one of those furry ears.

The condition of mountain roads and the rocking gait of an average donkey must have been the reason why a person who is feeling tired and beaten will describe himself as having just dismounted from a donkey. Somewhere along those lines goes the following saying: mounting a donkey is shame, getting off is twice the shame. I think it means: if you took something upon you - do it, no matter how unpleasant the task is.

Don’t die, donkey – spring will come, grass will grow describes empty promises. Others might be donkeys, we are just a donkey saddle is to say - life/progress is passing us by. Looking for a dead donkey to take the shoes off usually describes an opportunist, or someone taking advantage of others. Pull the donkey out of the mud means to survive a challenge (if you didn’t study for the test and got an A just using your wit, this would be a very appropriate thing to say)

Ate the donkey, turned away from the tail – my mom would say when I run out to play leaving the last sentence of my homework unfinished (didn’t happen too often). And if I didn’t appreciate something yummy she made, her comment was: what does donkey know about almonds? Loaded donkey runs faster – she would sigh taking yet another task upon herself.

A donkey, even if it makes 40 trips to Jerusalem, will still be a donkey – doesn’t need much explanation, I think.

All this aside, however, donkeys are rather smart animals, if somewhat obstinate and loud. They are tough, hard working and cheap, and to this day are still popular throughout the countryside. What with the rising gas prices, I am thinking about getting one myself!

To conclude, a fable by a 13th century Armenia writerVardan Aygekci.

Messengers came to a donkey: “Rejoice and be glad and prepare gifts, you had a grandson.”
“Woe to me, friends”, - the donkey answered. “Even with hundred grandsons, my load will remain just as heavy.”