The Education of an Ox

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 1675
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2014


  1. Peter Ox (Denmark).

  2. Pope Ox (Germany).

  3. How an Ox Became Mayor (Netherlands).

  4. How the Washerman's Ass Became a Qazi (India).

  5. The Priest, the Washerman, and the Ass (India).

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

Peter Ox


There were once upon a time a peasant and his wife who lived in Jutland, but they had no children. They often lamented that fact and were also sad to think that they had no relatives to whom to leave their farm and other possessions. So the years went by and they became richer and richer, but there was no one to inherit their wealth.

One year the farmer bought a fine calf which he called Peter, and it was really the finest animal that he had ever seen, and so clever that it seemed to understand nearly everything that one said to it. It was also very amusing and affectionate, so that the man and his wife soon became as fond of it as if it were their own child.

One day the farmer said to his wife, "Perhaps the sexton of our church could teach Peter to talk then we could not do better than to adopt him as our child, and he could then inherit all our property."

"Who can tell?" said the wife, "Our sexton is a learned man and perhaps he might be able to teach Peter to talk, for Peter is really very clever. Suppose you ask the sexton."

So the farmer went over to the sexton and asked him whether he did not believe that he could teach his calf to talk, because he wanted to make the animal his heir. The crafty sexton looked around to see that no one was near, and then said that he thought he could do so. "Only you must not tell anybody," he said, "for it must be a great secret, and the minister in particular must not know anything about it, or I might get into serious trouble as such things are strictly forbidden. Moreover it will cost a pretty penny as we shall need rare and expensive books." The farmer said that he did not mind, and handing the sexton a hundred dollars to buy books with, promised not to say a word about the arrangement to anyone.

That evening the man brought his calf to the sexton who promised to do his best. In about a week the farmer returned to see how his calf was getting on, but the sexton said that he did not dare let him see the animal, else Peter might become homesick and forget all that he had already learned. Otherwise he was making good progress, but the farmer must pay another hundred dollars, as Peter needed more books. The peasant happened to have the money with him, so he gave it to the sexton and went home filled with hope and pleasant anticipations.

At the end of another week the man again went to make inquiry about Peter, and was told by the sexton that he was doing fairly well. "Can he say anything?" asked the farmer.

"Yes, he can say 'ma,'" answered the sexton.

"The poor animal is surely ill," said the peasant, "and he probably wants mead. I will go straight home and bring him a jug of it." So he fetched a jug of good, old mead and gave it to the sexton for Peter. The sexton, however, kept the mead and gave the calf some milk instead.

A week later the farmer came again to find out what Peter could say now. "He still refuses to say anything but 'ma,'" said the sexton.

"Oh! he is a cunning rogue;" said the peasant, "so he wants more mead, does he? Well, I'll get him some more, as he likes it so much. But what progress has he made?"

"He is doing so well," answered the sexton, "that he needs another hundred dollars' worth of books, for he cannot learn anything more from those that he has now."

"Well then, if he needs them he shall have them." So that same day the farmer brought another hundred dollars and a jug of good, old mead for Peter.

Now the peasant allowed a few weeks to elapse without calling on Peter, for he began to be afraid that each visit would cost him a hundred dollars. In the meantime the calf had become as fat as he would ever be, so the sexton killed him and sold the meat carefully at a distance from the village. Having done that he put on his black clothes and went to call on the farmer and his wife. As soon as he had bid them good day he asked them whether Peter had reached home safe and sound.

"Why no," said the farmer, "he has not run away, has he?"

"I hope," said the sexton, "that after all the trouble I have taken he has not been so tricky as to run away and to abuse my confidence so shamefully. For I have spent at least a hundred dollars of my own money to pay for books for him. Now Peter could say whatever he wanted, and he was telling me only yesterday that he was longing to see his dear parents. As I wanted to give him that pleasure, but feared that he would not be able to find his way home alone, I dressed myself and started out with him. We were hardly in the street when I suddenly remembered that I had left my stick at home, so I ran back to get it. When I came out of the house again, I found that Peter had run on alone. I thought, of course, that he had gone back to your house. If he is not there, I certainly do not know where he can be."

Then the people began to weep and lament that Peter was lost, now especially when they might have had such pleasure with him, and after paying out so much money for his education. And the worst of it was that they were again without an heir. The sexton tried to comfort them and was also very sorry that Peter had deceived them so. But perhaps he had only lost his way, and the sexton promised that he would ask publicly in church next Sunday whether somebody had not seen the calf. Then he bade the farmer and his wife good-bye and went home and had some good roast veal for dinner.

One day the sexton read in the paper that a new merchant, named Peter Ox, had settled in the neighboring town. He put the paper into his pocket and went straight to the farmer and read this item of news to him. "One might almost believe," he said, "that this is your calf."

"Why yes," said the farmer, "who else should it be?" Then his wife added, "Yes father, go at once to see him, for I feel sure that it can be no other than our dear Peter. But take along plenty of money for he probably needs it now that he has become a merchant."

On the following morning the farmer put a bag of money on his shoulder, took with him some provisions, and started to walk to the town where the merchant lived. Early next morning he arrived there and went straight to the merchant's house. The servants told the man that the merchant had not gotten up yet. "That does not make any difference for I am his father; just take me up to his room."

So they took the peasant up to the bedroom where the merchant lay sound asleep. And as soon as the farmer saw him, he recognized Peter. There were the same thick neck and broad forehead and the same red hair, but otherwise he looked just like a human being. Then the man went to him and bade him good morning and said, "Well, Peter, you caused your mother and me great sorrow when you ran away as soon as you had learned something. But get up now and let me have a look at you and talk with you."

The merchant, of course, believed that he had a crazy man to deal with, so he thought it best to be careful. "Yes I will get up," he said, and jumped out of bed into his clothes as quickly as possible.

"Ah!" said the peasant, "now I see what a wise man our sexton was; he has brought it to pass that you are like any other man. If I were not absolutely certain of it, I should never dream that you were the calf of our red cow. Will you come home with me?" The merchant said that he could not as he had to attend to his business. "But you could take over my farm and I would retire. Nevertheless if you prefer to stay in business, I am willing. Do you need any money?"

"Well," said the merchant, "a man can always find use for money in his business."

"I thought so," said the farmer, "and besides you had nothing to start with, so I have brought you some money." And with that he poured out on the table the bright dollars that covered it entirely.

When the merchant saw what kind of a man his new found acquaintance was, he chatted with him in a very friendly manner and begged him to remain with him for a few days.

"Yes indeed," said the farmer, "but you must be sure to call me father from now on."

"But I have neither father nor mother living," answered Peter Ox.

"That I know perfectly well," the peasant replied, "for I sold your real father in Copenhagen last Michaelmas, and your mother died while calving. But my wife and I have adopted you as our child and you will be our heir, so you must call me father."

The merchant gladly agreed to that and kept the bag of money; and before leaving town the farmer made his will and bequeathed all his possessions to Peter after his death. Then the man went home and told his wife the whole story, and she was delighted to learn that the merchant Peter Ox was really their own calf.

"Now you must go straight over to the sexton and tell him what has happened;" she said, "and be sure to refund to him the hundred dollars that he paid out of his own pocket for Peter, for he has earned all that we have paid him, because of the joy that he has caused us in giving us such a son and heir."

Her husband was of the same opinion and went to call on the sexton, whom he thanked many times for his kindness and to whom he also gave two hundred dollars.

Then the farmer sold his farm, and he and his wife moved into the town where the merchant was, and lived with him happily until their death.

Pope Ox


A peasant hat an ox, a very handsome and intelligent animal. He and his wife liked the animal so much and held him in such high esteem that they decided have him pursue an advanced education.

The peasant went to a merchant in the city and asked him for advice. The merchant thought to himself how he might take advantage of the peasant's stupidity, and encouraged him to pursue his plan. He then told him that he had a friend, a lawyer, who could give lessons to the ox. The merchant immediately went to the lawyer, and the two of them conspired to charge the peasant two hundred thalers, which they would share. They would slaughter the ox, and share its meat as well.

The peasant and his wife were delighted that they had found a teacher for their ox so quickly, and they resolved to take him to the lawyer as soon as possible. The next day the peasant led the ox to the lawyer, who fed him some oats from a pewter dish, which pleased the peasant greatly.

"So, my dear Össing," he said, "you're going to do a lot better than pulling a plow."

With that he paid the two hundred thalers and made the lawyer promise to not mistreat the ox. The peasant had barely left when the lawyer informed the merchant what had happened. They divided the money, slaughtered ox, and laughed heartily about the stupid peasant.

Some time later the peasant went to the lawyer and asked if would not be able to see his ox.

"No, that is not possible," said the lawyer. "A visit would disturb him." But he assured the peasant that the ox was making good progress.

The peasant returned a second and a third time, but he always received the same excuse. Finally, thinking that the peasant might become suspicious, the lawyer told him that his ox had become the pope in Rome.

Amazed, the peasant asked how far it was to Rome.

"It would take you an entire year to get there," was the answer.

"Even if it were further away than that, I want to go," replied the peasant.

He returned home and told his wife that he was going to Rome to bring back their ox. The next day he wrapped a piece of rope around his body and set forth for Rome. He arrived there a long time later and immediately asked where the pope lived. Someone pointed out a beautiful palace to him. Seeing this from afar, he took great pleasure in his ox's good fortune.

He went directly to the palace and tried to go inside, but a guard blocked his way.

The peasant said, "Don't you know who I am? I'm here to take the pope with me. His mother wants to see him."

Because he looked so wild (he hadn't washed himself nor combed his hair during the entire long journey), and because he had spoken of taking someone away, the guard thought that the peasant was the devil, and he let him enter. The peasant went immediately to the pope's room, where he saw him at work writing.

"Hello, my dear Össing," he called out. "It's good to see you again."

With that he approached the pope and began petting him. He then unwrapped the rope from his body, put it around the pope's neck, and said, "Come along now, my dear Össing, your mother wants to see you."

He pulled him across the room. The pope was speechless with fear, for he too believed that the devil was taking him away.

In the meantime the guard had sounded the alarm, and a crowd gathered, and they were terrified when they saw the peasant with the pope. Only a few were brave enough to ask the devil to please release their pope.

"No, he has to come with me," was the answer. "His mother wants to see him."

They offered the peasant a great sum of money, then even more, and finally he released the pope.

Then he asked just what the pope's duties were, and they told him that the pope ruled over all the kings, princes, and preachers. It pleased the old peasant that his ox had achieved such a high position. He made the people promise that they would do no harm to his ox, and then made his way homeward.

Once at home, he showed his wife the money that he had been given and told her of the high honors their ox had won, adding that the people in Rome liked him so much that they would never allow him to leave. The old woman was just as happy as her husband, and the two of them boasted for a long time about their clever ox.

How an Ox Became Mayor


Once upon a time there was a peasant who had a great deal of money but very little understanding. He was just plain stupid. He had no children, but he did have a wife, an ox, and a donkey.

This peasant had heard a lot said about the university, and that one could learn a lot there, so he became more and more curious about it. One day he was talking about it with a joker, who said, "What people have told you about the university is nothing. Did you know that there they can make educated people out of dumb animals?"

"You don't say so!" said the peasant. "I'm going to give that a try. My ox is so smart that when I say 'gideeup' to my donkey, he starts to walk as well."

So the peasant went to Leiden with his ox. He rang at the university, and a student came to him, asking him what he wanted.

"I would like to speak with the professor," said the peasant, "for my ox is going to go to the university."

"Oh," said the student, "then just come along with me." Of course he did not take the peasant to a professor, but rather to one of his fellow students. After the peasant had explained why he was there, the student said it was good, and that he would be able to leave the ox there. Then they spoke about the tuition charges, and to start, the peasant had to pay seventy guilders. He thought that was expensive, but he paid it nonetheless, and left his ox in Leiden.

A month later the peasant thought, "I really must go now and see how my student is doing," and he set forth on his way.

To be sure, the ox was not at home. "He just went to a lecture," said the student. "But it is good that you came, because more money is due." The peasant paid and went home again. Every time that he came he received the same message, and he had to pay. He was told that the ox was learning well.

This continued for about a year and a half, and it began to trouble the peasant that he always had to pay but was never able to see his animal. He became angry and said that he wanted to take back his ox.

"Didn't he write to you that he is just beginning his examinations?" said the student. "He will pass them, but it all costs money."

"Well," said the peasant, "in that case I'll pay another hundred guilders. But this is the very last time!"

After again hearing nothing, the peasant one day went to Leiden with the firm resolve to take the ox home with him. When he told the student his intentions, the latter said to him, "I don't understand! Didn't he write to you? He passed his examinations with honors and now has a very good position. He is the mayor of Amsterdam."

"That was inconsiderate of him not to write to me," said the peasant. "But I'll get hold of him!"

So he went to Amsterdam. At that time, as it happened, there was a mayor there whose name was Ox. The student, of course, knew this.

The peasant rang at his door and asked if the mayor was at home. "Yes," replied his servant. "What do you want?"

The peasant explained that he was the mayor's owner, and had come to take him away. The servant did not understand this at all and thought he was dealing with a lunatic. The peasant persisted, and the two began cursing one another. Then the mayor happened by, and he told the servant to calm himself down. He invited the peasant to come in and say what he had to say.

He told the entire story about the ox and the university. But it was too much for the mayor when the peasant said in conclusion, "Now I'm going to put a halter on you so my wife can get a look at you as well." And the mayor had him thrown out the door.

So the peasant went away unsatisfied. Arriving home, he said to his wife, "Yes, it is true that they really can do things there in Leiden, for they made an educated man out of our ox. But there is not much in it for us."

How the Washerman's Ass Became a Qazi


There was a certain school master who had a very stupid pupil. One day, when he did not know his lesson, the master called him "Ass."

A fool of a washerman who was passing by, on hearing this, said: "Mr. Teacher, was this boy once a donkey?"

"Yes," said the master, "he was a donkey, and my teaching has made a man of him."

The washerman said: "I have nothing in the world but an ass, and if you can turn him into a man, I shall be delighted to bring him to you."

"All right," said the teacher. "Go and bring him."

So the washerman came up, thrashing his ass to make him come quickly; and asked the teacher: "How long will it take to turn my ass into a man?"

"A year's time," replied the teacher.

A year after he returned and asked the master where his ass was. The master replied: "Your ass has become the qazi of so-and-so city, and draws a salary of 1,000 rupees a month, and holds a court."

By chance, when the washerman first went to the teacher, the qazi was in the school and knew all about the master. The washerman asked the way to the qazi's court and went on. The qazi did not know him and paid no attention to him.

The washerman came back and said to the master: "In truth he has become a great man, and when I went into his court he did not even look at me."

The master replied: "Of course, he won't notice you if you approach him in this way as he is a great officer on a high salary. But take a rope and hobble and go into his court and shake them and say: 'Have you forgotten the rope and hobble with which you used to be tied?'"

He did as he was told, and then the qazi remembered the circumstance, and he thought: "If I don't get rid somehow of this fellow I shall become a laughingstock."

So the qazi gave the washerman a thousand rupees and dismissed him. The washerman showed the master the money, and he took half of it as the feed of the ass. The washerman went home blessing his good luck, and in this way every year he used to receive a present from the qazi and lived a happy man for the rest of his days.

The Priest, the Washerman, and the Ass


There lived, many years ago, in the city of Azimgurh, in the northwest of India, a Moslem priest, or "mullah," who, as is usual with that class, added to his income by teaching the Mohammedan youths of the place.

By chance an old washerman, or "dhobi," and his wife, while traveling homewards, came to the city and put up under a tree adjoining the mosque where the priest lived, and tied their ass to the tree. The old couple were rich, but were unfortunately childless.

Some time during the day of their arrival, they caught a glimpse of a man who was gesticulating before the priest in a tone of violent complaint, and they could not help hearing all that he said, "You are the priest," he called out, "and I have paid you all the fees you asked, but you have taught my son nothing at all, and every day he is either idling or playing about in the dusty roads with other worthless urchins."

Upon this the priest became greatly enraged, and retorted, "Not taught him anything! It is false. He has been educated like the rest."

Yah Yah ka kulma partraya
Gudhê sê admi bunaya.

Which means, "I have taught him the creed of Yah Yah, or of the righteous ones, and though he came to me an ass, I have made him into a man. You ungrateful wretch! I will have nothing further to say to him, and you may take him out of the school."

Upon this the man left the priest and went away down the road.

The ignorant old washerman and his equally old and ignorant wife, having been silent listeners of all this conversation, put their heads together and began to talk of what they had heard. The washerman said to his wife, "Did you not hear the priest say that he had changed an ass into a man, and you know priests can do wonderful things! I am just thinking that if he could work a change in our ass and make out of him a son for us, what a blessing it would be! For we have only this one thing short of being completely happy."

The old wife eagerly caught at the idea, and replied, "Yes! Allah has given us much wealth, but what good will it be to us when we die. Strangers will get it. But if we had a son, he would inherit it, and our cup of joy on earth would be full to the brim. Let us go to the priest and make a bargain with him, that the curse of having no son may no longer rest upon us."

Whereupon they both sought an audience of the priest, and approaching him, said, "Oh, sir! We are both very old, as you see, but we have plenty of money. But, sir, saddest of all things to tell you is that we are childless. Now, sir, we overheard you say that you had transformed an ass into a man. We have an ass, but we have not a son. Would you be so good as to change him for us, and we will give you any sum that you like to name."

The priest was struck all of a heap with surprise and astonishment at this preposterous request. He said nothing for some minutes, but simply stared at the aged old couple while he collected his thoughts. "These people must clearly have heard me speaking angrily to the father of the worthless scholar, and have taken my words altogether in a literal sense. But here is evidently a run of luck for me which must not be thrown away."

Thus he soliloquized, and the old couplet fixed itself in his thoughts:

Gân kê pooreh-get muth ki heenay
Khuda tujhê deta-mai leta keunnahin.

These are rich in purse but weak in intellect;
Allah gives you the chance, why should you not take it?

Then after this little pause he turned to them and said, "I have been considering what is best to be done for you. To comply with your request is indeed a difficult task, though not impossible. If you will tie your ass to that tree, and come to me a year hence, you shall have a son, for it will take all that time to make so complete a transformation. Give me now therefore one thousand rupees, and go back to your home, and be sure you return to me punctually in a year's time."

The old people were only too pleased to close with the priest, so they paid him the money, tied the ass to the tree, wished him a hearty farewell, and went on their journey homewards.

When a year had elapsed the old washerman and his wife, with their hearts bounding with delight at the prospect of welcoming a son and heir, started on their travels again to meet the priest, and in due time arrived at the mosque.

"We have come, sir," they said, "according to promise, to claim our son."

The priest replied, "You are indeed a couple of old fools. If you had been true to your time and had come a week ago, you would have seen him. But now, owing to his great learning, he as been appointed to the 'qazi' (doctor of Mohammedan law) at Jaunpur."

The priest had hit upon this ruse, and had determined to play off a joke on this qazi, of whom he was extremely jealous.

"But," replied the old couple, getting alarmed, "how is it possible that he will recognize us unless you accompany us?"

"Don't distress yourselves. I cannot go, but if you will take this rope with which you always tethered your ass, and the 'tobrâ' or nosebag in which the ass had his grain, and go to Jaunpur, all your difficulties will vanish. Time your arrival in the city on a Friday at the hour of prayer in the mosque. You will see a large concourse of people being addressed by your son, who was, you know, your ass. Put yourselves in a position where the qazi can plainly see you, then keep shaking the rope and the nosebag, and he will soon discover who you are, and come and claim you as his father and mother."

So off they went to the city of Jaunpur, reached it on a Friday, and went straight to the mosque, placed themselves in a conspicuous part of the outer building within sight of the qazi, and began, with a vengeance, to whisk before him the nosebag and the rope.

In a very short time the qazi noticed this strange proceeding, and sent one of the congregation to find out the cause, but they told him to tell the qazi that they had a profound secret which could only be told to the qazi himself and to no other mortal.

The qazi, impelled by curiosity, asked permission of his audience for a few moments of leave, and then taking the old couple aside, he begged of them to tell him the reason of their strange behavior.

With bated breath, and with the deepest earnestness did the old washerman and his wife pour into the qazi's ears the whole of the strange story of his having once been their ass; how for years they had overloaded him with kindness, and never spared the cudgel when he had been obstinate; how they deeply regretted their conduct towards one now so exalted as they saw their son to be; how, but for the wonderful power of the Priest of Azimgurh such a blessing would never have come to them; and how their cup of happiness was now complete.

The qazi at once took in the situation, and saw the plot that his arch enemy had so cleverly planned against him. And being a wise man, he thought to himself, "If I repudiate this absurd story, in the belief of which these ignorant people have bound up their lives, it will be sure to be published abroad, to my own annoyance, and from being respected I shall be mocked and turned into ridicule, and in fact be the laughingstock of the place. I am resolved what to do. I will quietly acquiesce in what they say, and so get rid of them."

Turning to the old couple he said, "Yes, it is all too true, and from henceforth your interests are my interests. Your good name is identical with mine, and I will carry it on. But let me bind you by all that you hold sacred that you never breathe a word of this marvelous change that has taken place in my being and existence. If you never reveal this secret, I will be a dutiful son to you all my life."

This the old washerman and his wife agreed to abide by in every iota, only stipulating that when they died, which in the course of nature was not far off, he would be present to see them interred according to Mohammedan rites. This the qazi on his part faithfully promised to do, and the old couple took their departure to their own home with every expression of joy and delight, and left all their money to him when they died.

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

Revised November 16, 2014.