“Life, the start and the end are similar, take advantage of the time in between”
Dear colleagues of the interwebs, have you ever wondered why man lives for seventy six years when he is lucky? Did you know that God had initially assigned man, along with the donkey, the dog and the monkey only thirty years to live on earth.
Has it ever occurred to you why man spends the first thirty years of his life like a king with no cares at all, followed by twelve years in which he has to hustle and work very hard like a donkey to make ends meet, followed by fourteen years which he spends trying to protect what has been earned and possessed and barking at all who may come to rob his hard earned wealth. Have you ever wondered why man spends the additional twenty years with a bent back, becomes childish and a laughing stock, just like the monkey.
There is this tale from an unnamed peasant from Zwehrn, Germany which was doing the rounds in the early nineteenth century, the early 1800s, which reveals that man has been a greedy being since time immemorial and explains where the extra years of man came from. Read on to find out.
When God had created the world, he called all his creatures together to grant them their span of life, and to tell them how long they would live and what manner of life they would lead.
The first to appear before God was man. And God said to him, “You, man, shall be king of the world, walking erect upon your feet and looking up to heaven. I give you a noble countenance. The power of thought and judgment shall be yours, and the capacity of disclosing your innermost thoughts by means of speech. All that lives and moves and goes about the earth shall be under your rule, the winged birds and the creeping things shall obey you. Yours shall be all the fruits of the tree and land, and your life shall be thirty years.”
Then man turned away dissatisfied and grumbling. “What is the good of living in pleasure and in might, if all the years of my life are to be thirty only? When I have built a house and a fire is burning on my own hearth, when I have planted trees that blossom and bear fruit, and am just beginning to enjoy life, then I am to die. What a short time! Oh, Lord, extend my time.” So did man speak and grumble, especially when he heard of the years granted to other animals.
The turn came to the donkey. He stepped forward to hear what God had decreed for him.
The Creator said, “You shall work hard; you shall carry heavy burdens and be constantly beaten. You shall always be scolded and have very little rest. Your food shall be a poor one of thistles and thorns, and your life shall be thirty years.”
When the donkey heard what God had decreed for him he fell upon his knees and cried, “All merciful Creator, am I indeed to lead such a miserable life, and am I to have such poor food as thistles and thorns. Am I to work so hard and carry such heavy burdens from morning until night and then live on for thirty years in such misery dragging bags of grain to the mill so that others might eat bread, only to be cheered along and refreshed with kicks and blows? Have pity on me and take off twelve years.” So God had mercy and gave him eighteen years.
Then man, greedy of long life, stepped forward and begged for himself these twelve years which the donkey had rejected. And the Lord granted them to him.
Then came the dog. To him the Creator said, “You shall guard the house and the property of your master. You shall cling to them as if you were afraid of losing them. You shall bark even at the shadow of the moon, and for all your trouble you shall gnaw bones and eat raw meat, and your life shall be thirty years.”
“All merciful Creator,” cried the dog, “if my life is to be of worry and trouble, and if I am to live on bones and raw stuff, take off, I pray, sixteen years.”
Again man, greedy of life, stepped forward and begged the Creator to give him the fourteen years rejected by the dog. And the Creator again granted his request.
Now it was the turn of the monkey.
The creator said, “You shall only have the likeness of man, but not be man. You shall be stupid and childish. Your back shall be bent. You shall be an object of mockery to the children and a laughing stock of fools, and your life shall be thirty years.”
When the monkey heard what was decreed for him, he fell upon his knees and said, “All merciful God, in your wisdom you have decided that I should be a man and not a man, that my back shall be bent, that I shall be a laughing stock for young and fools and I shall be stupid. Take, in mercy, twenty years off my life.”
And God, the all merciful, granted his request and gave him ten years.
And again, man, whose greed can never be satisfied, stepped forward and asked also for these twenty years which the monkey had rejected. And again God gave them to him.
Then God dismissed all the animals and all his creatures, and each one went to his appointed station and to the life that had been granted to him.
And as man had asked, so has it come to pass. Man lives as a king and ruler over all creatures for the thirty years which the Lord had given to him, in joy and in happiness, without care and without trouble. Then come the years from thirty to fourty two, which are the years of the donkey; they are full of hard work, heavy burdens, and little food, for man is anxious to gather and to lay up something for the years to come. It could not be otherwise, for were not these the years which he had taken over from the donkey? Then come the years from fourty two to fifty six, when man sits at home and guards with great trembling and fear the little that he possesses, fearful of every shadow, eating little, always keeping others away lest they rob him of that which he has gathered, and barking at every on whom he suspects of wanting to take away what belongs to him. He lies in the corner growling, no longer having teeth with which to bite. And no wonder that he behaves like that, for these are the dog’s years, which man had asked for himself.
Then come the years from fifty six to seventy six, when his back gets bent, his face changes, his mind gets clouded, he becomes childish, doing monkey tricks to entertain grandchildren, an amusement for the fool, and these are the years which man took over from the monkey.
- M. Gaster, Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1915), no. 116, pp. 336-338.
- Gaster’s source: “some old Rumanian manuscripts.”
- Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Die Lebenszeit, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), 7th ed. (Berlin, 1857), no. 176. Translated by D. L. Ashliman. © 2002.
- The Grimms’ source: Carl Friedrich Münscher (1808-1873), who learned the tale from an unnamed peasant from Zwehrn.