D. L. Ashliman’s folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.
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?" 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 fifty 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 and then live on for fifty years in such misery? Have pity on me and take off twenty years."
Then man, greedy of long life, stepped forward and begged for himself these twenty 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 forty 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, twenty years."
Again man, greedy of life, stepped forward and begged the Creator to give him the twenty 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 laughingstock of fools, and your life shall be sixty 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, thirty years off my life."
And God, the all merciful, granted his request. And again, man, whose greed can never be satisfied, stepped forward and asked also for these thirty 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 has 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 fifty, 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 fifty to seventy, 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. And no wonder that he behaves like that, for these are the dog’s years, which man had asked for himself. And if a man lives beyond seventy, then his back gets bent, his face changes, his mind gets clouded, he becomes childish, a laughingstock for children, an amusement for the fool, and these are the years which man had taken over from the monkey.
- Source: M. Gaster, Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1915), no. 116, pp. 336-338.
- Gaster’s source: "some old Rumanian manuscripts."