-Nasraddin Hodja miniature taken from a
XVII th century hand written book-
This is the story about wit and wisdom of a man who has been dead for hundreds of years. But he is also the most important Turkish hero, the delightful and inimitable personification of Turkish humor. He is Nasraddin Hodja and you might not have learned about him until you enter your online masters degree programs, but I have written much about him below.
Hodja has become an international "celebrity," for his stories have
been translated into many
languages, including Russian and Chinese. As far back
as 1844, a collection of his stories, under the name of The Turkish Jester or
the Pleasantries of Hagio Nasr Eddin Effendi was published in Ipswich, England.
Later Sir William Whittal, Mr. A. Namsey, Mr. H. C. Luke, and Mr. Henry Dudley
Bernham published books about this hero of Turkish folklore and his stories.
you read his stories, you will see that this charming old gentleman who lived
750 years ago in today's western Turkey is still going strong. In fact, with
each passing day, he becomes more alive than he ever was before, for "age
cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety." His fame at home
is such that several towns in Turkey vie for the exclusive honor of being his
birthplace. "Nasraddin Hodja Festivals" are held in Turkey every year,
during which his stories are enacted by people wearing the dress of his time
and prizes are given to the best cartoons drawn by artists invited from other
stories have passed chiefly by word of mouth from generation to generation, but
they have never lost their import. Toward the end of the last century, the
stories were banned by the Sultan Abdul Hamid who felt his imperial power was challenged
by the Hodja's jibes at authority, and especially judicial authority.
to most reliable sources, he was born in 1208 in the Anatolian village of Hortu,
attached to the township of Sivrihisar, in the neighborhood of Akshehir. On his
tombstone, the date of his death is given as 1284. He died at the then
venerable age of 76, fifteen years before the foundation of the Turkish Ottoman
Nasraddin is a proper name, meaning "Victor of the Faith," which was the name given by his parents to the author of these tales, and Hodja, meaning "master" or "teacher" is the honorific title which he subsequently acquired. Nasraddin Hodja, in addition to being an imam, the leader of prayer in a mosque, was an erudite scholar, and he combined the duties of schoolmaster, prayer leader and preacher.
Abdullah, was the imam of the village of Hortu, where Nasraddin received his
schooling. Nasraddin was intelligent hard working, with a thirst for knowledge,
and on the death of his father he went to Akshehir to complete his studies. In
the course of time, he became the disciple of renowned scholars, studied at the
medreses—theological colleges—in Konya, and was for many years a teacher and
preacher at Sivrihisar and Akshehir. From the numerous anecdotes attributed to
him, we deduce that he was also a Kadi or judge, dispensing justice—sometimes
sternly and sometimes humorously, but always justly. We also learn that he
never became rich, and indeed was probably very poor.
Hodja was liked and respected by all those around him for his kindness of heart,
his sympathy and understanding, his unaffected modesty, his knowledge and his
wit. He was a friend, a guide, and an adviser, all rolled into one. He had a
gift of unraveling, or at least loosening, the skein of worldly worries with an
amusing but sympathetic remark which always provided a moral for those wise
enough to perceive it.
all the things, which Hodja realty said or did, or which have been attributed to
him—and it is often difficult even for the initiate to sift what is true from
what is false—has come a vast treasure-trove of Turkish humor, which
constitutes an invaluable
part of Turkish folklore known as the Nasraddin Hodja stories. The
sources of many Turkish proverbs and idioms may be found in the Nasraddin Hodja
Things have been attributed to him,
which he never said or did, for Nasraddin Hodja's name, tagged to any anecdote,
was the hallmark of wit. So numerous priceless—and numerous worthless—stories
have preferred to remain anonymous behind the resplendent cloak of Nasraddin
In the stories, it is with the ordinary doings of
humbler folk—with their oddities and weaknesses, with their squabbles, and
social differences, with their farmyards and their animals—which Nasraddin
Hodja deals in this impish, seldom unkindly, way. However, the central
characters are Nasraddin Hodja himself, his wife, his children and, last but
certainty not last, his donkey. They form a family, which has brought laughter
and happiness to millions of people down through the centuries.
On the basis of some of these stories, the casual
reader or listener might conclude that Nasraddin Hodja was a simple soul, indeed
a simpleton, with no great intellectual attributes, for in certain cases he does
indeed appear in a ridiculous light. Such an assumption would be wrong, however.
In order to drive home a point with greater force, Hodja would occasionally play
the part of the fool, pretending an ignorance or naiveté that served to
underscore and enhance the sagacity of his repartees. This was always a source
of great confusion for his fellow interlocutors, and of undisguised amusement
for his audience.
all real humorists, Nasraddin Hodja is just as quick to laugh at himself as at
others, and imam though he was, even his religion
often sits tightly upon him, as is seen when, with his last breath, he
scandalizes his wife by making fun of the grim angel of death, Azrail, when he
sees him already hovering near his bed. "Put on your very best clothes, my
dear wife," Hodja says. "Do your hair nicety, and put some color to
your face. Try to make yourself as beautiful as possible. Then perhaps if Angel
Azrail sees you in these fine clothes looking like an angel or a peacock, he
might take you along and leave me."
There is a legend—only a legend—that when
Nasraddin Hodja was young and still at school, two of his classmates killed,
cooked and ate a lamb of which their teacher was extremely fond. The teacher was
deeply pained and shocked by the enormity of this outrage, and he soon found
out who the culprits were. Nasraddin Hodja's classmates confessed that one of
them had slit the animal's throat while the other had flayed and cooked it, and
when asked what role Nasraddin had played in -this despicable affair, they said
he had only watched and laughed. So the teacher laid a curse upon them,
saying, "Let him who slit the throat of my lamb have his own throat slit.
Let him who flayed my lamb himself be flayed. And let him who laughed be laughed
at by the whole world!"