Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories | Annotated Tale

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Story of Man and His Years, The.

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, "Thou, man, shalt be king of the world, walking erect upon thy feet and looking up to heaven. I give thee a noble countenance; the power of thought and judgment shall be thine, and the capacity of disclosing thy innermost thoughts by means of speech. All that lives and moves and goes about the earth shall be under thy rule, the winged birds and the creeping things shall obey thee, thine shall be all the fruits of the tree and land, and thy 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 ass. He stepped forward to hear what God had decreed for him. The Creator said, "Thou shalt work hard; thou shalt carry heavy burdens and be constantly beaten. Thou shalt always be scolded and have very little rest, thy food shall be a poor one of thistles and thorns, and thy life shall be fifty years." When the ass 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 ass had rejected. And the Lord granted them to him.

               Then came the dog. To him the Creator said, "Thou shalt guard the house and the property of thy master; thou shalt cling to them as if thou wast afraid of losing them; thou shalt bark even at the shadow of the moon, and for all thy trouble thou shalt gnaw bones and eat raw meat, and thy 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 thee, 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, "Thou shalt only have the likeness of man, but not be man; thou shalt be stupid and childish. Thy back shall be bent; thou shalt be an object of mockery to the children and a laughing-stock of fools, and thy 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 thy wisdom thou hast 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 has 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 ass; 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 ass? 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 one 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 laughing-stock for children, an amusement for the fool, and these are the years which man had taken over from the monkey.


Thus far the story which I found in some old Rumanian MSS., and which may, therefore, not be quite of a popular origin. I have retold it here because we have in it the animal in the man. It may be a caricature, but it does not show up man to advantage in comparison with the animal world. And yet, he is endeavouring to conquer the animal, to shake off the fateful inheritance of greed, and to return to that rule and kingdom which are his own by the grace of God to his thirtieth year, and which he endeavours to carry even beyond that limited span of time.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Story of Man and His Years, The.
Tale Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Book Title: Rumanian Bird and Beast Stories
Book Author/Editor: Gaster, Moses
Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1915
Country of Origin: Romania
Classification: unclassified

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