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Wit - stories focused on a clown of fiction, with added info about Prester John

Uncle Saps

Stories of the young-at-heart Saps and other forms of wit, common sense, and ingenuousness could make some folks think. Maybe you can recognise him?

"What I can do is to amuse the heart,
You laugh at your tilted wishes somehow.
Not every philosopher around makes you giggle.

If the trickster Saps serves as a prester, his duties are not listed in any scripture. [◦Link]

Uncle and Hodja

'Uncle' is a token of respect in other cultures than ours. The honorific U in U Nun, U Thant and U Ottama stands for Uncle/Mr, and is given to mature men or men in a senior position and to monks.

There is also a trickster uncle in many Tibetan tales, Uncle Dunba.

Hodja Nasreddin appears in humorous tales around the Mediterranean in particular. Nasreddin Hodja was someone who might have actually lived around the 1200s in Turkey. A substantial body of anecdotes and jokes have grown up around Hodja Nasreddin. A few Hodja tales are modified fables of Aesop. At any rate, the Hodja is presented as a philosopher and wise man, but he does not have to be bright to look at. In some tales the trickster is presented as a quick-witted trickster scholar and hero, and in the Italian tales he may appear quite dumb. So, a trickster's roles are many.

The trickster appears in thousands of witty and instructive anecdotes and other stories, and goes by different names. Gofa, Jofa, Jufa, Jugale, Jugane, Giuvale, Giucca, Giufà are from Sicily and other parts in Italy. From Germany comes Till Eulenspiegel, also known as Till Owlglass. 1996–1997 was declared International Nasreddin Year by UNESCO. There is an International Nasreddin Hodja fest celebrated between 5 and 10 July in Aksehir, Turkey, every year.

'Uncle Saps' has many interesting roots to draw on in the tales below.

Anecdotes . . . this endearing form of humour has given many people food for thought. As generations have gone by, new stories have been added to the trickster lore, and others have been modified. There are books written about him as well. [1]


Thirty Uncle Saps or So

Bright Side Thinking

Uncle Saps was visiting his doctor of medicine. Among the many questions the doctor asked was: "Are you bothered by improper thoughts?"

"Not at all," said Uncle Saps. "The truth is I rather enjoy them."

Worse if True

Uncle Saps used to say: "Well, it might have been worse." One day an acquaintance of the hamlet stopped him and said, "I dreamed last night that I died, went to hell, and was doomed to everlasting torment."

"Well," said Uncle Saps, "it might have been worse."

"What do you mean, father?" cried the other. "How could it have been worse?"

"It might have been true," said Uncle Saps.

Playing the Big Horn

A man in the upstairs apartment yelled to Uncle Saps downstairs, "If you don't stop playing that big horn, I will go crazy."

"Too late, alas," said Uncle Saps. "I stopped an hour ago."

Who Knows?

A young man told Uncle Saps that he had decided to travel all over the country to find useful knowledge, and asked him what kind of people he should look for. Uncle Saps recalled some wise words he had once heard and said:

Drop the one who knows not and knows not that he knows not.

Teach the young one who knows not and knows that he knows not.

Awaken the one who is asleep and knows without knowing he knows!

You can follow the wise one who knows and knows he knows.

He went on: "But you know how difficult it is, son, to be sure that the one who knows and knows that he knows really knows."

All Right

Uncle Saps served as a judge in his village. His son was by his side to learn the office of giving justice.

A man came to complain, "I had a robe fitted for me. As soon as I dressed it and walked out in the street, the poorly sewn clothing fell apart and, pardon me for mentioning it, left me quite naked in shame in front of a crowd. Therefore I must not pay the tailor."

Very impressed, Uncle Saps exclaimed, "You're right!"

Hearing this verdict, the tailor rushed before him and pleaded his case, "This crazy customer brought his own scraps of rag and ordered me to sow them together. He leaned over my shoulder to annoy me with his advice and forced my hand to finish fast. At the end he couldn't wait, snatched it away and left in spite of my warnings. He must pay for the work!"

Uncle Saps agreed once again. "You're right", he said.

This left both seller and buyer lost in wonder. After they left, his perplexed son said: "But they can't be both right?"

Uncle Saps agreed at once, "You're right, son."

The Bear in the Pear Tree

Uncle Saps was on a learning-and-working stay at a certain convent in the Alps. One day he went alone to the surrounding countryside to get some wood. His axe sounded through the lonely mountainside. Then he took a deserved pause, and there was silence all around for a while.

Suddenly Uncle Saps jumped to his feet. What was that tramping he heard through the twigs on the forest floor? He stood with eyes fixed on the place from where the sound came steadily nearer and nearer, steadily louder and louder. He saw four stiff legs swinging awkwardly toward him at some distance! It was a big bear.

Uncle Saps ran for the nearest tree, a wild pear tree, and climbed it in a frenzy. However, the huge bear was heading for the same tree, and the nearer it came, the bigger it looked. The bear yawned, stretched itself, and yawned again. Then it lay down on the ground under the pear tree, grunted drowsily, and closed its eyes.

"You don't fool me!" thought Uncle Saps. "You are just waiting to pounce on me." He clung to the branch, his eyes fixed wildly on the big bear underneath. He expected it to jump at him any minute. He also thought of all the mistakes of his life - of all the times he had been cross to his wife, of all the times he had played tricks in vain.

The bear shivered and gradually began to snore.

"Ahh, you are asleep!" whispered Uncle Saps, and squirmed from one position to another. It was really uncomfortable there.

Farther down the valley he heard the bells of many chapels. "That means that it is getting late," he thought, wondering how long this could last.

As the sun set, he grew stiffer and stiffer. When the sun was down and the moon shining brightly he could see the sides of the huge bear rise and fall as he breathed and snored.

Uncle Saps looked pleadingly upwards, and prayed for help. At last the black animal below him stirred - stretched stiffly to his feet, and sniffed hungrily. Then, to Saps's horror, it stuck its great claws into the pear tree he was clinging to. Up the tree it came. Uncle Saps trembled so that he could scarcely hang onto the branches as the bear found just what he wanted - a juicy wild pear - and then another, and another. Eating and climbing, eating and climbing, up the tree came the bear. Shivering and shaking, shivering and shaking, up the tree went Uncle Saps.

At last Uncle Saps was on the highest branch that could possibly hold his weight. Oh, if only the bear would be content to climb no higher. Smack, smack, went the bear's great lips until every wild pear within reach was gone. Then up it went, so close that Saps could taste its breath. Out went one big paw, scooping up a pear, and swinging around so that it almost touched Uncle Saps's mouth. Was it trying to share the pears? It did not matter anyway:

"No, thank you!" screamed Uncle Saps; it was an odd sort of quirk.

The bear was shy and old and did not see well. He was not prepared for sudden screams from behind a leafy branch. With a shocked howl he lost his balance and fell down through the branches. There was a thud as he hit the ground, and after that: silence.

Uncle Saps did not dare to climb down to inspect at once. But toward the end of the nightly vigil he came slowly down the tree, his eyes warily on the black heap that lay motionless in a patch of moonlight below him. When he reached the lowest branch, the first rays of daylight shone through the woods. Then he saw the bear was dead. Never again would it climb trees to eat wild pears in the moonlight.

Uncle Saps jumped awkwardly from the lowest branch, his body felt numb as if needles were pricking arms and legs. First he started for the convent and breakfast, but then a grin burst over his tired face and he ran back to the pear tree, took out his knife and skinned the bear.

With the thick black fur slung over his shoulders, he strode down the mountainside and across the plain toward the convent. As he came to the city wall others noticed him, and when he crossed the market place to get to the convent, all the people knew - or thought they knew - that Uncle Saps was a mighty hunter.

He did not need to say a word about his experiences of the night. Other people did the talking for him; about how Uncle Saps had killed a huge and wild bear single-handedly.

Well Reminded

One day when Uncle Saps held the sermon in a local chapel he visited, he noticed an unknown goatherd below the speaker's podium. The vicar present told Uncle Saps that that man had walked for three hours to attend the service, leaving his goats up in the hills.

While Uncle Saps was preaching, he saw the man getting deeply moved. As the sermon progressed, the goatherd pulled out a cloth and started wiping off tears that were flowing down his face. Uncle Saps became more and more excited. After a final burst of enthusiastic words to end the service, he sat down in the little chapel and asked the goathead what had moved him so deeply.

"Oh," answered the goatherd, "last week my best billy-goat died. The more I watched and heard you talk with your beard gangling, the more I thought of my billy-goat, and the sadder I got."

Read Yourself

Someone brought a letter to Uncle Saps when he wore a scholar's cap: "Sir, could you read this letter for me?"

Uncle Saps looked at the letter, which was all in Greek. He could not understand it and gave it back to man. "Take this to someone else, I couldn't read it," he said.

"How is that? You are wearing the cloak of a learned man can't read a letter?"

Uncle Saps took off his cloak and placed it in front of the man. "Now, if the skill is of the cloak, put it on and read your letter yourself."

Not in the Ways of Pumpkins

One hot day Uncle Saps was resting in the shade of an oak tree. After a time, his gaze was drawn to the huge pumpkins growing on vines nearby, and next to the small oak nuts growing above him on a majestic oak tree.

"Sometimes I just can't understand the ways of God!" he mused. "Letting small oak nuts grow on so majestic a tree and huge pumpkins on the delicate vines!"

Just then a nut snapped off and fell smack on Uncle Saps's head. He got up at once, and lifting up his hands facing heaven, he said: "Forgive me for going into divine ways! Where would I have been now, if pumpkins grew on trees?"

Priceless and Worthless

One day his friends asked Uncle Saps, "You are a wise man. Can you tell us what you consider to be most precious in the world?"

"Easily," he said, "I consider advice to be priceless."

His friends thought about this for some time, then asked again: "Well, what do you consider to be worthless?"

"I would say advice is that."

"Come now!" objected his audience. "How can something be priceless and then again worthless? You must be making a mistake!"

"No, friends. An advice taken may be priceless, but consider how worthless it becomes when it goes unheeded."

Two Birds

Old Uncle Saps approached to a crowd gathered around a man in the market of Canterbury. The man was trying to sell a colourful bird at the staggering price of twenty gold coins. Uncle Saps couldn't understand how the man expected so much, and asked, "My good man, what kind of bird is it you want twenty gold coins for?"

"Well, it is a strange bird called parrot, and I have taught it some words to speak."

Uncle Saps walked briskly home, took his cock and came back to the market. There he started to proclaim near the man selling the parrot: "This bird costs only thirty gold coins. Come, come!"

The most surprised man in the crowd was the seller of the parrot. He asked: "Isn't thirty gold coins far too much for a cock?"

"I see you are selling yours for twenty gold coins," rejoined Uncle Saps.

"But mine has a skill, it speaks."

"Mine thinks."

The Question of Respect

One day on a visit to a neighbouring village Uncle Saps came to a fiest he had not expected. He was dressed rather shabbily in old travelling clothes, and was refused to enter. He hurried home, however, put on his best robe and returned within a few hours. At once the host came over, greeted him respectfully and ushered him to the head of a banquet table.

When the food was served, Uncle Saps pushed his sleeves up to his plate and said, "Eat sleeves, eat."

He explained to the astonished persons next to him, "With so much regard for the clothes, they too must get something."

Real Puzzle

One day Uncle Saps's apprentice said, "Sir, everyone says you are good. Does that mean you really are good?"

"Not necessarily, son," said Uncle Saps.

The boy then asked, "If everyone say you are bad, does it mean that you are a scoundrel?"

Again Uncle Saps answered it was not necessarily so.

When the apprentice asked how anyone could tell, Uncle Saps told him that if the good people said he was good and the bad peple that he was bad, then he was good. Then he paused for a moment, scratched his head, and added, "But you know how hard it is to tell which are the good people and the which are the bad."

Seeing the light?

Uncle Saps's wife was pregnant. One night her labour pains started and Uncle Saps called the neighbouring women and the midwife. Soon they called out from his wife's room, "Uncle Saps, you have a son!"

Uncle Saps was very happy for a while. But then the midwife called out again, "And you also have a girl."

After a little while she called out again, "And you have another girl!"

Uncle Saps, who had been waiting in front of his wife's room, rushed into the room and blew out the candle.

"What are you doing?" asked the surprised women.

"Maybe it's the light that attracts them," he answered.

Groaning for Money

On a mountain trail, Uncle Saps one day heard the ring of an axe, the sound of a man's voice, and the tinkling of horse bells. It told him there was companionship in this lonely spot, and Uncle Saps liked people who would talk and listen. He turned his horse into a tiny footpath that led toward the sounds.

Soon he came upon a group of six horses grazing on some cleared land. On all sides were piles of wood cut into stove lengths. Nearby was a muscular man swinging an axe. The woodcutter stepped quickly back as a pine tree swayed, moaned, and toppled to the ground. On a stump in the cool shade sat a neatly dressed man who clapped and applauded as the tree fell.

"Bravo!" cheered this second man who was not much more than half the size of the woodcutter. "That was a fine, big tree we cut. That will keep Goldhaver warm many a winter day. On to the next tree!"

Without looking at his comfortable companion, the woodcutter walked around an oak tree to decide where it should fall, took a firm grip on his axe handle, and started swinging just above the tree's roots.

Each time the woodcutter's axe bit into the tree, the little man on the stump would grunt. Uncle Saps sat on his horse, watching this strange performance - the strong man swinging the axe while the sitting man kept up a steady flow of grunts, groans, and cheers. It was too much to bear for Uncle Saps.

"Why do you make all the noise while the other man does all the work?" he asked the little man.

"Oh, I am helping him," chirruped the man. "He has agreed to cut thirty horse loads of wood for Goldhaver. Think what a job that would be for one man. I took pity on him and went into partnership with him. He swings the axe while I grunt and cheer to keep up his courage."

Uncle Saps looked at the sun. It was growing late and so he bid goodbye, and sounded a "whoa" to his horse and headed toward home. A fortnight later he came upon the two men again while he was loitering about the court, just in case the judge might need his advice about anything. The two men of the mountaintop were disputing before the judge. Their hands moved fast and so did their tongues.

"I earned every shilling of it myself," the big woodcutter was saying. "I did every stroke of the cutting of thirty horse loads of wood for Goldhaver. I loaded the wood onto the horses. I drove them to Goldhaver's house, unloaded every stick of the wood alone, and went back to the mountain for more loads."

"He forgets!" the little man of the stump interrupted. "He forgets how I cheered him at his work. I had a grunt for every swing of his axe, and a cheer for every falling tree. I earned a portion of the money which Goldhaver made the mistake of paying entirely to the woodcutter."

The judge had never met just such a case before. Now he saw Uncle Saps and said, "I turn this case over to my able assistant," sighing and leaning back, his troubles over. "Repeat your stories to him."

Both started talking at once. The woodcutter and his self-appointed helper told their stories. Uncle Saps listened, nodding wisely, till both men had talked themselves silent. Then Uncle Saps beckoned a court attendant. "Bring me a money tray."

The tray was brought. "Give me the money, good woodcutter, the money Goldhaver paid you for the thirty horse loads of wood," commanded Uncle Saps, holding out his hand for the bag. Reluctantly, the woodcutter passed over the money bag while the little man of the stump drew nearer.

One by one, Uncle Saps took the coins from the bag and rang them out on the money tray, talking to the man who was claiming a share.

"Do you hear that? Do you like the sound? Isn't that a cheery ring?"

The little man nodded, drawing so close that his nose almost touched the ringing coins. He smirked to see so much money so near.

"You heard it all?" Uncle Saps asked the little man.

He nodded greedily.

"Every shilling of it?" asked Uncle Saps.

The little man continued to nod.

"Then you have had your wages," said Uncle Saps, and began to sweep the money back into the bag. "The sound of the money is proper pay for the sound of working."

Uncle Saps handed the full money bag to the smiling woodcutter, saying, "And the money is proper pay for the work."

Bear Fear

One day Uncle Saps was sprinkling some powder on the ground around his house.

"Prester, what are you doing?" someone asked.

"I want to keep the scary ice bears away."

"But there are no ice bears within hundreds of miles?"

"Ah, it works, eh?" Uncle Saps asked friendly.

Reliable Source

"How old are you, sir?" someone asked.

"Forty," said Uncle Saps.

"But you said that two years ago when I asked."

"That's right. I always stand by my word!"

Riding Along

One day when Uncle Saps was leaving the town of Canterbury with a band of walking students, he sat on the horse facing the tail. They asked him why and he explained:

"As your teacher I must be in front of you. But if I face the front, I can't see what you are doing behind me. But if I sit on the horse this way, I can see you all quite easily."

Ponies and Chimneys

One day Uncle Saps said, "Fellow citizens, give thanks to God that he did not give the pony wings; for, had he given them, they would have perched on your houses and chimneys, and have caused them to tumble on your heads."

Worth of Daughters

Uncle Saps had two daughters. One day they came to see their father, he said to them, "Well, daughters, how do things go on with you?"p class="i"> Now, the husband of one of them was a farmer, that of the other was a maker of tiles.

One daughter said, "My husband has sown a great deal of corn; if there is plenty of rain my husband will give me a new gown."

The other said, "My husband is a tile-maker; he has made a great amount; if there is not a drop of rain he will give me a new gown."

Uncle Saps said, "One of you two may be worth a cucumber, but which it is, birds know."

On Believing the Right One

One day a man came to the house of Uncle Saps and asked him to lend him his pony.

"He is not at home," replied Uncle Saps. But it so happened that the pony began to neigh within.

"Saps," said the man, "you say that the pony is not at home, and there he is neighing within."

"What!" said Uncle Saps. "You believe the pony, but will not believe a grey-bearded man like me."

Clowning against Silly Questions

In the time of Uncle Saps, three priests who were well versed, travelled through the world and at last came to England. The king invited them to accept his faith, and the three said, "Each one of us has a question to ask, and if you can give us an answer, we will share your faith."

All agreed to this, and then it showed up that none at court was able to reply the questions of the strangers. The king exclaimed, "No one in my kingdom can answer these fellows." A courtier replied, "Perhaps Uncle Saps can." The king at once gave orders to hurry and get Uncle Saps. As soon as he arrived, he went to the king, who told him about the situation. Then Uncle Saps turned to the priests, saying, "What are your questions?"

One of them said, "Where may the middle of the earth be?"

Uncle Saps at once pointed with his staff to his fore foot and said, "The middle of the earth is right here."

"How do you know that?" said the priest.

"If you doubt it" said Uncle Saps, "take a measure and see whether it comes to more or less."

The second of the priests said, "How many stars are there in heaven above us?"

Uncle Saps said, "As many hairs as there are on my pony."

"How do you know?" said the priest.

"If you doubt," said Uncle Saps, "come and count, and if there is any difference, say at once."

"Have you counted, then," said the priest, "the hairs on your pony?"

"And have you counted how many stars there are?" said Uncle Saps.

The third priest came forward and said, "How many hairs are there in my beard?"

"Just as many," said Uncle Saps, "as there are hairs in my pony's tail."

"How do you know?" said the priest.

"If you don't believe, come and count," said Uncle Saps.

The priest would not agree.

"If you won't agree," said Uncle Saps, "come, let us pluck hair for hair from your beard and from the pony's tail and see if they don't tally."

The priest saw that he had the worst of the argument and said to his companions, "I embrace the faith of Uncle Saps. So did the two others.

He Had His Way with His Ox

Uncle Saps had an old ox which had very large horns. They were so far apart that a person could sit between them. Every time that the ox drew nigh Uncle Saps was in the habit of saying to himself, "How I should like to sit between his horns," and calculating the possibility of doing so.

One day the ox came and laid himself down before the house. Cried Uncle Saps, "Now is my time!" and mounting, he took his seat between the two horns of the ox. But the ox quickly rose on his legs and flung Uncle Saps on the ground, where he lay for some time quite senseless.

His wife came and saw him lying motionless, and began to lament. After some time, however, Uncle Saps recovered a little. On seeing his wife weeping by his side, he exclaimed, "Well, wife, do not weep, I have suffered a great deal, but I have had my desire."

Uncle Saps's Sweetheart

One night, Uncle Saps's father noticed a light in his barn. He went to see what it was all about and he found Uncle Saps with a lantern, all dressed up. "What are you doing all dressed up and with that lantern?" asked his father.

"I am going to call on my sweetheart, father," said Uncle Saps. "I have to go through the woods and it is dark."

"When I was your age calling on my wife for the first time," said the father, "I went through the woods without a lantern."

"I know," said Uncle Saps, "But see what you got, father."

Sleeping Tact

A playwright invited Uncle Saps specially to watch his new play. Uncle Saps came, but slept through the whole performance. The playwright was indignant and said, "How could you sleep when you knew how much I wanted your opinion?"

Uncle Saps mused, "Sleep showed my opinion."

The Warm Hands

Uncle Saps was coming to after a serious operation. He was just conscious enough to feel soft, comfortable bed sheets and the warmth of gentle hands on his forehead. "Where am I?" he asked. "In Heaven?"

"No," said his wife, "I am still right here with you."

Not Wanting Counsel

Uncle Saps approached a genteel-appearing, elderly man with his tale of woe and a request for assistance. The old gentleman refused him, saying, "I am sorry, my friend, I have no money, but I can give you some good advice."

Uncle Saps answered, "No thanks. If you have no money, your advice may not be worth much."

Uncle Saps and the Bill Collector

At a time Uncle Saps lived far beyond his means and was constantly hounded by creditors. But at last he grew so skilled in the awkward situation that he treated them with impeccable courtesy. Once he served delicious beer to a bill collector.

"If you cannot afford to pay your debts," the bill collector demanded, "how can you afford to serve beer?"

Uncle Saps said, "I assure you, this hasn't been paid for either."

Meeting the Bogeyman Drunk

Uncle Saps was drinking too much. So much that it began to worry his friends. Finally, they figured out a plan to cure him. The plan was for one of them to dress up like a bogeyman and scare Uncle Saps to give up drinking. Late one night, as Uncle Saps headed home from the tavern, his friend jumped from behind a tree and shouted, "You will have to stop drinking!"

"Who are you?" asked Uncle Saps.

"The bogeyman," said his friend.

"Oh," said Uncle Saps. "In that case I am the man who married your little sister."

Dangers of Doing Better

The young Uncle Saps was talking to a friend about a recently broken romance. "Do you mean," asked the friend, "that at her request, you gave up drinking whisky, horse gambling, reel dancing, and playing pool?"

"Yes, just because she insisted," said Uncle Saps.

"Then why didn't you marry her?" the fellow asked.

"Well, after all that reforming," said Uncle Saps, "I decided I could do better."


Prester John, but Not the Day-Lily

"Once upon a time, in a very remote land there was a king [Prester John] who was not only a great king, but a Christian priest. The story of Strange John is known today from almost 100 manuscripts, and the historical nucleus of the story is rooted in the coming of one "John, the Patriarch of the Indians", who came to Rome in the pontificate of Calixtus II in 1122.

Prester John lived in India, or to be more precise, in Malabar (southern India) . . . India (was) considered as a wonderland . . . with exotic unknown animals, black [Dravidian] Christians and other miracles, but even Jews lived there . . . and who is the man who would not like to visit that wonderland of a king and a priest, Prester John in India?"

From an informative article by Meir Bar-Ilan, senior Lecturer at the Departments of Talmud and Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University. [◦Source]


ACCORDING to rumour and fervent belief, "the ultimate Christian king, Prester John, ruled over the perfect Christian kingdom, somewhere in Asia (or perhaps in Africa - no one was really sure)," writes Sara Douglass. [A] There is a reason for this uncertainty. The author sets out to explain it thus:

There was an old legend about the apostle Thomas that he had travelled to India and established a Christian community there - one that retained many of the ideals of the original church, and blossomed as an almost perfect Christian kingdom, ruled over by the legendary king, Prester John. The legend of the apostle and his exploits "was widespread enough in the 833 for Alfred the Great to send two priests with gifts to St Thomas' shrine on the east coast of India." The Moslems too believed that this magnificient Christian king existed, she writes further.

Prester John is mentioned in the 1145 chronicle of Otto of Freising at the time of the Second Crusade. Otto recounted that a report from the Bishop of Gabala told that, "there was ruling in the East somewhere a Christian king named Prester John, who was descended from the Magi, and who ruled over a fantastically wealthy kingdom." He was said to enjoy such glory and such plenty that he used no scepter save one of emerald, wrote Otto. The original, brief chronicle is here: [◦Medieval Source]

In 1165 Otto's second-hand report was overshadowed by a seemingly authentic letter from Prester John. In it, Prester John described himself as the ruler of the Three Indias, ruling "from the Tower of Babel to the rising of the sun"; and he gave an elaborate account of the marvels and riches of his kingdom, and also declared he intended to visit the Holy Sepulchre in Palestine.

This letter "had first been sent to the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople, where copies of it had been made and circulated around the courts of Europe. The letter had arrived at a time when the Moslem pressure on the crusader states in the Holy Land was increasing".

In 1177 Pope Alexander II wrote what has been taken to be a reply to Prester John. He gave it to "his personal physician, Master Philip, and sent him off . . . Master Philip and his letter got as far as Palestine . . . after that all reports of him disappeared . . . and the anxious pope got no reply," Douglass continues.

Afterwards, the original concept of Prester John was probably confused with actual living kings; for a long time many Europeans believed that Genghis Khan was Prester John. In 1248 a church envoy came to the court of the Mongols, and "a Franciscan friar called Giovanni Capini, further added to the legend of Prester John by reporting that P John was the king of Greater India who defeated the Mongols (this time) by creating men out of copper, filling them with Greek fire, and placing them on horseback, so burning the Mongol army completely."

In the early 1300s, "most of the European rulers, popes, etc. seemed to have given up hope of finding Prester John anywhere in Asia." Then it was soon rumoured that "Prester John's kingdom did not lie in Asia, but was actually in northern Africa - what we now call Ethiopia." So by 1339 maps of Africa were marking the kingdom of Prester John in north-eastern Africa, and "by the 1400s there was a definite belief that here . . . was the location of the legendary Christian king, Prester John." Not finding the king there, however, explorers began to look across the Atlantic for him.

Who wrote what was thought to be an authentic letter from Prester John to the rulers of Europe that turned up in 1165? "No one now knows," Douglass informs. She also thinks "Europeans still wanted to believe in this king so much they simply moved his kingdom to a different place, then a different place again, in order to keep on believing in him." That could very well take us to the core of many medieval legends that flourished about prester John.

Further, "The legend really helped stimulate exploration of the Far East and Asia. Numerous explorers and official diplomatic envoys set out in order to make contact with this wonderful king."

Four more

IN A WORK by Thomas Bulfinch, Age of Fable: Vols. I & II: Stories of Gods and Heroes, he tells of an early account which probably was spread by travelling merchants at first: Among the Tartars there was a Lama or spiritual chief who had given rise to a report in Europe of a Presbyter or Prester John, a Christian pontiff resident in Upper Asia.

Bulfinch writes: "The Pope sent a mission in search of him, as did also Louis IX of France, some years later, but both missions were unsuccessful". What they did find, though were small communities of Nestorian Christians, which served to keep up the belief in Europe that such a personage as Prester John did exist somewhere in the East.

"At last in the fifteenth century, a Portuguese traveller, Pedro Covilham, happening to hear that there was a Christian prince in the country of the Abessines (Abyssinia), not far from the Red Sea, concluded that this must be the true Prester John." Accordingly he went there "and penetrated to the court of the king, whom he calls Negus." [Source]

Prester JOHN was a "legendary Christian priest and monarch of a vast, wealthy empire in Asia or in Africa. The legend first appeared in the latter part of the 12th cent. and persisted for several centuries. At first the utopian realm of this Christian king was supposed to be in Asia, but later it was more generally placed in Africa. Letters supposed to have been written by him and about him were widely circulated in Western Europe." [The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2000, Columbia University Press, s.v. "Prester John"]

AND according to Sir John Mandeville (ca. 1366), Prester John was a lineal descendant of Ogier the Dane [who was serving Charlemagne before he became his own master with a crown placed on his head, according to romance-writers]. This Ogier penetrated into the north of India with fifteen barons of his own country, and he divided the land among them. John was made sovereign of Teneduc, and was called Prester because he converted the natives.

Another tradition says he had seventy kings for his vassals, and was seen by his subjects only three times in a year."

[Source: E. Cobham Brewer 1810-1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898]

WHAT IS more, Marco Polo thinks of "Un-khan, a prince of the north", called Prester John too, in his travels. [Medieval source]

FURTHER: "prester john" in Britannica [Ebu, "prester john"]

Saps, Prester John, Gofa, Jofa, Jufa, Jugale, Jugane, Giuvale, Giucca, Giufà Hodja Nasreddin, Mulla Nasrudin, Literature  

Borrow, George, oms. Nasreddin Hoca. The Turkish Jester: or, The Pleasantries of Cogia Nasr Eddin Effendi. Ipswich: W. Webber, 1884.

Clouston, William Alexander. The Book of Noodles: Stories of Simpletons; or, Fools and Their Follies. Popular Edition. London: Elliot Stock, 1903.

Nart, Sevki. 111 historier med Nasreddin Hodja. Oslo: Cappelen, 1986.

Ozcelik, Mustafa. Nasreddin Hodja: Eponym for Wit and Wisdom. New York: Blue Dome, 2011.

Rupa and Co. The Humorous Stories of Mulla Nasrudin / the Funny Tales of Mulla Nasrudin. New Delhi: Rupa and Co., 2006.

Shah, Idries. The Exploits of Mulla Nasrudin. London: Octagon Press, 1983.

⸻. The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin. London: Cape, 1968.

⸻. The Subtleties of the Inimitable Mulla Nasrudin. London: Octagon Press, 1983.

⸻. The World of Nasrudin. London: Octagon Press, 2003.

Swan, Charles. Gesta Romanorum or, Entertaining Stories: Invented by the Monks as a Fireside Recreation, and Commonly Applied in Their Discourses from the Pulpit. New ed. by Thomas Wright, in 2 Vols. London: J. C. Hotten, 1871.


[A] Sara Douglass on Prester John:

EB: Encyclopędia Britannica - see Britannica Online.

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