Nasreddin Hodja is Turkey’s (and perhaps all of Islam’s) best-known trickster. His legendary wit and droll trickery were possibly based on the exploits and words of a historical imam. Nasreddin reputedly was born in 1208 in the village of Horto near Sivrihisar. In 1237 he moved to Aksehir, where he died in the Islamic year 683 (1284 or 1285). As many as 350 anecdotes have been attributed to the Hodja, as he most often is called. Hodja is a title meaning teacher or scholar. He frequently is compared with the northern European trickster Till Eulenspiegel.
The many spelling variations for Nasreddin include: Nasreddin, Nasrettin, Nasrudin, Nasr-id-deen, Nasr Eddin, Nasr-eddin, Nasirud-din, Nasr-ud-Din, Nasr-Eddin, and Nasr-Ed-Dine.
The many spelling variations for Hodja include: Hodja, Hodscha, Hoca, Chotza, Cogia, Khodja, and Khoja.
My sources for the following retold anecdotes include The Turkish Jester; or, The Pleasantries of Cogia Nasr Eddin Effendi, translated from the Turkish by George Borrow (Ipswich: W. Webber, 1884); The Tales of Nasrettin Hoca, told by Aziz Nesin, retold in English by Talat Halman (Istanbul: Dost Yayinlari, 1988); Allan Ramsay and Francis McCullagh, Tales from Turkey (London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, and Kent, 1914); Somnath Dhar, Folk Tales of Turkey (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1989); Ali Nouri, Nasreddin Khodjas Schwänke und Streiche (Breslau: Schlesische Verlags-Anstalt von S. Schottlaender, 1904); Albert Wesselski, Der Hodscha Nasreddin, 2 vols. (Weimar: Alexander Duncker, 1911); and Herbert Melzig, Nasreddin Hodscha, Wer den Duft des Essens verkauft: Schwänke und Anekdoten des türkischen Eulenspiegel (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rohwolt, 1988).
Everyone Is Right
Once when Nasreddin Hodja was serving as qadi, one of his neighbors came to him with a complaint against a fellow neighbor.
The Hodja listened to the charges carefully, then concluded, “Yes, dear neighbor, you are quite right.”
Then the other neighbor came to him. The Hodja listened to his defense carefully, then concluded, “Yes, dear neighbor, you are quite right.”
The Hodja’s wife, having listened in on the entire proceeding, said to him, “Husband, both men cannot be right.”
The Hodja answered, “Yes, dear wife, you are quite right.”
Walnuts and Pumpkins
Nasreddin Hodja was lying in the shade of an ancient walnut tree. His body was at rest, but, befitting his calling as an imam, his mind did not relax. Looking up into the mighty tree he considered the greatness and wisdom of Allah.
“Allah is great and Allah is good,” said the Hodja, “but was it indeed wise that such a great tree as this be created to bear only tiny walnuts as fruit? Behold the stout stem and strong limbs. They could easily carry the pumpkins that grow from spindly vines in yonder field, vines that cannot begin to bear the weight of their own fruit. Should not walnuts grow on weakly vines and pumpkins on sturdy trees?”
So thinking, the Hodja dosed off, only to be awakened by a walnut that fell from the tree, striking him on his forehead.
“Allah be praised!” he exclaimed, seeing what had happened. “If the world had been created according to my meager wisdom, it would have been a pumpkin that fell from the tree and hit me on the head. It would have killed me for sure! Allah is great! Allah is good! Allah is wise!”
Never again did Nasreddin Hodja question the wisdom of Allah.
Faith Moves Mountains
The Hodja was boasting about the power of his faith.
“If your faith is so strong, then pray for that mountain to come to you,” said a skeptic, pointing to a mountain in the distance.
The Hodja prayed fervently, but the mountain did not move. He prayed more, but the mountain remained unmoved.
Finally the Hodja got up from his knees and began walking toward the mountain. “I am a humble man,” he said, “and the faith of Islam is a practical one. If the mountain will not come to the Hodja, then the Hodja will go to the mountain.”
The Smell of Soup and the Sound of Money
A beggar was given a piece of bread, but nothing to put on it. Hoping to get something to go with his bread, he went to a nearby inn and asked for a handout. The innkeeper turned him away with nothing, but the beggar sneaked into the kitchen where he saw a large pot of soup cooking over the fire. He held his piece of bread over the steaming pot, hoping to thus capture a bit of flavor from the good-smelling vapor.
Suddenly the innkeeper seized him by the arm and accused him of stealing soup.
“I took no soup,” said the beggar. “I was only smelling the vapor.”
“Then you must pay for the smell,” answered the innkeeper.
The poor beggar had no money, so the angry innkeeper dragged him before the qadi.
Now Nasreddin Hodja was at that time serving as qadi, and he heard the innkeeper’s complaint and the beggar’s explanation.
“So you demand payment for the smell of your soup?” summarized the Hodja after the hearing.
“Yes!” insisted the innkeeper.
“Then I myself will pay you,” said the Hodja, “and I will pay for the smell of your soup with the sound of money.”
Thus saying, the Hodja drew two coins from his pocket, rang them together loudly, put them back into his pocket, and sent the beggar and the innkeeper each on his own way
Nasreddin was strolling through the marketplace when a shopkeeper accosted him, berating the Hodja loudly for his failure to pay a debt.
“My dear friend,” answered the Hodja, “just how much do I owe you?”
“Seventy-five piasters,” shouted the angry shopkeeper.
“Now, now,” replied the Hodja. “You must know that I intend to pay you thirty-five piasters tomorrow, and next month another thirty-five. That means that I owe you only five piasters. Are you not ashamed of yourself for accosting me so loudly in public for a debt of only five piasters?”
Nasreddin Hodja was standing in the marketplace when a stranger stepped up to him and slapped him in the face, but then said, “I beg your pardon. I thought that you were someone else.”
This explanation did not satisfy the Hodja, so he brought the stranger before the qadi and demanded compensation.
The Hodja soon perceived that the qadi and the defendant were friends. The latter admitted his guilt, and the judge pronounced the sentence: “The settlement for this offense is one piaster, to be paid to the plaintiff. If you do not have a piaster with you, then you may bring it here to the plaintiff at your convenience.”
Hearing this sentence, the defendant went on his way. The Hodja waited for him to return with the piaster. And he waited. And he waited.
Some time later the Hodja said to the qadi, “Do I understand correctly that one piaster is sufficient payment for a slap?”
“Yes,” answered the qadi.
Hearing this answer, the Hodja slapped the judge in the face and said, “You may keep my piaster when the defendant returns with it,” then walked away.
Nasreddin Hodja’s first marriage was an arranged marriage, and in keeping with the custom of the time, he did not see his unveiled bride until the wedding ceremony. Unfortunately, she did not have an attractive face.
The next day when the bride was making preparations to go to market, she asked her husband, as was the custom, “Shall I wear my burqa? I do not wish to show my face to anyone against your wishes.”
Nasreddin answered, “Wear your burqa or leave it at home. It is all the same to me to whom you show your face in public. All I ask is that you keep your face covered when you are at home with me.”
The Hodja and his wife made an agreement to fulfill their marital duties every Friday night.
“But with all my other obligations, how will I remember that it is Friday night?” asked Nasreddin.
“Each week I shall place your turban on the large chest, so you will know that it is Friday,” answered the wife.
One night, not on a Friday, the wife desired to make love, so she placed Nasreddin’s turban on the chest.
The Hodja said, “But wife, this is not Friday night.”
She answered, “It is Friday night.”
He replied, “Wife, in this house either Friday shall wait for me, or I shall wait for Friday.”
The Wife’s Name
Nasreddin Hodja and a friend were discussing their wives, when it occurred to the friend that Nasreddin had never mentioned his wife’s name.
“What is your wife’s name?” he asked.
“I do not know her name,” admitted the Hodja.
“What?” asked the friend in disbelief. “How long have you been married?”
“Twenty years,” answered the Hodja, then added, “At first I did not think that the marriage would last, so I did not take the effort to learn my bride’s name.”
The Older Wife
Nasreddin Hodja had two wives, one much older than the other.
“Which of us do you love the most?” asked the older wife one day.
“I love you both the same,” answered Nasreddin, wisely.
Not satisfied with this answer, the older wife continued, “If the two of us wives fell out of a boat, which one of us would you rescue first?”
“Well,” replied Nasreddin, “you can swim a little, can’t you?”
The Favorite Wife
Nasreddin Hodja’s two wives were constantly asking him which one of them was his favorite.
“I love you both the same,” was always his answer, but they did not accept this answer, and asked him repeatedly, “Which one of us do you love the most?”
Finally he secretly gave each of them a blue bead, privately instructing each woman that she should tell no one of the gift.
After that whenever either of the wives would ask him, “Which one of us is your favorite wife?” he would answer, “I love best the one to whom I gave the blue bead,” and each was satisfied.
The Contrary Mother-in-Law
A neighbor came running to Nasreddin’s house with the news that the Hodja’s mother-in-law had been washing her laundry in the river when she fell into the water and drowned. “And we cannot find her body,” he continued. “We searched everywhere downstream for her, but all to no avail.”
“You should have searched upstream,” replied the Hodja. “My mother-in-law is so contrary that she would never go with the flow.”
Eat, My Coat, Eat
The Hodja was invited to a banquet. Not wanting to be pretentious, he wore his everyday clothes, only to discover that everyone ignored him, including the host. So he went back home and put on his fanciest coat, and then returned to the banquet. Now he was greeted cordially by everyone and invited to sit down and eat and drink.
When the soup was served to him he dunked the sleeve of his coat into the bowl and said, “Eat, my coat, eat!”
The startled host asked the Hodja to explain his strange behavior.
“When I arrived here wearing my other clothes,” explained the Hodja, “no one offered me anything to eat or drink. But when I returned wearing this fine coat, I was immediately offered the best of everything, so I can only assume that it was the coat and not myself who was invited to your banquet.”
A Close Call
One night Nasreddin awoke, thinking he had heard a strange noise outside his window. Looking out, he saw a suspicious white figure.
“Who goes there?” shouted the Hodja.
Hearing no reply, Nasreddin reached for his bow, set an arrow to the string, took aim, and shot in the direction of the mysterious figure. Satisfied that the intruder now would do him no harm, Nasreddin returned to bed and slept until dawn.
By morning’s light he examined the scene outside his window, only to discover his own white shirt hanging on the clothesline and pierced by the arrow that he had shot during the night.
“That was a close call,” murmured the Hodja. “My own shirt, shot through by an arrow! What if I had been wearing it at the time!”
The Hodja, bruised and limping, came upon a neighbor at the marketplace.
“My dear friend, what happened to you?” asked the neighbor.
The Hodja answered, “Last night my wife grew angry and kicked my robe down the stairs.”
“But how could that have caused your injuries?” continued the neighbor.
“I was wearing the robe when she kicked it down the stairs,” explained the Hodja.
Restoring the Moon
One night the Hodja looked into his well and saw there the reflection of the full moon.
“Oh no!” he exclaimed. “The moon has fallen from the sky and into my well!”
He ran into his house and returned with a hook attached to a rope. He then threw the hook into the water and commenced to pull it up again, but it became stuck on the side of the well. Frantically the Hodja tugged and pulled with all his might. The hook suddenly came loose, and the Hodja fell over backwards, landing flat on his back. Scarcely able to move, he looked up into the sky and saw the full moon above him.
“I may have injured myself in doing so,” he said with satisfaction, “but at least I got the moon back into the sky where it belongs.”
The Hodja and His Eight Donkeys
The Hodja had eight donkeys; he mounted one of them. At the end of his ride he counted them, but he saw only seven. He forgot the one he was sitting on. After dismounting he counted eight. This so confused him that he asked a passerby, “Earlier there were only seven, but now there are suddenly eight!”
“The one you were sitting on brought the number to eight.”
The Hodja answered, “But how was I to see what I had on my behind?”
Flour on the Clothesline
A neighbor came to the Hodja’s door and asked to borrow a clothesline.
“Let me ask my wife,” replied the Hodja, disappearing inside.
He returned a short time later with the answer, “I am sorry, dear friend, but we cannot lend you our clothesline, for we have sprinkled flour on it.”
“When would a person ever sprinkle flour on a clothesline?” asked the neighbor in disbelief.
“When someone else wanted to borrow it,” was the Hodja’s answer.
The Cauldron That Died
Nasreddin Hodja, having need for a large cooking container, borrowed his neighbor’s copper cauldron, then returned it in a timely manner.
“What is this?” asked his neighbor upon examining the returned cauldron. “There is a small pot inside my cauldron.”
“Oh,” responded the Hodja. “While it was in my care your cauldron gave birth to a little one. Because you are the owner of the mother cauldron, it is only right that you should keep its baby. And in any event, it would not be right to separate the child from its mother at such a young age.”
The neighbor, thinking that the Hodja had gone quite mad, did not argue. Whatever had caused the crazy man to come up with this explanation, the neighbor had a nice little pot, and it had cost him nothing.
Some time later the Hodja asked to borrow the cauldron again.
“Why not?” thought the neighbor to himself. “Perhaps there will be another little pot inside when he returns it.”
But this time the Hodja did not return the cauldron. After many days had passed, the neighbor went to the Hodja and asked for the return of the borrowed cauldron.
“My dear friend,” replied the Hodja. “I have bad news. Your cauldron has died, and is now in her grave.”
“What are you saying?” shouted the neighbor. A cauldron does not live, and it cannot die. Return it to me at once!”
“One moment!” answered the Hodja. “This is the same cauldron that but a short time ago gave birth to a child, a child that is still in your possession. If a cauldron can give birth to a child, then it also can die.”
And the neighbor never again saw his cauldron.
The Hodja purchased a piece of meat at the market, and on his way home he met a friend.
Seeing the Hodja’s purchase, the friend told him an excellent recipe for stew.
“I’ll forget it for sure,” said the Hodja. “Write it on a piece of paper for me.”
The friend obliged him, and the Hodja continued on his way, the piece of meat in one hand and the recipe in the other. He had not walked far when suddenly a large hawk swooped down from the sky, snatched the meat, and flew away with it.
“It will do you no good!” shouted the Hodja after the disappearing hawk. “I still have the recipe!”
The Last Laugh
Nasreddin Hodja had grown old and was near death. His two grieving wives, knowing that his end was near, were dressed in mourning robes and veils.
“What is this?” he said, seeing their sorrowful appearance. “Put aside your veils. Wash your faces. Comb your hair. Make yourselves beautiful. Put on your most festive apparel.”
“How could we do that?” asked the older of his wives, “with our dear husband on his deathbed?”
With a wry smile he replied, speaking more to himself than to them, “Perhaps when the Angel of Death makes his entry he will see the two of you, all decked out like young brides, and will take one of you instead of me.”
With these final words he laughed quietly to himself, happily closed his eyes, and died