An Anatolian and World Sage


By Yusuf Çotuksöken


Among the sages to emerge from Anatolia, with its rich background of civilizations, nurtured by the wisdom and tolerance of the Anatolian people was Nasreddin Hodja. Nasreddin Hodja was a tangible manifestation of the Anatolian people’s aspirations and expectations.

As a sage of the people, Nasreddin Hodja voiced his values that had general validity in various circumstances and connections through anecdotes spiced with his clever wit. He presented the subtleties of life generally for the whole world, and especially the Anatolian people through the adept logic, and sharp wit of a master of humor.

Though Nasreddin Hodja was an Anatolian sage and master of humor, his fame has spread East and West, far beyond the confines of Anatolia, to bring laughter and food for thought to many.

Different names have been given to Nasreddin Hodja in the Turkish world. The Azarbaijanis call him Molla Nasreddin, The Turkmens have called him Ependi, Gagavoz have called him Nastradin, The Uzbeks have called him Nesriddin Afandi, The Khazaks have called him Koja Nasreddin and the Tatars have called him Nasreddin Oca.



His Historical Personage

Unfortunately, we have no clear and satisfactory historical information regarding Nasreddin Hodja’s life. There have been certain efforts to draw conclusions from various historical documents, folk tales and anecdotes concerning the period and location in which he lived. Views have also been expressed to effect that Nasreddin Hodja is a mythical figure, and that he never actually existed. According to the information supplied by researchers who believe that Nasreddin Hodja was, a true historical personage: Nasreddin was born during the period of the Anatolian Seljuks in 1208 A .D. (605 Hegira era), in the Hortu village of Sivrihisar (now called the Nasreddin Hodja village). During his youth, he was tutored by Hace-i Cihan (date of death after 1274) and Hace Fakih (date of death 1221). While receiving education at the Konya Madrasah he was taught by Seyyid Mahmud Hayrani (date of death 1268) . After completing his education worked as  a teacher, judge and theological  instructor in Sivrihisar and Akhisar. It has been claimed that he married in Akhisar and had children. According to the gravestone attributed to him he died in 1284/1285 (H.E. 683).

Nasreddin Hodja has a mausoleum in Akhisar. It is assumed that his mausoleum was built in the mid 14th century. It was renovated in 1905. Four statues have been erected to commemorate Nasreddin Hodja in Turkey (Ankara, Hortu, Sivrihisar and Akşehir)

Information regarding Nasreddin Hodja gathered from outside of Anatolia, in the Turkish world are considerably different. For instance, the Uygurs and Uzbeks do not believe that Nasreddin Hoca lived in Anatolia. According to the Uygurs, Nasreddin Hoca was from Eastern Turkistan, and according to the Uzbeks, Nasreddin Hodja was born in Bukhara, and his statue has been erected in this city.


The Anecdotes of Nasreddin  Hodja

According to research, there are more than 10 thousand anecdotes attributed to Nasreddin Hodja in writing. However, up to now, these anecdotes have not been fully evaluated and published. Nor have anecdotes added to the Nasreddin collection in later centuries been ascertained. The historical events in which Nasreddin Hodja was involved in  his  lifetime are  limited. Only 50 or 60 of these have been the subject of his anecdotes. Anecdotes from many varied sources have been added to this collection, making a vast accumulation.

Other that the increase in the number of anecdotes, there has also been changes in the narration, style and content of the anecdotes from time to time.


The style and Content of  Nasreddin  Hodja’s Anecdotes

Nasreddin Hodja’s anecdotes have been related in the classical style of anecdotes. His anecdotes generally consisted of a few sentences. Very few of them are in a long narrative style.

Nasreddin Hodja’s anecdotes can be divided into three sections: serim (introduction) – düğüm (tension) – çözüm (witty conclusion). The introductory section consists of one or two sentences giving the location and date of the event related by the anecdote, and the characteristics of the persons involved (names, situation, occupation, etc.). Sometimes these details are not given. In the tension section, the circumstances of a question asked to the Hodja, or an event he is involved in is explained. Persons involved in the anecdote are curious to learn what the answer the Hodja  will give, or  what  his  reaction will be. The witty conclusion is the most crucial part of the anecdote. Here curiosity is satisfied. The Hodja answers the query leveled at him in a clever and witty manner, or reacts to the unfolding event or situation verbally or with an unexpected act.

The narration of the anecdotes generally develops in two lines: a) question and answer, b) description of the event/situation with rationale / verbal and active response. a) Question and answer : many Nasreddin Hodja anecdotes consist of a question leveled at Hodja and his answer. b) Description of the event/situation with rationale / verbal and active response. in many Nasreddin Hodja anecdotes the event or situation developing among the persons who are involved in the anecdote are related, later Hodja will respond verbally or actively explaining the clever reasoning behind his response.

Three types of humor can be distinguished in Nasreddin Hodja ‘s anecdotes: a) humor related to an event or situation, b) verbal humour, c) character humour. in some of the anecdotes two types of humour can be found. in the event and or situation humour the focal point is on the situations, events depicted in the anecdote. in the anecdotes with verbal hunıour, Hodja’ s witticisms and special emphasis play a central role. in character humour, the personality of one of the persons in the anecdote is asserted .

Nasreddin Hodja anecdotes have a “comical –  thought provoking” nature. With this in mind devising such a term as güldüşün (laughter-thinking) was considered. In each anecdote, witticism is concentrated on a particular phrase (especially in an answer to a query) or the prominent feature of a character. Besides being humorous the witticism is also fulfills the function of being thought provoking. Thereby the anecdote performs a role above a means for nıere laughter. To the ex tent that the reader understands the message of the anecdote, he understands where it is applicable.


The Subject Matter of  Nasreddin  Hodja Anecdotes

In its general lines, Nasreddin Hodja anecdotes take up relationships between people, the individual and society, and man and nature: from birth to death, love to anger, friendship to animosity, work to laziness, tolerance to intolerance, intelligence to stupidity, sharing to selfishness and inequity, justice to injustice and oppression, equality to inequality, wealth to poverty, positive criticism to humiliation, marriage to divorce, reality to delusion, domination to servitude, generosity to avarice, righteousness to sinfulness, responsibility to irresponsibility, prudence to squander, order to disorder, satisfaction to frustration, delight to pain, courage to cowardice, honesty to hypocrisy, happiness to unhappiness, youth to age, environmentalism to violation of nature… reflecting events and situations  related to various  aspects of human social life.

Nasreddin Hodja has a generally rational and creative attitude towards the world. He accepts the world as his dwelling place. When finding solutions to and evaluating circumstances he acts in a rational and creative manner. He is well aware that the world gains value and meaning through man. He is not just content with knowing that the natural and social environment exist for human happiness, but he considers it his duty to let everyone else know.

Nasreddin Hodja generally has a tolerant and affectionate attitude towards people. However he can be quite pitiless, harsh, spiteful, ridiculing and even have amoral attitudes towards oppressive rulers, egoists, fools, hypocrites. He would hesitate to ridicule by means of humour.

Nasreddin Hodja’s real aim is o promote a humane and decent lifestyle in this world: by being a burden to none, knowing and protecting one’s rights, valuing one’s friendships, sharing joy and pain, standing up for what is right, show ing and correcting what is wrong, doing good, increasing what good there is and living the life of an average human being.

Nasreddin Hodja’s scheme for  man  is realistic. For him man is a whole  with a li  his  rights  and wrongs, goodness  and  adversities. To perceive him and accept him in this manner requires that one draws  him  as  much  a s  possible  a way  from  wrongs  and adversities, towards what  is good and right. He reacts against the careless life regulated by established  rules.  He is a  living symbol of the outgoing, joyous, helpful and affectionate man.

Nasreddin Hodja’s view of social order  embraces  unity and wholeness. He was aware that human society is a whole composed of individuals . He was against a society that was oppressive and authoritarian through its institutions and regulations. He was all in favor of mutual cooperation and sharing. He sought a social order that adjusted relations hips, observed equilibrium and aimed for human happiness.

Nasreddin Hodja choose the anecdote as a means of literature to express life, observations, criticism, warning etc. The anecdote is truly one of the best means to show reaction. lts brevity, its simplicity, its memorability, its ability to spread quickly accentuates its effectiveness . The quality that makes Nasreddin Hodja’s works anecdotes is his wit. While his wit, brings out the rights in life in a manifest manner, it softens the adversities, the ordinary and extraordinary in life bring them into a more sympathetic light. In their essence the anecdotes provide an accumulation of knowledge on human life.

It would not be incorrect to say that  Nasreddin Hoca was an artist, a master of words. The reader acquires a lyrical quality from his anecdotes and sayings. Some of his anecdotes contain puzzle. i.e. “Unless you know the reverse, you cannot know the truth”, “Keep your feet warm and your head cool”, “Find yourself something to do, don’t ponder deeply”, “Something is either always shameful in any circumstances, or is never shameful in any circumstances”. He uses words prudently. He plays clever games with words and meanings .

Sometimes Nasreddin Hodja would surpass the scope of anecdotes to create proverbs that have enriched our language.

APHORISM: “To cut the branch on which you sit”, “Welco

me to  the funeral prayer”, “Friends shop and see what’s what”, “To gently weave, and strongly bind”, “(To distribute) blue beads”, “Don’t die, don’t die, my donkey!”. “The juice of the juice of the rabbit”, “The blanket is finished the fight has ended”. PROVERB : “One seeks a fool  by singing”, “He who pays plays the horn”.


Nasreddin  Hodja as Depicted  in his Anecdotes

Besides Nasreddin Hodja’s historical personage, it is necessary to evaluate the “Nasreddin Hodja” type as depicted in his anecdotes . There are two subtypes in this category:

a) the benign subtype, with common sense, morality, affection, tolerance, wisdom, courage, who is true to his word, righteous, intelligent, clever, quick witted, helpful and humane.

b) The  adverse  subtype: who is  naive,  stupid, ignorant, crafty, a confidence  man,  opportunist,  cheat,  liar,  mocker,  avenger, disrespectful, egoist, ruthless, impertinent.

His characters in various anecdotes generally fit either of these categories :”good” or “bad”.

The Nasreddin Hodja character type that emerges from the anecdotes, is living example that man is an ambiguous creature with both positive and negative characteristics in works of philosophy man has been defined as “a thinking creature, who transacts, makes values, takes up attitudes, teaches, learns, acts freely, anticipates, judges , believes, creates, talks …” . the successes of man (his failures and delusions also depend on this), w ho seeks happiness throughout his life, depends on his ambiguity.

In his anecdotes, Nasreddin Hoca fulfills the role of a religious instructor, judge, arbitrator, wood cutter or hunter. As a religious instructor he conducts prayers and gives sermons at the mosques. But usually he assumes the role of one who has little to do with religion. He gives the impression of not caring very much for the formalities of religion. He is not on good ternıs with ritual prayer and fasting. As a judge he gives fair verdicts. When he is pressed he offers spontaneous solutions. If the legal proceedings involve his own interests, he does not hesitate to act for his own benefit. The family role of Nasreddin Hodja is as a husband and father. Though he loves and cares for his wife, he does show interest in other in other women. He is especially attracted to young and beautiful wonıen. He is all for polygamy. There are also times when he is displeased with his wife. There are secrets which he keeps from his wife. Sometimes he values his property and goods more than his wife.

Nasreddin Hodja usually got on well with administrators. But when individual or public interests are at stake•, he would not hesitate to put his life at peril with his behavior against the same administrators. Occasionally he would even lie or even give bribes.

The Nasreddin Hodja character is the creation of the Anatolian people. The Anatolian people were so identified with Nasreddin Hodja that when express ing adversity to the rules of conduct dictated by custom, tradition, laws, they felt no hesitation in attributing these to Nasreddin Hodja . Because they acknowledged that Nasreddin Hodja with this rights and wrongs represents them. They place a distance between themselves and scientists, prophets and holy men (imams, sheiks, Muslim saints), which they value highly and respect. While they would not wish any diminishing of the respectability of these reputable persons, when Nasreddin Hodja is concerned they take a different stance. For them Nasreddin Hodja is taken to heart as an inseparable part of daily life. Because of the love and respect they feel towards him, they are unceremonious, sincere and affectionate towards him.

The anecdotes of Nasreddin Hodja, whom one might call both an Anatolia n and world sage, have spread from mouth to ear from century to century, from language to language. As in the past, today these anecdotes continue to be among those which are told to the greatest extent for the appropriate situation. Nearly everyone w ho reads Nasreddin Hodja anecdotes sees his qualities in them, his good qualities as well has his bad ones. What is important is man, the qualities of man. To see and understand man as a whole with his good and bad aspects of his nature complementing this whole. When we read Nasreddin Hoca anecdotes with this in mind, we realize this truth more fully. Nasreddin Hoca is me, you, them, all of us…