Stories of Nasreddin the Wise Fool

For the last class in our World Philosophy Tour of online classes at we’ve been using the stories of Nasreddin Hodja stories – a “wise fool” character from Turkish folktales. There are hundreds of these stories. Some are short, almost just jokes – but there’s often a logical trick or some clever ambiguity about them, for example:

Nasreddin was sitting backwards on his donkey.

“Why are you riding your donkey the wrong way round?” everyone asked.

He said, “I’m the right way round, it’s just my donkey is going in the wrong direction!”

What two senses of “right way” are being jumbled here?

The Lost Donkey

Nasreddin had lost his donkey, and was searching all around town for it, and across the fields. But as he searched, he was smiling.

“Why are you smiling when you’ve lost your donkey?” someone asked.

“Well, I’m lucky. If I’d been riding my donkey, I’d be lost as well.”

1.    How does the joke work? [Nasreddin thinks if he was on his donkey and his donkey was lost, then he’d be lost as well. But if he was on his donkey, he wouldn’t have lost it. 
2.    Could his donkey not be lost, even though he has lost his donkey?
3.    What’s the difference between being lost and losing something?
4.    How could you get lost because you lost something?
5.    How could you lose something because you’re lost?

People sometimes talk about “finding themselves”.

6.    Is it possible to find yourself?
7.    Is it possible to lose yourself?
8.    Can you find yourself without losing yourself first?
9.    If you do lose yourself, where should you look for yourself?
10.    If you are trying to find yourself, how would you know when you have found yourself?

Here’s another Nasreddin story, from a bulletin in 2016.

The Dinner of Smells

A poor man stopped outside a restaurant. He closed his eyes for a moment to breathe in the smells from the kitchen.

“Thief!” said a voice. The poor man opened his eyes. There in front of him was the owner of the restaurant. 

“These smells are mine and you are stealing them! Pay up now, or it’s to the judge you go.”

Of course, the poor man couldn’t pay. But on the day he was to go before  the judge, he went to see Nasreddin  and begged him to say something on his behalf.

They went to the court, where the restaurant owner was already chatting to the judge like an old friend. Very quickly, the judge passed sentence.

“You have filled yourself up with the smells you stole from this man. Pay what you owe, at once!”

Nasreddin  stepped forward and bowed. “Allow me, my lord. This poor man is my brother. He has no money, so I will pay in his place.”

He took a purse of coins from his pocket. A few minutes later, Nasreddin  and the poor man walked out of the court.

“Thank you for paying my debt,” said the poor man.

“My pleasure,” said Nasreddin . The purse of coins, still full, was jingling in his pocket.

1.    What had Nasreddin done?

(He had jingled the purse of coins in front of the innjeeper and said, “You have charged him for the smell of your food, and he has paid with the sound of this money!”)
2.    Can you be expected to pay for the experience of a smell?
3.    Can you be expected to pay for a taste?
4.    Is there any value in the sound of money?
5.    Can you exchange a smell for a sound?
6.    People may have said you can’t steal a smell because you are not taking it away from its owner – but what about downloading movies illegally – you’re not taking it away from the producer as they still have it, but are you still stealing? What are you stealing?

Best wishes,


P.S. Schools are finding that the classes we offer at are a helpful extra-curricular (and sometimes within the school day) enrichment for very able students. They’re all open to all, but they are certainly a friendly environment for youngsters who are intellectually curious, and it gives them an additional peer group beyond their classmates. Evening Dungeons & Dragons especially is proving popular!

Lots of enquiries for workshops and INSETs for both this term and next coming in at the moment – the best thing to do to discuss the options is to ring nasreddi+447843555355, saves a lot of emailing back and forth! Fridays are the best day to get me as no zooms. I’m also available again for work in international schools, which usually takes a while to organise.

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