At one time in his travels Eulenspiegel began visiting one University after another and at each he made himself out to be a very learned person. He maintained that he was an expert in all subjects and knew just about everything. As a matter of fact, being really quite smart, he was able to correctly answer many of the questions put to him. But, of course, he was only interested in fooling and teasing the professors and students and did so very well upsetting them terribly.
On one of these occasions he found himself at the University of Erfurt. Word of his pranks and shenanigans had preceded him and the professors and the Dean of the University had decided they would not let themselves be fooled as others had. They puzzled over what sort of problem they could present him with that would make him, and not them, look foolish. “We are not going to let him treat us like he did those at Prague,” said the Dean, referring to a particularly nasty thing he had done at that University, “We are going to find a way to do him in.”
After much thought and many suggestions they finally decided on an idea they were sure would work. They bought a donkey and dragged the poor, nervous animal to the inn where Eulenspiegel was staying. There they asked him if he was a good enough teacher to be able to teach the donkey how to read.
“Absolutely. Nothing to it,” was Till’s confident reply. “But you have to appreciate that, since a donkey is a particularly stupid animal, the time it will take me to teach him will be quite long.”
“Well then, how long?” asked the Dean.
“My best estimate would be at least twenty years.” answered Till.
Now, just between you and I, the reason he picked that length of time was because he reasoned as follows: Twenty years is a long time, by then the Dean could have died in which case my problem would be over. Or, I might die with the same result. Or, the donkey could die which would be the best solution.
After some thought, the Dean agreed that would seem to be a fair estimate whereby Till said he would require the sum of five hundred guilders for his services. The Dean gave him an advance on that fee and he and his professors left Till alone with his four-legged student.
After they had gone, Till brought the donkey into a stall at the rear of the inn. Then he went and found a large, old book that he brought to the stall and laid into the feed trough with the pages opened. Taking some loose hay and oats, he laid them between the first few pages of the book. The donkey was carefully watching him and as soon as Till stepped back the donkey tried to get at the feed. It took him a little while but he soon learned that by pushing the pages aside with his nose he could reach the hay. When he finally could find no more hay he let out a loud and unhappy “Ee-Ah, Ee-Ah!” (In German, the letter A is pronounced AH)
This pleased Till very much and he began training the donkey to find his feed in that way going over the method time and time again. When a week had passed, Till visited the Dean and announced, “Would you like to take the opportunity to visit my student and see how he has progressed?”
“Of course,” agreed the Dean, “I’d be delighted. Has he been able to learn anything so far?” he continued with a snicker.
“Oh yes,” was Till’s proud response. “He’s already learned to read and pronounce a couple of letters of the alphabet which, you’ll have to agree, is quite exceptional for such a short period of instruction.”
That very afternoon the Dean with his professors and students all appeared at the inn and Till led them to the stall. He placed the book in the feed trough while the donkey watched him carefully with mouth watering because he had not been fed all day. The donkey quickly and with great energy started leafing through the book, pushing page after page aside with his nose. But this time Till had not put any feed between the pages and the Donkey soon let out a loud and angry “Ee-Ah, Ee-Ah!”
“See that,” said Till, “He’s already learned the letters E and A. Tomorrow morning I’m going to start teaching him the letter O and U.”
Well! Needless to say the Dean and his fellows were furious. In fact the Dean got so red and angry Till was afraid he might have a heart attack. Till opened the stall, gave the donkey a slap on the rump and shouted at him, “Get out of here. They may want to hurt you. Find some other things to learn.”
Then he ran into the inn, grabbed his bundle which he’d packed beforehand and went running out of the city with the advance of his fee secure in his pocket.