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Animals 2011, 1(1), 56-68;

The Mirror Has Two Faces: Contradictory Reflections of Donkeys in Western Literature from Lucius to Balthazar

School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Ourimbah Campus, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW 2258, Australia
Received: 30 November 2010 / Accepted: 9 December 2010 / Published: 14 December 2010
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Simple Summary

I argue that cultural representations of donkeys arise from the contradictory philosophies that underpin western society. Donkeys have invariable been used symbolically in a negative way in early western literature which has affected our ongoing attitudes towards them: used as allegories for human nature, their own remains largely hidden. Tracing literary representations of donkeys reveals not only their conflicting origins but also how they developed over time. Understanding how these representations have affected our treatment of donkeys may lead to a better appreciation of the actual animals.


How we represent animals both reflects our attitudes towards them and affects our treatment of them. The donkey has lived alongside humans, bearing their burdens since the time of their domestication over 10,000 years ago. Despite this, they have invariably enjoyed a low status in human cultures, received little appreciation and been treated harshly. We view some animals as being more worthy than others and represent them accordingly: donkeys have been ridiculed and derided. Literary representations of donkeys from the fables of Ancient Greece to contemporary iconic texts are explored to follow the donkey through the human imaginary. These representations derive from two main, conflicting sources, Greek literature and the Bible. Examining these cultural representations may lead towards a greater understanding of the way they affect the actual animal and lead to a greater understanding of that animal and, ultimately, to better treatment of them. View Full-Text
Keywords: donkeys; cultural representations; literature donkeys; cultural representations; literature
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Bough, J. The Mirror Has Two Faces: Contradictory Reflections of Donkeys in Western Literature from Lucius to Balthazar. Animals 2011, 1, 56-68.

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