The origin of…Monkey

“We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.” Robert Wilensky

Post 9 Monkey2

A very famous depiction of monkeys is that of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

The three wise monkeys, or thee mystic apes (or Sambiki Saru), find their roots in the East. Confucius (551-479BC) wrote: “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.” This phrase was probably brought to Japan in the 8th century AD by a monk, where the saying became mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru, literally meaning don´t see, don´t hear, don´t speak. The saying had nothing to do with monkeys, but the last part of these words, -zaru, is a negative verb conjugation, sounds like the Japanese word for monkey, saru. Now the monkeys are known as Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru.
In the Japanese folk religion Kōshin, which has Chinese Taoist origins, the three monkeys are part of the belief, although it is not certain how and why this happened. Monkey worship grew and many shrines and paper scrolls were adorned with the three monkeys.
The Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, 140 km north of Japan, has a well known representation of the three monkeys in a carving. Monkeys were important in Shinto religion, so it is also possible that the monkeys came from this religion, in which the monkey is said to be the messenger of the Hie Shinto shrines.

In China a very famous story exists about a monkey. The story of the Monkey King is a classic Chinese novel based on a true story of the Chinese monk Xuan Zang (602-664). It is one of the Four Great Classic Novels in Chinese Literature. Xuang Zang traveled to what is now India to search for the Sutra, the holy Buddhist book. Upon his return to China, he translated the book in Chinese, contributing in this way to the spread of Buddhism in China.
Sun Wukong is the main character of the 16th century novel “Journey to the West”. Sun Wukong is a monkey born out of a rock who obtained supernatural powers and learned magic tricks from a Taoist master.  He is able to transform himself into 72 different beings like a bird, a mosquito or a tree. He is extremely powerful and an excellent fighter. Each of his hairs can transform into a clone of him or in a weapon, animal or other object. He is able to part water or command the wind. He can freeze demons, humans and gods and protect himself from enemies by casting spells. He can travel thousands of miles in one jump using the clouds as a vehicle.
Sun Wukong declared himself “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven” in defiance of the Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven. A war started and after many battles, the Monkey King was still not defeated and the Jade Emperor sought the help of The Buddha. He moved the Mount of Five Fingers to fall on Sun Wukong. He survived, but could not move for five centuries. Then came Xuang Zang, who rescued him and the Monkey King became his disciple. Together with two other disciples they traveled west to collect the Indian sutras. The Buddha put a golden circle around the monkey´s head, so Xuang Zang could control him. On their journey they faced 81 trials, but they accomplished collecting the sutras. Sun Wukong was given Buddhahood for his service and strength and ascended to heaven where he gained immortality.

1. a type of animal that is closely related to apes and humans and that has a long tail and usually lives in trees
2. a person (especially a child) who causes trouble in a playful way (source: Merriam Webster).

It is uncertain where the English word monkey comes from. Maybe it finds its origins in Middle Low German moneke or Middle Dutch monnekijn (monkey), originally from Middle Italian monniccio, from Old Italian monna, maybe from Arabic maymun (auspicious, euphemistically used, because seeing a monkey was actually considered to be unlucky). The k came in the English word, as a form of diminutive, so little monkey.  It can also come from manikin, from Dutch manneke (little man). Another explanation is that it may come from the fable Reynard the fox, in which a character is called Moneke, the son of Martin the Ape.
Spanish mono comes from the Arabic maymun.
Dutch aap comes from Middle High German affe, from Old High German affo (monkey), possibly related to Sanskrit kapi (brown).
The Italian scimmia comes from Latin simian, from simus, meaning snub-nosed (and snub-nosed means having a nose that is short and turned upward at the tip).

Monkey in other languages:
Dutch: aap
Spanish: el mono
Italian: la scimmia


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