Der var engang en konge og en dronning, som havde alt, hvad de kunne ønske sig, men ingen børn. Dronningen sørgede derover dag og nat og sagde: "Jeg er som en ufrugtbar mark." Endelig opfyldte Gud hendes ønske, men det barn hun fødte, så ikke ud som et menneske, men som et lille æsel. Da hun så det, gav hun sig til at græde og sagde, at de straks skulle kaste det i vandet, så fiskene kunne spise det. Et sådant barn var værre end intet. "Nej," sagde kongen, "Gud har givet os det og han skal være min søn og arving og sidde på min trone." Æslet voksede op og blev større, og dets ører blev lange og spidse og strittede lige i vejret. Det var næsten altid glad og sprang omkring og legede, og holdt især meget af musik. En gang gik det til en berømt spillemand og sagde: "Lær mig at spille lige så godt på lut som du." - "Det vil holde hårdt, herre," svarede spillemanden, "jeres hænder er alt for store. Jeg er bange for, at strengene ikke holder." Men der hjalp ingen udflugter. Æslet ville lære at spille på lut og var så flittig og ihærdig, at det snart spillede ligeså godt som læreren.
En dag, da den unge herre var ude at gå sig en tur, kom han forbi en kilde, og da han spejlede sig deri, så han sit æselhovede. Han blev så bedrøvet, at han gik ud i den vide verden og ikke tog andre med sig end en gammel, tro tjener. Engang kom de til et land, hvor der herskede en konge, som havde en vidunderlig smuk datter. "Her vil vi blive," sagde æslet, bankede på og råbte: "Her kommer en gæst, luk op." Men da ingen svarede, satte han sig ned og spillede så dejligt på sin lut, at skildvagterne gjorde store øjne og løb hen og sagde til kongen: "Der sidder et æsel udenfor døren og spiller på lut så godt som noget menneske." - "Lad spillemanden komme herind," sagde kongen. Men da æslet kom ind, gav de sig allesammen til at le af ham. Han skulle nu følge ud med tjenerne for at få noget at spise, men sagde fornærmet: "Jeg er ikke noget almindeligt æsel, jeg er meget fornem." - "Vil du hellere ud til soldaterne?" spurgte kongen. "Nej," svarede æslet, "jeg vil sidde ved siden af kongen." Han lo og sagde godmodigt: "Ja, ja, så kom da og sæt dig her." Lidt efter spurgte han: " Hvordan synes du om min datter, lille æsel?" Æslet vendte sig om og så på hende, nikkede og sagde: "Hun er det skønneste, jeg nogensinde har set." - "Så skal du også få lov til at sidde ved siden af hende," sagde kongen. Det var æslet godt fornøjet med og spiste og drak og opførte sig så pænt og dannet, som man bare kunne ønske sig.
Da han havde været der i nogen tid, tænkte han: "Hvad kan det nytte altsammen. Det er nok bedst, jeg drager hjem igen." Han hang med næbbet og gik til kongen og bad om sin afsked. Kongen, som var kommet til at holde meget af ham, spurgte: "Hvad er der dog i vejen med dig? Du ser jo så sur ud som en eddikebrygger. Bliv hos mig, så skal du få, hvad du forlanger. Vil du have guld?" - "Nej tak," sagde æslet og rystede bedrøvet på hovedet. "Vil du da have smykker og ædelstene?" - "Nej tak." - "Bare jeg dog vidste, hvad du brød dig om," sagde kongen, "vil du have min smukke datter til ægte?" - "Ja, det vil jeg gerne," sagde æslet og blev straks i godt humør, for det var netop, hvad han havde ønsket sig. Brylluppet blev fejret med stor pragt. Da bruden og brudgommen om aftenen var kommet ind i deres sovekammer, befalede kongen en af sine tjenere at liste sig derind for at se, om han bar sig ordentlig ad. Brudgommen troede, at de var ganske alene, låsede døren og kastede derpå sin æselhud af og stod der som den smukkeste kongesøn, man kunne tænke sig. "Nu ser du, hvem jeg er," sagde han, "og at jeg ikke er ringere end du." Bruden blev meget glad og kyssede og omfavnede ham. Om morgenen kastede han igen dyrehuden over sig, og intet menneske kunne ane, hvad der gemte sig bag den. Lidt efter kom den gamle konge ind til dem. "Er du allerede på benene, lille æsel," sagde han. Derpå vendte han sig til sin datter. "Du er vel ikke så glad over, at din mand ikke er noget rigtigt menneske," sagde han. "Jeg holder så uendelig meget af ham," svarede hun, "jeg vil aldrig i mit liv gifte mig med nogen anden." Kongen blev meget forundret, men tjeneren, der havde stået skjult derinde, kom og fortalte ham det hele. "Det er ikke sandt," sagde han. "Våg selv næste nat derinde," sagde tjeneren, "og jeg vil give jer et råd. Tag dyreskindet og kast det på ilden, så må han vel vise sig i sin rette skikkelse." - "Det er et godt råd," sagde kongen, og om aftenen, da de sov, listede han sig derind og så i måneskinnet den smukke, unge mand. Huden lå ved siden af på jorden. Han tog den med sig, tændte et bål ude i gården, kastede den derpå og blev derude, lige til den var brændt til aske. Men da han ville se, hvordan det ville gå, når det blev opdaget om morgenen, listede han sig derind igen. Ved daggry vågnede kongesønnen og ville tage æselskindet på, men kunne ikke finde det. Han blev meget forfærdet og sagde bedrøvet: "Nu må jeg drage bort herfra." Men lige uden for døren stod kongen. "Hvor vil du hen, min søn," sagde han, "bliv her hos mig. Jeg giver dig mit halve rige nu og efter min død får du det hele." - "Gid det altid må se så lyst ud for mig," sagde kongesønnen, "jeg bliver hos jer." Den gamle gav ham nu det halve af sit rige, og da han døde efter et års forløb, fik han det hele, og da hans egen far døde, fik han endnu et, og levede lykkeligt til sin død.
Once on a time there lived a King and a Queen, who were rich, and had everything they wanted, but no children. The Queen lamented over this day and night, and said, "I am like a field on which nothing grows." At last God gave her her wish, but when the child came into the world, it did not look like a human child, but was a little donkey. When the mother saw that, her lamentations and outcries began in real earnest; she said she would far rather have had no child at all than have a donkey, and that they were to throw it into the water that the fishes might devour it. But the King said, "No, since God has sent him he shall be my son and heir, and after my death sit on the royal throne, and wear the kingly crown." The donkey, therefore, was brought up and grew bigger, and his ears grew up beautifully high and straight. He was, however, of a merry disposition, jumped about, played and had especial pleasure in music, so that he went to a celebrated musician and said, "Teach me thine art, that I may play the lute as well as thou dost." - "Ah, dear little master," answered the musician, "that would come very hard to you, your fingers are certainly not suited to it, and are far too big. I am afraid the strings would not last." No excuses were of any use. The donkey was determined to play the lute; he was persevering and industrious, and at last learnt to do it as well as the master himself. The young lordling once went out walking full of thought and came to a well, he looked into it and in the mirror-clear water saw his donkey's form. He was so distressed about it, that he went out into the wide world and only took with him one faithful companion. They travelled up and down, and at last they came into a kingdom where an old King reigned who had an only but wonderfully beautiful daughter. The donkey said, "Here we will stay," knocked at the gate, and cried, "A guest is without open, that he may enter." As, however, the gate was not opened, he sat down, took his lute and played it in the most delightful manner with his two fore-feet. Then the door-keeper opened his eyes most wonderfully wide, and ran to the King and said, "Outside by the gate sits a young donkey which plays the lute as well as an experienced master!" - "Then let the musician come to me," said the King. When, however, a donkey came in, every one began to laugh at the lute-player. And now the donkey was asked to sit down and eat with the servants. He, however, was unwilling, and said, "I am no common stable-ass, I am a noble one." Then they said, "If that is what thou art, seat thyself with the men of war." - "No," said he, "I will sit by the King." The King smiled, and said good-humouredly, "Yes, it shall be as thou wilt, little ass, come here to me." Then he asked, "Little ass, how does my daughter please thee?" The donkey turned his head towards her, looked at her, nodded and said, "I like her above measure, I have never yet seen anyone so beautiful as she is." - "Well, then, thou shalt sit next her too," said the King. "That is exactly what I wish," said the donkey, and he placed himself by her side, ate and drank, and knew how to behave himself daintily and cleanly. When the noble beast had stayed a long time at the King's court, he thought, "What good does all this do me, I shall still have to go home again?" let his head hang sadly, and went to the King and asked for his dismissal. But the King had grown fond of him, and said, "Little ass, what ails thee? Thou lookest as sour as a jug of vinegar, I will give thee what thou wantest. Dost thou want gold?" - "No," said the donkey, and shook his head. "Dost thou want jewels and rich dress?" - "No." - "Dost thou wish for half my kingdom?" - "Indeed, no." Then said the King, if I did but know what would make thee content. Wilt thou have my pretty daughter to wife?" - "Ah, yes," said the ass, "I should indeed like her," and all at once he became quite merry and full of happiness, for that was exactly what he was wishing for. So a great and splendid wedding was held. In the evening, when the bride and bridegroom were led into their bed-room, the King wanted to know if the ass would behave well, and ordered a servant to hide himself there. When they were both within, the bridegroom bolted the door, looked around, and as he believed that they were quite alone, he suddenly threw off his ass's skin, and stood there in the form of a handsome royal youth. "Now," said he, "thou seest who I am, and seest also that I am not unworthy of thee." Then the bride was glad, and kissed him, and loved him dearly. When morning came, he jumped up, put his animal's skin on again, and no one could have guessed what kind of a form was hidden beneath it. Soon came the old King, "Ah," cried he, "is the little ass merry? But surely thou art sad?" said he to his daughter, "that thou hast not got a proper man for thy husband?" - "Oh, no, dear father, I love him as well as if he were the handsomest in the world, and I will keep him as long as I live." The King was surprised, but the servant who had concealed himself came and revealed everything to him. The King said, "That cannot be true." - "Then watch yourself the next night, and you will see it with your own eyes; and hark you, lord King, if you were to take his skin away and throw it in the fire, he would be forced to show himself in his true shape." - "Thy advice is good," said the King, and at night when they were asleep, he stole in, and when he got to the bed he saw by the light of the moon a noble-looking youth lying there, and the skin lay stretched on the ground. So he took it away, and had a great fire lighted outside, and threw the skin into it, and remained by it himself until it was all burnt to ashes. As, however, he was anxious to know how the robbed man would behave himself, he stayed awake the whole night and watched. When the youth had slept his sleep out, he got up by the first light of morning, and wanted to put on the ass's skin, but it was not to be found. On this he was alarmed, and, full of grief and anxiety, said, "Now I shall have to contrive to escape." But when he went out, there stood the King, who said, "My son, whither away in such haste? what hast thou in mind? Stay here, thou art such a handsome man, thou shalt not go away from me. I will now give thee half my kingdom, and after my death thou shalt have the whole of it." - "Then I hope that what begins so well may end well, and I will stay with you," said the youth. And the old man gave him half the kingdom, and in a year's time, when he died, the youth had the whole, and after the death of his father he had another kingdom as well, and lived in all magnificence.