(See also Golden Ass.)
The ass on which Mahomet went to heaven to learn the will of God was called Al Borak (the lightning).
Ass. There is a dark stripe running down the back of an ass, crossed by another at the shoulders. The tradition is that this cross was communicated to the creature when our Lord rode on the back of an ass in His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. (See Christian Traditions.)
Ass, deaf to music. This tradition arose from the hideous noise made by “Sir Balaam” in braying. Because Midas had no power to appreciate music, Apollo gave him the ears of an ass. (See Ass-eared.)
“Avarice is as deaf to the voice of virtue, as the ass to the voice of Apollo.” —Orlando Furioso , xvii.
An ass in a lion's skin. A coward who hectors, a fool that apes the wise man. The allusion is to the fable of an ass that put on a lion's hide, but was betrayed when he began to bray.
An ass with two panniers. A man walking the streets with a lady on each arm. This occupies the whole pavement, and is therefore bad manners well meriting the reproach. In Italy they call such a simpleton a pitcher with two handles, his two arms akimbo forming the two handles. In London we call it walking bodkin , because the man is sheathed like a bodkin and powerless. Our expression is probably a corruption of the French Faire le panier à deux anses (“put your arms akimbo” or “make yourself a basket with two handles”).
The ass waggeth his ears. This proverb is applied to those who lack learning, and yet talk as if they were very wise; men wise in their own conceit. The ass, proverbial for having no “taste for music,” will nevertheless wag its ears at a “concord of sweet sounds,” just as if it could well appreciate it.
Till the ass ascends the ladder—i.e. never. A rabbinical expression. The Romans had a similar one, Cum asinus in tegulis ascenderit (when the ass climbs to the tiles). And Buxtorf has Si ascenderit asinus per scalas. Sell your ass. Get rid of your foolish ways. That which thou knowest not perchance thine ass can tell thee: An allusion to Balaam's ass. To make an ass of oneself. To do something very foolish. To expose oneself to ridicule. To mount the ass (French). To become bankrupt. The allusion is to a custom very common in the sixteenth century of mounting a bankrupt on an ass, with his face to its tail. Thus mounted, the defaulter was made to ride through the principal thoroughfares of the town.
Asses have ears as well as pitchers. Children, and even the densest minds, hear and understand many a word and hint which the speaker supposed would pass unheeded.
Asses that carry the mysteries (asinus portat mysteria). A classical knock at the Roman clergy. The allusion is to the custom of employing asses to carry the cista which contained the sacred symbols, when processions were made through the streets. (Warburton: Divine Legaton, ii. 4.)
Well, well! honey is not for the ass's mouth. Persuasion will not persuade fools. The gentlest words will not divert the anger of the unreasonable.
Wrangle for an ass's shadow. To contend about trifles. The tale told by Demosthenes is, that a man hired an ass to take him to Megara; and at noon, the sun being very hot, the traveller dismounted, and sat himself down in the shadow of the ass. Just then the owner came up and claimed the right of sitting in this shady spot, saying that he let out the ass for hire, but there was no bargain made about the ass's shade. The two men then fell to blows to settle the point in dispute. A passer-by told the traveller to move on, and leave the owner of the beast to walk in the ass's shadow as long as he thought proper.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894