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ASS (O.E. assa; Lat. asinus), a common name (the synonym
“donkey” is supposed to be derived either by analogy
from “monkey,” or from the Christian name Duncan; cf.
Neddy, Jack, Dicky, &c.) for different varieties of the sub-genus
Asinus, belonging to the horse tribe, and especially for the
domestic ass; it differs from the horse in its smaller size, long
ears, the character of its tail, fur and markings, and its proverbial
dulness and obstinacy. The ancient Egyptians symbolized an
ignorant person by the head and ears of an ass, and the Romans
thought it a bad omen to meet one. In the middle ages the
Germans of Westphalia made the ass the symbol of St Thomas,
the incredulous apostle; the boy who was last to enter school
on St Thomas’ day was called the “Ass Thomas” (Gubernatis’s
Zoological Mythology, i. 362). The foolishness and obstinacy
of the ass has caused the name to be transferred metaphorically
to human beings; and the fifth proposition of Book i. of Euclid
is known as the Pons Asinorum, bridge of asses.
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