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Beauty, thou wild fantastic monkey
Who dost in every country change thy shape!
Abraham Cowley, "Beauty"

The simians (infraorder Simiiformes) are the "higher primates" familiar to most people: the Old World monkeys and great apes, including humans, (together being the catarrhines), and the New World monkeys or platyrrhines. Simians tend to be larger than the "lower primates" or prosimians.


Monkeys are skeptical
Of changes in their cages,
And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.
Paul Simon,
Bookends, (1968), "At The Zoo"
You may play with the monkey, but don't play with its tail.
Haitian proverb
We admit that we are like monkeys, but we seldom realise that we are monkeys.
Richard Dawkins
Even if a monkey wears a gold ring,
it is and remains an ugly creature
Dutch proverb
The monkey, vilest of beasts, how like to us.
Quintus Ennius
Triumphs for nothing, and lamenting toys,
Is jollity for monkeys and grief for boys.
William Shakespeare, Cymbeline
  • A buzzard took the monkey for a ride in the air
    The monkey thought that everything was on the square
    The buzzard tried to throw the monkey off his back
    But the monkey grabbed his neck and said — "Now listen, Jack..."
    "Straighten up and fly right
    Straighten up and fly right
    Straighten up and fly right
    Cool down, papa, don't you blow your top."
  • Beauty, thou wild fantastic ape
    Who dost in every country change thy shape!
    • Abraham Cowley, "Beauty," complete poem in The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper, (1810), Samuel Johnson ed., vol. 7, p. 115
  • Every one has seen how jealous a dog is of his master's affection, if lavished on any other creature; and I have observed the same fact with monkeys.
  • Man is a noisome bacillus whom Our Heavenly Father created because he was disappointed in the monkey.
    • Bernard DeVoto, Mark Twain in Eruption, (1940), "Introduction," p. xxvii
  • The ape, vilest of beasts, how like to us.
  • The anger of an ape—the threat of a flatterer:—these deserve equal regard.
    • Epictetus, (c. 55 - c. 135 AD), Fragments, f. xiii
  • The art does not belong to apes or angels, but to us. We deserve art that speaks to us as complete human beings. Why settle for anything less?
    • Dana Gioia, "Paradigms Lost," interview with Gloria Brame, ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum, Spring 1995
  • Monkeys, who very sensibly refrain from speech lest they should be set to earn their livings.
  • I’ll take you apart. Look, we don’t deny that apes and monkeys learn. They are bright, and they learn continuously. As soon as a situation changes, or a new ability matures, learning is overlaid on innate qualities, and it becomes difficult to tell them apart. But the innate components are there.
  • Cats and monkey, monkey and cats - all human life is there.
  • Our road lay through the bazaar, close to a little temple of Hanuman, the Monkey-god, who is a leading divinity worthy of respect. All gods have good points, just as have all priests. Personally, I attach much importance to Hanuman, and am kind to his people—the great gray apes of the hills. One never knows when one may want a friend.
  • "Mein Gott! I would sooner collect life red devils than liddle monkey."
  • Ein Buch ist Spiegel, aus dem kein Apostel herausgucken kann, wenn ein Affe hineinguckt.
    • A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out. We have no words for speaking of wisdom to the stupid. He who understands the wise is wise already.
    • Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms (1765-1799), "Notebook E (1775 - 1776)," 49
  • Ihr habt den Weg vom Wurme zum Menschen gemacht, und Vieles ist in euch noch Wurm. Einst wart ihr Affen, und auch jetzt ist der Mensch mehr Affe, als irgend ein Affe.
    • You have evolved from worm to man, but much within you is still worm. Once you were apes, yet even now man is more of an ape than any of the apes.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1885), "Prologue"
  • Seht sie klettern, diese geschwinden Affen! Sie klettern über einander hinweg und zerren sich also in den Schlamm und die Tiefe. Hin zum Throne wollen sie Alle: ihr Wahnsinn ist es, — als ob das Glück auf dem Throne sässe! Oft sitzt der Schlamm auf dem Thron — und oft auch der Thron auf dem Schlamme. Wahnsinnige sind sie mir Alle und kletternde Affen und Überheisse. Übel riecht mir ihr Götze, das kalte Unthier: übel riechen sie mir alle zusammen, diese Götzendiener.
    • Watch them clamber, these swift monkeys! They clamber over one another and thus drag one another into the mud and the depth. They all want to get to the throne: that is their madness — as if happiness sat on the throne. Often, mud sits on the throne — and often the throne also on mud. Mad they all appear to me, clambering monkeyss and overardent. Foul smells their idol, the cold monster: foul, they smell to me altogether, these idolators.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, (1885), Part I, Chapter 11, "Vom neuen Götzen," "On the New Idol"
  • The chimpanzees in the zoos do it,
    Some courageous kangaroos do it
    Let's do it, let's fall in love.

    I'm sure giraffes on the sly do it,
    Even eagles as they fly do it,
    Let's do it, let's fall in love.

    • Cole Porter, Paris (musical), (1928), "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love"
  • I'd rather be a climbing ape than a falling angel.
  • The philosophic spirit of inquiry may be traced to brute curiosity, and that to the habit of examining all things in search of food. Artistic genius is an expansion of monster imitativeness.
  • It took a couple of hundred million years to develop a thinking ape and you want a smart one in a lousy few hundred thousand?
    • Spider Robinson, God is an Iron and Other Stories, (2002) "God is an Iron," (1977)
  • Orangutans are skeptical
    Of changes in their cages,
    And the zookeeper is very fond of rum.
  • Oh how the Vacancy
    Laughed at them rushing by.
    "Turn again, flesh and brain,
    Only yourselves again!
    How far above the ape
    Differing in each shape,
    You with your regular
    Meaningless circles are!"
  • Everywhere men have unlocked the prisoners within, and from under the disguising skins the apes have leapt joyfully out.
  • The monkey sat on a pile of stone
    And he stared at the broken bone in his hand
    Strains of a Viennese quartet rang out across the land
    The monster looked up at the stars
    And he thought to himself
    Memory is a stranger
    History is for fools
    And he cleaned his hands in a pool of holy writing
    Turned his back on the garden and set out for the nearest town"


猿 も 木 か ら 落 ち る。
Even monkeys fall from trees.
Japanese proverb
树 倒 猢 狲 散
When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter.
Chinese proverb
  • 树 倒 猢 狲 散
    • Chinese proverb
    • Literally: When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter.
    • Figuratively: When a leader loses power, his followers become disorganized.Often used to describe fair-weather friends.
  • Al draagt een aap een gouden ring, het is en blijft een lelijk ding.
    • Dutch proverb
    • Literally: Even if a monkey wears a gold ring, it is and remains an ugly creature.
  • القرد فى عين امه غزال
  • ياواخد القرد علي ماله يروح المال و يفضل القرد علي حاله
    • Egyptian proverb
    • Literally: If you marry a monkey for his wealth, the money goes and the monkey remains as is.
  • Ce n'est pas aux vieux singes qu'on apprend à faire des grimaces.
    • French proverb
    • Literally: You can't teach old monkeys how to make faces.
    • Figuratively: You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
  • Jwe ak makak, men pa manyen ke-l.
    • Haitian proverb
    • Literally: [You may] play with the monkey, but don't play with its tail.
  • बंदर क्या जाने अदरक का स्वाद ।
    • Hindi proverb
    • Literally: What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger?
    • Figuratively: Someone who cannot understand cannot appreciate.
  • 猿も木から落ちる。
    • Japanese proverb
    • Literally: Even monkeys fall from trees.
    • Figuratively: Everyone makes mistakes.
  • Margur verður af aurum api.
  • Kalo di hutan tak ada singa, beruk rabun bisa menjadi raja.
    • Indonesian proverb
    • Literally: If there were no lions in the jungle, a blind monkey could be king.
  • ಮಂಗನ ಪಾರುಪತ್ಯ ಮರದ ಟೊಂಗೆ ಮೇಲೆ
  • Em rio que tem piranha, macaco bebe água de canudinho.
    • Portuguese proverb
    • Literally: In a piranha infested river, monkeys drink water using a straw.
  • Siku ya kufa nyani miti yote huteleza.
    • Swahili proverb
    • Literally: The day a monkey is destined to die all trees become slippery.
    • Figuratively: You can't escape your fate.

Simians and mankind

The least I can do is speak out for the hundreds of chimpanzees who, right now, sit hunched, miserable and without hope, staring out with dead eyes from their metal prisons. They cannot speak for themselves.
Jane Goodall
  • We were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted to battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.
    • Robert Ardrey, African Genesis: A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man, (1961)
  • If you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into primates, suddenly you might transform primates into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctively human – speech or other ways of being able to manipulate or relate to a human. These possibilities, at the moment, are largely being explored in fiction but we need to start thinking about them now.
  • I seem to see only the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who has reeled blunderingly from mystery to mystery, with pathetic makeshifts, not understanding anything, greedy in all desires, and always honeycombed with poltroonery. So in a secret place his youth was put away in exchange for a prize that was hardly worth the having; and the fine geas which his mother laid upon him was exchanged for the common geas of what seems expected.
    • James Branch Cabell, Figures of Earth : A Comedy of Appearances, (1921), ch. XXXIX, "The Passing of Manuel"
  • The word 'apes' usually means chimpanzees, gorillas, orang utans, gibbons, and simangs. We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes. Our common ancestor with the chimpanzees and gorillas is much more recent than their common ancestor with the Asian apes – the gibbons and orangutans. There is no natural category that includes chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans but excludes humans.
    • Richard Dawkins, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 2003, p. 22
  • The least I can do is speak out for the hundreds of chimpanzees who, right now, sit hunched, miserable and without hope, staring out with dead eyes from their metal prisons. They cannot speak for themselves.
    • Jane Goodall reported in Janelle Rohr, Animal rights: opposing viewpoints (1989), p. 100; Jane Goodall and Jennifer Lindsey, Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe (1999), p. 6. Occasionally misreported in truncated form, as "The least I can do is speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves", in, e.g., quote honored on EarthE eco money
  • I do not want to discuss evolution in such depth, however, only touch on it from my own perspective: from the moment when I stood on the Serengeti plains holding the fossilized bones of ancient creatures in my hands to the moment when, staring into the eyes of a chimpanzee, I saw a thinking, reasoning personality looking back. You may not believe in evolution, and that is all right. How we humans came to be the way we are is far less important than how we should act now to get out of the mess we have made for ourselves.
    • Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, Warner Books: 2000, p. 2
  • You can imagine my dismay when I got to Cambridge and found that I had done everything wrong. I shouldn't have named the chimps; I should have given them numbers. I couldn't talk about their personalities, their minds or their feelings because that was unique to us.
  • Chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutan shave been living for hundreds of thousands of years in their forest, living fantastic lives, never overpopulating, never destroying the forest. I would say that they have been in a way more successful than us as far as being in harmony with the environment.
    • Jane Goodall in response to: "If chimps are so much like us, why are they endangered while humans dominate the globe?" Discover Magazine interview with Virginia Morell (28 March 2007)
  • At the moment, money from Gombe tourism goes into one pot for Tanzania National Parks and it has to pay for the whole infrastructure of everything. But through our TACARE [community development] programme, we’ve benefited local people hugely.
    The thing is about tourism and research is that they can both focus attention on the place and help to preserve it. It’s tourism involvement with the mountain gorillas that saved them.
    During the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s, people on both sides were being told, “Don’t touch the gorillas”, as it was the second biggest foreign exchange earner after tea in the country. So both sides hoped to win and continue exploiting gorillas.
    So the government can see the value of tourism, but the danger is they over-exploit it. They say, “We’re getting all this money for [gorilla-tracking groups of] six people, now we’ll let it be 12”, and they get more money for tours, so they make it 20. That’s the danger; that they end up killing what people have come to see.
  • A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather. If there was an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling it would rather be a man — a man of restless and versatile intellect — who not content with an equivocal success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them with aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the real point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, reported in Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley F.R.S, (1900), Leonard Huxley ed.
    • Many variants exist, see: Thomas Henry Huxley
  • There is thus a certain plausibility to Nietzsche's doctrine, though it is dynamite. He maintains in effect that the gulf separating Plato from the average man is greater than the cleft between the average man and a chimpanzee.
    • Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, (1951) p. 151
  • Actually, the gap between say Plato or Nietzsche and the average human is greater than the gap between that chimpanzee and the average human.
  • People may choose to ignore their animal heritage by interpreting their behavior as divinely inspired, socially purposeful, or even self-serving, all of which they attribute to being human, but they masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps and apes do, so they should have little cause to get upset if they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too.
    • Arnold M. Ludwig, King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership, University Press of Kentucky: 2004, p. 4
  • Since the white man says he came from the evolution of animals, well, maybe the black man didn't. The white man has made so many errors in the handling of people that maybe he did come from a gorilla or a fish and crawl up on the sand and then into the trees. Of course, evolution doesn't take God into consideration. I don't think people learned to do all the things they do through evolution.
    • Charles Mingus, reported in More Than A Fakebook: The Music Of Charles Mingus, (1991), Andrew Homzy
  • If one compares the sequence of amino acids that go to form the protein haemoglobin, it becomes apparent that humans and chimps are identical and do not differ in a single site … nevertheless, as I never tire of pointing out to my students in Cambridge, chimpanzees do not play the piano, drink dry martinis, or erect temples to glorify the Creator.
    • Simon Conway Morris, The Crucible of Creation: The Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals, Oxford University Press: 1999, p. 151
  • Man is an evasive beast, given to cultivating strange notions about himself. He is humiliated by his simian ancestry, and tries to deny his animal nature, to persuade himself that he is not limited by its weaknesses nor concerned in its fate.
  • Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
  • The origin of man is still very obscure. It is commonly asserted that he is "descended" from some man-like ape such as the chimpanzee, the orang-utang, or the gorilla, but that of course is as reasonable as saying that I am "descended" from some Hottentot or Esquimau as young or younger than myself. Others, alive to this objection, say that man is descended from the common ancestor of the chimpanzee, the orang-utang, and the gorilla. Some "anthropologists" have even indulged in a speculation whether mankind may not have a double or treble origin; the negro being descended from a gorilla-like ancestor, the Chinese from a chimpanzee-like ancestor, and so on. These are very fanciful ideas, to be mentioned only to be dismissed. It was formerly assumed that the human ancestor was "probably arboreal", but the current idea among those who are qualified to form an opinion seems to be that he was a "ground ape", and that the existing apes have developed in the arboreal direction.
  • Instead of holding on to the Biblical view that we are made in the image of God, we come to realize that we are made in the image of the monkey.
    • Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, (1937), p. 36

The Bonobo in All of Us (2007)

I think if we study the primates, we notice that a lot of these things that we value in ourselves, such as human morality, have a connection with primate behavior.
Frans de Waal quotes from a NOVA interview, "The Bonobo in All of Us" PBS (1 January 2007)
  • I first saw them in 1978. At the time, I knew a lot about chimps, because I had been studying them. I saw the bonobos at a zoo in Holland, and I thought immediately, they're totally different. The sense you get looking them in the eyes is that they're more sensitive, more sensual, not necessarily more intelligent, but there's a high emotional awareness, so to speak, of each other and also of people who look at them.
    • On his first encounter with bonobos
  • At the time, I was interested in reconciliation after fights, and I wanted to know how bonobos did it compared to chimpanzees. Very soon I discovered that they were much more sexual in everything they did, and that interested me — not so much for the sex part, even though that became a very hot topic, the peacemaking-through-sex thing — but much more how they have such a peaceful society, because they are much less violent than chimpanzees.
  • If you look at human society, it is very easy, of course, to compare our warfare and territoriality with the chimpanzee. But that's only one side of what we do. We also trade, we intermarry, we allow each other to travel through our territory. There's an enormous amount of cooperation. Indeed, among hunter-gatherers, peace is common 90 percent of the time, and war takes place only a small part of the time. Chimps cannot tell us anything about peaceful relations, because chimps have only different degrees of hostility between communities. Whereas bonobos do tell us something; they tell us about the possibility of having peaceful relationships.
  • It is true that the chimpanzee is dominance-oriented, violent, territorial. But it's also cooperative in many ways, and so that side is sometimes forgotten. The bonobo is sensual, sensitive, sexual, a peacemaker, but also can have a nasty side, and that's sometimes forgotten. So both species are sort of the ends of the spectrum, and we fall somewhere in between. Clearly, we have both of these sides in us, and that's why I sometimes call us "the bipolar apes."
  • I would say there are people in this world who like hierarchies, they like to keep people in their place, they like law enforcement, and they probably have a lot in common, let's say, with the chimpanzee. And then you have other people in this world who root for the underdog, they give to the poor, they feel the need to be good, and they maybe have more of this kinder bonobo side to them. Our societies are constructed around the interface between those two, so we need both actually.
  • Imagine that we didn't know the chimpanzee, that all we knew were those bonobos who have sex all the time and are peaceful and female-dominated and that people would say that this is our only close relative. I think we would have totally different theories about ourselves and our background. But, of course, it didn't happen that way.
  • I think if we study the primates, we notice that a lot of these things that we value in ourselves, such as human morality, have a connection with primate behavior. This completely changes the perspective, if you start thinking that actually we tap into our biological resources to become moral beings. That gives a completely different view of ourselves than this nasty selfish-gene type view that has been promoted for the last 25 years.

See also

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