Esteemed Gentlemen of the Academy!
You show me the honour of calling upon me to submit a report to the
Academy concerning my previous life as an ape.
In this sense, unfortunately, I cannot comply with your request.
Almost five years separate me from my existence as an ape, a short
time perhaps when measured by the calendar, but endlessly long to
gallop through, as I have done, at times accompanied by splendid
men, advice, applause, and orchestral music, but basically alone,
since all those accompanying me held themselves back a long way from
the barrier, in order to preserve the image. This achievement would
have been impossible if I had stubbornly wished to hold onto my
origin, onto the memories of my youth.
Giving up that obstinacy was, in fact, the highest command that I
gave myself. I, a free ape, submitted myself to this yoke. In so
doing, however, my memories for their part constantly closed
themselves off against me. If people had wanted it, my journey back
at first would have been possible through the entire gateway which
heaven builds over the earth, but as my development was whipped
onwards, the gate simultaneously grew lower and narrower all the
time. I felt myself more comfortable and more enclosed in the world
of human beings. The storm which blew me out of my past eased off.
Today it is only a gentle breeze which cools my heels. And the
distant hole through which it comes and through which I once came
has become so small that, even if I had sufficient power and will to
run back there, I would have to scrape the fur off my body in order
to get through. Speaking frankly, as much as I like choosing
metaphors for these things—speaking frankly: your experience as
apes, gentlemen—to the extent that you have something of that sort
behind you—cannot be more distant from you than mine is from me. But
it tickles at the heels of everyone who walks here on earth, the
small chimpanzee as well as the great Achilles.
In the narrowest sense, however, I can perhaps answer your question,
nonetheless, and indeed I do so with great pleasure.
The first thing I learned was to give a handshake. The handshake
displays candour. Today, when I stand at the highpoint of my career,
may I add to that first handshake also my candid words. For the
Academy it will not provide anything essentially new and will fall
far short of what people have asked of me and what with the best
will I cannot speak about—but nonetheless it should demonstrate the
line by which someone who was an ape was forced into the world of
men and which he has continued there. Yet I would certainly not
permit myself to say even the trivial things which follow if I were
not completely sure of myself and if my position on all the great
music hall stages of the civilized world had not established itself
I come from the Gold Coast.
For an account of how I was captured I rely on the reports of
strangers. A hunting expedition from the firm of Hagenback—incidentally,
since then I have already emptied a number of bottles of good red
wine with the leader of that expedition—lay hidden in the bushes by
the shore when I ran down in the evening in the middle of a band of
apes for a drink. Someone fired a shot. I was the only one struck. I
received two hits.
One was in the cheek—that was superficial. But it left behind a
large hairless red scar which earned me the name Red Peter—a
revolting name, completely inappropriate, presumably something
invented by an ape, as if the only difference between me and the
recently deceased trained ape Peter, who was well known here and
there, was the red patch on my cheek. But this is only by the way.
The second shot hit me below the hip. It was serious. It’s the
reason that today I still limp a little. Recently I read in an
article by one of the ten thousand gossipers who vent their opinions
about me in the newspapers that my ape nature is not yet entirely
repressed. The proof is that when visitors come I take pleasure in
pulling off my trousers to show the entry wound caused by this shot.
That fellow should have each finger of his writing hand shot off one
by one. So far as I am concerned, I may pull my trousers down in
front of anyone I like. People will not find there anything other
than well cared for fur and the scar from—let us select here a
precise word for a precise purpose, something that will not be
misunderstood—the scar from a wicked shot. Everything is perfectly
open; there is nothing to hide. When it comes to a question of the
truth, every great mind discards the most subtle refinements of
manners. However, if that writer were to pull down his trousers when
he gets a visitor, that would certainly produce a different sight,
and I’ll take it as a sign of reason that he does not do that. But
then he should not bother me with his delicate sensibilities.
After those shots I woke up—and here my own memory gradually
begins—in a cage between decks on the Hagenbeck steamship. It was no
four-sided cage with bars, but only three walls fixed to a crate, so
that the crate constituted the fourth wall. The whole thing was too
low to stand upright and too narrow for sitting down. So I crouched
with bent knees, which shook all the time, and since at first I
probably did not wish to see anyone and to remain constantly in the
darkness, I turned towards the crate, while the bars of the cage cut
into the flesh on my back. People consider such confinement of wild
animals beneficial in the very first period of time, and today I
cannot deny, on the basis of my own experience, that in a human
sense that is, in fact, the case.
But at that time I didn’t think about it. For the first time in my
life I was without a way out—at least there was no direct way out.
Right in front of me was the crate, its boards fitted closely
together. Well, there was a hole running right through the boards.
When I first discovered it, I welcomed it with a blissfully happy
howl of ignorance. But this hole was not nearly big enough to stick
my tail through, and all the power of an ape could not make it any
According to what I was told later, I am supposed to have made
remarkably little noise. From that people concluded that either I
must soon die or, if I succeeded in surviving the first critical
period, I would be very capable of being trained. I survived this
period. Muffled sobbing, painfully searching out fleas, wearily
licking a coconut, banging my skull against the wall of the crate,
sticking out my tongue when anyone came near—these were the first
occupations in my new life. In all of them, however, there was only
one feeling: no way out. Nowadays, of course, I can portray those
ape-like feelings only with human words and, as a result, I
misrepresent them. But even if I can no longer attain the old truth
of the ape, at least it lies in the direction I have described—of
that there is no doubt.
Up until then I had had so many ways out, and now I no longer had
one. I was tied down. If they had nailed me down, my freedom to move
would not have been any less. And why? If you scratch raw the flesh
between your toes, you won’t find the reason. If you press your back
against the bars of the cage until it almost slices you in two, you
won’t find the answer. I had no way out, but I had to come up with
one for myself. For without that I could not live. Always in front
of that crate wall—I would inevitably have died a miserable death.
But according to Hagenbeck, apes belong at the crate wall—well, that
meant I had to cease being an ape. A clear and beautiful train of
thought, which I must have planned somehow with my belly, since apes
think with their bellies.
I’m worried that people do not understand precisely what I mean by a
way out. I use the word in its most common and fullest sense. I am
deliberately not saying freedom. I do not mean this great feeling of
freedom on all sides. As an ape, I perhaps recognized it, and I have
met human beings who yearn for it. But as far as I am concerned, I
did not demand freedom either then or today. Incidentally, among
human beings people all too often are deceived by freedom. And since
freedom is reckoned among the most sublime feelings, the
corresponding disappointment is also among the most sublime. In the
variety shows, before my entrance, I have often watched a pair of
artists busy on trapezes high up in the roof. They swung themselves,
they rocked back and forth, they jumped, they hung in each other’s
arms, one held the other by clenching the hair with his teeth.
“That, too, is human freedom,” I thought, “self-controlled
movement.” What a mockery of sacred nature! At such a sight, no
structure would stand up to the laughter of the apes.
No, I didn’t want freedom. Only a way out—to the right or left or
anywhere at all. I made no other demands, even if the way out should
be only an illusion. The demand was small; the disappointment would
not be any greater—to move on further, to move on further! Only not
to stand still with arms raised, pressed again a crate wall.
Today I see clearly that without the greatest inner calm I would
never have been able to get out. And in fact I probably owe
everything that I have become to the calmness which came over me
after the first days there on the ship. And, in turn, I owe that
calmness to the people on the ship.
They are good people, in spite of everything. Today I still enjoy
remembering the clang of their heavy steps, which used to echo then
in my half sleep. They had the habit of tackling everything
extremely slowly. If one of them wanted to rub his eyes, he raised
his hand as if it were a hanging weight. Their jokes were gross but
hearty. Their laughter was always mixed with a rasp which sounded
dangerous but meant nothing. They always had something in their
mouths to spit out, and they didn’t care where they spat. They
always complained that my fleas sprung over onto them, but they were
never seriously angry at me because of it. They even knew that fleas
liked being in my fur and that fleas are jumpers. They learned to
live with that. When they had no duties, sometimes a few of them sat
down in a semi-circle around me. They didn’t speak much, but only
made noises to each other and smoked their pipes, stretched out on
the crates. They slapped their knees as soon as I made the slightest
movement, and from time to time one of them would pick up a stick
and tickle me where I liked it. If I were invited today to make a
journey on that ship, I’d certainly decline the invitation, but it’s
equally certain that the memories I could dwell on of the time there
between the decks would not be totally hateful.
The calmness which I acquired in this circle of people prevented me
above all from any attempt to escape. Looking at it nowadays, it
seems to me as if I had at least sensed that I had to find a way out
if I wanted to live, but that this way out could not be reached by
escaping. I no longer know if escape was possible, but I think it
was: for an ape it should always be possible to flee. With my
present teeth I have to be careful even with the ordinary task of
cracking a nut, but then I must have been able, over time, to
succeed in chewing through the lock on the door. I didn’t do that.
What would I have achieved by doing that? No sooner would I have
stuck my head out, than they would have captured me again and locked
me up in an even worse cage. Or I could have taken refuge unnoticed
among the other animals—say, the boa constrictors opposite me—and
breathed my last in their embraces. Or I could have managed to steal
way up to the deck and jumped overboard.
Then I’d have tossed back and forth for a while on the ocean and
drowned. Acts of despair. I did not think things through in such a
human way, but under the influence of my surroundings conducted
myself as if I had worked things out.
I did not work things out, but I observed well in complete
tranquility. I saw these men going back and forth, always the same
faces, the same movements. Often it seemed to me as if there was
only one man. So the man or these men went undisturbed. A lofty
purpose dawned on me. No one promised me that if I could become like
them the cage would be removed. Such promises, apparently impossible
to fulfill, were not made. But if one makes the fulfillment good,
then later the promises appear precisely there where one had looked
for them earlier without success. Now, these men in themselves were
nothing which attracted me very much. If I had been a follower of
that freedom I just mentioned, I would certainly have preferred the
ocean to the way out displayed in the dull gaze of these men. But in
any case, I observed them for a long time before I even thought
about such things—in fact, the accumulated observations first pushed
me in the proper direction.
It was so easy to imitate these people. I could already spit on the
first day. We used to spit in each other’s faces. The only
difference was that I licked my face clean afterwards. They did not.
Soon I was smoking a pipe, like an old man, and if I then pressed my
thumb down into the bowl of the pipe, the entire area between decks
cheered. Still, for a long time I did not understand the difference
between an empty and a full pipe.
I had the greatest difficulty with the bottle of alcohol. The smell
was torture to me. I forced myself with all my power, but weeks went
by before I could overcome my reaction. Curiously enough, the people
took this inner struggle more seriously than anything else about me.
In my memories I don’t distinguish the people, but there was one who
always came back, alone or with comrades, day and night, at
different times. He’d stand with a bottle in front of me and give me
instructions. He did not understand me. He wanted to solve the
riddle of my being. He used to uncork the bottle slowly and then
look at me, in order to test if I had understood. I confess that I
always looked at him with wildly over-eager attentiveness. No human
teacher has ever found in the entire world such a student of human
After he’d uncorked the bottle, he’d raise it to his mouth. I’d gaze
at him, right at his throat. He would nod, pleased with me, and set
the bottle to his lips. Delighted with my gradual understanding, I’d
squeal and scratch myself all over, wherever it was convenient. He
was happy. He’d set the bottle to his mouth and take a swallow.
Impatient and desperate to emulate him, I would defecate over myself
in my cage—and that again gave him great satisfaction.
Then, holding the bottle at arm’s length and bringing it up again
with a swing, he’d drink it down with one gulp, exaggerating his
backward bending as a way of instructing me. Exhausted with so much
great effort, I could no longer follow and hung weakly onto the
bars, while he ended the theoretical lesson by rubbing his belly and
Now the practical exercises first began. Was I not already too tired
out by the theoretical part? Yes, indeed, far too weary. That’s part
of my fate. Nonetheless, I’d grab the proffered bottle as well as I
could and uncork it trembling. Once I’d managed to do that, new
forces gradually take over. I lift the bottle—with hardly any
difference between me and the original—put it to my lips—and throw
it away in disgust, in disgust, although it is empty and filled only
with the smell, throw it with disgust onto the floor. To the sorrow
of my teacher, to my own greater sorrow. And I still do not console
him or myself when, after throwing away the bottle, I do not forget
to give my belly a splendid rub and to grin as I do so.
All too often, the lesson went that way. And to my teacher’s credit,
he was not angry with me. Well, sometimes he held his burning pipe
against my fur in some place or other which I could reach only with
difficulty, until it began to burn. But then he would put it out
himself with his huge good hand. He wasn’t angry with me. He
realized that we were fighting on the same side against ape nature
and that I had the more difficult part.
What a victory it was for him and for me, however, when one evening
in front of a large circle of onlookers—perhaps it was a
celebration, a gramophone was playing, and officer was wandering
around among the people—when on this evening, at a moment when no
one was watching, I grabbed a bottle of alcohol which had been
inadvertently left standing in front of my cage, uncorked it just as
I had been taught, amid the rising attention of the group, set it
against my mouth and, without hesitating, with my mouth making no
grimace, like an expert drinker, with my eyes rolling around,
splashing the liquid in my throat, I really and truly drank the
bottle empty, and then threw it away, no longer in despair, but like
an artist. Well, I did forget to scratch my belly. But instead of
that, because I couldn’t do anything else, because I had to, because
my senses were roaring, I cried out a short and good “Hello!”
breaking out into human sounds. And with this cry I sprang into the
community of human beings, and I felt its echo—“Just listen. He’s
talking!”—like a kiss on my entire sweat-soaked body.
I’ll say it again: imitating human beings was not something which
pleased me. I imitated them because I was looking for a way out, for
no other reason. And even in that victory little was achieved. My
voice immediately failed me again. It first came back months later.
My distaste for the bottle of alcohol became even stronger.
But at least my direction was given to me once and for all.
When I was handed over in Hamburg to my first trainer, I soon
realized the two possibilities open to me: the Zoological Garden or
the Music Hall. I did not hesitate. I said to myself: use all your
energy to get into the Music Hall. That is the way out. The
Zoological Garden is only a new barred cage. If you go there, you’re
And I learned, gentlemen. Alas, one learns when one has to. One
learns when one wants a way out. One learns ruthlessly. One
supervises oneself with a whip and tears oneself apart at the
slightest resistance. My ape nature ran off, head over heels, out of
me, so that in the process my first teacher himself almost became an
ape and soon had to give up training and be carried off to a mental
hospital. Fortunately he was soon discharged again.
But I went through many teachers—indeed, even several teachers at
once. As I became more confident of my abilities and the general
public followed my progress and my future began to brighten, I took
on teachers myself, let them sit down in five interconnected rooms,
and studied with them all simultaneously, by constantly leaping from
one room into another.
And such progress! The penetrating effects of the rays of knowledge
from all sides on my awaking brain! I don’t deny the fact—I was
delighted with it. But I also confess that I did not overestimate
it, not even then, even less today. With an effort which up to this
point has never been repeated on earth, I have attained the average
education of a European. That would perhaps not amount to much, but
it is something insofar as it helped me out of the cage and created
this special way out for me—the way out of human beings. There is an
excellent German expression: to beat one’s way through the bushes.
That I have done. I have beaten my way through the bushes. I had no
other way, always assuming that freedom was not a choice.
If I review my development and its goal up to this point, I do not
complain. I am even satisfied. With my hands in my trouser pockets,
the bottle of wine on the table, I half lie and half sit in my
rocking chair and gaze out the window. If I have a visitor, I
welcome him as is appropriate. My impresario sits in the parlour. If
I ring, he comes and listens to what I have to say. In the evening I
almost always have a performance, and my success could hardly rise
any higher. When I come home late from banquets, from scientific
societies, or from social gatherings in someone’s home, a small
half-trained female chimpanzee is waiting for me, and I take my
pleasure with her the way apes do. During the day I don’t want to
see her. For she has in her gaze the madness of a bewildered trained
animal. I’m the only one who recognizes that, and I cannot bear it.
On the whole, at any rate, I have achieved what I wished to achieve.
You shouldn’t say it wasn’t worth the effort. In any case, I don’t
want any man’s judgment. I only want to expand knowledge. I simply
report. Even to you, esteemed gentlemen of the Academy, I have only
made a report.