The Story of the Abderites belongs still today to the most well known books of the writer from the Age of the Enlightenment Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813). This novel was recognized from the newer research as a peak of his narrative art and style; it was originally a part of the novel The Abderites and Book IV The Process of the Donkey's Shade describes a memorable process: a dentist rends himself a donkey including the driver in order to arrive into a neighboring village. In the midday heat he wanted to take a rest. He stopped, descended and sat down in the shade of the donkey; and thus everything began.
The Abderites is a story with foolish tricks and mirrors that reflect foolish behavior and is set in antique garb. In this novel the story is shifted into another time and another place, i.e. into antique Abdera. In this way the poet succeeds in practicing strong criticism of his own society while being undetectable by the censors. By doing that, he treats nearly all ranks of human life and so still today he remains quite current. Hypocritical morality and religious fanaticism, artificial enthusiasm, and political eagerness are his main topics.
The omniscient storyteller of the novel promises in his preface the historical truths of his narrative. In this way he removes himself from the responsibility for parallels with his time, which are of course purely coincidental. He is only the chronicler. A further advantage of the historical writer is the possibility to comment on and to treat with irony the absurdities of the Abderites.
The educational optimism of the Age of Enlightenment changes in this novel into ironical resignation with pessimistic taste. Abdera did not become for Wieland a "symbol" but the arbitrarily stylized means to win a free playing field for his irony, using a lot of anarchism, without worrying about the historical facts.
The story finished with the final farce of the tragicomedy. The Abderites laugh at the end also. The typically human behavior and the stupidity of the Abderites present themselves so naively and actually more amusingly than maliciously; one could feel even sympathy.
With his Abderties, Wieland shows up as progressive: with his descriptions of the collective insanity he seized ahead the regularities of the modern mass psychology, which were set up many years later.
With his absurd episodes, he influenced later authors. Thus, for example, Ludwig Fulda in 1920 was able to transform “The Process of the Donkey's Shade” into a comedy; and Friedrich Dürrenmatt used the same material in 1951 for a radio play.