Turtles' role in history
Turtles are often mentioned in the world's bibliography, they are often movie stars, topics of
fine arts and music.
- In my opinion one of the first references about turtles is the augury of ancient Chinese Cchü
Jüan. The augur (fortune-teller) use the turtle's shell like an instrument - in the ending is told that shell
itself, not the augur's abilities, is the only important thing in this case.
In China and
India are turtles often a temple's untoucheable patron. In this part of world is a highest
concentration of turtle tales and mythology.
In my opinion it is really very interesting how great part turtles play in
a Chinese mythology. It is the single among 4 divine animals who exists in a real world.
- Bedawang is the name of the turtle which carries elephants holding the Earth on their backs -
according to an Chinese tradition. In the other parts of Asia has different names and different character in this play.
A good modification is known from the volcano island Bali. By their tradition is their island on the back of a turtle with
two snakes on the sides. If the snakes are weak in their aim, the earth quakes.
- A curious interference between the turtles' world and peak of Antic culture
shows what I noticed the other day in the book of Roman Valerius
Maximus “Factorum dictorumque memorabilium libri novem” from the begining of 1st century:
“ ... The death of poet Aischylos was not voluntary, though it could be mentioned,
because it was unusual. One day Aischylos walked in Sicily beyond the city where he lived
and sat in a sunny place. The glance of his head (he was baldheaded) tangle
an eagle flying above him with a turtle in his claws. The bird thought
the head was a rock and released the turtle to crack the shell to be able to eat the meat.
This hit killed the creator and master of noble tragedy... ”
(the turtle probably survived, Gela in Sicily 456 BC)
A same story
quotes also Plinius, Hist. nat. X, 3., Val. Maximus IX, 12. Same link is also in Rabelais,
Pantagruel IV, 17.
- Regarding Pantagruel... volume II, chapter 4 shows why is this
by all means disgusting creature quite likeable: "... he was trampling until he broke the
front of his cradle, which was certainly made from a 7 square feet girder. As soon as he got
his feet outside, he lowered as he was able -- so he was in touch with the ground. And then with
a great power he stood bearing his cradle tied on his back, same as the tortoise which was
trying to climb the wall..."
Well, tortoise climbing the wall... we know such situation :-)
- J-B-Santini, Obyčtov -- vicarage church of the Visit of the Virgin
The idea about the shape of the church -- which was being built between
1730 -- 1734 by F. Witinhofer -- was intentional. Therefore there are no
doubts that the author is Santini and the payer the bishop V. Vejmluva.
The sanctuary got the shape of tortoise (turtle):
The body of church represents the body of tortoise, chapels adjacent to
the body in "corners" of the oval are the legs. Shallow presbytery part
with narrowed walls is the neck, the polygonal vestry with the axial
peak is the head and the western hall is the tail.
S. Sochor wrote that the turtle had represented the constancy in faith.
J. Petru thought that "The Latin word testudo means turtle but the
rampart, too. In this case it obviously means the rampart of the
sculpture of the Virgin." Last one, L. Konecny said that the turtle came
into ecclesiastical symbols from the Roman tradition as the symbol of a
good wife. The turtle has no tongue and never leaves its shell -- the
same a chaste wife, she is voiceless and stay home. And so on, and so
on.... I can only add one note -- In the mediaeval times the monks use
to say pragmatically that the turtle was a fish. Therefore in the Lent
time (and Fridays) they use to eat turtle meat (Emys orbicularia) --
turtle was very popular. The whole recent population in our country is
the remain of an introduction made by those monks centuries ago.
There is one connected story (except of, of course, a cistercian tradition -- they have built
the church). Local tradition says that a knight lived next to the village. He fought in the crusade
with his two sons but returned alone. He let the former church built as the mentioned rampart of
local folks in danger. A new church (the tortoise) was built in the same place. Well you can find
a monument from WW I in every villages. An average mortality of soldiers was extremely high -- up
to 20 or 25%. There was 15 men from Obyčtov in WW I and everyone returned unharmed -- quite interesting.
Since this time villagers do not hesitate and believe in a good luck connected to their tortoise.
An explanation to a red strike over the tower - this tower against the whole conception has
been added in 1907, after a major fire. An article about my journey to this church is in the news page.
- As Comenius in his “Orbis Pictus” said, “Testudo supra et infra
durissimis testis quasi scuto operta est.” - “The turtle on top and bottom by very tough
shell as a shield covered is.”
- My hunt for Humboldt's books
of travel through South America took years. I searched many avenues even books online to no avail.
Finally by pure accident I bought it in a second-hand bookshop Tichý for 2 Kč ($0.06). The shop-owner definitely did not understand it.... First chapter of second volume is titled “The turtle
Tortuga and the chase for it”. Alexander Humboldt, unlike most of his collegues from that
era (1799) did not think that turtle = only tasty snack. On the contrary he was seriously afraid for
the similar plundering of laid eggs as which he was witness of. Quote: “..... To the
Jesuits can be credited with the order in this "collecting"; the Franciscans
who the Jesuits in mission on Orinoko relieved pride themselves to retain their
predecessors order but they are not so proper careful in their deeds. The Jesuits
did not allow extraction the whole bank of eggs: they left a part intact fearing
that turtles could be, if not exterminated, then considerably decreased.
Meanwhile the whole bank was recklessly digged and it is necessary to notice that the
collections are year by year smaller....”
- Above mentioned turtle living in Orinoko river (which is by my opinion Podocnemis
expansa) is mostly called “Yabuti" in native tales. It is a hero of many stories (for
example “How Yabuti donated a fire to men”, “Why Yabuti's shell has scutes”, “How Yabuti trickled the
deer” etc.). It is also very frequently painted and statuettes are carved from wood.
- In African tales plays turtle character of a justice-helper more often than
a character of trickster which is usual in South American rainforests.
- In the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, in the Japanese section they have a part of the samurai sword
(a part which shields a hand) -- it is from the Shogun Tokugawa era, beginning of 17th century.
- My otherwise favorite, Mark Twain, has some negative points. Both in Tom
Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn he writes that turtles are good for food only.
- Nor does Daniel Defoe have my full sympathy. Robinson Crusoe for the worse
was transforming the turtles' fat into the light with a nasty method.
- I did not know for a long time how the Mock Turtle from Alice looks. Suddenly, one
fine day, standing in front of the looking glass (!), I realised: Oops, it's me!
- Turtles should be a good pretext in whatever - as it is shown in the
- Andriod “Leon” in the movie “Blade Runner” did not know the difference between turtle and
tortoise - and was lost.
- Alas! Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's “Mysterious Island” released the turtle which was
turned onto its back by the balloon-wrecked survivors. Unfortunately in some other books
J.V. heroes behave typicaly French-like: Quickly eat everything what moves just to taste it.
Turtles were not an exception.
- “Sailor” in the Lynch's movie was mentioned in an introduction.
- We saw the Swedish movie “Everything is how it could be”. The main star was
a pleasant nice teenager because he had a tortoise. He - if I understood the scene
in the shadow well - was giving a chocolate to the tortoise to say good night. I truly did not try
it yet and I don't think that I should.
- 30 years ago our rock group Olympic greatly succeeded with their big
hit, the song Želva (Turtle) whole about the fun with turtle.