Tortoises & Turtles

The tortoise and turtle have found varied associations in ancient cultures. The Ancient Egyptians associated the aquatic turtle with the underworld and hence with Set, therefore being one of the enemies of Ra who attempt to intercept the solar barque as it travels through the underworld. In accordance with this, especially in the late period of the Ancient Egyptian culture, royalty and nobility were known to have ritually speared turtles as evil creatures. The challenge of explaining the tortoises eccentric shell is taken up in Aesop’s fables where the story is told that Zeus invited all of the animals to his wedding, however, despite the invitation, the tortoise never arrived. When asked why, the tortoise said that it preferred its own home and, in retaliation, Zeus made the tortoise carry its home around wherever it went. As well as this the tortoise was a fertility symbol in Ancient Greece and Rome as an attribute of Aphrodite. In China and India the tortoise has a cosmological symbolism; to the Chinese the flat stomach symbolises the earth, whereas the shell symbolises the the domed sky, the markings on the tortoises shell are said to indicate the constellations and there is also some traditional Chinese thought that suggests that the Chinese written characters are said to be derived from these markings.

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