Turtle (tortoise)

The tortoise represents the whole universe, it is the carrier of the world. It is a female and a male symbol at the same time.

In one of the pictures of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili a woman holds in her hands a tortoise and a pair of wings. This hermetic symbolism compares and opposes chthonic and ouranian features. The wings could represent Mercury and the tortoise could be the matter from which he produced his zither. This transformation from the tortoise to the zither resumes all the Art of Alchemy. It is the primal matter of the Work as well as Saturn or lead. It represents the beginning of the spiritualisation of the matter and the wings represent the finalisation of the Work.

In the Golden Ass of Apuleius Lucius meets one traveler Aristomenes (High- Minded) who tells a story about his friend Socrates sexually enslaved in the island of Meroe. At night two hags come (Meroe and her sister Panthia which means All-Mother-Goddess) and cut Socrates’ throat, take his heart and place a salt-water sponge to stop bleeding. Aristomenes himself fell from his cot and looked like tortoise hiding from the hags. They noticed him and, at first, threatened him with castration but later before leaving they urinated on him. Next day when Socrates drinks fresh water he dies. In folklore witches cannot cross  fresh water rivers, so the salt-water sponge could protect Socrates but fresh water killed him. Later on Aristomenes laughs at himself of looking like tortoise under his cot.

In Pantagruel by Rabelais the little hero’s name, according to the narrator, means “everything” and “thirsty”. The author explains that all the world was thirsty at that time. One day people saw water coming out of the earth but it was a salted water like sea-water. Pantagruel’s father Gargantua predicted that his son will become the lord of all the thirsty ones. In the same paragraph Rabelais mentions Questium naturaliun by Seneca and the sources of the river Nile. In his childhood  Pantagruel crawls out of his cot and carrying it on his back looks like a tortoise climbing the wall.

In Egypt the tortoise was the symbol of the drought. All the literature works mentioned above treat the same subject: the tortoise, the metamorphosis, Egypt and Nile. From this short research we could make the conclusion that the tortoise represents the beginning of the Alchemy Work. The metamorphosis of Nile (drought and inundation) reflects the inner metamorphosis in each of us. The seek of spirituality transforms us from the tortoise (primal material) to the singing zither. After the drought of Nile comes inundation. Finally Pantagruel finds the sources of Nile in the bottle of Bacbuc (only a short remark: Pantagruel’s mother died giving birth to him and her name was Badbec which reminds Bacbuc).