Turtles (and elephants) all the way down?

mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU mkapstei at UCHICAGO.EDU
Fri Apr 2 09:04:39 UTC 2010

Some negative evidence supporting Will Sweetman's
proposed genealogy of the story:

So far as I can see, Al Biruni (11th c.) knows nothing of this
tale, which, given his interest in Hindu cosmology,
is significant. He is in fact quite clear (in his ch. 
XXVI "On the shape of the earth...") that, citing Brahmagupta,
"the earth is the only low thing." However, he adds that
Puranic traditions hold that "The earth is like the
back of a tortoise; it is not round from below." Evidently,
he considered reference to a tortoise 
in this context to a metaphorical
description of the curvature of an otherwise disk-like

I note, too, that Prince Dara Shikoh (17th c.) makes no
mention of the tale in the cosmological paragraphs of his
Majma ul Bahrain. 


Matthew T. Kapstein
Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies
The University of Chicago Divinity School

Directeur d'études
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

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