Turtles (and elephants) all the way down?

Jan Westerhoff westerhoff at CANTAB.NET
Fri Apr 2 18:32:48 UTC 2010

Many thanks, Will!

This is very helpful.



On Fri, April 2, 2010 09:28, Will Sweetman wrote:
> Dear Jan,
> I can't identify any Indian textual authority, but some time ago I became
> interested in how Locke came up with this image. Halbfass (India and
> Europe, p.62) mentions an article by Henrich (Henrich, Dieter. 1963. ‘Die
> ‘wahrhafte Schildkröte’.’ Hegel-Studien 2: 281-91) which discusses
> Locke's (and Hegel's) use of the image but doesn't go any further back
> than Locke. Following an article by Charpentier (Charpentier, J. 1924. 'A
> Treatise on Hindu Cosmography from the Seventeenth Century (Brit. Mus.
> MS. Sloane 2748 A).' Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies,
> University of London 3(2): 317-342.) I think it likely that Locke got the
> image from Samuel Purchas. In Purchas, His Pilgrimage (1626) he writes
> that some Hindus believe "that the Earth had nine corners, whereby it was
> borne up by the Heaven. Others dissented, and said, that the Earth was
> borne up by seven Elephants; the Elephants feet stood on Tortoises, and
> they were borne by they know not what." Charpentier traces this to a
> letter by the Jesuit Father Emanual de Veiga (1549-1605), written at
> Chandagiri on 18th September, 1599. Charpentier quotes the letter from
> John Hay, De rebus Japonicis, Indicis, and Peruanis epistulæ recentiores
> (Antwerp, 1605), p. 803 seq.: "Alii dicebant terram novem constare
> angulis, quibus cœlo innititur. Alius ab his dissentiens volebat terram
> septem elephantis fulciri, elephantes uero ne subsiderent, super
> testudine pedes fixos habere. Quærenti quis testudinis corpus firmaret,
> ne dilaberetur, respondere nesciuit."
> I think we can safely say this is where the idea enters European thought,
> but I too would be interested to know whether it can be traced further in
> the Indian textual tradition, or whether we must be content with an oral
> report from 400 years ago.
> Best wishes
> Will

JC Westerhoff
Department of Philosophy
University of Durham
50 Old Elvet
Durham DH1 3HN
United Kingdom

westerhoff at cantab.net

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