Trutles Contemplating
July 3, 2012 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Looking for sources for the idea that turtles affect the formation of their offspring inside the egg by means of contemplation.

I'm reading a treatise in Hebrew called 'Pirkei Moshe' by Moses Narboni, who lived in France in the 1300s. In a discussion of how a prophet's contemplation can effect a change in reality, he cites as a parallel phenomenon the fact that turtles contemplate their eggs and thereby draw the embryos developing inside towards their final form.

Has anyone ever encountered an idea like this in medieval science, mythology, folk beliefs, or any other field?

Note: It's possible I'm mis-reading aspects of the passage. The word I'm assuming means turtle is טרטרוגא. I am using a text edited by Colette Sirat and available here: pdf. Sirat's footnote (#22) on the passage says she could not find a medieval source for the idea.
posted by Paquda to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Correction: Narboni lived in Catalonia, not France.
posted by Paquda at 2:09 PM on July 3, 2012

I don't know if this is leading away from what you're interested in but turtles, like some other reptiles, can 'determine' the sex of their offspring using incubation temperature. It's called temperature-dependent sex determination. Of course, turtles don't actually incubate but where they place their nests can impact on the sex ratio of their offspring - so in a way their embryos are drawn into their final sex by their mother's behaviour, if not thoughts.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:47 PM on July 3, 2012

Mmmm. I'd be looking at classical sources first. Pliny (Natural History II.XIV) has this to say:
The female turtle lays eggs like those of birds, one hundred in number; these she buries on the dry land, and covering them over with earth, pats it down with her breast, and then having thus rendered it smooth, sits on them during the night. The young are hatched in the course of a year. Some persons are of the opinion that they hatch their eggs by means of the eyes, by merely looking at them, and that the female refuses to have any intercourse with the male until he has placed a wisp of straw upon her back.
Finding out what common translations of the Hebrew verb used for this action were in Greek and Latin should help.
posted by junco at 2:49 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I meant to link to a journal article - this is the original article by Bull and if you use google scholar to search for 'turtle temperature clutch' you can get access to a couple of pdfs that use his hypothesis as a basis for research.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:51 PM on July 3, 2012

Sorry, that's the wrong citation; it's Natural History Book 9 Chapter 12.
posted by junco at 2:52 PM on July 3, 2012

It should also be added that given the time and place he could very easily have been influenced by Arabic traditions.
posted by junco at 2:55 PM on July 3, 2012

Thank you all. junco's Pliny quote looks promising but if anybody comes up with anything else from any source I'd be interested.
posted by Paquda at 7:38 AM on July 13, 2012

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