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Aeschylus and the Tortoise

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andypants
159367.  Fri Mar 23, 2007 11:12 am Reply with quote

Can someone clarify this for me please?

I know the story of Aeschylus being killed when an Eagle dropped a Tortoise on his head - but how reliable is it?

In a way it doesn't really matter as I will continue to propgate this story whatever but it would be nice to have an idea what kind of muck I am spreading!

Any ideas?

 
themoog
159392.  Fri Mar 23, 2007 11:54 am Reply with quote

Some eagles do feed on Tortoises in this way - well dropping them onto rocks rather than Greek playwrights - so that part at least is reliable.

 
Flash
159399.  Fri Mar 23, 2007 12:14 pm Reply with quote

The story is described as "anecdotal" - ie it's a long-standing tradition, but no-one seems to know the source for it.

 
mckeonj
159473.  Fri Mar 23, 2007 4:37 pm Reply with quote

Are there any similar tales from other cultures; e.g. China. Perhaps Li Po, who saw the moon in the yellow river, was later killed by a falling turtle which had been swept up by a small whirlwind.

 
96aelw
159500.  Fri Mar 23, 2007 5:23 pm Reply with quote

A slightly more secure (or at least sourced) fact about Aeschylus, in a demise related sort of a way, is the quite interesting snippet that his tombstone, as recorded by Pausanias, at least, sung his praises as a veteran of Marathon, but made no mention of his having had any connection with the theatre. One does wonder whether Pausanias just got the wrong Aeschylus, of course...

 
djgordy
159545.  Fri Mar 23, 2007 7:37 pm Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
The story is described as "anecdotal" - ie it's a long-standing tradition, but no-one seems to know the source for it.


The story appears in Pliny's* "Natural History" where the bird is identified as a lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), also called the bearded vulture or lamb vulture. This species is somewhat intermediate between the eagles and vultures.


*This is Pliny the Elder, obviously.

 
legspin
159682.  Sat Mar 24, 2007 11:12 pm Reply with quote

djgordy wrote:
Flash wrote:
The story is described as "anecdotal" - ie it's a long-standing tradition, but no-one seems to know the source for it.


The story appears in Pliny's* "Natural History" where the bird is identified as a lammergeyer (Gypaetus barbatus), also called the bearded vulture or lamb vulture. This species is somewhat intermediate between the eagles and vultures.


*This is Pliny the Elder, obviously.


The Lammergeyer is noted for eating the bones from a carcass. With the bigger bones they will pick them up and drop them on patches of bare rock to break them. The shards can be very long and pointy but the birds will still swallow them. This is probably where Pliny got the story from.

 
themoog
159687.  Sun Mar 25, 2007 3:44 am Reply with quote

No, Lammergeier will drop tortoises to break open the shells in the same way as they do bones. The tortoise is likely to be dead already as Lammergeier are very much carrion eaters (they may rarely take live prey). Although they eat bones, it's the marrow they are after. They are definitely vultures rather than eagles but that distinction may not have been so well defined at the time of Aeschylus or Pliny and some eagles will also feed on tortoises in this way.

 
Flash
159818.  Sun Mar 25, 2007 5:43 pm Reply with quote

djgordy wrote:
The story appears in Pliny's* "Natural History"


Thanks for that, DJ, I didn't find that reference. Do you have the exact citation, for future reference?

 
Flash
159826.  Sun Mar 25, 2007 6:03 pm Reply with quote

Found it: Book X CHAP. 3. (3.)--THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF EAGLES.

Quote:
This eagle (the morphnos) has the instinct to break the shell of the tortoise by letting it fall from aloft, a circumstance which caused the death of the poet Ęschylus. An oracle, it is said, had predicted his death on that day by the fall of a house, upon which he took the precaution of trusting himself only under the canopy of the heavens.


http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137&query=head%3D%23510

 
themoog
161502.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 6:29 am Reply with quote

themoog wrote:
No, Lammergeier will drop tortoises to break open the shells in the same way as they do bones. The tortoise is likely to be dead already as Lammergeier are very much carrion eaters (they may rarely take live prey). Although they eat bones, it's the marrow they are after. They are definitely vultures rather than eagles but that distinction may not have been so well defined at the time of Aeschylus or Pliny and some eagles will also feed on tortoises in this way.


Looked this up to make sure. Feeding on several species of tortoise by dropping to break the shells is documented for both Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) and Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in several studies. These are referenced in: Cramp, S. & Simmonds, K.E.L. (eds) (1979) Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume II. Hawks to Bustards. Oxford University Press, Oxford

I'm still not certain if Lammergeier feed on live tortoises (Golden Eagle certainly do) but they do prefer freshly dead carrion (they are absent from older corpses where other vulture still feed) so I'm guessing the tortoise is probably alive.

If you were really, really unlucky there doesn't seem to be any reason why you shouldn't be killed by having a tortoise land on your head while within the ranges of these animals.

 
djgordy
161533.  Fri Mar 30, 2007 7:22 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
djgordy wrote:
The story appears in Pliny's* "Natural History"


Thanks for that, DJ, I didn't find that reference. Do you have the exact citation, for future reference?


I don't have it hand but, having ferreted around:

Quote:
Among other crimes attributed to the species is that, according to Pliny (Hist . Nat. x. cap . 3), of having caused the death of the poet Aeschylus, by dropping a tortoise on his bald head !


http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/KRO_LAP/LAMMERGEYER_Ger_Lammergeier_Lam.html

 
michaelbrunstrom
644540.  Wed Dec 09, 2009 6:16 am Reply with quote

Well, poetry was composed on a lyre. According to the myth, the lyre was invented by the god Hermes by stretching a dead tortoise's entrails over its shell.

So for the greatest poet of his generation to be killed by a tortoise dropped from the sky is a little too ironic (dontcha think?). Perhaps that's what happens when you rival the gods in divine inspiration. It'd be like Donald Bradman having a willow tree fall on top of him.

 
Jenny
644679.  Wed Dec 09, 2009 2:22 pm Reply with quote

That is certainly ironic! Welcome michaelbrunstrom :-)

 
Ellie
655690.  Sat Jan 09, 2010 5:25 pm Reply with quote

I was just thinking of how Aeschylus must have looked like a rock from above.

 

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