The Tortoise and The Geese

The Tortoise and The Geese

"The Tortoise and The Geese" is a fable that appears in the Panchatantra, a collection of Sanskrit tales believed to date back as far as the 3rd century BCE [Jacobs, page xv: "The latest date at which the stories were thus connected is fixed by the fact that some of them have been sculpted round the sacred Buddhist shrines of Sanchi, Amaravati, and the Bharhut, in the last case with the titles of the "Jatakas" inscribed above them. These have been dated by Indian archaeologists as before 200 BCE, and Mr Rhys-Davids produces evidence which would place the stories as early as 400 BCE. Between 400 BCE and 200 BCE, many of our tales were put together in a frame formed of the life and experience of the Buddha."] . The story, about a tortoise being carried by two geese that falls because it cannot resist speaking, appears in the earliest English translations of the Panchatantra, dating back to 1570.

Like other fables, this one is known in a number of versions in many cultures, with different moral lessons.

Panchatantra version

The version which has arrived into the English language via the Panchatantra runs like so [Jacobs, p170ff] :

A tortoise and her two geese [Jacobs, North have 'two waterfowl' here. Swans, geese, and ducks appear in various other versions] friends, lived in a lake full of fish to eat. However, a drought causes the lake to dry up, and the geese make ready to fly elsewhere to find food. The tortoise bemoans the fact that she cannot leave too, and wonders how she will survive. The geese suggest that they can hold a stick between them, in their beaks, and if the tortoise can keep her mouth shut no matter how much other birds taunt her, they can carry her to a new lake. Sure enough, as she is carried aloft, the other birds gather and hurl insults. Eventually the tortoise can stand it no longer and opens her mouth to reply - and falls. "So that condemning the good counsel was given her, or to say better because she would not believe them, she paid for her folly with death." [Jacobs p175]

The Talkative Tortoise

A second version called "The Talkative Tortoise" appears in the Jataka tales (originally as "Kacchapa Jataka" [cite book|url=
title=Buddhist Birth-stories: Jataka Tales
author=T. W. Rhys Davids
publisher=Asian Educational Services
(originally published 1880).
] [literally, "Tortoise Birth". Also known as "Bahu-Bhani Jataka" ("Chatterbox Jataka" - Rhys-Davids p56). Kacchapa Jataka is also used as the title of a number of other Jataka involving tortoises.] ), traditional Buddhist stories of Buddha's past lives. It is believed that the Jataka tales and the Panchatantra share a common ancient origin. [Jacobs p lxv] In this version, a talkative king of Benares finds a tortoise that has fallen from the sky and broken in two in his courtyard. He asks his adviser (an incarnation of Buddha) to explain this. The adviser, seeing an opportunity to admonish the king, recounts the story much as in the Panchatantra, with the moral:

And now, O mighty master, mark it well.
See thou speak wisely, see thou speak in season.
To death the Tortoise fell:
He talked too much: that was the reason.

Recognising his own faults being described in the story, the king changes his ways.

The framing story of the king and the adviser is interesting in that it depicts the fable being composed to explain a real event.

The Flying Frog

Another version of the story exists as a Mongolian folk tale [cite book
title=Mongolian folktales
author=Hilary Roe Metternich
coauthors=P Khorloo; Norovsambuugiin Baatartsog
publisher=Avery Press in association with the University of Washington Press
location=Boulder, CO
] [cite book|url=
author=Carolyn Han
coauthors=Jay Han
publisher=University of Hawaii Press
title=Why Snails Have Shells: Minority and Han Folktales from China
] with different animal characters. In this variation, a frog is jealous of geese discussing their coming migration. He complains that the geese are fortunate to be able to fly across the sky and stay in warmer climes in winter. The geese suggest the stick plan to the frog and they set off on the migration. The frog is delighted with how clever he is to be flying with the geese, and cannot resist shouting this to his fellow frogs below; the frog falls to its doom.

Other versions

The fable has been translated into many languages, often with variations. Some notable versions are:
* Derenbourg [Fable 82 in Joseph Derenbourg, Deux versions Hébraïques du livre de Kalilah et Dimnāh (Paris, 1881), as cited by Jacobs and Benfay.] contains another translation of the Panchatantra, interesting for having two independent Hebrew sources.
* "La Tortue et Les deux Canards", [cite book|url=
author=A. C. M. Robert
title=Fables inédites des XIIe, XIIIe et XIVe siècles, et Fables de La Fontaine
chapter=La Tortue et Les deux Canards
] a French tranlsation of the Panchatantra.
* "Les deux oies et la tortue" is a variation in the Avadanas, another tradition of Indian folk tales.cite book
title=Les Avadanas
chapter=XIV. "Les deux oies et la tortue"
author=translated from Chinese by Stanislas Julien


Theodor Benfaycite book|url=
author=Theodor Benfey
publisher=F. A. Brockhaus
title=Pantschatantra: Fünf Bücher indischer Fabeln, Märchen, und Erzählungen
] and Joseph Jacobscite book|url=
title=The earliest English version of the fables of Bidpai: The morall philosophie of Doni
author=Sir Thomas North
editor=Joseph Jacobs
publisher=D. Nutt
] note the strong parallels that exist between this and other fables:
* "The Tortoise and the Eagle", in Aesop's Fables, wherein the tortoise offers the eagle all the treasures of the world if the eagle will teach him to fly. The eagle says that this is a ridiculous idea, but is eventually persuaded to lift the tortoise into the air and drop it. The tortoise of course fails to fly. Benfay believed this story to be the origin of the Panchatantra variation; eagles are known to drop tortoises from the sky (see for example the death of Aeschylus), and the change to waterfowl of various kinds seems to have come later.
* "Aquila et Corvix" and "Aquila et Cornicula" in the fables of Phaedrus describe a crow that persuades an eagle to drop the heavy tortoise it is carrying, which the crow then eats. [cite book|url=
title=Phaedrus construed. The fables of Phaedrus construed into English
. An edition with a translation of "Aquila et Cornicula" at II, 6.
] [cite book|url=
title=Phaedri, Augusti Liberti: Fabulae Aesopiae
editor=Christian Thomas Dressler
this edition contains both "Aquila et Corvix" at II, 7 and "Aquila et Cornicula" at VII, 14.
* Buddha and the 500 princes [cite book|url=
author=Robert Spence Hardy
title=A Manual of Budhism, in Its Modern Development
] is a story where Buddha gets a flock of birds to band together to carry other objects with twigs.
* Benfay also mentions that a version of the tale appears in Abstemius [Fable 109 in "Hecatomythium" by Laurentius Abstemius, 1495. Most editions of this collection, such as the translation by Roger L'Estrange, are heavily abridged and only print 100 fables.]


External links

* [ Tortoise and The Geese] Stories from Panchatantra, Bharatadesam
*cite book|url=
author=Eric Drachman
publisher=Kidwick Books LLC
title=A Frog Thing
A children's book based on the flying frog story.
* [ Cover illustration, Saqi Books 2008]
*cite web|url=
title=Illustration from the Fables of Bidpai Herat School, late fifteenth century.
work=Humanities and Social Sciences Library / Print Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs
publisher=The New York Public Library
Digital Image ID: 1110694.

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