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In Michael Ende's Momo, the tortoise Cassiopeia seems to be something of a mystery.

Even Professor Hora is easier to grasp: he appears to be a sort of personification of time itself, sending everyone's own allotment of time to them, with the flow of time all across the world stopping when he sleeps. What he gives, the men in grey poison and steal; they're essentially time parasites.

But Cassiopeia? She doesn't seem to serve any vital role in Professor Hora's work or the normal operation of time, mostly acting as an advisor, confidante, and helper to Momo. Her power of seeing half an hour into the future is one unmatched (as far as I remember) by any other person or creature in the story. She's the only thing able to move during the time-stop, apart from those with external sources of time like Momo's flower or the men in grey's cigars.

What manner of being is she, really? Why are so many unique abilities found in a single tortoise? Is she something else taking the form of a tortoise - and why a tortoise specifically? Are there more like her anywhere in the universe?

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The first thing I think of when thinking of a tortoise is its longevity. Also note that Cassiopeia has her own time (which is why she cam move when time has stopped), and if I remember correctly, Hora, when saying this, also says that she will still live after all others are gone. Because of this, I think she's the personification of eternity. Eternity will last even past the end of time itself.

Another thing I immediately think when thinking of tortoises is slowness. Which fits eternity: Eternity means no lack of time, so you can afford to be slow, to take your time. This also contrasts with the accelerated world where people try to save time, and lose it to the time thieves exactly for this reason. So while the humans experience that their time saving doesn't get them more time, quite the opposite, Cassiopeia is the opposite: She is efficient exactly by taking her time; note also how Momo, when following Cassiopeia, wonders how you can move so slowly, and yet at the same time progress so quickly.

  • Interesting answer, thank you. Does her ability to see half an hour into the future factor into this in some way as well? – Rand al'Thor Apr 20 '18 at 6:48

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