Monday, June 21, 2010

The Roc

The Roc is a mythological Arabic and Persian bird so large it could capture and eat elephants. Appearing in 1001 Arabian Tales, it became popular in the Sinbad the Sailor story when  unknowingly saving Sinbad from a shipwreak.

I like this picture, but not as well as the first. 

 Sinbad, finding himself in the Roc's nest accompanying an egg as large as"148 hens eggs," needed to find a way out as quickly and unintrusively as possible. Carefully tying himself to the Roc's leg with his turban, Sinbad flew off hanging on for dear life. The bird flew so high the Earth vanished from sight. Finally, Sinbad escaped when the Roc returned to Earth and flew by an island. That was one high flying bird! 

This looks larger than 148 hens eggs.

The origin of the Roc can be found in the mythological Indian story about a fight between the half-human, half-eagle Garuda (who loved to snack on snakes), and the serpent Naga. According to German historian Rudolf Wittkower, Naga is a word that means both snake and elephant. Since the elephant has a long snake-like trunk, this makes sense.

Garuda was so huge, he could block out the sun.

There's another story about Garuda flying off with an elephant and tortoise caught engaging in a massive fight. This story is found in both the Sanskrit Mahabharata and the Ramayana. After carrying the squabblers away, Garuda ate the malcontents. I have no idea why the elephant and tortoise were fighting. In Indian myth, the world rests on the backs of four elephants, who in turn, are all standing on the back of a tortoise. The whole crowd slowly travel through various examples of chaos. You'd think with such cooperation transporting the world, elephants and tortoises would get along better. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt.  

  It's possible the Roc myth was encouraged by skeletons of the Aepyornis. Extinct since the 17th century, "Elephant birds" reached a height of over 10 feet and weighed nearly half a ton. These massive, though obviously flightless, birds may have been perceived as Aepyornis chicks. If that's the chick, I wouldn't want to meet the parents! The ostrich is another feasible baby Roc inspirer. 

An Aepyornis egg compared to a chicken egg.

I'll end this post with a quote about the Roc by Marco Polo (1254-1324). Polo was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote extensively about Central Asia and China. 

Marco Polo saw many colorful things.

"It was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size, so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it was so strong that it will sieze an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at his leisure." 

The Roc was a tempermental bird best not to make angry. Keep this in mind if you ever encounter an unusually large egg. The huge Roc was known for destroying ships in revenge if its egg was tampered with. Confine yourself to chicken eggs for your breakfast meal.

1 comment:

  1. The illustrations that you find for your creatures are always so beautiful and unique. I love coming her for the knowledge but always for art.

    I am loving this blog.