Thursday, August 12, 2010



Recently, in my blog Barking at the Moon, I wrote an account mentioning my parent's woodshed dwelling rooster. After finishing the post, I wondered if any myths existed glorifying the chicken. A trip to Wikipedia revealed the scary looking creature seen above. Meet the rooster headed cockatrice, a people terrifying nightmare with a nasty talent for petrifacation and general death. The cockatrice's very birth was cause for concern, as its unlikely mother was an egg laying rooster. The unnatural rooster was a poor parent who abandoned its child in favor of the carefree, hen chasing, life it preferred. The rejected egg was incubated by a toad, or possibly snake, a confusing circumstance that must of disturbed the infant cockatrice. Then again, remembering it's basic evilness, maybe it didn't care. 


Echoing it's strange birth, the cockatrice had the head of a rooster and the tail of a lizard. It's name comes from the Latin calcare "to tread" a name differentiating it from the similar basilisk, who was usually (but not always) portrayed legless. 


If you had the misfortune to stumble upon a cockatrice, what would happen? According to Pliny the Elder, an author and naturalist born 23 AD in Italy, the cockatrice was only 12 inches long, but packed a wallop. He wrote:

   Its touch and breath can scorch grass, kill bushes and burst rocks. Its poison is so deadly that once a man on a horse speared a cockatrice, the venom traveled up the spear and killed not only the man, but also the horse.

Pliny the Elder
This was a deadly creature capable of turning people to stone with a mere look, touch, or even breath. Could anything be done to dispose of such an awful monster? A mirrored shield was guaranteed to kill a cockatrice, as the aggressor's evil eye would reflect back and turn the beast to stone. Strangely, a rooster's crow would cause instant death. If no mirrored shields or roosters were available, there was one animal totally immune to the cockatrice's wrath. That animal was the weasel. I have no idea why the weasel was immune to the cockatrice's breath, glance and touch. It just was. 

Cockatrice and Weasel
15th century manuscript
Since Pliny the Elder said the cockatrice was only 12 inches long, this must be an unusually large cockatrice, or remarkably small weasel. 

Room of the Fire in the Bogo
Artist: Raphael
Pope Leo IV is on the balcony extinquishing flames with his blessing. He was a busy guy!

There WAS another way of destroying a cockatrice. The History of Serpents (1608) by Edward Topsell includes the following story about a cockatrice and a pope. One of the legendary creatures was found alive in a church vault during the mid 9th century leaving numerous people dead by its poisoned breath. Great chaos resulted until the creature was finally dispatched by the prayers of Pope Leo IV. As I said, he was a busy guy.

Run! This could be the cockatrice's rooster mom!


  1. Me thinks Pliny the Elder liked to spin a yarn or two. That is some power poison.

    But as far as rooster go, the best course it to run like heck. Aggressive little buggers.

  2. Cool blog, I like that you put up several pictures and the story of the myth. And dang ol Pliny d.e. said a lotta things in his time, but thank goodness otherwise many tales would not be alive today.