A cockatrice is a legendary creature, resembling a large rooster with a lizard-like tail, "an ornament in the drama and poetry of the Elizabethans" Laurence Breiner described it; "the cockatrice, which no one ever saw, was born by accident at the end of the twelfth century and died in the middle of the seventeenth, a victim of the new science". The cockatrice was first described in the late twelfth century based on a hint in Pliny's Natural History, as a duplicate of the basilisk or regulus, though, unlike the basilisk, the cockatrice has wings. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) considers them identical. According to Alexander Neckam's De naturis rerum (ca 1180), it was supposed to be born from an egg laid by a cock and incubated by a toad; a snake might be substituted in re-tellings. The translation from basiliscus to cockatrice was effected when the basiliscus in Bartholomeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum (ca 1260) was translated by John Trevisa as cockatrice (1397). Attempts to identify it with any particular biological species have proved generally futile.

Its reputed magical abilities include turning people to stone or killing them by either looking at them — "the death-darting eye of Cockatrice — touching them, or sometimes breathing on them.

It was repeated in the late-medieval bestiaries that the weasel is the only animal that is immune to the glance of a cockatrice. It was also thought that a cockatrice would die instantly upon hearing a rooster crow. According to legend, having a cockatrice look itself in a mirror is one of the few sure-fire ways to kill it. The cockatrice was also able to fly with the set of wings affixed to its back.

Like the head of Medusa, the cockatrice's powers of petrification were thought still effective after death.

The widespread and long-standing perception that there is a connection with crocodile in texts transmitted in Late Latin and Old French was traced in detail by Laurence Breiner (1979) from Pliny's assertion that the ichneumon lay in wait for the crocodile to open its jaws for the trochilus bird to enter and pick its teeth clean, to Brunetto Latini's remark in Li livres dou tresor (ca 1260)

In England the town most associated with the Cockatrice is the village of Wherwell, near Andover in Hampshire. The story is that the Cockatrice terrorised the village until it was imprisoned in the dungeons below Wherwell Priory. A prize of land was offered to anyone who could kill the creature. None was successful, until a man named Green lowered a mirror into the dungeon. The Cockatrice battled against its own reflection until exhausted, at which point Green was able to kill it. Today there is an area of land near Wherwell called Green's Acres. For many years a weather vane in the shape of a Cockatrice adorned the church of St. Peter and Holy Cross in Wherwell until it was removed to Andover Museum.

In the King James Version of the Old Testament, following a tradition established in John Wyclif's bible (1382) the word is used several times, to translate Hebrew tziph'oni:

Isaiah 11:8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.

Isaiah 14:29 Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.

Isaiah 59:5 They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.

Jeremiah 8:17 For, behold, I will send serpents, cockatrices, among you, which will not be charmed, and they shall bite you, saith the LORD.

In all these instances, the Revised Version— following the tradition established by Jerome's Vulgate basiliscus— renders the word "basilisk", and the New International Version translates it as "viper". In Proverbs 23:32 the similar Hebrew tzeph'a is rendered "adder", both in the Authorized Version and the Revised Version.

Laurence Breiner also identified the uses of the cockatrice in alchemy (Breiner 1979).

Popular culture

The cockatrice is the heraldic symbol of 3 (Fighter) Squadron, a Fighter squadron of The Royal Air Force.

Modern literature

The Cockatrice is the villain of The Book of the Dun Cow, a novel by Walter Wangerin, Jr.

The Darkangel trilogy features a guardian-creature named Elverlon, which is a cockatrice but lacks any legs. It is one of several artificial beings created by the character known as "the lady Ravenna" to protect the various regions of a terraformed moon.

The cockatrice is mentioned in the Harry Potter books. In the 1792 Triwizard Tournament, a cockatrice got loose and attacked three judges.

Modern fantasy fiction and games

The cockatrice has provided magical or neo-medieval colour for much fantasy fiction, Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games, and commercial entertainment. For most people, these provide the main encounters with the imaginary cockatrice.

The cockatrice is a regularly encountered creature in the Playstation 2 video game Final Fantasy XII. Unlike the traditional description, this cockatrice looks like an oversized balloon of a chick with a small tail and ranging from 3 to tall, and is kept as livestock. It is similar to the cockatrice enemy in the Mana series of games, also published by Square-Enix.

Very much the same as the description of the Final Fantasy XII Cockatrice, it is one of the monsters in the 2005 Playstation 2 game Altered Beast, although this version is more scaly and does not roll in a ball.

In Final Fantasy VI, a cockatrice appears in the form of the Esper, Tritoch (Valigarmanda). It also appears as a common monster early in Final Fantasy IV, on Mount Hobs. On rare occasions, they drop a "summon" spell which can be given to one of the characters. The summoned cockatrice will stone one enemy.

The cockatrice is also a slayer monster from the game RuneScape. Players need to wear a Mirror Shield to protect themselves from their gaze, otherwise their attacking skills would drop to dangerous levels and die an untimely death. It is also available as a familiar that you can summon.

Cockatrice is Monster in My Pocket #7. He is an enemy in the video game, sending powerful blasts from his eyes.

The cockatrice is one of the most notorious hostile creatures in NetHack; there are estimated to be 47 distinct ways for the player character to be turned to stone by a cockatrice, its corpse or its eggs. Its corpse makes a devastating weapon, petrifying most monsters with a single blow, but gloves must be worn and extreme caution exercised. In this role the corpse is referred to as a "rubber chicken."

Cockatrices appear as controllable characters in Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen. They are large characters (limiting the amount of characters available in a party) that can move through the sky. Their units are fast moving and will be high sky unless a heavy dragon is in the party. They are "evolved" from Gryphons, so long as they have low enough alignment.

Cockatrices also appear in Ogre Battle 64. In this sequel, they remain large characters, but no longer "evolve" from any other creature. They are notorious for their "Petrify" ability, which can quickly disable a unit.

The Digimon Kokatorimon is based on a Cockatrice, as shown by its Japanese name, appearance and attacks.

Cockatrices make appearances as monsters in the game The Witcher, although it is stated in the game that they lack the ability to turn their victims into stone.

In Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand and Boktai 2: Solar Boy Django cockatrices appeared as enemies that shot petrifying beams of energy when startled. In the first game, the cockatrices appeared as servants of Carmilla, the Howling Banshee, in the Sol City dungeon.

In Castlevania Aria of sorrow and Curse Of Darkness they also appear, they can shoot a petrifying beam at you, you can also use it as one of the strongest summons in Circle of the moon. Causes a Cockatrice to fly across the screen from right to left, bringing with it a flurry of boulders to attack any enemies onscreen. Each individual boulder breaks when it hits an enemy. Costs 200 mp.

Analogous creatures



Further reading

  • Laurence A. Breiner, "The Career of the Cockatrice", Isis 70:1 (March 1979), pp 30-47
  • P. Ansell Robin, "The Cockatrice and the 'New English Dictionary'", in Animal Lore in English Literature (London 1932).

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