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Cockatrice

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Cockatrice

The cockatrice is a legendary magical creature originating from European folklore. Described by Laurence Breiner as "an ornament in the drama and poetry of the Elizabethans", it featured prominently in English thought and myth for centuries.

Description

The cockatrice has been described as a small two-legged dragon, although it is perhaps more accurately a type of chimera. In later centuries up to the modern era, it is described as having the head of a chicken or rooster and the body of a serpent. It also has wings, though these can either be dragon wings or rooster wings depending on the source. Either way, the cockatrice is capable of flight.

Origins

The cockatrice was first described in its current form in the late fourteenth century. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a derivation from Old French cocatris, from medieval Latin calcatrix, a translation of the Greek ichneumon, meaning tracker. The twelfth century legend was based on a reference in Pliny's Natural History that the ichneumon lay in wait for the crocodile to open its jaws for the trochilus bird to enter and pick its teeth clean. An extended description of the cockatriz by the 15th-century Spanish traveler in Egypt, Pedro Tafur, makes it clear that the Nile crocodile is intended.

According to Alexander Neckam's De naturis rerum (ca 1180), the cockatrice was the product of an egg laid by a cock (a male chicken) and incubated by a toad; a snake might be substituted in re-tellings. Cockatrice became seen as synonymous with basilisk when the basiliscus in Bartholomeus Anglicus' De proprietatibus rerum (ca 1260) was translated by John Trevisa as cockatrice (1397). A basilisk, however, is usually depicted without wings. It is thought that a cock egg would birth a cockatrice, and could be prevented by tossing the yolkless egg over the family house, landing on the other side of the house, without allowing the egg to hit the house.

Abilities

The cockatrice is said to be extremely poisonous, coating its down with venom. Its most recognised ability is its power to kill victims by looking them in the eye. Other sources suggest that the cockatrice petrifies with its stare, turning its victims into stone. These traits are also shared with another legendary English creature: the basilisk.

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