The cocatrix is a mythical beast, essentially a bipedal creature with the appearance of a dragon or snake, with a bird-like head. This extraordinary animal was able to fly with the pair of wings emerging from its back.
Origins and Myth
A cockatrice is a legendary creature, invented during the 12th century from the description found in the book “Natural History” by Pliny the Elder. It is a “twin” of the basilisk. Its appearance is comparable to that of a giant rooster but it has a tail similar to that of a lizard.
The cockatrice is supposed to be an animal born of a hen’s egg, incubated by a toad or a snake. But attempts to identify it with any particular biological species – often snakes – have generally proved futile. It ends up being considered a fabulous “earth elf”.
Described by Laurence Breiner as “an ornament in Elizabethan drama and poetry”, it has been prominently present in English thought and myths for centuries. This author stated that “The cocatrix, which no one saw, was born by accident at the end of the 16th century and died in the middle of the 17th century, a victim of the new science”.
The first use of the word in English was in John Wyclif’s 1382 translation of the Bible to translate different Hebrew words. This use was followed by the King James version, the word being used several times. The revised version – following the tradition established by the Vulgate Basilica of Jerome – uses the word “basilisk,” and the New International Version translates it as “viper. In Proverbs 23:32, the Hebrew tzef’a mentions “adder,” both in the Authorized Version and the Revised Version.
It is said in medieval bestiaries that the weasel is the only animal that is immune to the sight of a cockatrice. It was also thought that a cockatrice would die immediately after hearing the cackling of a rooster.
According to legend, making a cockatrice look at itself in a mirror is one of the few safe ways to kill him. Like the head of the medusa, the petrifying powers of the cockatrice remained effective even after its death.
Cockatrices are creatures that resemble a giant rooster with a snake’s tail and two large coriaceous wings that allow it to fly. Their appearance resembles their mythical counterparts although none of the known mythical cockatrices have a serpentine head at the tip of their tail.
Depending on the type of cockatrice, its body could be covered entirely with feathers or just scales similar to those of a serpent. Some might even say it also depends on the evolution of the cockatrice itself.
Its renowned magical abilities include turning people to stone or killing them with a glance, then touching it or throwing its putrid breath on them. The gas that it can breathe appears to be based on poison, and works at close range since it does not use its breath to shoot prey in the air.
The Cockatrice can also exhale great currents of fire, which have a greater amplitude than petrifying breath.