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.......Curiosity Corner .......

The Cockatrice

As some of our readers may be aware, the Cockatrice is allegedly related to the Wyvern, although what manner of coupling could have produced such an offspring is beyond your researcher's imagination. Nevertheless, despite our ignorance of its method of conception, we do know the details of its birth.

The Cockatrice emerges from an egg that has been laid by a nine-year-old cock and subsequently, it is reliably reported, hatched by a toad on a dunghill.


Examination shows it to have the head of a cock, the legs and feet of an eagle, a barbed tail and membrane wings. Its body is scaly and its comb sharply barbed. There is nothing really exceptional in this, and nothing too frightening. Only with the next generation does it become prudent to take really serious precautions.

When a nine-year-old Cockatrice (not a cock) lays an egg to be hatched by a toad on a dunghill, the result is a Basilisk. The difference between parent and chick is not obvious until the tail emerges from the egg, although by then, if the observer has approached too closely, it is often too late. Instead of the barb on the end of its tail, there is a dragon's head, a comparatively unusual arrangement that prompted much argument among mediaeval churchmen, some holding that the beast advanced with its body bent, so that it led with both heads, while others insisted that one head alone advanced while the other remained ready to lead the retreat. (To the Church the Basilisk was the Amphisian Cockatrice, and effectively identical to the Amphiptere carved in the stone of many English churches.)

Although only one foot in length, it was much feared, for it could destroy almost all animal and vegetable life with just a look, sometimes with just a breath. Fortunately it was afraid of weasels, and wise travellers carried weasels with them for safety. There was a story that the Cockatrice and Basilisk would die if they heard a cock crow, and some Crusaders are said to have taken cocks to Palestine for just this purpose, but modern scholars find this difficult to believe. A cock's crow can irritate, certainly, but it is unlikely to kill.

Modern science explains the conception of the Cockatrice by reference to the not unusual change that occurs in the endocrine balance of the domestic hen and induces trans-sexuality, allowing the afflicted creature to crow and to grow a comb and wattles while continuing to lay eggs. Mediaeval man, seeing but not understanding, attributed this to the work of the devil, and thus the Cockatrice came to represent evil incarnate.

The Gryphon ~ further notes

In the previous article in this series we noted that the male Gryphon has no wings and sprouted spikes from its body, but added no other details. This provoked some correspondence asking why we withheld further information. Our problem was and is that we know practically nothing about the male Gryphon, other than that in heraldry there is no incident of one appearing together with a (female) Gryphon (the usual Gryphon). But perhaps a picture will help satisfy our correspondents' curiosity.

Male gryphon
Opinicus statant sinister proper

Among the Buthlaw papers we found this rare painting of a relation of the Gryphon, the Opinicus, whose front legs are those of a lion, not of an eagle, and whose tail, as our sharp-eyed readers will have noted, is that of a camel. (This example is a female.)

Unlike its usual appearance in heraldry (typically Or or Gules), it is here seen in its natural colours which in an heraldic achievement would be blazoned Proper. Note its small, unfurry ears.

Gryphon segreant
The Martlet featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 1
The Gryphon featured in Curiosity Corner ~ 2
The Baronage Content Page July-September 1999
The female Gryphon
© 1999 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd