AskDefine | Define cockatrice

Dictionary Definition

cockatrice n : monster hatched by a reptile from a cock's egg; able to kill with a glance

User Contributed Dictionary



First attested 1382, from cocatris, from calcatrix, from calcare "to tread," from Greek ikhneumon "tracker, tracer."


  1. A legendary creature about the size and shape of a dragon or wyvern, but in appearance resembling a giant rooster, with some lizard-like characteristics.
    "Peace reigns in happy Luxor. The lion lies down with the lamb, and the child, if it will, may harmlessly put its hand into the cockatrice's den" -- "The Spell of Egypt" by J. Walker McSpadden

Related terms

Extensive Definition

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.



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).
cockatrice in German: Basilisk (Mythologie)
cockatrice in Spanish: Cockatrice
cockatrice in French: Cocatrix
cockatrice in Korean: 코카트리스
cockatrice in Italian: Coccatrice
cockatrice in Hebrew: קוקאטריס
cockatrice in Japanese: コカトリス
cockatrice in Dutch: Slangdraak
cockatrice in Portuguese: Cocatrice
cockatrice in Scots: Cockatrice

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Benedict Arnold, Brutus, Judas, Judas Iscariot, Quisling, achievement, alerion, animal charge, annulet, archtraitor, argent, armorial bearings, armory, arms, azure, bandeau, bar, bar sinister, baton, bearings, bend, bend sinister, betrayer, billet, blazon, blazonry, bordure, broad arrow, cadency mark, canton, chaplet, charge, chevron, chief, coat of arms, conniver, conspirator, conspirer, coronet, crescent, crest, cross, cross moline, crown, device, difference, differencing, double agent, double-crosser, double-dealer, eagle, ermine, ermines, erminites, erminois, escutcheon, falcon, fess, fess point, field, file, flanch, fleur-de-lis, fret, fur, fusil, garland, griffin, gules, gyron, hatchment, helmet, heraldic device, honor point, impalement, impaling, inescutcheon, informer, intrigant, intriguer, label, lion, lozenge, machinator, mantling, marshaling, martlet, mascle, metal, motto, mullet, nombril point, octofoil, or, ordinary, orle, pale, paly, pean, pheon, plotter, purpure, quarter, quartering, quisling, rat, rose, sable, saltire, schemer, scutcheon, serpent, shield, snake, spread eagle, subordinary, tenne, timeserver, tincture, torse, traitor, treasonist, tressure, trimmer, turncoat, unicorn, vair, vert, wreath, yale
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