A fabulous, deadly, monster. The name "cockatrice" appears to be a corruption of Latin calcatrix, from calcare, "to tread," calcatrix being in turn a translation of the Greek ichneumon, from ichnos, "track" or "footstep." Herpestes ichneumon, the ichneumon, Pharaoh's rat, or mongoose, a weasel-like animal, is a native of northern Africa and southern Spain. There are also other species, including the Indian mongoose. It preys on rats and snakes, and does not despise poultry and eggs.
Pliny (see Oxford Dictionary, under the word "Cockatrice") relates that the ichneumon darts down the open mouth of the crocodile, and destroys it by gnawing through its belly. In the course of time, as the story underwent changes, the animal was metamorphosed into a water snake, and was confused with the crocodile itself, and also with the basilisk. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition, the cockatrice was believed as late as the 17th century to be produced from a cock's egg and hatched by a serpent, and "to possess the most deadly powers, plants withering at its touch, and men and animals being poisoned by its look. It stood in awe however of the cock, the sound of whose crowing killed it. .... The weasel alone among animals was unaffected by the glance of its evil eye, and attacked it at all times successfully; for when wounded by the monster's teeth it found a ready remedy in rue, the only plant which the cockatrice could not wither." The real ichneumon does kill the most deadly snakes, and has been supposed to resort to a vegetable antidote when bitten. It actually dies however when bitten by a deadly snake, and does not possess a knowledge of herbs, but its extraordinary agility enables it ordinarily to escape injury. It is interesting to see how the changing tale of this creature with its marvelous powers has made a hodge-podge of ichneumon, weasel, crocodile, and serpent.
The Biblical references (the King James Version Isaiah 11:8; 59:5; Jeremiah 8:17) are doubtless to a serpent, the word "cockatrice," with its medieval implications, having been introduced by the translators of the King James Version.
Alfred Ely Day
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