Crossword: The Myths and Legends Behind the Magnificent Peacock
In his 1812 book animal historyAmerican author Noah Webster writes: “When Alexander [the Great] was in India, he found them in large numbers on the banks of the Hyarotis River, and was so struck by their beauty, that he forbade anyone to kill or disturb them.
However, peacocks were not always looked upon with such kindness. Some folk tales claim that they were bringers of bad omen and responsible for the fall of man. Art from the 1400s, for example, used the idea that peacocks were able to destroy snakes and showed them flanking the tree of knowledge.
Over time, peacocks changed from bringing bad luck to representing death. In Roman times, these birds became commonly associated with funerals, deaths, and the resurrection. People noticed that their feathers did not fade or lose their brilliant luster, and this fact contributed to the myth that they were a symbol of immortality. This is why people decorated the walls of tombs and catacombs with feathers and images of peacocks.
Other superstitions became associated with the peacock in the 15th century. The Swiss physician Paracelsus is known to have said that if a peacock cries more than usual, or out of its regular time, “it predicts the death of certain members of that family to which it belongs”. Their cry was also believed to predict the onset of rainy weather, and their presence (or the presence of their feathers) in a house was believed to cause single women to end up old spinsters.
But perhaps what peacocks are best known for is their historical association with vanity. Because of their great beauty and tendency to strutting and strutting, they were often found representing the sin of pride in depictions of the seven deadly sins in Renaissance art.
Has another bird been as controversial as the peacock? What do you think? Play today’s crossword and let us know at [email protected]