Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Roc destroys Sindbad's ship

Roc or Rukh: a mythical white bird of enormous size and strength such that is reputed to have been able to lift and eat elephants.

The origin of the myth about the roc is unknown, and it is possible that the myth originated from an actual bird, with references to it being known from early as the 8th century from Arab authors. There are reported sightings of this bird as recently as the 16th century by an English traveller who visited the Indian Ocean. There are also the Thunderbirdss of Native American legends, which may be related to rocs, and some sightings are still reported to this day.

It is thought that the Rook chess piece may originally have been based on a roc.

The legend of the roc, popularized in the West in the 1001 Arabian Nights' tales of Sindbad the Sailor, was widely spread in the East; and in later times the home of the bird was sought in the region of Madagascar, whence gigantic fronds of the Raphia palm very like a quill in form appear to have been brought under the name of roc's feathers (see; Yule's Marco Polo, bk. iii. ch. 33, and Academy, 1884, No. 620). Such a feather was brought to the Great Khan, and we read also of a gigantic stump of a roc's quill being brought to Spain by a merchant from the China seas (Abu Hamid of Spain, in Damiri, s.v.).

Another source could be the enormous Aepyornis or elephant bird from Madagascar, a flightless bird like a three-meter ostrich.

The roc is hardly different from the Arabian `ankd (see phoenix); it is also identified with the Persian simurgh, the bird which figures in Firdausi's epic as the foster-father of the hero Zal, father of Rustam.

When we go farther back into Persian antiquity we find an immortal bird, amrzs, or (in the Minoi-khiradh) slnamrü, which shakes the ripe fruit from the mythical tree that bears the seed of all useful things. Sinamrtt and simurgh seem to be the same word. In Indian legend the garuda on which Vishnu rides is the king of birds (Benfey, Panchatantra, 98). In the Pahlavi translation of the Indian story as represented by the Syrian Kalilag and Damnag (ed. Bickell, 1876), the simurgh takes the place of the garuda, while Ibn al-Molaffa (Cal-ha et Dimna, ed. De Sacy, p. 126) speaks instead of the `anl~a. The later Syriac, curiously enough, has behemoth -- apparently the behemoth of Job transformed into a bird.

For a collection of legends about the roc, see Lane's Arabian Nights, chap; xx. notes 22, 62, and Yule, ut supra. Also see Bochart, Hieroz, bk. vi. ch. xiv.; Damfri, I. 414, ii. 177 seq.; Kazwini, i. ~I9 seq.; Ibn Batuta, iv. 305 seq.; Spiegel, Eran. Altertumsk. ii. 118.