Roc (mythology)

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A roc or rukh (from the Arabic and Persian رخ rokh,[1] asserted by Louis Charles Casartelli[2] to be an abbreviated form of Persian simurgh) is an enormous legendary bird of prey, often white[3].

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Western expansion

Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela reported a story reminiscent of the roc in which shipwrecked sailors had themselves carried off desert islands by wrapping ox-hides round them and letting griffins carry them off as if they were cattle.[4] In the 13th century, Marco Polo (as quoted in Attenborough (1961: 32) stated "It was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its quills were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure". Marco Polo explicitly distinguishes the bird from a griffin. Doubtless it was Marco Polo's description that inspired Antonio Pigafetta, one of Magellan's companions, who wrote or had ghost-written an embroidered account of the circumglobal voyage; in Pigafetta's account[5] the home grounds of the roc were the China Seas. Such descriptions doubtless captured the imaginations of later illustrators, such as Johannes Stradanus ca 1590[6] or Theodor de Bry in 1594 who showed an elephant being carried off in the roc's talons,[7] or showed the roc destroying entire ships in revenge for destruction of its giant egg, as recounted in the fifth voyage of Sinbad the Sailor. Tommaso Aldrovandini's Ornithologia (1599) included a woodcut of a roc with a somewhat pig-like elephant in its talons,[8] but in the rational world of the 17th century, the roc was more critically looked upon.

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