Thursday, 31 July 2008

Roc or rukh (from Persian رخ rokh) & Roll

The roc had its origins, according to Rudolph Wittkower, in the fight between the Indian solar bird Garuda and the chthonic serpent Naga, a word that A. de Gubernatis asserted signified 'elephant' as well as 'snake'. The mytheme of Garuda carrying off an elephant that was battling a tortoise appears in two Sanskrit epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The roc appears in Arabic geographies and natural history, popularized in Arabian fairy tales and sailors' folklore. Ibn Battuta tells of a mountain hovering in air over the China Seas, which was the roc. In the 13th century Marco Polo states "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. The legend of the roc, popularized in the West in the travels and Marco Polo and later in the 1001 Nights tales, of Abd al-Rahman and Sinbad the Sailor, was widespread in the East. Through the sixteenth century the existence of the roc was accepted by Europeans. In 1604 Michael Drayton envisaged the rocs being taken aboard the Ark.

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