Crocodile
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Source: Museum Meermanno - MMW, 10 B 25 facsimile Copyright 2004 Museum Meermanno Manuscript description Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 12v


 

Crocodile

Latin name: Crocodilus

Other names: Cocatris, Cocodrille, Cocodrillus, Coquatrix, Corchodrillus

A beast that weeps after eating a man

 

 
General Attributes

The crocodile is a four-footed beast, about twenty cubits long, that is born in the Nile River. Its skin is very hard, so that it is not hurt when struck by stones. It spends the day on land and the night in the water. It is armed with cruel teeth and claws; it is the only animal that can move the upper part of its jaw while keeping the lower part still. Its dung can be used to enhance a person's beauty: the excrement (or the contents of the intestines) is smeared on the face and left there until sweat washes it off. Crocodiles always weep after eating a man. Despite the hardness of the crocodile's skin, there are two animals that can kill it. The sawfish (serra) can cut the crocodile's stomach, and the hydrus can crawl into the crocodile's mouth and kill it from the inside.


Sources (chronological order)

Herodotus [5th century BCE] (History, book 2): The following are the peculiarities of the crocodile:- During the four winter months they eat nothing; they are four-footed, and live indifferently on land or in the water. The female lays and hatches her eggs ashore, passing the greater portion of the day on dry land, but at night retiring to the river, the water of which is warmer than the night-air and the dew. Of all known animals this is the one which from the smallest size grows to be the greatest: for the egg of the crocodile is but little bigger than that of the goose, and the young crocodile is in proportion to the egg; yet when it is full grown, the animal measures frequently seventeen cubits and even more. It has the eyes of a pig, teeth large and tusk-like, of a size proportioned to its frame; unlike any other animal, it is without a tongue; it cannot move its under-jaw, and in this respect too it is singular, being the only animal in the world which moves the upper-jaw but not the under. It has strong claws and a scaly skin, impenetrable upon the back. In the water it is blind, but on land it is very keen of sight. As it lives chiefly in the river, it has the inside of its mouth constantly covered with leeches; hence it happens that, while all the other birds and beasts avoid it, with the trochilus it lives at peace, since it owes much to that bird: for the crocodile, when he leaves the water and comes out upon the land, is in the habit of lying with his mouth wide open, facing the western breeze: at such times the trochilus goes into his mouth and devours the leeches. This benefits the crocodile, who is pleased, and takes care not to hurt the trochilus. (The History of Herodotus (London, 1858/1997) Rawlinson translation)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 37-38): The crocodile lives in the Nile river. "It is a curse on four legs, and equally pernicious on land and in the river." Its teeth are set close together like a comb, it has no tongue, and it bites down with its mobile upper jaw, unlike other land animals. It also has claws, and its hide is impervious to blows. It foreknows to lay its eggs above the point where the river will rise during the next flood. To stay warm, it stays on land during the day and in the water at night. It allows a small bird to enter its mouth to clean its teeth; if it falls asleep with its jaws open while this is happening, the ichneuman jumps down its throat and gnaws its way out through the belly. Dolphins also attack crocodiles, using the sharp fin on their backs to cut open the crocodile's soft belly. Crocodiles have poor sight in the water but very good sight when out of it. It is said that the crocodile is the only animal that continues to grow all its life, and that it can live four months in a cave without food in the winter.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 6:19-20): The crocodile is named from its golden color. It is born in the Nile, a quadruped on land and strong in the water, usually twenty cubits long. It has fierce teeth and claws, and its skin is so hard that it does not feel the blows of even heavy stones. It rests on land during the day, and moves in the water at night. It lays its eggs on the land; male and female take turns guarding them. Certain fish with saw-tooth backs [dolphins] kill them by cutting their soft bellies. The crocodile is the only animal that moves its upper jawbone.

Guillaume le Clerc [13th century CE] (Bestiaire): The crocodile is a fierce beast that lives always beside the river Nile. In shape it is somewhat like an ox; it is full twenty ells long, and as big around as the trunk of a tree. It has four feet, large claws, and very sharp teeth; by means of these it is well armed. So hard and tough is its skin, that it minds not in the least hard blows made by sharp stones. Never was seen another such a beast, for it lives on land and in water. At night it is submerged in water, and during the day it reposes upon the land. If it meets and overcomes a man, it swallows him entire, so that nothing remains. But ever after it laments him as long as it lives. The upper jaw of this beast is immovable when it eats, and the lower one alone moves. No other living creature has this peculiarity. The other beast of which I have told you (the water-serpent), which always lives in the water, hates the crocodile with a mortal hatred. When it sees the crocodile sleeping on the ground with its mouth wide open, it rolls itself in the slime and mud in order to become more slippery. Then it leaps into the throat of the crocodile and is swallowed down into its stomach. Here it bites and tears its way out again, but the crocodile dies on account of its wounds. (Bestiaries and Lapidaries (London, 1896) Kuhns translation)

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): If the crocodile findeth a man by the brim of the water, or by the cliff, he slayeth him if he may, and then he weepeth upon him, and swalloweth him at the last. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)

Sir John Mandeville [14th century CE] (Travels, chapter 31): In that country [of Prester John] and by all Ind be great plenty of cockodrills, that is a manner of a long serpent, as I have said before. And in the night they dwell in the water, and on the day upon the land, in rocks and in caves. And they eat no meat in all the winter, but they lie as in a dream, as do the serpents. These serpents slay men, and they eat them weeping; and when they eat they move the over jaw, and not the nether jaw, and they have no tongue. (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (1900) Macmillan edition of 1900)


Illustration

The illustrations of the crocodile are varied and usually fanciful; the only consistency is in having four legs. Some illustrations show a dog-like or lion-like animal; in some cases the head is on upside-down. Only rarely does the depicted animal look anything like a crocodile. The most commonly illustrated scene is of the hydrus eating its way out of the crocodile's side.


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