Beast

Crow


Latin name: Cornix
Other names: Cauue, Corneille, Coruo

A long-lived bird that foretells the future

General Attributes

Crows live a long time, and are monogamous. If the male crow dies, the female will never take another mate (compare this to the story of the turtledove). Crows take responsibility for feeding their offspring, and escort their young in flight. The crow's voice predicts rain, and the crow is said to be able reveal ambushes and foretell the future. Crows lead flocks of storks when they cross the sea to Asia. When the crow finds a corpse, it first pecks out the eye.

Allegory/Moral

The Aberdeen Bestiary takes the opportunity with this bird to present a sermon on parenting: "Let men learn from the crow's example and its sense of duty, to love their children. In contrast, women of our human race wean their babies as soon as they can, even the ones they love. ... If the women are poor, they cast out their infants... The rich themselves also kill their children in the womb, to avoid dividing their estate among many heirs... What creature but man has taken the view that children can be renounced? What creature but man has endowed parents with such barbarous rights? What creature but man, in the brotherhood created by nature, has made brothers unequal?"

Sources

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 14): If a nut is too hard for a crow to crack with its beak, it will carry the nut into the air and drop it on rocks or roofs until it breaks. The croaking sound of a crow is thought to be unlucky, particularly during its breeding season. Unlike other birds, crows continue to feed their young even after they can fly.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 3, chapter 9): Crows are exceedingly faithful to each other, and when they enter into partnership they love one another intensely, and you would never see these creatures indulging freely in promiscuous intercourse. And those who are accurately informed about them assert that if one dies, the other remains in widowhood. [In the bestiaries this story was applied to the turtledove.] - [Scholfield translation]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, chapter 18.58): We find this [love of their children] to be a normal sentiment among crows, who form a constant escort to their offspring in flight. Solicitous, too, lest perchance they may become weak because of their tender age, they strive to supply them with food. They continue to perform this function for a long time. - [Savage translation, 1961]

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:44): The crow is an old bird. Seers say that it increases anxiety by the indications it gives, reveals ambushes, predicts rain, and foretells the future. But it is a great wickedness to believe that God gives his counsel to crows.

Gerald of Wales [c. 1146 – c. 1223] (Topographia Hibernica, chapter 17): there are no black crows in this country, or they are very rare; they are all parti-coloured. These birds carry up small shell-fish into the air, and let them fall on the rocks by the sea shore, that, not being able to crush the shells with their beaks, they may be fractured by collision with the stones, after falling from a great height. Thus the old enemy, with malicious guile, after raising to the highest pitch of honour those whom he was unable to pervert when in a humble condition, boldly assails them, in order that, neglecting the duties of their station, or wavering, from being puffed up with arrogance, the higher they have been lifted up the greater may be their fall into the depths of sin, and the more severely he may bruise and crush them. ... It is a remarkable fact respecting these birds, that although in other things they are the most cunning of all fowls, their natural instinct fails them in choosing suitable situations for their nests, in which other birds, however silly, manifest great ingenuity. For they build their nests in a public road, or any other frequented place, or on a fallen tree, or a stone; never thinking of the winds, or apprehensive of the access of snakes or men. Thus, however a man may be distinguished by vigour of genius and the endowments of wisdom, if he abandons himself to licentiousness, and is ensnared by lust, he pays little regard to temperance and modesty. - [Forester translation, 1863, chapter 17]