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The Roc

The Roc, [or Rukh], a mythical bird of enormous size, supposed to have been able to perform wonderful feats of strength and ferocity. The Roc was a well-known monstrous bird of Arabian mythology, of the same fabulous species with the simurg of the Persians. The most popular accounts of the Roc are given in 'The Arabian Nights' Entertainments'. The roc is also described by Marco Polo.

By the advice of the wicked magician, poor Aladdin ordered the Genie of the Lamp to procure a roc's egg to be hung up under his palace dome; why! the roc's egg was the King of the Genii! "Princess," said the false Fatima, with great dissimulation, "forgive me for the liberty I have taken; but my opinion is, if it can be of any importance, that if a roc's egg was hung up in the middle of this dome, this hall would have no parallel in tho four quarters of the world, and your palace would bo the wonder of the universe."

"My good mother," said the princess, "what bird is a roc, and where may one get an egg?" "Princess," replied the pretended Fatima, "it is a bird of prodigious size, which inhabits the top of mount Caucasus; the architect who built your palace can get you one." After the princess Badroulboudour had thanked the false Fatima for what she believed her good advice, she conversed with her upon other matters; but could not forget the roc's egg, which she made account to tell Aladdin of when he returned from hunting.

"I always believed, as well as you," continued the princess Badroulboudour. "that our palace was the most superb, magnificent, apd complete in tho world; but I will tell you now what I find fault with, upon examining the hall of four-and-twenty windows. Do not you think with me, that it would be complete if a Roc's egg was hung up in tho midst of the dome?" "Princess," replied Aladdin, "it is enough that you think thero wants such a thing. You shall see by the diligence used to repair that deficiency, that there is nothing which I would not do for your sake."

Aladdin left the princess Badroulboudour that moment, and went up into the hall of four-and-twenty windows, where, pulling out of his bosom the lamp, which, after the danger he had been exposed to, he always carried about him, he rubbed it; upon which the genie immediately appeared. "Genie," said Aladdin, "there wants a roc's egg to be hung up in the midst of the dome. I command thee, in the name of this lamp, to repair the deficiency." Aladdin had no sooner pronounced these words, but the genie gave so loud and terrible a cry, that the hall shook, and Aladdin could scarcely stand upright. "What! wretch," said the genie, in a voice that would have made the most undaunted man tremble, "is it not enough that I and my companions have done everything for you, but you, by an unheard of ingratitude, must command me to bring my master, and hang him up in the midst of this dome?"

Within a few years afterwards the sultan died in a good old age, and as he left no male children, the princess Badroulboudour, as lawful heir of the crown, succeeded him, and communicating the power to Aladdin, they reigned together many years, and left a numerous and illustrious posterity behind them.

The bird plays an important part in the fortunes of Sinbad the Sailor. In the notes to vol. iii. of Mi. Lane's edition of the "Arabian Nights Entertainments" are some curious extracts from the writers of old voyages of that nation; showing that the tale was either founded on, or supported by, the wonderful accounts of travellers. Even Sinbad's well-known adventure, when his crew broke the roc's egg, and were attacked in consequence by the enraged pair of birds, is borrowed from the serious narration of Ibn-El-Wardee.

Sinbad describes the roc as white, with a claw as large as the trunk of a large tree and with a beak of prodigious size and sharpness. Its egg, he declares to be 50 paces in circumference, about 150 feet. Another writer computes that the egg of the roc is equal to 150 hens' eggs. The bird is described as a bird of prey, "able to bear an elephant away in its talons." and "killing the moa, which it bore to its nest and destroyed to provide food for its young." See, in 'The Arabian Nights' Entertainments,' the accounts of the second voyage, and the third Calendar's Story.

In the second voyage of that indefatigable traveller Sinbad, he, being left behind by his companions on a desert island, crouched down beside an enormous egg, and tying himself to the claw of the gigantic bird (the Roc), to which it belonged, was carried away to the valley of Diamonds. The equally respectable authority of Mr. Breen, that on the island called by the French Roche, or Roc du Diamant, the vultures are so exceedingly strong as to be able to carry the corses of the slain "off to their lair." Is it not conclusive, notwithstanding some ornithological confusion on either side, that this was the identical spot where the singular story related by Sinbad occurred, and that it preserves the memory of the bird and of the valley in the very name it bears? At any rate, the coincidence is very striking.

The size of this infamous monster is, of course, described with all the luxuriance of oriental imagination. Ibn-El-Wardee makes one of its wings 10,000 fathoms long. Mr. Lime appears to think that this extravagant fiction was suggested by the condor; but the size and power of that bird are much exaggerated, even in the common accounts. The bearded vulture of Egypt Beoras a better archetype of the roc. In a drawmg from an illuminated Persian MS., which Mr. Lane has copied, the roc, or rather simurg, which is represented as performing tho slight operation of carrying off three elephants in its beak and claws, is something like a cock, with eagle's wings and an extravagant tail. The simurg is a creature of importance in Persian mythology: it is the phoenix of oriental fable, one only living at a time, and attains the age of 1700 years.

Attempts have been made to identify the roc with the so-called elephant-birds of Madagascar and New Zealand, but it is asserted by naturalists that neither this huge bird (which is not a bird of prey) nor the Harfiagomis, the largest known rapacious bird, could have performed the feats commonly attributed to the Roc. There was described to the Parisian Academy of Sciences the fossils of an enormous bird called the Epyornis and two of its eggs, fossil remains of which had been discovered. This little-known colossai has been accepted as the nearest approach to the fabulous roc.

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Page last modified: 28-02-2018 13:21:27 ZULU