The Peacock

Peacocks drinking from an urn, ca. 1224-59, panel from the pulpit of the cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

Peacocks drinking from an urn, ca. 1224-59, panel from the pulpit of the cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

The peacock is called pavo for his call, which he utters with a fiendish voice. On his tiny head he bears a crest of feathers like a coronet, gleaming blue, like the plumage of his breast. He is possessed of a great tail full of eyes, distinguished and high, which in vain wonderment he spreads like a circle around him, delighting in his beauty. But if he looks down and sees his feet, which are horrible to behold, ashamed, he lets his tail feathers droop, his vanity reproached. Once cooked, the flesh of peacocks remains incorrupt: it will not rot even if kept for many days, and after a year, it will appear only slightly shriveled.

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The panel with Peacocks drinking from an urn once formed part of the pulpit’s original staircase, which was replaced in the nineteenth century with one made of iron. From antiquity, peacocks were associated with immortality, owing to the belief that their flesh was incorruptible. The motif of one or more peacocks drinking water from a vessel, which appears frequently in medieval art, represents eternal life.

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4 responses to “The Peacock

  1. Peacocks are such beautiful creatures… but their flesh is incorruptible? That is an interesting conclusion. I had never known before that they represented eternal life.

  2. Pingback: The Whale | the owl in the pulpit·

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